Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘reflection’

What is “Reflective Savvy”?

In ELT and ELL, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, Teacher Learning on 14/07/2013 at 12:32 pm


I really don’t know why I used the bloody word “savvy so much…

…when talking about allthingsREFLECTION in LEARNing and TEACHing.


The thing is…IT is totally the RIGHT word – just a bugger to get across to people that might not have come across it before.


One can be everso terribly clever and explain that it comes from the French savoir faire” (even though Google Translate does not, again, do a very good job with it) – but it don’t help, if they ain’t heard of that either.

I actually picked up the term from my dad…growing up in north Manchester, he was the only person I ever heard use it…and he used it a lot (…even “made up” tens/hundreds of more phrases using the word).

Now, you see where I get it from!


When I started to learn French, I thought that he might have picked it up because he grew up so close to France (New Haven, near Brightoneven though everyone called him “Cockney Doug”…he never bothered to correct them). That, of course, was silly – New Haven was just as working class as north Manchester – even today, working class kids just not “do” languages very well (clearly…Geography, too)!

It was not until I saw Johnny Depp (as Captain Jack Sparrow) in the movie Pirates of the Carribean that it “clicked


NO, my dad was not a pirate!


But, he did “fake” his age to get into the Navy and “sign up” for the Second World War…to escape his family and the UK!

You also see where I get that from!


Sailors…and pirates…use the term “savvy” a lot. And, so does the Urban Dictionarythank God!

No, I did not write that entry…but I could have, yes?

There’s also a very good story about my dad – involving a boxing match, an officer-who-wasn’t-a-gentleman and a dishonorable discharge (that my dad was VERY proud of)…but, I’ll save that for another post!


Of course, I use the word to talk about reflection…or what it “is” about those TEACHers and EDUcators that seem to get more from their students…more for themselves…and more money!

OK – two out of three ain’t bad!


REFLECTION 17 (Reflective SAVVY) TG ver 03


It’s a Sunday today and I hadn’t planned on writing very much at all for this post!

In factmy big task for today was actually supposed to be more focussed on finally working out exactly where I now live here in big, bad İstanbul! Some people (the phone company…but the internet guy disagrees) tell me I live in Suadiye…other people (the electric company) tell me I live in Erenköy…and then, yesterday, one of my wife’s old friends from Dubai told us we actually live in Şaşkınbakkal (which roughly translates as the “confused grocer”he ain’t alone)!


So, I’m going to leave you with a few thunking questions:


How “savvy” are you with your own reflective practice?

How do you know this?

What do you do with this “savvy”?

How do these things help you get better at what you do with what you know?

If someone asked you “evidence” this “reflective savvy”, how would you do that?


And, as a little Sunday “treat”…some of my favourite thunks on the nature of reflection!


REFLECTION 16 (Pearce quote)


REFLECTION 15 (Woon quote)


REFLECTION 14 (Levithan quote)


REFLECTION 13 (Cicero quote)


REFLECTION 12 (Confucius quote)


REFLECTION 11 (Ronald quote)


REFLECTION 10 (Frost quote)


REFLECTION 09 (Drucker quote)


REFLECTION 08 (Kierkegaard quote)


REFLECTION 07 (Rogers quote)


REFLECTION 06 (Socrates quote)


REFLECTION 05 (Camus quote)


REFLECTION 04 (Confucius quote)


REFLECTION 03 (Alfadi quote)


REFLECTION 02 (Wheatley quote)



REFLECTION 01 (Wordsworth quote)






Yes, I know that was a bit of a cop-out…but the images/quotes were nice, yes?


REFLECT (and THUNK) Yourself…to GREATness (the RE-boot)!

In Adult Learners, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, Teacher Learning on 26/06/2013 at 12:38 am

big bad İSTANBUL


A couple of you have probably heard that I have “moved” …and have been “celebrating” that around half-a-million folk have dropped into the ole blog (shirously, guys…you have to get a life)!

OK – this post has been one of the favourite “hits” for many of you…and, as part of my 500K celebrations, I decided it needed a “re-boot”…so this is what you get!


Best way to be BORING (Voltaire quote)


Did you KNOW that:


  • 65% of conference attendees believe they LEARN nothing from plenary sessions…
  • 55% of conference attendees prefer the coffee breaks to the break-out sessions they attend…
  • 45% of conference attendees “sneak” off to do a bit of sight-seeing…or shopping…(!)


Did you also know that 33% of statistics are made up on the spot!



OK, OK – my conference “stats” may lack a bit of reliability…but it’s true – we EDUcators do not do our best LEARNing at conferences!

I lke boring things (Warhol quote)


Neyse…. to something totally different!


I have done a great deal of interviewing in my time (karma…previous lives poorly lived, no doubt) – but one interviewee still stands out for me…nearly 13 years after the fact.


I had probably interviewed around 15 candidates on the day I met him – and I was bored to death by people telling me what a great team-player they were…how flexible they could be in difficult situations…and, how they were really “interested” in all our “strategic initiatives” (that weren’t even on the website)!


He popped in (with no tie, I must add) – the “balls” on the guy…and I decided to ask him (first question – right in):

“Tell me why you are a great TEACHer…”!


His response:


Not sure I am that great…I’m good…but I’m good because I LEARN faster than most, I work harder at reflecting than most and I like doing “it” with other TEACHers…


OK – I had to hold back a “giggle” with that last comment (but “humour” is what we look for, too). 


I gave him the job!


TEACHers learn best by REFLECTing:

Classroom reflection (FQs for TEACHers) TG Ver 03


And, they do “it” best with OTHER TEACHers!


A TEACHer’s level of “reflective savvy” is essentially the product of “who they are“; their level of critical literacy, their level of LEARNacy and their level of emotional literacy.



This savvy is critical for the level of EDUcational Literacy that a teacher has – the GOOD news – it is “LEARNable”! And, LEARNable by just doing “it”.

OK – I really have to stop that…


I have to admit…developing your reflective savvy does take time (maybe, it never really stops).


It’s about asking the “right” questionsagain and again. Taking the time tostep back and weigh up what’s really happening around you…within you…as a LEARNing professional.



It’s about working towards greater clarity and understanding – by being “honest“.


BUT, most importantly – it’s about taking ACTION – and ACTION that leads to “improvements” in what you KNOW, what you DO and WHO YOU ARE as an EDUcator.


Many educators do this by asking questions about TEACHing:

These are “great” questions – but are they enough?


We all know that there is a huge difference between asking questions about TEACHing and asking others about LEARNing:


In fact, we can take the same 3 questions and apply them to LEARNing:


If you want…we can even push that boat out a little further…just a little, mind:



WHAT the HELL….in for a pound, in for a penny; Let’s take those THREE little questions and think about:

  • ASSESSMENT (and, TESTING – of course)
  • …the CONFERENCE BUDGET (and how we can spend that money so much more wisely)!


Hey, here’s a whacky idea  – …speak to your HoD and ask her to cancel the “boring administration meeting” she had planned for you all this week!

Get a cup o’ çay (and a biscuit) with your friends…take the time to “sit” and “chat“…and REFLECT!


Einstein and CPD


GO ON…do “it” with another TEACHer today

…you know you’ll have fun!


Should we be TELLing or ASKing TEACHers…about “their” classrooms? (Pt 03)

In Adult Educators, Adult Learners, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 28/11/2012 at 11:33 am

My bouts of bloggery have been few and far between this month…too much jet-settingtoo many tweets on the #eddies12 (but, OMG…have I found some great new blogs…or what)!

…I have also found some great quotes (on blogs I have also nominated for an #eddies12 award, too).

One of these is:

I loved this…so true!


So true, in fact…that I have decided to use it kick off one of the posts I promised ages ago – but never quite got round to doing. I put a great deal of time into the earlier episodes of this mini-dizi (not so you’d notice)…

…because the issue of TEACHer LEARNing (and REFLECTion) is something I take very seriously…more seriously than a heart attack or 3, less seriously than the #eddies12 (obviously)!


The point I was trying to get across in these two episodes is really what Gwynne was also getting at – dealing with the changes we have to “cope” with in education is all about our institutions and our emotions.

She goes on and elaborates a little:

Scott McLeod agrees – so much so he named his (wonderful) blog after Gwynne’s (equally wonderful) quote!


Our institutions very often think about observation and feedback in “dangerously irrelevant” terms – if they bother to thunk about them at all!

If they didn’t think this way, we wouldn’t see as many of the dumb-ass classroom observation protocols we find in so many of our schools, colleges and universitiesand we would see a lot more of the ASKing I was talking about in Pt 01 and Pt 02a LOT more!


In Pt 02, I proposed a few questions that we might want to think about using when ASKing TEACHers about their classrooms…about the things that happen in these classrooms…and how TEACHers “feel” (yes, I said “feel”…all you institutional effectiveness “experts” that want to boil classroom observations down into “neat little numbers” or “ticks” on checklists)…about the “business” they are in!

Yes, I STILL feel strongly about this…


I also promised (more fool me) to get you a transcript of how these questions might play out…the first time you use them with a real TEACHer!

What? You have one of these?

A full transcript…???


I’m wondering…

how many of you will “get” that little “blast-from-the-past”!


Now, this post is gonna be loooooonnnnnng…probably the longest I have ever got up on the whole blog…ever!


…but, if you are interested in this stuff – you might want to bookmark it and come back when you have a bit more time.


This is the transcript from the very first time that I went to see one of  “my-partners-in-crime”, Laurence, do his “thing”…TEACH, yani!

He currently works with groups of TEACHers-to-be here (in Ankara) at Başkent University – and this class was one of their “speaking courses” (designed to help develop their language skills as future ELL facilitators of LEARNing – OK…ELT TEACHers)!

Laurence is not an ELT Instructor (in the traditional sense) – but he is passionate about communication and the LEARNing of his LEARNers. He was keen to see (that’s an understatement…we actually put money on it) whether the types of questions I use in “feedback sessions” with other TEACHers could, in fact, help him become a better LEARNing TEACHer…

I’ll leave that for you (and him) to decide!


Are you sitting comfortably? Then…I’ll begin…


TG:  When was the last time you were observed by someone, Laurence?

LR:  People regularly come in to my classes.  I believe that being observed is an important aspect of any educator’s job, whether it be parents, guests, other teachers, learners, or whatever.  I believe that adaptation to any learning situation is a subconscious as well as a conscious process; if an educator observes the observer’s or the guest’s reaction to any given situation, they often adapt their techniques – especially if that reaction is overwhelmingly positive or negative.  I believe that educators are teaching life-skills in their classes, and one of those life-skills is to be able to react positively to public situations.  I was pleased with our learners’ reactions to your presence in the class; as you know, they might have just clammed up with a stranger in their midst. 

TG:  Cool – not many educators do this.  Look, the way I conduct this type of feedback session is this: I have a series of questions to structure our conversation.  They’re not intended to be judgmental, but designed for you to think through the process of adaptation in any learning situation.  Let’s look at the first of these:  what teaching outcomes did you have for the session?

LR:  I can’t really answer that, to be honest! I’m really interested in using materials to develop learner abilities; in other words, to encourage learners to think for themselves, as well as develop 21st century learning abilities such as resilience and openness.  Hence my decision to put them into groups of three or four, and ask them to do task-based activities, with the minimum of pre-teaching and/or explicatory lecturing from me. 

TG:  Well, there are certain models people use  for teaching and learning:  one of them is the PPP model, or the TTT model (Jang 2008).  Another model is the OHP or TBL model  You seem to use a TBL or a PBL model.  You give a task, allow time for negotiation, and then asked the learners to perform and reflect on what they had done.  Looking at the class in terms of these models might help determine its teaching outcomes:  what stages the learners undergo to complete the adaptive process – adaptation, in this sense, understood as learning something at the end of the lesson that they did not know or could not do at the beginning.  What do you think that learners learned from your session?

LR:  I think that today was an interesting situation, as learners acquired sufficient resilience to cope with strange situations: first, there were two sections who had been put together in one class for the first time in the entire semester; and second, that they had a guest – in other words, yourself – in their midst.  In terms of learning outcomes, they learned to adapt themselves – their body language, responses, communication – to this unaccustomed situation.  Call it “thinking on your feet,” if you like, as well as an ability for learners to shed themselves of that self-consciousness that inhibits communication, and adapt to a new situation. 

