TeacherTalkTime is the manifestation of something I’ve been hoping and trying to do for quite some time now. You might have seen me promoting it in advance a few weeks ago, but if you missed that, the basic concept is to have a forum where teachers could come together and discuss interesting topics related to education, teaching and learning while sharing their difficulties, solutions and ideas. I have tried setting up things like this online and amongst my own faculties at several institutions to varying effect, but earlier this month, I tried for the first time to make it a personal, social community, and I was delighted by the results.
Recap of the Inaugural Meeting
The first TeacherTalkTime was held on Saturday, 13th May at Gandaria City, South Jakarta. A total of nine educators were in attendance, seven who currently teach regularly in schools or language centres, one who works in the field of publishing educational materials and myself, a private teacher and teacher trainer. Five of us were expatriate teachers from a range of countries with the other five being local Indonesian teachers. This variety of backgrounds brought some wonderful colour to the discussions, each person having quite a distinct set of experiences and influences to his or her teaching career.
The meeting was based primarily around an article that I had posted on this blog previously about learner autonomy. I briefly introduced my article and then invited the rest of the group to ask me any questions they might have or comment on my views before allowing the conversation to develop more freely around the general topic of increasing learner autonomy.
Here I’ll briefly outline some of the interesting points that were raised and discussed:
Institution Rules and Regulations
A theme that ran throughout much of the discussion was the problem of the rules and regulations that many teachers face, imposed either by their institutions or by the government curriculum. Indeed, this can often pose some overbearing limitations, and it is a counter I confront in many of my training programmes.
At TeacherTalkTime I we heard about a number of different instances of such regulations, including those faced at national schools, private language centres and even international schools. We each went on to share our experiences and ideas for overcoming or circumnavigating such limitations to best provide for our students.
One of the members raised the idea of offering the students choices in their learning. This happens to be a subject I have recently developed an interest in, reading articles and papers about it where I can find them, but it is not something I have really experimented with in any meaningful way in my classrooms yet, excepting small private classes.
Zuzana told us about how she sometimes prepares multiple materials for students to choose between, allowing them to select, for example, the reading materials they find most interesting or the activities they find most engaging, but planning them in such a way that the same language points can be learned through either approach. We went on as a group to think about the possibilities of doing this on a larger scale, planning lessons and structuring syllabi with student input.
Classroom culture, which I recently wrote about here, is basically my response to any references to student behaviour. We heard several examples of how student behaviour or attitude can get in the way of good teaching and attempts at increasing autonomy. On the whole we agreed that these problems usually have a root cause that needs to be identified and remedied in order to really improve the classroom situation. We also agreed that making changes to the classroom culture in this way can take a significant amount of time and that the key to success is often perseverance.
Another thing that came up that I have recently written about is the matter of time. Many of the solutions and ideas offered up during the meeting were based upon taking the time to implement certain practices in the classroom and effecting positive change to the students and the institution over time. However, several of the teachers present told of how they find themselves in situations where time is not on their side, either because of the short lessons that they teach or the short span of their courses.
Unfortunately, we were not able to come up with any solid solution here, because we all agree that genuine learning does indeed require time—the longer the better, it seems. Ultimately, I expressed my opinion that we should always simply do as much as we possibly can in whatever situation we find ourselves and hope to have some effect. Beyond this, though, we also agreed that if we could focus in the classroom more on instilling the right attitudes and approaches to learning, then perhaps our students could go on to take better control of their learning outside of the classroom, thus having a greater, longer lasting effect than we might be able to achieve directly.
If anybody has anything to add to any of these topics, be it your own experience or a suggested solution, please leave your comments below. The TeacherTalk Community is all about hearing from as many different perspectives as possible, so your voice is invaluable.
Special Thanks to National Geographic Learning
This inaugural event of the Teacher Talk community was supported by National Geographic Learning, who provided partial funding for the meeting.
National Geographic Learning’s mission is to bring the world to the classroom and bring the classroom to life. With NGL ELT programmes, students get to learn about the world by experiencing it through partnerships with and materials adapted from National Geographic and TED. NGL materials have a focus not just on learning English but also developing the skills necessary for success in the global professional landscape.
These principals fit particularly well with our discussion about learner autonomy and attempts to develop a stronger learning culture amongst our students, so it was a pleasure and an honour to have NGL support our first meeting.
Upcoming TeacherTalkTime II
I am very pleased to say that the members of this inaugural meeting are keen to meet again and discuss a new topic, so if you think this sounds like something you’d be interested in, please get in touch as soon as possible to sign up and join the Teacher Talk Community.
So far, we’ve provisionally decided that the next meeting will take place somewhere in Jakarta on Sunday, 18 June, but no precise venue has thus far been set. In the next week or so, we’ll aim to finalise the location and the topic of discussion, but you can sign up to join us at any time by commenting below this article or by contacting me directly at the following: