11 questions I ask myself before the start of a new academic year

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The following are some of the teaching-and-learning-related questions that I ask myself a week or two before the start of each academic year and endeavor to act upon. They help me re-focus on my classroom teaching after the long summer break and set myself quality professional development goals. Although language acquisition and pedagogy are something I reflect on a lot on a daily basis, I always ask myself questions 1 and 2, below, too. Why? Because although my main espoused theory of language acquisition remains the same, I do review and revise some of my beliefs about L2 pedagogy every year that goes by as I read about research, reflect on my practice, listen to my students’ feedback and exchange ideas with colleagues in my department, at CPD events or on social media.

  1. What are my beliefs about how languages are best taught and learnt? – this is a question that, in my experience, not many teachers ask themselves and that many find very difficult to answer. Try it yourself right now and you will get what I mean;
  1. Does my teaching truly reflect those beliefs? – often teachers end up using the textbook or other resources available in the department as it is the easier way; however, that is unlikely to result in professional fulfillment and the fact that one does not really ‘believe’ in the approach one is using may impact learning negatively;
  1. Is my teaching ‘task-driven’ or ‘methodology-driven’? – as I discussed in a previous post, it is our methodology and understanding of language acquisition that should determine the way we teach and/or our students learn in class and at home; not the resources or tasks we like or are readily available. Sometimes we like certain tasks, games, apps or other resources we found or created so much that they end up driving our teaching at the expenses of sound methodology; I see this happen in far too many ‘techy’ lessons – including mine…
  1. What was my best lesson last year? What made it such a great lesson? – I find this question very useful to motivate myself, remind myself of what I am like at my best and help me set goals;
  1. What did not work well last year that I may want to improve on next year? – this is the hardest question to answer and one which requires a lot of honesty and ‘courage’.
  1. What was my worst lesson? Why? How can I prevent ‘bad’ lessons like that one from happening again?
  1. Which skills/areas did I not focus on enough last year? Why? How did this benefit and/or damage my students’ linguistic development? We all emphasize certain skills over others in our daily practice; for instance, I tend to overemphasize oral/aural skills over reading and writing with my younger students. My next academic year resolutions include focusing more on those two skills, for example;
  1. (Imagine yourself talking to a weak, an average and a talented student from each of the year groups you teach, at the end of the next academic year) What would I like him/her to be able to understand and say to me by the end of the year in the context of a target-language spontaneous conversation across various topics? How does this fit with the schemes of work in use in the department? – This is possibly the most useful question of all. It really helps me set my learning objectives for the year, much better than any schemes of work or government or school rubrics. You can obviously apply the same question to all four macro-skill;
  1. What would I like my students to do INDEPENDENTLY (i.e. without any prodding on my part) to enhance their mastery of the target language? How can I get them to WANT to listen, speak, read and write independently? – This is in my view the most neglected area of teaching and learning in secondary schools around the world; yet, it is the most important. We need to reflect on this important aspect of learning and try to foster it as much as humanly possible considered the limited time and resources available;
  2. (Imagine yourself happy and fulfilled at the end of the perfect lesson you have just taught to a specific year group that you find very challenging) What happened in that lesson? Why did it all flow so perfectly? Why did so much learning occur? – This builds on the best-lesson question above but brings it to the next level thereby giving me an aspirational goal to work towards; but also, and more importantly,it makes me reflect on the obstacles on the way;
  3. Who or what resources can help me be that happy, fulfilled and contented teacher? How can I go about obtaining that help? – Be honest here: have you asked for the help and resources needed to address the issues in the way of your professional fulfillment in the classroom? Is there anyone in your department who may lend you a hand? Put aside your pride or ego and ask.

6 thoughts on “11 questions I ask myself before the start of a new academic year

  1. I started out as a Math and Science teacher – but as I’m evolving as a French teacher, I’m finally realizing that an inquiry approach really is the best approach of all for all subjects. I’m still wrapping my head around how that will look and feel, but I’m finally in the right mind-set I think.

  2. I love that in the profession of teaching, we can have two lots of “new year’s resolutions” – once in January, and then again at the start of a new school year! I do pretty much the same sort of reflecting as you, and I have to say I’m much better at keeping my teaching resolutions than my ‘normal’ new year’s resolutions each January!!
    Clare
    http://www.ClaresELTcompendium.wordpress.com

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