TG:  It didn’t seem to faze them that the two groups came together.  How did you know that this learning was taking place? 

LR:  They made great efforts to support one another.  When one group was performing, all the rest of the learners were concentrating on the performance, rather than doing their own preparation.  Even if that performance was not the best in the world, the learners took the trouble to watch it.  More significantly the learners enjoyed what they were doing, and signaled their enjoyment through laughter.

TGSo, wasn’t that your teaching outcome? 

LR:  But … I believe that sometimes a learning outcome cannot be predicted.  If we empower learners to think for themselves, then they might be able to achieve things that educators do not expect.  I think that was certainly the case with the Shakespearean undergraduates two years ago.  Maybe we oughtn’t to make any distinction between teaching and learning outcomes; they’re all part of a continuum.  

TG:  So let’s go back to the question: how do you know that learners learned something from the class? You’ve already talked about their reactions: was there anything else that convinced you that learning had taken place? 

LR:  I asked the learners to do a role-play, so as to emphasize the importance of nonverbal as well as verbal communication in any person-to-person encounter.  The fact that they undertook the task with such gusto suggests that they understood what the outcome of the lesson might have been.  But there was also the unexpected bit: some learners got involved in the activities far more than I would have expected them to.  I try to know my learners, but sometimes they can offer pleasant surprises. 

TGCan you explain that a little more?  How did the learners’ performance meet your expectations, and what were the unpredictable elements? 

LR:  I believe that the performance helped to develop learner fluency and confidence with the language.  By empowering them to draw upon paralinguistic as well as linguistic elements, they understand how communication takes place on several levels.  Even the quiet ones in the group seemed to get involved.  The unexpected element was that those learners whom I expected to be peripheral  in a group-learning situation actually assumed a more active role; in other words, they adapted themselves. 

TGHow do you think the learning evolved during the session?  I mean – learning by “listening,” “doing” or “reflecting”?  If you had to allocate a percentage – or create a pie chart – on those three elements of learning during the class, how you would you respond? 

LR:  Learning by doing would be the most important aspect.  However that can only be sustained through a certain degree of learning by listening: not listening in terms of listening to a lecture from the educator, but listening to each other.  My role in that listening situation is to move about the class, listen to what learners are discussing, and offering comments whenever they might be useful.  Call it collaborative listening.  Let’s say 45% learning by doing, 40% listening, and only 5-10% reflecting.  This is interesting, as I believe that learners only reflect on what they have done after the lesson has concluded, or they have acquired that understanding before the lesson takes place.  In other words, reflection is what is done before and after individual lessons; this is what lies at the heart of adaptive learning. 

TG:  I noticed that … your learners responded well to small stimuli or your classroom management techniques  – clapping hands, for example.  I saw that they were very engaged in the task:  the noise level was quite high.  A lot of that negotiation was done in Turkish to begin with, but as the task neared completion, their language changed to English, especially when they prepared for the performance.  Was that something you expected? 

LR:  Yes.  Referring back to the last chapter, I believe that any language should be used, so long as learners are comfortable with it.  You have to make them want to do the task; if you place too many constraints on them, they won’t do it. 

TG:  There’s one other question here.  As the learners were working, what did you do to improve their levels of fluency or accuracy?  Which of these was your primary focus? 

LRDoes it matter?  Second language speakers need to adapt themselves to the language, and they need the confidence to do so.  Do we want them to be accurate, or just to have the willingness to communicate?  It’s like riding a bicycle, or learning to swim: the way you improve is by doing it, and wanting to do it.  I think we’ve also got to reflect on what fluency means:  do we mean linguistic or communicative fluency?  What is not said often assumes more significance than what is actively said.  Hence my determination not to intervene too much: to empower learners to acquire their own adaptive skills.

TG:  Maybe that was one of your teaching outcomes; to give the learners an opportunity to empower themselves?

LR:  This is true.  In the learners’ educational contexts, they spend a lot of their time in teacher-centered situations, interspersed with presentations.  This involves reading out material copied from books, accompanied with PowerPoint slideshows.  In contrast what I want to do is to create a more fluid situation, so that learners can initiate adaptive processes for themselves. 

TG:  When the learners got to their performance, some of them were reading from notes, others were adlibbing.  Is this what you expected? 

LR:  Yes.  Learners can choose how they want to perform; this has to do with confidence in language communication.  Some are bolder than others.  The only way they can develop is to feel free to adopt whatever strategies they wish. 

TG:  So … and this is the big question.  If you could do the session again, what three things would you keep, and what three things would you drop or change?

LR:  Instead of doing a performance, I might do a creative writing activity.  I might also devise a prereading activity based on a text given before the lesson.  This might be more suitable for younger learners … I don’t know.  I’d also like to have some time allotted for reflection on the learning outcomes of the lesson; in other words, ask the same question of learners that you’ve asked of me. 

TG:  Interesting.  When you answered that question, you critiqued yourself first – and didn’t really talk about the things you wanted to keep.  Why was that, do you think? 

LR:  This is the point of adaptive thinking.  Ideas are seldom fixed, and you can use the past to reflect on present and future.  I’d keep the format of the lesson, as it was group-focused, negotiation-based and learner-centered, and had that unpredictable element.  This represents an alternative to their mainstream learning in the institution. 

TG:  This is co-creation, isn’t it? Let’s stop there and continue our chat later.


I did warn you all…

…cos we ain’t finished, yet – boys and girls!


I asked Laurence to jot down his reflections (between that chat and a follow-up chat we arranged for laters).

This is what he did:

The interesting aspect of this discussion was the ways in which Tony’s feedback questions prompted me to reflect on my teaching practice and the ways in which I reacted from moment to moment during the session.  Such reactions emphasize the capacity of any individual to adapt to any given situation.  This process was identical to that experienced by the learners, as they worked in groups to implement the activity given to them at the beginning.  This is what lies at the heart of collaborative learning… 

However, it is also important to stress that feedback and reflection are not finite, they are ongoing processes (what Tony describes as “reflective savvy”), it should be part of every educational interaction, so as to help educators and learners use adaptation to reshape their approaches to learning, shaped by the cultures they inhabit. 

