Every Little Thing The Reflex Does

I’m showing my age, I know.
I was just thinking earlier, about decision making in the classroom. There’s a brilliant diagram by Chaudron in one of my favourite books, Allwright & Bailey (1991?) Focus on the Language Classroom. CUP. It shows the multitude of decisions we have to make in our classrooms on the fly about error treatment. Add to these the decisions about whether to divert from the lesson plan and how to do it and then it’s an even larger number.
With all these decisions, how do we go about them in a principled way? I feel we do an awful lot based on reflexivity as opposed to reflection. I know that we build up our intuition as we log more classroom practice and think about what goes on but can any of us say every single one of our decisions is planned in advance?
So, the point: I wonder if we logged every reflexive decision and its outcome whether it would help to make better decisions more likely, sort of by step-by-step proceduralizing the metacognitive process (or thinking about what was a good decision and what was a bad decision and hoping that the remnants of this reflection will be accessible the next time you have a  similar decision to make).
We can wing it every lesson but is it always the most effective to wing every stage of the lesson all the time? If you’ve done similar things, you can hopefully make similar successes more probable. It’s just making those seemingly more trivial decisions more principled because they might just have ramifications that we don’t anticipate. And as Duran Duran say, “Every little thing the reflex does leaves an answer with a question mark”. Flex-flex!


Who hasn’t had a lesson where they’ve followed the lesson plan to get to a very worthy but not especially engaging activity? Students not being interested in different tasks might be related to something unrelated to the classroom, or it could be that in our plans we get a bit over-zealous.
Some experiences I’ve had lately with corporate classes:

Everybody needs to describe their company’s products; nobody likes to do it.

At a company where I teach sales and sales support staff we had a lesson about describing products. The company’s products are highly technical. Everyone did the pretask and exit task well but it seemed to be done with gritted teeth.
What could I have done? Any number of things. The lesson wasn’t bad, but I think it left my students wondering about how bloody difficult the next lesson would be. I could have cut the description into stages: basic spec, example uses, benefits. I could then have united these in the exit task. Or I could have used mass-market products first and then used the client company’s products.

Sometimes what will motivate your students is a discussion about television.

At a software company I was trying to draw blood from a stone by asking about alternative marketing and publicity stunts that could be employed to market their software. This turned into an exercise in going through the motions and then gold in the feedback – just talking about what some interesting TV shows one might watch on a popular internet video platform. This caused my student to switch on, really expand more and give me a gateway to get her to be brilliant next lesson.
So, next time, perhaps I should wing it more, don’t you think?

Taking Control of your Development

This post is basically an extended comment on Clare Fielder’s interesting post, Taking Control of your Teaching Career with the European Profiling Grid.
There is a lot to like about it in that it is systematic – sort of like the CEFR. It also tends to assume that you are intending to spend time near classrooms if not remaining in teaching; DoS-type progression is in it but so is the path of expert practitioner.
There are some flaws in it: it doesn’t really apply exactly to small department contexts. It also stops fairly abruptly; not blowing my own trumpet (well, maybe a bit) but if you’re at the far end already, where do you go next? I don’t intend to leave the classroom to be a Big ELT manager or materials designer for a big publisher, so then what?
These are fairly minor criticisms though, seeing as a lot of TEFLers have a shelf life of about 3-5 years. It would still be an interesting read for anybody who has a few years under their belt but if you’ve worked across contexts, what else is there to do without changing countries or companies for the sake of change?