Early in 2012 there was a call on the Delta lists for trainers who would like to take part in a research study for Cambridge. The study was designed to find out what trainers did in input sessions and why and the last line was interesting.
Trainers will be encouraged to adopt a participatory role in the project (rather than to feel they are simply being studied); in this way, the study will provide them with the opportunity to talk about and reflect on their own practices and may thus contribute to their professional development as trainers.
And it turned out to be true. It felt like free therapy for trainers. A series of phone calls where I was asked questions about why I did things and that made me think hard about what I did, especially when the transcripts turned up a few weeks later in my mail and I’d read it back, frustrated at how I had failed to articulate some ideas in the way I thought I had.
Those conversations made me realise that my reading had become mostly reactive (reading specifically to solve problems that arose in the short term, so I could deal with sessions or assignments) since I finished my Masters.
While I do reflect and tinker (does that lesson / session / worksheet / group project / course work ? or does it need tweaking / changing / completely rewriting ?) the phone calls made me think I didn’t question fundamentals enough … e. g. I take (with a pinch of sense / balance) learning by doing / learning through experience as automatically desirable (as opposed to being told things). Why ? Where did I get that from ? Is it actually even true ? Has it been researched ? Can I validate it ? In fact that has been worrying me for ages now, but the day to day gets dealt with first because some of it is urgent and because often reactive things are easier to deal with.
So I am constantly reflecting on and tinkering with an educational house built on sand.
And the reflecting and tinkering itself could be more systematic. There is no lack of it, but a system (and if I do this then perhaps a visible trace) would be more useful.
If I had a system then I’d have seen before the phone calls how long the some of the bigger questions had been rumbling at the back of my mind without me actually doing anything about them.
What do I write on R&A assignments again and again ? Have concrete measurable goals.
So I decided I need to take more of my own advice.
Which advice ?
Write it down, write your answers so you have to articulate them. If you read the question and then read the answer key you haven’t made it your own, haven’t processed anything. Actually having to say it (as opposed to seeing others say it and thinking ‘yes, I understood that / knew that’ ) is different.
Write it down and find things to support / back up / explain what you are saying.
Write it down so I can help you say things, if you don’t write it down I can’t help.
Write down goals, make them concrete and manageable.
Write it down because writing will make you better at using language.
Writing things down will help you remember.
Don’t hang about waiting till it is ‘perfect’, say it (for language learners) or teach it (for teachers getting started on Delta), or send me a draft (background assignments) then we can work on it together.
Do things regularly and break them into bite sized chunks that you can fit in between other things you already do, don’t wait for expanses of time to start studying – they aren’t going to arrive.
Don’t worry that it isn’t perfect. You wouldn’t need to do this (language / teaching) course if you could already do this perfectly. You do things to get better at them, what can you actually do perfectly ?
Make things fit into what you already do, find ways to achieve synergy.
Get feedback. Work out ways of building in reflection / peer feedback / other kinds of evaluative feedback.
Some of this may actually not be true (finding out if some of it is would be one of the things I should do).
Why do it on WordPress and not just in a private journal ?
It ought to enable some feedback ? If I make a change and I can get those involved in the change to comment that gives me more perspectives than just my own.
Some questions come up regularly (‘I’d like to be a Delta trainer, what should I do next ?’ comes up with teachers and ‘what do you mean speaking homework ? How do I do that ?’ with students) and I could craft an answer and send people to the link.
I have an idea that the technology will help. That I will be able to hyperlink thoughts / reading / things that connect as so much of it seems to connect to so much else.
But then I also have an idea that there ought to be technology out there that will help me organise priorities – that I could list all the things I want to read / think I would like to try and write about / would like to research etc and somehow magically it would sift the most urgent up the list in order of priority … it isn’t going to happen is it ?
In the days of paper dictionaries, I used to tell students when they looked up a word to put a tiny mark beside it and if they looked it up again, to put a second and if they looked up a word only to see two tiny marks already, then they really needed to do something about moving that word into a vocabulary notebook (or whatever system they had). I need to be able to activate something like that in my brain – that when questions come up, they get notated and if they keep coming up the notation shows … but if it is only what you are thinking I suspect the technology hasn’t quite caught up with my demands yet. But then perhaps that is another reason why writing things down here might help.