The next section of our discussion bears this out; it was conducted five days after the first “feedback” session.

TGDid you feel that you needed space to think through some of the things we talked about?

LR:  There are two things there: when you reflect immediately after a class, the reactions are spontaneous, often visceral, perhaps more emotional rather than reflective.  However the five day break is a good way of thinking about how one might use the experience of that lesson as a means to adapt one’s existing pedagogical approaches.  You ask questions such as: did the lesson actually implement what I believe is most significant about the adaptive approach to pedagogy?  Did it help to sustain the kind of continuity something intrinsic to 21st century learning) built up over the previous twelve or thirteen weeks of the semester?

TG:  OK, let’s ask you that question: how does that type of reflection impact on your personal philosophy of teaching and learning? 

LR:  I think the answer to that goes back to my belief that adaptation studies, understood in this context as a process of mental as well as textual transformation, is a continuous process of reflecting on the past to determine one’s future belief.  When I started teaching nearly thirty years ago, I was very much wedded to the “sage on the stage” belief, because I copied what my teachers did in the university context.  I think it’s very difficult to undergo a complete overhaul of one’s teaching technique, as I believe I have done, and I think that the only way to achieve that transformation is through continual reflection.  If you want to feel confident in your transformative process, you’ve got to have the guts to put your knowledge and skills on the line and scrutinize them. 

TG:  And that’s precisely the kind of adaptive approach that Darwin advocated, all those years ago, when he discussed how all species become accustomed to new environments. 

LR:  Exactly.  And this reflection session is a good way of stimulating this process.  I have to look at classes in terms of what learners get out of it, rather than judging myself purely in terms of educator performance. 

TG:  When we talked in the feedback session a few days ago, I asked a series of structured questions.  Were there any that you found disturbing, and which do you think allowed you to think about adaptive learning in a deeper way? 

LR:  I don’t think any questions actually disturbed me.  

TGNot even the one about teaching outcomes? 

LR:  No.  Because I think the questions help me to structure my reflections, and hence learn how to adapt themselves.  The outcomes question needs to be addressed, even if you don’t necessarily like it. 

TGBut you did resist the question when we talked about it? 

LR:  This is part of that two-fold process I described earlier.  I think learning in an adaptation studies classroom encompasses immediate feedback plus a more considered reflection a few days later.  The considered reflection helps makes sense of those unpredictable elements that take place in any learning situation – for example, when a lesson plan doesn’t work out, or when learners react in ways that the educator doesn’t anticipate.  If you asked me now about what the teaching outcomes were of the lesson I did five days ago, I’d answer thus:  to develop learner capacities to transform texts in their own ways, and thereby cultivate resilience and problem-solving abilities.I think the time spent on reflection helps find a way of reconciling educator and learner interests;  to help educators understand learner needs, and to adapt their techniques as a result.  This is where I think adaptation studies is so important.  It represents an attempt to create new models of learning.  I think what we’re doing is trying to take the discipline out of its film-theater-literature context and apply it in a broader sense to issues of teaching and learning.

TG:  We might call it a more principled context.  In other words, not just pursuing something new for the sake of it – because it’s technologically hip or cool, but trying to devise a set of principles for adaptive learning.  Can we go back a bit and think a little about your answer to my first question a few days ago.  When I asked how long it was since you’ve been observed, you replied in a very nontraditional way.  It surprised me when you said that my classroom’s open: usually when people respond they say that they’ve never been observed – or not been observed  – “professionally” for a very long time.  That suggested you had a fair bit of learning consciousness.  Does that make sense?  Where did this come from, do you think?

LR:  I think this has a lot to do with my belief in feedback and reflection as the basis of adaptation studies, something which has become more pronounced since I did the Shakespeare course two years ago.  I think this can best be done by investigating one’s autobiography.  When I did my teacher training in the mid-1980s, I had a mentor teacher whom I never got on with.  This was a purely personal thing.  I remember one day she asked me a peremptory question after I’d done a sample lesson:  “what do you think the learners learned from that lesson?”  It was designed purely as a content-based feedback question – another example might be: what poems did learners study in the anthology today? 

TG:  In other words, were you ticking all the boxes correctly – or was she? 

LR:  True.  Ever since that time I’ve always believed that an observer is there not to judge, but to learn themselves, or to engage in dialogue. 

TGSo an observer can participate in adaptive learning as well?

LR:  Yes:  the observer might want to develop their own skills.  They might not only comment on your own technique, but participate in a dialogue. 

TG:  I also believe in getting feedback on my questioning technique.  Did you think I was leading or judging you through my feedback? 

LR:  Not at all …an educator should prompt reflection through feedback based on questioning.  This is what I found fascinating about our sessions: encouraging that two-fold response we talked about earlier.  The art of adaptive learning is to realize that the questioner is not out to judge, but to prompt self-adaptation.  

TG:  I purposely didn’t ask you one question in the previous reflection session , focusing on your own adaptive thinking: what will you do in the class, and how can you evaluate the success of the initiatives you want to introduce?  Do you think I was right to do so? 

LR:  Maybe it would have caused a defensive response: everyone will reply that their lessons are going to contribute to an overall course of action, because I want to be a better educator.  But if you leave it for a few days, I think you’re going to prompt the educator to review what they have done, and determine for themselves whether they need to change or not.  Maybe the passage of time is important there. 

TG:  Now you’ve talked about learning outcomes, I think maybe we can look at your lesson in this way.  Maybe you created the opportunities for learners to develop themselves (though planning the outcomes of a lesson); but maybe you can’t predict how they will respond to these opportunities.  Let’s go back to you for the moment.  Sometimes I do feedback sessions three, or even four times, so as to help educators in their reflective processes.  Do you feel that these two sessions have made a difference for you? 

LR:  Yes, because I think that these experiments stimulate individual educator reflection – a process that never ends.  Sometimes you need someone to bounce ideas off in order to develop your own ideas and techniques.  We’re not just talking about an isolated process here; this is the basis of collaborative learning – non-judgmental, non-threatening – where people feel they can be honest in what they are saying. 

