Sunday, October 25, 2015

Mindfulness for Teachers

Yesterday TESL Windsor hosted Jennifer Elizabeth Alexander for a workshop on mindfulness. It was powerful.

Today I am acutely aware of ways in which I am not going mindfully through the day, as well as ways in which I am.  Yesterday I made a commitment to do one thing mindfully this week. I chose "eat breakfast mindfully." So this morning I made sure that I ate my oatmeal sitting down without the distraction of a newspaper, computer or smartphone. I closed my eyes and smelled the oats, flax and berries before taking a bite. I savoured each mouthful slowly. Also, I remembered to acknowledge that I am grateful to have a nourishing breakfast today.

What do I do to bring mindfulness to my classroom? Here are three ways I try to bring mindful presence to my class:

No matter how rushed I feel, no matter how many more things I feel pressured to finish before the (figurative) bell rings, if a student addresses me to ask a question or say good morning, I look up from what I'm doing and make eye contact, smile, and respond. Then I return to what I was doing. That is my intention, anyway, though I am human and know I sometimes fail.

An unspoken classroom rule in any space in which I am facilitating the lesson is: when one person is speaking, the rest of us are not speaking. We give the speaker our undivided attention. In order to attain silence and respectful attention for the speaker, I simply stand and wait for chatter to abate, then cue the speaker to continue. This is done with a pleasant expression on my face. I am not angry, rather patient--and perhaps at times a bit amused.

We begin on time, end on time and take breaks on time. One reason I respect the schedule to the minute is that it allows us to focus fully on what we're doing when we're doing it. A student who is distracted by the fact that the teacher is going over into break time is just that--a distracted student. I would rather that we be fully present for our breaks and fully present for the lesson time rather than having muddy, chaotic boundaries between them.

After posting this, I will put on my boots and take a walk on a nearby woodland trail. I need to give my soul some nourishment before embarking on a new work week.

How about you? Do you practice mindfulness?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Favourite Advice for Teachers?

What are your three favourite pieces of advice for (new or experienced) teachers?
Needs assessment in literacy class

I'll go first while you think. :)

  1. Watch your TTT/STT ratio. That's Teacher Talk Time / Student Talk Time. Ideally, we shouldn't be doing more than 20% of the talking. For me, the TTT is much heavier during the presentation part of the lesson or unit, as I'm explaining new terms and helping students with pronunciation. By the "free practice" part of the lesson, I should be able to exit the classroom unnoticed. I love getting to that point!
  2. Be authentic. There are teachers who do not share anything about their private lives with their students, and there are those who are completely transparent. I happen to fall into the latter category. In my opinion, authenticity helps build trust, helps create a safe space for learning and risk taking, helps the students build community with each other, and is just more fun. For me, authenticity could even be considered a form of respect.  Not only that, but I recently came across some research indicating that authentic teachers are more immune to burn-out! I can think of two colleagues who have burned out during my five years in the field; both are the type to have two personae, one for their private lives and a sort of "mask" for the classroom.
  3. Do not forego the needs assessment. Even if you think you know what the students need, do it anyway. For one, you may be surprised. Secondly, even if they choose to study the exact same topics you knew they needed, having voted on it will increase their sense of ownership of their learning and boost engagement. (Check out the ASSESSMENT section of my FREE RESOURCES area on my website if you need materials for this.)
How about you? Think of that good teacher in your school who would be EVEN BETTER if she/he just did one little thing differently. What advice would you love to give him/her?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Learning Through Doing

Although it takes a bit of planning and preparation, I find that lessons built around a real-life activity are a hit with my literacy learners. For our unit on food, we spent a couple of weeks skill building so as to be able to talk to clerks and read signage on an upcoming field trip to Food Basics.

Having purchased (via a team scavenger hunt) the ingredients for the one of the simplest pumpkin pie recipes I could find, this week we focused on the recipe and ended the week before Canadian Thanksgiving by baking a pie at school. Fortunately, we have a kitchen equipped with an oven!

I'm a bit tired of teaching food words right now, so I think we'll take a two-week break from that topic in order to squeeze in our unit on using the library before it gets too chilly to walk there together. Then we'll write a Language Experience Approach book around the photos I took of the students working on our pumpkin pie and will spend a little time each day working toward being able to read it fluently.

If you would like to use any of the worksheets I created to teach this unit, leave a comment and I will clean them up enough to post them in my freebies area.

Do your students enjoy learning through doing?

Monday, October 5, 2015

LINCchat -- A New Forum for LINC Instructors!

Want to get to know other LINC teachers in Canada? Want to share ideas and resources while supporting each other through the trials and triumphs of settlement English teaching? Then the new weekly Twitter chat #lincchat may be of interest to you.

To join in the weekly chats, you will first need a (free) Twitter account. You can sign up at

If you have no clue what I'm talking about, you may want to watch this great introductory video to Twitter and Twitter chats by Nathan Hall of LISTN.

Next, you will need to log into your Twitter account just before the chat time.

The next lincchat will be held October 6, 2015. The topic is "Pragmatics and the CLB." Moderators will introduce the topic and get things rolling with some questions to stimulate discussion.

Also, once you log on, a moderator will likely post a link to a platform that makes posting and reading the thread a bit easier. Just click the link. This app will even add the hashtag to the end of each of your tweets for you, so you never need to worry that you might forget to do so.

Hope to "see" you there!