I bought this book at the IH Barcelona conference in February 2020, in what feels like another life entirely!
Title: Lessons Learned: First Steps towards Reflective Teaching in ELT
Author: Gabriel Díaz Maggioli and Lesley Painter-Farrell
Place of publication: Oxford
Affiliate links: (none – the first book I know of that doesn’t seem to be on Amazon!)
Other links: BEBC (You’re supporting a great bookshop if you use this link)
What’s in it?
Here’s the description from the Richmond page (retrieved 23rd August 2020):
Lessons Learned: First Steps towards Reflective Teaching in ELT is a coursebook that introduces aspiring teachers to the main principles and practices associated with reflective teaching in the field of foreign and second language instruction. It can also be used as a reference and resource in professional development programs for more experienced language teachers wishing to update their professional knowledge base.
Written in accessible language.
Departs from comments on teachers’ and students’ needs for language teaching and learning.
There are reflective tasks throughout each chapter to consolidate and personalize information.
Content is clearly introduced and diagrams in mind maps for each unit.
Reflective Journal Tasks, Observation Tasks and Portfolio Tasks at the end of each chapter help to consolidate and keep record of the information learned along the chapter.
Written by well-known and world wide experienced authors from the world of ELT.
Pictures and diagrams in each chapter facilitate understanding and bring information alive.
The 12 main sections of the book are:
- Learning about our students
- Reflective teaching
- Observation: a learning tool
- Managing our classrooms
- Lesson planning
- Organizing language lessons
- Understanding and teaching language
- Developing literacy skills
- Developing oracy skills
- Integrating language skills
- Assessment and evaluation
- Mindful, corrective feedback
There’s also how to use this book, a glossary, a bibliography and a list of online links.
The structure of the book mirrors the principles it is trying to get across, with lots of opportunities for the reader to reflect on what they have read. This is particularly true of the final two pages of each chapter, where there are tables to complete and portfolio tasks, all of which are designed around the reflective principles described in the book. There’s plenty of space to take notes throughout the book, including wide outside margins.
The order of the chapters is logical and feels different to other books I’ve read aimed at the same target audience: starting with the students, where all of our teaching should begin, introducing reflective principles, applying them to observing other teachers, then moving into our own teaching.
Quotes and references from teachers and students begin each chapter, introducing a range of voices beyond the authors’ and encouraging the reader to consider different perspectives on their teaching. Having said that, the authors’ voices are strong, and they include clear examples from their own personal experiences to back up their points.
The book is generally full of useful tips and examples, such as a teacher’s reflection on their lesson on page 61.
Teaching language skills is covered in an appropriate level of depth for teachers with this level of experience, and is very accessible. I also like the fact that the language section starts with lexis rather than grammar. There is a balanced discussion of different approaches to assessment in chapter 11, and a real focus on assessment for learning (rather than of learning) with practical tips for how to go about it.
Some of the pages/features I particularly liked were (numbers = pages):
- 159-161: the rationale for telling students the aim of the lesson, and the description of lesson rhythms
- 175: the idea of lessons which are student-centred but teacher-designed
- 181-184: the list of techniques for scaffolding learning
- 184-192: the description of lesson shapes (a new way of thinking about them for me)
- 242-243: the list of general questions for clarifying use when teaching language
- 271-275: the comprehensive list of writing activities
- 384-385: the characteristics of a good test
- 386-389: practical advice for writing test items
Even as an experienced teacher and trainer, there were new concepts in there for me. One of these was Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA) (p390-391). The idea is to evaluate language skills in an integrated way, as they would occur in real life, rather than as isolated skills.
Areas to improve
It frustrates me when reference books don’t have an index. Although the contents page is very detailed, I have to guess which section to look at if I want to find out about a particular topic and it’s not listed in the section headings.
Occasionally assumptions are made about what the reader might know, with some terminology introduced which isn’t in the glossary. For example, on p180, the terms ‘inductive’ and ‘deductive’ are introduced without being explained, or on p215, ‘Audiolingual Approach’.
One or two assertions are made without being fully referenced:
For example, at a recent conference, a presenter suggested that the optimal number of iterations of a word is nine. (p208)
Who was this presenter? What was the conference? When is ‘recent’? What research did they base this ‘optimal number’ on? Having said that, these woolly sections only happened a couple of times in a 400+ page book, and the book is generally very well researched with appropriate amounts of references to possible further reading.
Both ‘he’ and ‘she’ are used interchangeably throughout the book. Generally this is fine, but when it’s done in a single example lesson plan, it makes it difficult to follow.
Most frustratingly, I found there were a number of typos/proofreading errors. However, while this distracted me when I was reading, it’s not enough to stop this book from being useful.
Apart from the index, all of these issues suggest that the book would have benefitted from one more edit before publication.
It provides a comprehensive basic introduction to ELT, and clearly exemplifies reflective practice. I feel like it’s mostly aimed at Masters students based in the USA (unsurprising, as the authors both teach/taught on The New School MA TESOL programme), but a lot is relevant to teachers in other areas of ELT as well. This would be a useful book for early career teachers to have a copy of and I think it’s one I’ll come back to.