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Self-Assessment: The Whats, Whos, and Whens to Better Lessons

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Self-Assessment: The Whats, Whos, and Whens to Better Lessons

Teachers establish a "teaching style" in their early days in the classroom, acquiring a repertoire of strategies and activities that are regularly drawn upon in later months and years. However, this routine can also later hinder a teacher's professional development. Responses become automatic, and the range of methods, ideas, and activities fails to grow. The teacher turns on the autopilot, and does the same again and again. Perhaps this is a means to cope with outside pressures, perhaps this is a means to cope with increased class load and work duties.

Self-assessment allows you to identify your overall strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. In addition, assessment allows you to identify the success of activities, assignments, and even courses as a whole. In short, you can continue to develop as a teacher if you regularly think about the goings on in your lessons.

To begin with, you should specifically look at what happened and why. Perhaps you had planned to make more progress with the material, yet couldn't get to the open-ended activity. Perhaps students continued to make mistakes with the target language throughout the whole lesson. Perhaps some students were particularly disruptive, and you couldn't get the class back under control.

In these examples, it's easy (and common) to blame the class, the textbook, or some other factor beyond your control. However, when these problems next occur, you don't have the tools needed to remedy the situation. For example, in the above examples, the students may have found the material too difficult, which would then require you to scale back on the ambitiousness of the lesson plan. Or maybe the initial explanation of the target language wasn't clear, so students began the activities without a good understanding of the material. Or maybe some students were disruptive because the activity didn't represent real and relevant use of the language. In other words, they were bored!

...self-assessment allows you to identify your overall strengths and weaknesses as a teacher

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It should also be noted that assessment can and should focus on the positive as well as the negative points in the lesson. When you consider the negatives, then you only limit the likelihood of having them happen again. However, when you consider the positives, then you can also more easily reproduce the circumstances that led to these successes.

For example, let's say you had planned five minutes for students to discuss several questions related to the grammar point. Because of the difficulty of the new language, you anticipated that the questions would allow very limited use of other, previously studied grammar. The questions would also allow little personalization of the discussion. However, the students instead spoke for fifteen minutes, and with very few mistakes with the new grammar. In addition, the students incorporated other skills which had been introduced during the course, such as phrases to interrupt and ask follow-up questions for clarification, active listening skills that provided comments, circumlocution, and so on.

As with negatives, there exist many possible reasons that the activity proved more successful than initially planned. There might have been enough practice earlier in the lesson, and so students felt comfortable to expand on the target language. Or the questions might have been interesting, and so students were fully engaged. Or the topic might have been familiar, and so students could provide a lot more information while also giving adequate attention to the target language.

Of course, there's a lot of speculation with self-assessment. In addition, more than one reason may be the cause of the success or failure. Although the process as a whole can be difficult, and even lead to incorrect analysis, continued assessment usually clarifies any mistaken conclusions.

Consider the following for any lesson or incident:

  1. What happened?
  2. Who was involved?
  3. When did it happen?

You should also think about what happened before and what happened after the incident. You don't need to make notes, nor spend much time on self-assessment. Five minutes tends to be enough, preferably just after the lesson.

Continued analysis provides continued growth, which in turn adds to a teacher's repertoire. Teaching becomes easier, and you can continue to offer better lessons to students who will come back for more.



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