It’s been quite a while since I last posted (since March!) but I’ve been so busy this school year that I simply haven’t had time to sit down and write. Now that I’m on summer vacation, I’ll have more time to post- at least in theory.
At the beginning of the school year last September I wrote an entry describing my New School Year’s resolutions (read here). For my first post after my hiatus, I thought I’d go back to those resolutions and examine how well (or not) I accomplished what I set out to do. So here you have my end of term progress report.
The first goal I set out for myself had to do with Mindfulness and using it more in the classroom. Simply by posting about Mindfulness and discussing it has helped me to use it more, often in ways that I’m not consciously aware of. I don’t think I could describe the exact moments when I used Mindfulness or even how I did, but it was definitely an implicit part of my presence in the classroom and I believe that through Mindfulness I was more connected with my students’ needs as well as my own.
I’ve noticed that other teachers are also interested in using Mindfulness in their personal as well as professional lives. Some discussion on a Facebook page dedicated to Mindfulness in the classroom sparked my interest in using meditation and breathing exercises with my pupils. Towards the end of the school year, my younger learners (ages 5-7) would come to class rather rowdy and unfocused so I started using two or three minutes at the beginning of class to help them settle down and refocus. We closed our eyes and breathed in and out deeply a few times. These simple breathing exercises really worked to get rid of that wild, nervous energy and helped them to concentrate on beginning our English class. They also truly seemed to enjoy it; some even adopted lotus poses (or something similar) without me asking them to. I marveled at the fact that they had seen this pose somewhere and knew that this was the situation in which to use it.
Improving my listening skills was another objective for this school year. My reasoning was that I had noticed that my classes had become a bit too teacher-centered. I thought that really making an effort to listen to my pupils when they spoke in class instead of rushing them because of time constraints would help lower my own talking time as well as put the focus back on the students. I put in quite a bit of effort related to this goal, especially at the beginning of the school year, but there is still room for improvement.
My credo for this past school year has been ‘less is more’ and it’s helped me to plan my classes in a more meaningful way as well as manage my time more effectively. I’ve always been way too ambitious in terms of planning, trying to fit too many activities or too many steps into one class period without giving my students time to assimilate what they’re doing. With experience I’m learning how to pick and choose what will be most useful. This usually involves accepting the fact that we can’t do everything I’d like to do but recognizing which activities are most beneficial for a certain group. As with most aspects of teaching, this is a work in progress and I think that each school year will help me fine tune this skill.
Using more pair work and peer checking was another aim I set for myself this year. One of the most constructive steps I took to achieve this aim was having pupils sit in pairs. This seating arrangement encouraged them not only to collaborate with the person sitting next to them but also to get to know them. In addition, I changed their seating after each trimester so that they had the chance to work with a number of different partners.
Working in pairs can be quite difficult for young learners because they have less experience with this sort of dynamic and because they are more focused on themselves than older children. For this reason, we discussed quite often (in L1) why it’s important to work well with a partner and how to do so. We talked about listening to the other person, how to make suggestions and share ideas as well as reinforcing the notion that copying someone else’s work is not a valid option. One of the advantages of having the same pupils year after year as they progress and grow is that we can work on these skills little by little, planting the seeds that will later help them be effective and cooperative when working in pairs.
I also tried some peer correction in my classes but mostly with the older pupils (ages 9-10 and 12). They seem to have a better grasp on how and why correcting their partner’s work could also be beneficial to them. One of my resolutions was to use peer correction more with the younger pupils as well but I need to put in some more effort in this regard. It’s going to take a bit more reflection and planning on my part in order to help them develop this skill.
My final goal was to promote synergy in my classes. Through mindfulness, improving my own listening and focusing on pair work, I think we achieved a higher level of synergy but in a more social way. I think (or would like to think) that my students were a bit more aware this year of the benefits of cooperation and mutual respect in their treatment of one another. I would also like to believe that they now feel more integrated in their corresponding groups. These are all positive and important advances; however, I would also like to encourage synergy in terms of working toward the completion of tasks and projects. This will be some food for thought during the summer months.
In conclusion, I made some progress and showed some improvement but I still have work to do. I need to put in some more effort in certain areas (peer correction, synergy, listening skills) but I’m happy with how well I’ve advanced in using Mindfulness and the ‘less is more’ strategy.
I enjoyed writing these two posts. Writing the previous post on my resolutions helped me to set goals for the school year, something that I normally only sort of vaguely do in the back of my head. Putting them on ‘paper’ made these goals more tangible and easier to focus on; reflecting on my progress at the end of the school year allowed me to examine carefully what I had done to achieve my aims and what I still need to work on if those aims are still valid. I believe that these exercises in reflection are an essential part of teaching/learning. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.