TG:  Once educators recognize the rationale of this type of process, they can then use the same experience with their learners, asking the same kind of questions we looked at together.

…or NOT?


This “LEARNing conversation” is adapted from chapter 5 (entitled “Reflecting and Adapting”) of – a wee book Laurence and I have been putting together…every Sunday for the past year.

The book – ADAPTATION STUDIES AND LEARNING: NEW FRONTIERS (Scarecrow, 2012) – will be published by a tiny, boutique publisher in the US…and you will probably never find it…in any self-respecting book store!

…and don’t be asking me for a signed, free copy…our marketing budget is so small, we have had to borrow money from our mothers-in-law just to purchase our own copies!

BUTboth Laurence and I would love to hear what you thunk

“Comment zamanı, anyone”?

Should we be TELLing or ASKing TEACHers…about “their” classrooms? (Pt 02)

In Adult Educators, Adult Learners, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 10/11/2012 at 8:34 am

That image is probably the #1 graphic (in download terms) on the blog – probably because so many people see so many different things in it.

However, what nearly everyone agrees on is that the quote is…oh-so-true!


That having been said, do you remember what I said in Pt 01 of this little diziabout “truth”?

…but I would warn against thunking that “our” truth is the “only” truth…especially when we are talking about classroom observation and helping another educator LEARN, GROW…and GET OFF the planet quicker!

What I was getting at was basically this – when we are helping another TEACHer to reflect on a lesson, the best way to do it is by ASKingby LISTENingby BEing there for the TEACHer (as well as BEing with the TEACHer).


Jumping in with both feet (and a “club”) ain’t gonna get you very far – and the over-zealous (and over-used) strategy of picking up on every, single, bloody, tiny, “screw-up” is probably the reason so many TEACHers (still) “dread” – yes, I said “dread”, classroom observation…and (even more so) the “feedback session”!

Yes! I have “feelings” on this…strong feelings!

BUT…this is not the time for a RANT (I heard you, Laurence)!


I promised to share something with you…some of the questions I ASK when I run “reflection sessions” with TEACHers.

I won’t pretend that these little questions are the “Holy Grail” of feedback sessions (there are no magic bullets in education – you know this). All I can say is that they “work” for mein 9 out of 10 instances…especially, in sessions when TEACHers “volunteer” or ASK me to help them out.


That’s the first one I start with (after finding a comfortable place to chat…and buying us both a coffee or çay).

Why is this question so important?


Well, I totally agree with what my men, Andy and Mike, say…

…but, in a feedback session – it is “feelings” that dictate how effectively a TEACHer will “be” him or herself, “thunk”…and “open up” to you. Even if you both feel that you already have a pretty “cool” relationship…

It ain’t rocket science – boys and girls!


The next question I usually ASK is this one:

…now, this one looks quite “easy”, doesn’t it?


However, I’ve found that even the most experienced TEACHers can benefit from exploring this question a wee bit…especially, when one of our purposes (for having a feedback session) is to get to my third question:


It is this questionor rather the second part of this question…that can “bake a noodle” or three!

Indeed, it is this question that can lead us back to the second question…and allow us both to look at how “aligned” the lesson actually was (with what was “planned”).


Afterall, we all know…

…don’t we?


Building on that question, I often move onto my next one:

…and it is one of the “toughest” in the whole session – especially we we use it to analyse different phases of a lesson or the various activities used.

Yes, it can take a long time!


What this lovely little question also does is show the “power” of recording classroom observation sessions – video recording and serious “viewing” by the TEACHer herself.

If I am not actually recording the session (and I try to do this as much as I can), I sometimes keep a “log” of how many times a TEACHer (or the LEARNers) “do” certain things. For example, in one recent session I began counting the number of times that LEARNers actually:

1. produced an “original” utterance

2. produced an utterance “copied” from what the teacher had said

3. produced an utterance “copied” from the textbook

…when I shared my “count” with the TEACHer in question, we got into all sorts of great discussions (after the initial “shock” produced by the “data”) – and agreed that video was the way to go (with or without me being there)!


The next question is really all of the “magic 3” I mentioned in the earlier post:

– the “trick” here is to try and get TEACHers to look at the “strengths” of a session firstyou’d be surprised just how many want to ignore these and focus on “fixing” the not-so-great-stuff!


Now, this next one is a bit tricky – as the previous question needs to have prepared the groundwork by having thrown up a range of options. Indeed, it is that phase that allows the OBSERVer and the TEACHer to “trade” ideastrade practices…and “create” improvement opportunities:

…this question then allows you to set up an action plan…a timeline.

And, we all know why that is! Yes?


But, it is the second part of the question that helps TEACHers (especially those that have not done a great deal of “formal” reflection or been observed very much)…start to take a newer perspectivea LEARNing perspective that uses the type of “counts” I mentioned before! This perspective is not grounded on what the TEACHer “does” all on her own – but rather in the LEARNing that is “produced” by what both the TEACHer and the LEARNers “do” together…


In any reflection session, it’s also important that the TEACHer gets the opportunity to give some feedback to the OBSERVer – so, I often ask this one:

…and encourage the TEACHer to TELL me what “worked” for him…what I should keep on doing or what I can do less of – to improve the experience.

I have got a lot better over time at doing this…by LISTENing to feedback from TEACHers on how I “perform” as an OBSERVera lot better!


As I said (right at the start of this post) – there is no magic recipe.

I do not always use every question. I do not always keep the same order outlined here…and, it is the questions that the TEACHer and I co-create in a specific conversation that are the most fruitful in many cases!


SO…what I’ll do in the next post (I might need to split it up) is show you an actual “transcript”. The LEARNing coversation I had with Laurencethe very first time I saw him “in action”


That should be FUN!

Should we be TELLing or ASKing TEACHers…about “their” classrooms? (Pt 01)

In Adult Educators, Adult Learners, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 09/11/2012 at 9:37 am

This post is dedicated to the memory of “Sally”a wonderful LEARNer, TEACHer and QUESTIONer – who has been taken from us far too early.

Bugün, çok karanlık bir günde,  harika bir insan ve arkadaşımızı aydınlığa uğurlayacağız…seni seviyouruz, canım!


