Post Lesson Outcome-Mining

Recently I wrote this post on aims and objectives and as always with this topic, there will be those that agree and those that disagree. It really seems to polarise our industry in a way that it doesn’t seem to in K-12 teaching (or at least that I’ve come across). I thought it would be interesting to think about that and consider some of the common arguments against knowing and communicating what you want to achieve and it seems to me to boil down to one main issue. The belief that:

Having aims and objectives locks us in and an English language lesson should be free to go wherever the students need it to go.

Now, there are a lot of things I could pull from that. The two sides of the Great Objective Debate could spend hours arguing back and forth with neither giving any ground, like academic Brexiteers and Remainers. But where would that get any of us.

Instead, I mentioned it to my wife and she mentioned that in her industry (grant-giving/management in the charity sector) they always have clear objectives for a project but afterwards they like to sit down and carry out an activity called outcome mining in which they pull out and discuss all of the unintentional outcomes they achieved throughout the project. And as she said it, I wondered if maybe this was a bridge between the two camps.

I in no way believe that one should teach their aims/objectives blindly without thinking about the students in front of them or dealing with interesting language that comes up as a matter of course. I fully believe that the job of the teacher is to react and manage what happens in front of them, ensuring that what they’re teaching is relevant and accessible for the specific students in front of them. But I also believe they (and their students) should know from the beginning of the lesson what they are trying to achieve.

Maybe the perfect world is:

  • Knowing what you want to achieve
  • Communicating it to your students and discussing how you intend to achieve it
  • Being open to your students wanting to achieve it in a different way
  • Being open to unintended outcomes that arise throughout the lesson
  • Spending time at the end of the lesson reflecting on:
    • the achievement of the objectives
    • the unintended outcomes that were achieved.

Outcome mining…food for thought. Thanks Louise.

For Student-Facing Textploitation, Click Below:

For whom do aims and objective toll if not for thee

I LOVE clear aims and objectives in a lesson. When I see a group of students and a teacher who know what they’re learning and why they’re learning it, I go all warm and fuzzy inside. But I hate useless admin, admin for the sake of it. I can’t stand the statement “we’ve always done it this way” it makes me the opposite of warm and fuzzy inside…chilly and smooth?

Recently I had a conversation with a teacher that made me go a bit chilly and smooth but I do not think this is an isolated occurrence. In fact I remember feeling this very way in my early years as a teacher. We were discussing aims and objectives and he said:

“I don’t know if anyone else feels this way but I always write my aims and objectives because I know I have to but I don’t know who they are for? Are they for me, are they for my students or are they for the British Council?”

And there it is…I’m chilly and smooth. The one statement worse than “we’ve always done it this way” is “we do it for accreditation” or in the UK, “we do it for the British Council” [shudders]. Because yes of course there are things that we do in a school that when our accreditation bodies arrive, we will display proudly. And there are things that accreditation bodies will look for in a school. And one of those things will be aims and objectives…but not so they can tick a box, not so we can tick a box, but because behind every accreditation criterium lies a very good reason, a justification for its existence.

Aims and objectives for aims and objectives sake are not a good thing…but a learner who knows what they are learning and how it will help them in their real life is most definitely a good thing. Aims and objectives are one way of achieving this.

So to answer this teacher’s question (and I should add here that this was an incredible teacher who was just trying to figure out how best to use aims&objectives in their lesson) I said:

“Aims and objectives are for your students first and foremost and should never be a tick box. They should be a talking point.”

From Tick Box to Talking Point

First of all a few tips on writing effective aims and objectives:

  • Write them in student friendly language. Remember who they are for.
  • Begin with your objective (what you want them to be better at by the end of the lesson)
  • Work backwards to write your aims (what do they need to learn to be better at this objective by the end of the lesson)
  • Make your objective real-life and relevant for your learners (“be able to use the present perfect & past simple” is not real life but “be able to describe your career” is)
  • Focus on function over form: Consider the difference between “learn to use the present perfect” and “learn to describe ongoing situations in my career using the present perfect”
  • Follow a pattern: Don’t change up how you write your aims & objectives every lesson. Follow a recognisable pattern and display them in the same place each lesson. This reduces the amount that learners need to process. They can focus on the key message.

If you follow the above, you should find yourself with effective aims and objectives but if you don’t do anything with them, then they are little more than a tick box. We need to move them to a talking point. They should be the basis of a discussion with your students. Consider the following:

At the beginning of your lesson:

Use the some or all of the questions below to open up a discussion:

  1. How will this objective help you in your real life?
  2. Which of these aims will be most challenging for you?
  3. Which of these aims are you already confident in?
  4. How confident are you?
  5. Is there anything else you think you’ll need to achieve this objective?

During your lesson:

Keep the conversation going. Learners will always focus on what’s in front of them. Just because you know why something is relevant, doesn’t mean it is immediately apparent for the students.

  1. Why do you think we learnt this?
  2. How will this help you achieve the objective?

At the end of the lesson:

The ideal situation is a learner who can take what they’ve learnt in the lesson and bring it into their real lives but too often the lesson ends at the door. Keep it going:

  1. How well do you feel you achieved the objective?
  2. How will you practise this in your real life?
  3. How will you apply what you learnt to your real life?
  4. Is there anything you need more practice on?
  5. How will you practise it?

Using the word “will” can be more powerful than “can” or “could”. It’s not about what is possible, it’s about them making a promise, a commitment to try this outside the classroom…and then it’s on you to follow up with them.

So if you’ve ever felt like you were writing aims and objectives for the British Council, try out some of the ideas above and remember who we should be writing them for.

Overt Teaching

Overt Teaching is something we have spoken about many times but never really written about…overtly. It is a part of our lessons, our procedures, our approach to teaching English but we’ve never really made the case for it on our blog…which seems odd.

No time like the present to sort that out.

What do we mean by Overt Teaching?

In our industry there has often been a tendency to hide what we are doing from our students. We sneak grammar in under the cover of darkness like spies crossing from East to West Berlin, afraid that our eagle-eyed students will notice the present perfect and completely disengage from the lesson. Or, we work towards the big reveal, the “ahhhhhh” moment when our students realise what we’ve been working towards this whole time.

The flaw with the above is that if our students don’t know what they’re doing and how it applies to their life, they’re much more likely to be disengaged. Equally, if we tell our learners we’re doing the present perfect, they are likely to disengage if they don’t see how it applies to their real lives.

Teaching overtly suggests that we involve our learners in the learning discussion throughout the lesson. Below are some key stages of the lesson when this can be easily applied.

Starting off on the right foot:

The beginning of your lesson is arguably the most important aspect as this is where we get all of our buy-in from our students. If we look in the average coursebook, considerable time and page space is (quite rightly) taken up with engaging our learners in the topic of the lesson. As an industry we recognise the importance of this but the actual aims and the objectives of the lesson are not given the same pride of place.

They are very often squashed into a tiny box in the top-left corner of the page. As teachers we very often display them on the wall or on a board or as part of our lesson plan that nobody looks at but why do we do this? Is it because our institution demands it? Is it so we can tick an accreditation box? Or, is it because we recognise that a clear understanding of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it is crucial to student engagement? If it is the latter, then we should be bringing it into our lesson, not as a monologue from the teacher but as a dialogue with our students.

Tip 1:

Have a clear distinction between your objective (the final outcome you are working towards) and your aim (the things you will cover in the class to help them achieve the objective successfully). Careful and consistent wording can help with this. Consider:

Today we are going to:

  • aim
  • aim
  • aim

So that you can:

  • Objective

Tip 2:

Make it a discussion and increase student engagement through simple questions:

  1. How will this objective help you in your real life?
  2. Which of these aims will be challenging for you?
  3. Which is most important for you?
  4. Which do you feel will be revision for you?

By involving our learners in this discussion, we put some of the learning responsibility on them. They have decided which aims they will need to focus on more; they have related the objective with their lives and decided how it will benefit them.

Setting up an activity:

Aims and objectives at the beginning of the lesson are crucial but it doesn’t stop there. Sadly, minutes after we’ve finished with the above discussion, our learners have probably forgotten what we’re working towards and are focusing on the interesting reading or listening exercise. Maybe they’re entirely focused on the grammar because they’re finding it challenging. Continued discussion throughout the lesson is key. We need to help our learners see that everything in our lesson is building towards the final objective; it’s not busy work, it’s not just stuff we’re doing, it’s building towards something greater.

Tip1:

Before or after an activity consider asking your students why it was important. For example, why did we just learn 6 new collocations to do with work? Because we’re going to need them later when we introduce our jobs. And will all of these collocations be useful for all of you? No, these 3 are useful for me but the others aren’t as useful because I don’t work in an office.

Or

Why did we just listen to that conversation? Because it was a model for the conversation we’re going to have later on.

These quick interactions help keep our students (and us) on track and moving towards our objective. Don’t expect them to have the above answers the first time you ask them though. As with anything, you will need to elicit and support your learners in coming to these realisations. Gradually, you can train them to understand why as opposed to just what they are doing.

Ending up on the right foot:

The beginning of the lesson is crucial to engagement but if you don’t actually reach the objective, you’ll lose your students’ trust the next time around. We’ve all been derailed mid-lesson and changed our plan because something more important has come up but how often do we communicate this to our students? It’s so important that we explain our decision-making process to them. We laid out our objectives and why they were important; if we veer from them, we owe it to our learners to explain why.

But lets assume we don’t get derailed. We reach our final production stage. We’ve spent 2 hours teaching vocabulary, grammar and skills that we now want our students to use in this final conversation. We set up the task and…none of them use the language! We’ve all been there but the question is what do we do about it?

Tip 1: Success Criteria

Very often our learners just forget what is expected of them. They’re keen to communicate so they fall back on what’s easy and use the language they had at their disposal at the beginning of the lesson. Clearly setting our your expectation before the activity is key. Ask your learners what a successful conversation looks like for them. Elicit that in order to be successful, they’ll have to use the language and skills from the lesson. The beauty of this is that everyone goes into the activity clear in their minds what success looks like but this can vary from one student to another. Success for a new student to the group might just be using the grammar correctly but for a stronger student, it might be combining the grammar and the new vocabulary. By opening it up to students and making it a dialogue, you move the responsibility for success back onto them. They’ve decided their own level of success and now they have to try to achieve it.

Tip 2: Repetition

Accept that you will have to do the final activity two or more times and plan this into your lesson. The first time students have the conversation, they are usually considering the content. They’re just trying to communicate and asking them to add in new language and skills is quite the load.

Let them have the conversation, then refocus them on the success criteria. Ask them to discuss whether or not they used the language from the lesson and then set the task up again. The second and third time round, content is not an issue anymore and they can focus on upgrading their language and skills.

Conclusion:

Overt Teaching doesn’t require you to change how you teach drastically, it just suggests you ask a little more of your learners. We all say we want more autonomous students…perhaps this is a first step. Throw back the curtain on your teaching & planning, let them in.