Jun 19, 2012

Successful teaching - the art and craft of synthesis and simplicity

Thinking back over the last school year - we've held five teacher-training courses, in different schools in three different countries and in different sets of circumstances.
Taking SpeakYourMind out there into the wide world is a relatively new and challenging experience but the hard work that has gone into it is paying off and we are learning good lessons along the way.

I have got a lot of pleasure out of getting to know and working with dedicated long-term TEFL professionals who have been open-minded and keen to look at something new. It's been interesteing too to meet and have long discussions with long-experienced teachers who could only see teaching in terms of their own vision of what that involves and could not take on board the basic premises of SyM. At the other end of the scale there have also been bright, interested trainees with no formal teaching experience. Yes, and there were lots of people in the middle - the silent army of TEFL: CELTA and a year or three's experience, keen and conscientous but with half an eye on a different career elsewhere in future.

Two main things have emerged from these experiences. A lot of teachers with long classroom experience have really liked SyM's 'directness'; the fact that the whole lesson is active, focussed and immediate. Getting across the importance of freeing the lesson of 'books and board' takes time, but when new teachers see the point and see how their skills are really challenged as a result, they enjoyed the direct, person-to-person nature of lessons.
They also really appreciated the fact that they could rely on the course material and that lesson-planning and gathering from resources would no longer be part of their busy working days.

The other thing that emerged is that SpeakYourMind makes teaching and learning look so simple. When trainee teachers observed lessons either in-person or on video they tended to think (so they told me afterwards) 'Well, that looks pretty straightforward.' The lessons flow easily and everything seems natural and friendly.

In reality, trainees often got a unexpectedly rude awakening when training got under way. The training programme is a pretty intensive 5 days including (normally) 2 hours teaching practice daily from day 2 (and homework!). What seemed so 'simple' as observers, is, they soon began to find out, the product of a combination of practical teaching skills, classroom techniques, understanding of the design and intricacies of the material, quick-thinking, intuition, and 'experience'. Walking is simple - almost everyone does it pretty often. But not on a tightrope, juggling and whistling a jaunty tune. Teachers began to see that the greater the 'familarity' with classroom procedure and material, the freer they were to teach and to enjoy their students. That 'familiarity' comes with preparation, concentration, practice and feedback.

As trainers, we don't expect people to run before they can walk, but 5 days is not long and the programme is no leisurely stroll. Each day sees ups and downs, learning is no steady straight line on a graph, but on all courses Day 5 saw breakthroughs and satisfaction.
This aspect - the apparent simplicity of lessons and learning - is something that has begun to really sink in. I think now, that this is probably the most important point of all in SpeakYourMind, that it addresses the complexities of learning and of language and arranges or models them into a form and a means of presentation that is straightforward, accessible and (very often) enjoyable.

Simplicity is a good thing - we want it in the things we use and the things we do - and if SpeakYourMind seems 'simple' that is to its credit. Just remember not to judge things on appearance.

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