With the exception of my “saucy Conference Calendar“, nearly all my posts (and guest-posts) of late have been about “questions”.

Have you noticed that?

Now, I’m not sure about you…but I have always hated being “told” what to doeven when I was knee-high to a grasshopper! Parents, teachers…even my “mates” would drive me up the wall…when they “jumped” in and said things like:

  • No, that’s silly…what you need to do is…
  • You’re doing it all wrong, Tony! This is how you do it…
  • You didn’t use the blackboard much in that lesson. Why not?
  • Your lesson lacked “flavour” again…why didn’t you do what we discussed last time?

OK – those last two are from CELTA trainers…and even though a question or two are “thrown” in – they weren’t really questions at all. More like a club to the head!

We’ve talked about these kinds of things before – many times on the blog (as have others in my PLN)!


Don’t get me wrong!

I’m not suggesting that we should never tell others the “truth”…but I would warn against thunking that “our” truth is the “only” truth…especially when we are talking about classroom observation and helping another educator LEARN, GROW…and GET OFF the planet quicker!


TELLing people does NOT workas well as we thunk!

Think about it – as a TEACHer – how many times have you told your LEARNers stufftold them againrevised itre-taught itchecked their understandingassigned “homework”…and some of them STILL don’t get it?

Why would it be any different if you did the same with a TEACHer…when giving them feedback on one of their lessons? Especially, and I mean especially, when you get their backs up…by suggesting:

  • I know best!
  • You did it wrong!
  • Now, fix it!


There is a better way…

It’s not rocket science! If we can shelve our experience, our positionour egoand LISTEN first!

LISTENing is best initiated by ASKing…and, in allthingsclassroomobservation, there are essentially THREE questions we should be encouraging TEACHers to thunk about

Finding out where the TEACHer is coming fromwhat the TEACHer “feels”…is the best (initial) “deposit” you can drop into the “joint emotional bank account” you have opened with the TEACHer. You are going to need some “credit” in that account before you can make a “withdrawal”…

and, you can take that advice to the bank!


The thing is…

Isn’t that always the case?

Tomorrow, I’ll share with you some of the questions that I ASK…

What exactly is BEST PRACTICE in Classroom Observation?

In Classroom Teaching, ELT and ELL, Teacher Training on 23/06/2012 at 12:25 pm

…our topic for today (boyz n’ girlz) is…

…but this is the Madonna-free, PG-rated version – the version that will ensure I steer well-clear from any complaints from some obscure “internet trading and advertising organisation” (or worse – more “hate mail”)!

A few weeks ago those lovely chaps at ELTchat (check them out on twitter, too – #eltchat – there are some really great discussions) – had a virtual chin-wag on allthingsobservation.

As I had been banging about classroom observation (the recent series on “Misfires” and “Advice for Observers”), I just had to sign upProblem was…I found meself on a high-speed train (from Eskişehir) at exactly the same time. As good as the wonders of a 3G iPad might be, tweet I could not!

A couple of tweets did manage to get through:

Now, you can imagine how I was feeling – someone who loves to “talk” as much as I does, someone who has so much to “say” about classroom observation (and how we seem to screw it up – again, and again, and again)! I felt a bit like a kid who had been grounded and sent up to his room during his favourite TV show…but could hear snippets of the show’s dialogue upstairs in his room (this actually happened to me quite a lot when I was a kid – missed so many episodes of the “Six Million Dollar Man” you just would not believe it)…

Marisa Constantinides (aka @Marisa_C) to the rescue!

Marisa and I had chatted before the session and I’d said “I’ll be there”!

Famous last words…

She knew how upset I was that I missed the twitter shin-dig and asked if I’d like to “get my voice back” by doing a podcast with her ELTchat partner-in-crimeJames Taylor (aka @theteacherjames).

Yeah, it was like mum n’ dad had forgiven me…and let me downstairs to see Steve Austin (and, from time-to-time, Jaime Sommers…and Maximillion – the bionic dog, too) “save” the day (in actual fact, this hardly ever happened when I was a kid…my mum and dad never backed down)!

Me and @theteacherjames had to overcome a few challenges – schedulesunplanned “flying visits”…and bloody Skype (even when you have to sell a kidney every month to get the type of internet connection that, so they tell you, would even make God herself jealous)!

…@theteacherjames was a wonderful “first” for me! He was kind and considerate –  getting me all comfortable by chatting about football and the woes of actually setting up and editing podcasts. I couldn’t have asked for a better “podcast Jedi master”

Pretty soon we were on fire…he used a lot of the questions raised during the #eltchat twitter session (you can find the full transcript of the discussion – HERE).

I found that I relaxed pretty quickly and we ended up chatting for over an hour.

I’m guessing you’ll have to make up your own minds as to whether what we said to eachother makes sense or not (CLICK HERE – to listen to the edited version  the podcast) – James tells me that he’ll get up the full unedited version up (the ‘R’ rated version) very soon so watch his spot (and maybe play around with PodOmatic itself!

I think MarisaJames and all the other #eltchatterers would love to hear what you think (go on, add a comment or three to this post)!

In the original discussion, a lot of the participants shared a wide range of resources on classroom observation:

OK – I cheated (just a tweeny-weeny bit)! These last two were not mentioned in the original chat – but they should’ve been…and would’ve been if I hadn’t been on a stupid “hızlı tren”

These are also some of the musings I have thrown up on allthingslearning over the past couple of months – the weekend is coming up and you might fancy a bit of “bedtime reading” this weekend:

Oh, yes…and there was the “mega-series” (that went on almost as long as Dallas or Friends):

…there was MORE:

Now, looking back at all of this stuff – not so sure, am I – that it represents “Best Practice” in Classroom Observation…(this is why my second title works so much better)…

But, hey…if it gives you a couple of ideas for “Next Practice” in your context – maybe that’s not too shabby!

MarisaJames (and Mike)…

New BLOGS on the BLOCK (in Türkiye)…

In Guest BLOGGERS, News & Updates (from the CBO) on 19/05/2012 at 12:35 pm

A few weeks back, I did a post entitled – Made in Türkiye (BLOGS that is)… – and highlighted a number of great ELT bloggers from Canım Türkiye (Seriously, seriously…Google Translate…when will you get your act together)!

