Thursday, 10 November 2016

Becoming an outstanding language teacher

i've been working on a book which will be published by Routledge in the first half of next year (all being well). It's provisionally titled "Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher". The book is aimed at trainee and experienced teachers around the world who aspire to the magic "outstanding" epithet, that piece of English inspection-speak (which I never liked). It's hard to define precisely what excellence means in teaching, of course, yet we have a pretty good idea who the excellent teachers in our schools are. The book tries to unpick aspects if what "outstanding" might look like. What do you have to do for pupils to hold you in the highest regard?

The book is pretty much written and will be around 200 pages long. Its "unique selling point" will be the level of detail in which it analyses individual lessons. There are four chapters which analyse in detail lessons and lesson sequences centred on speaking, reading texts, visuals and writing. I've written line-by-line descriptions with commentary suggesting how you'd interact with the class at each point. I believe this will be particularly useful for teachers new to the craft. Aspects of the latest GCSE and A-level syllabuses will also be looked at.

As with The Language Teacher Toolkit, the underlying methodology is pragmatic and, in this instance,  largely based on my own experience. But to demonstrate that I don't believe in any one "method" I've included some description and brief analysis of some unorthodox approaches which break the usual communicative mould. I'm hoping these case studies will challenge some conventional wisdom.

Even so, all the descriptions do assume the type of general methodological principles we outlined in the Toolkit book - target language use, recycling, structured practice and so on. These are rooted in a sort of half-way house between skill-acquisition and comprehension theory.

But unlike the Toolkit this book makes scant reference to research, even though the latter would support my recommendations. The emphasis once again is on practical techniques and ideas for the classroom based on experience, observation, reading and common sense. Teachers will find plenty of ideas to add to their repertoire. I've done my best not to repeat material used in the Toolkit, although it's hard to avoid a degree of overlap.

There is always a bit of a conundrum with this type of handbook. On the one hand you don't want to come across as preaching and prescriptive, on the other you do need to give your clearest advice. So I've done my best to achieve a balance in that regard. Readers will decide if I've succeeded.

The 14 draft chapters have titles like Running a room, Enjoying sounds, Getting grammatical, Words and chunks, Good games, Dissecting a lesson:texts, Pace, challenge and questions, and Teaching all students. The tone of the book is a bit less formal than the one we employed in the Toolkit, so it's a lighter read, but again it's a book you could either read from cover to cover or dip in and out of.

I'll let you know more when I'm nearer publication.


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