Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer, manager and consultant

Posts tagged ‘metaphors’

CrowdScience – learning as you get older

BBC World Service’s CrowdScience is one of my favourite podcasts, as the listener questions are fascinating and it features experts from all over the world.

BBC World Service CrowdScience logo

One recent CrowdScience episode was particularly relevant:

Why is learning stuff harder as you get older?

Have you taken classes to learn a new sport or musical instrument or a language? It’s hard work! Why is it that as children we effortlessly absorb new skills and we don’t as adults?

That’s what 50-something listener Gary Grief wondered about playing guitar. Do you need to play more frequently as an adult to attain the same level of expertise? Does the 10,000-hours theory still apply?

Presenter and budding tabla-player Anand Jagatia embarks on a musical journey to discover what neuroscience can tell us about muscle memory and learning. Do musicians and sportsmen share the same challenges? By understanding what’s happening in the brain, can we learn how to learn better?

With tabla-teacher Satvinder Sehmbey, neuroscientist Dr Jessica Grahn, viola-player Dr Molly Gebrian and sports scientist Prof Yannis Pitsiladis.

CrowdScience episode page, retrieved 15/5/2021

The whole 30-minute episode was fascinating, and I’d recommend all teachers listen to it. My favourite part was the metaphor about learning being like creating tracks in a very deep snow field, that you have to keep going over the ‘correct’ route again and again for it to stand out and become easy to follow, and that when you first start learning something it’s hard to work out which of the single sets of footprints is the ‘correct’ or most efficient one to follow.

CrowdScience is also a good podcast for learners to listen to because there is a wide range of different accents, and because it’s for the World Service the speech is generally a little slower and clearer than programmes intended for home service stations. There’s also normally clearer signposting of topics in the programmes.

Metaphors to help new teachers

As teachers, we care about our students. We want to do the best for them. This is important and admirable, but it can also create a lot of pressure, especially for new teachers.

GB v Turkey table tennis

When we first pick up a tennis racquet, we don’t expect to be able to win an Olympic medal.

When we first sit down at a piano and put our fingers to the keys, we don’t expect to be able to play Chopin.

But when we first walk into a classroom, we expect to be able to teach perfect lessons.

Just like playing a musical instrument or a sport, teaching is a skill which takes time to develop. Don’t expect to win a medal or play Chopin without practice, and don’t expect to teach perfect lessons.

Perfect lessons don’t exist. That’s why I still love this job – because there’s always something new to learn.

Three panel cartoon: the first shows a person surrounded by speech bubbles, all but one positive. 2. Person eating, all positive comments a little faded out, negative comment still clear. 3. Negative comment clear, all others almost completely faded out. Person in bed.

When our students make a mistake with their English, especially if they’re beginners, we don’t tell them they’re bad students and shouldn’t be in the classroom. We don’t point out all of the problems with their language. Instead we choose one or two areas and give them feedback to help them develop. We also praise their strengths and build their confidence in their abilities.

When we make a mistake as a teacher, especially a new teacher, we often tell ourselves that we’re bad teachers and have no place in the classroom. We dwell on the problems with our lessons. We beat ourselves up about what went wrong. We forget to notice the things that went well and what we’ve improved, which probably far outweigh any problems there were.

This is not fair to us or our students.

Bydgoszcz warehouses

Learning a language is like building a house. We need to lay the foundations and build it up brick by brick. If we build it too quickly or without having proper foundations, the house will fall down. And although we can build it alone, it’s much faster when we get help from other people who are supportive and can share their experience. 

Learning to teach is the same. Let yourself be a beginner. Notice your strengths and be proud of your progress. Notice where you need to put the next brick. Give yourself time to build the foundations, and ask for help whenever you need it.

Make the most of your old computer

ELTpics image by @mscro1

When you’re using the internet, if you’re trying to download a big file it slows everything down. If you have too many things open, it can crash. There isn’t enough bandwidth.

We all have a finite amount of attention, which I call mental bandwidth. When we’re teaching, we need to pay attention to a lot of things: what’s next in our plan, how to make the technology do what we want it to do, how to answer the question a student just asked us, the fact that we forgot to have a snack before the lesson and are starving…and how stressed and overwhelmed we’re feeling right now.

As we build up experience, some of these things become automatic. We know how to set up the next activity, we’re confident with the technology and have a back-up plan if it doesn’t work, we’ve heard that question five times before and don’t need to think about the answer, we remembered to have a snack…and we’re so much calmer and less stressed in general now. We no longer have to think about these things, releasing mental bandwidth for us to pay attention to other areas, and particularly to be fully present in the classroom and pay attention to the students. This doesn’t happen on day one. It takes time.

Clocks photo mosaic

Give yourself that time.

Embrace the learning.

Enjoy it.

Be kind to yourself.

Good luck.

(And if you need help, here’s a similar CELTA-specific post, here’s a guest post by a CELTA trainee who initially struggled with confidence on the course, here’s a list of useful links for CELTA, here’s a short presentation about building confidence as a teacher, and here’s a short task to help you think about what you say to yourself about your teaching.)

Tag Cloud