OK – I also had a bit of a “rant” about how many of these bloggers cannot use the beautiful spellings of their names and surnames. But, things are changing – and as a wise old fella once said:


Also, if you is a fan of the “Bard of Avon” (and have a couple of hours to spare) – why not check out the excellent movie “Anonymous” this weekend. You will not regret it…

Tony, will you ever LEARN to “focus”?


Ken Wilson also did a recent post – Young Turks in ELT (in their own words)and profiled a few of the lovely and talented bloggers from around the country. But, I have to say that a few of them (you know who you are) were, shall we say, not quite as “young” as Ken’s title suggested – and certainly not as “lovely” as some of Ken’s female bloggers!


Anyways, I’ve also been doing a bit of “digital stalking” and come across a batch of new bloggers from around Anatolia…and that tiny, wee place that pretends it’s a city but is, in fact, almost a country in itself

The reason I like so many of these new blogs is that they are really getting to grips with “reflective practice” – by sharing some very personal stories about TEACHer LEARNing and growth…


So, yes – this is a “call to arms”…drop in and say “hi” to some of our new kids on the block, leave a comment and pass on the word…

…and, hey…let us know if you hear of any more budding bloggers out there!

A Questioning Culture – for the CLASSROOM this time!

In Classroom Teaching, Our Schools, Our Universities on 24/04/2012 at 1:21 pm

A couple of months ago I did a post on the need for institutions to create a “questioning culture” (actually, there was a second post, too).

Basically, my stream of bloggereah went something like this:

  • Questions are at the heart almost everything we think, feel and do as a species…
  • Despite the fact that we know good questions are at the heart of effective student, teacher and institutional LEARNing, many of the questions we ask in our schools, colleges and universities are pretty lame…
  • Ergo – many institutions remain ineffective, fail to move with the times and…are hell to work for!


Is it the same in our classrooms…acaba?


This weekend Edna Sackson (aka @whatedsaid) treated me (and a fair few others) to another great post on her blog – What Ed Said. She outlined the really creative and collaborative way she had got her head around what a “lifelong learner profile” could (or should) be – and what it should not be!

As a bonus, she also introduced me to Ron Ritchart’s “8 Cultural Forces” (from his book – Intellectual Character: What It Is, Why it Matters, and How to Get It):

For Ron these “forces” define what a “thinking classroom culture” is all about – and Ed drew on these (and some ideas from her PLN – #pypchat) to describe a whole range of classroom practices that help “create” the type of learner profile we all want…need…to see in our classrooms! Do try and take a look at her post HERE.

What Ed and Ron got me thunking about was the tools we use to breathe life into these forces – yani, what we teachers do with what we know about with these things. What struck me was the one common tool that we all use – our questions!


The TEACHer in me thought it might be a good idea to get down some solid “advice” for us all on the ole blog – but then, I remembered something from last week.

At a teacher training seminar I was doing (on “Speaking Skills” for ELLs) I posed a few questions to participants:


What hit me (like a truck) as I encouraged people to “answer” these questions for themselves was that many teachers simply did not have answers to these questions – they did not “know” (though they all promised to find out the next week)…


Bearing this in mind, I wondered if the same situation would arise if we modified these questions about teacher-talking-time to questions about questions. For example:


I got these out to a few “guinea pigs” as bit of an e-straw poll!

Same response… “Tony, we don’t know for sure”! Actually, a few people said things that were a bit more colourful than that…and one even threatened to “de-friend” me on facebook!

But, again…most said they’d love to find out.


For many of us, the questions we ask in the classroom are a great way of communicating knowledge and checking the quality of learning – however, the questions we ask of students are perhaps one of the best tools we have to role-model attitude, expectations, abilities – and thunking!

I know lots of teachers who have boned up on web-based resources on questioning techniques (there are some great resources out “there”) – but it seems to me that a wee bit more of a focus on “action research” would be a far better way to start:

  • Using recordings of ourselves in class with our students – and listening
  • Asking a “critical friend” to pop into a class or two for us – and listening
  • HEY, even getting students involved as a “question monitors” – and listening


Once we get a bit of data on “the numbers” (our own numbers), we could then perhaps do a bit of “data mining” – through other questions:


Teachers can benefit from looking at other things, too – for example:


They can also push the envelope a little further and consider:


Then, do some serious “heavy-lifting”:


Looking back at these “reflection” questions, I’m glad I choose to ask “TEACHer Tony” to take a back seat today. It’s not just advice from “others” that will help us create a questioning culture in our classrooms – it’s asking questions of our own practice that really matters…


The Secret Diaries of Observees – Two Teachers Reflect…

In Classroom Teaching, Teacher Training on 15/04/2012 at 2:56 pm

Been a while since I did a post…been on the road a wee bit – my bad! But…we have had a few things on the go. This is one of those things…

We have banging on about allthingsobservation in recent weeks – and have been hooking up with friends as far away as Korea to do this. But, I’m going to come back to Eskişehirour “jewel” of the Turkish mid-west – for this one. Eskişehir has become something of a home-away-from-home for me this year (as those of you that get me tweets as I am racing along at 250 km/hr on our “hizlı tren” will know).

Love the place!

In fact, I still have plans to “kidnap” and “steal” Yılmaz Hocam (Büyükerşen) and bring him to Ankaradon’t tell them..!


On a recent trip there, I had a few hours to spare (hey, I’m “semi-retired” these days – need to keep myself “busy”)…and asked if any of the staff at Anadolu University there wanted me to drop in and “observe” a few classes – and, give them a bit of feedback.

Two very brave souls –  Çağdaş Gündoğdu and Aysun Güneş from AÜ-SFL – stepped up to the plate and asked if I could pop into one of their classes. Both Çağdas and Aysun are full-time classroom teachers and also work as HLUs (Heads of Learning Unit) at the school.

I say “brave” – not because they invited me to their classes, but because Aysun had never been observed (after almost 10 years as a teacher) and Çağdaş just couldn’t remember the last time he had had an “observer” in one of his classrooms!


We didn’t have time to run a “full” observation cycle but we exchanged a few ideas via e-mail before the “drop-in visit” and held a post-conference a few hours after each visit. I was so impressed by the way both of them responded to the whole process that I asked if I could “interview” them – you know, to get a meta-view of the whole process and see what they thought about classroom observation in a wider sense.

This is a record of our discussion – I have had to “edit” a few things so any errors or oversights are totally mine!

Ahh! I’d like to point out – yes, I know you want me to get on with it – that I am so proud of both of them and the kind of leadership they are demonstrating (by agreeing to do this type of “post”).

Guys (or “Guy” and “Gal” – I remembered, Aysun)

…you are both “stars” – THANK YOU! 


Why did you both volunteer to have an “observer” come into to your class?

Çağdaş: I volunteered because I believe that we need cooperation for progress…either personal or institutional…it’s a key issue. An observer is like a mirror for me…through which we can see a different reflection…of ourselves.

Aysun: Since I started teaching I’ve always wanted to reflect on my professional development and be more aware of my teaching. That’s why…also…I’m a people person, I like to interact with people and this observation was a good chance for me to get the necessary feedback about Aysun as a teacher. Also, I was sure that not being observed before was a real drawback for my teaching…{laughs}…Also I became definitely sure after seeing your face when I said no one had observed my lessons before!


How did you feel, say, an hour before the session? 

Aysun: Before the session I felt a little…tense…and tried to prepare some notes for myself…to use during the lesson. But then…I changed my mind and decided to be spontaneous. When I entered the classroom, all the black clouds scattered…because I was in one the safest places…for me…in my classroom. 

Çağdaş: I was excited…but not nervous. I knew myself and I felt ready for the session. Also, I was impatient to find out how another person…a professional…saw me in action in class.


What about the students – how did they respond, do you think?

Aysun: In the lesson…the students were really eager to learn. I mean…they were attentive and ready for any kind of input. Actually…because their level of English is quite good…they are usually attentive and eager in most lessons. they didn’t seem worried at all…maybe a bit protective…of me. This was great!

Çağdaş: The students looked more focused on the lesson than on the observer…this was a good sign. This showed me that I managed to involve them in the tasks…and they did not panic or get nervous…because I was calm, I think. Generally, the students were really positive and enthusiastic to learn.



What was it like as the “monster” sat at the back of the class – how was it after so long?

Çağdaş: Honestly, I forgot that I was being observed…as I went on with the lesson. So, I can say that I was not bothered by the presence of another professional in the classroom…really…really! 

Aysun: {laughs} …a monster sitting at the back was not irritating…or demotivating.  I believe…if such a monster keeps that quiet and does not interfere with the lesson…like you did {laughs}…the situation won’t be irritating for the other teachers, too.


How did the feedback session go? How was this different to what you expected?

Aysun: When it comes to the feedback session…I can honestly say that it went great. I got invaluable feedback on my teaching, time management, teacher-student interaction and my students’ performance. During the feedback session, the observer {laughs} asked me some questions and most of the time he encouraged me to talk…REFLECT! At first, I started talking about the negative aspects…but again he encouraged me to start with the positive ones…they are important, too. 

Çağdaş: The feedback session was mostly on my reflections upon the lesson. It helped me to evaluate myself…letting me admit my shortcomings and become aware of my strengths. The observer was also positive and encouraging while I was self-assessing.


How did you feel after the session?

Aysun: After the feedback session, I felt satisfied and more aware of myself in terms of my teaching. Actually…I learnt that I have good time management skills and good interaction with my students.  On the other hand…I learnt that I needed to be more patient after asking a question. I mean…I need to wait after the question and I shouldn’t storm in as much.

Çağdaş: Don’t laugh…but I felt like I was reborn {laughs himself}. I felt like I was all brushed up and…could see better into my teaching. I was so pleased that I knew I would like more of these opportunities…being observed…and asked to analyse myself and given feedback on my performance.



What did you learn about yourself, your teaching, your students?

Çağdaş: I learned…understood…that I was a good motivator and instructor. Also, I found out that I was a good story-teller. Moreover, I realized that I was concerned with students’ feelings as well as their class performance. Besides, I became aware that I did my best to stick to the time limit for the exercises. However, I was the dominant figure in the classroom and that I needed to give students more talking time and allow them to take more initiative during the activities. As for my students, I realized that they were ready to learn more if they were encouraged and motivated well enough.

Aysun: To me, after the feedback session I can say that I realised I’m a good teacher…well, at least one who tries to improve herself.  Being more aware of my teaching is like a blessing. I learnt that my teaching was not problematic…in the big picture way…and also…I was so pleased with the way my students are working…trying to learn. One more thing…I became definitely sure about the interaction between me and my students…and how important it is…because having bonds between students and teachers is one of the key elements…the core element of the ideal classroom…and learning, of course.



What are you planning to do next? How will you build on the session?

Aysun: After this observation, I decided to read more on the wider training issue… because we need to learn more to be more like professionals. By doing this…I believe that I will be a good example for my colleagues. 

Çağdaş: I will certainly limit teacher-talking time and let students discover more by themselves and teach them not to be afraid of making mistakes…I’ll also help them be more responsible…for their own learning in class as well.



What would you recommend to other teachers – after all this?

Çağdaş: Every teacher should experience observation…like this…and be open to co-operation with other colleagues and professionals…it’s just…about a more efficient type of professional development…more personal.

Aysun: I would definitely recommend my friends to let trainers observe their lessons.  Because we cannot really observe ourselves during a lesson…I mean…this observation thing works just as a mirror. After the observation…it would be much easier to see the problems. Also these observations will help the teachers build experience…and be more open to others’ ideas and thoughts. That’s the benefit…real benefit.



What would you recommend to observers? How could they help you and other teachers best – in the future?

Çağdaş: For me…it’s really important that observers are always empathetic and encouraging to teachers…before, during and after the sessions. It’s a whole process…a package.

Aysun: When it comes to the observer…she…or he should be a people person who can communicate and interact with people well. Also, during the observation the observer should behave like a  ghost…INVISIBLE almost…I mean, they should be there physically but shouldn’t interfere with things. If observers do this type of thing, they can be really helpful to others.