A language teacher’s legacy (A year of inspired insights #8)

March 24, 2012

The phone rang in the Halifax apartment that I shared with my university roommate. I answered it and heard the voice of my favorite, cousin, Brian. He was calling to wish me a happy 22nd birthday.

Brian was not only my cousin, he was a lifelong mentor and personal hero. He was the first person in my entire extended family to have ever earned a bachelor’s degree. He had a degree in French. Not only did he have a degree, he had a degree in a foreign language. He also spoke Spanish and had travelled throughout Latin America and other parts of the world.

After getting his degree in French, Brian went on to teach English as a Second Language teacher at a CEGEP (college) in the small community of Rouyn-Noranda, Québec, Canada. As a language teacher, Brian was my first professional mentor. He knew that from an early age I wanted to be a teacher too and he encouraged me to pursue that dream.

A taste for adventure

Brian was a much-loved character in our family because of his adventurous nature, his playful sense of humour, an insatiable curiosity about the world around him and most of all, his willingness to try new things.

My mother once told me the story about a time she and might Dad had an argument. My Dad went out to clear his head. Brian happened to call and my Mom told him about the fight. He said, “I know what will make you feel better! I’ll bring over a pizza!”

Brian arrived some time later, with a fresh, hot pizza. As they sat down to eat it, Mom said, “It tastes funny. What’s on it.”

Brian grinned and said, “Octopus!”

Without thinking, she gagged and spit it out. Even though it was the 1970s and my parents did their fair share of experimenting, the idea of eating an octopus was too far out of her comfort zone.

Offended at what he perceived to her ingratitude for the delicacy, and lack of willingness to try new foods, Brian stood up, slammed the pizza box shut and then tucked it sideways under his arm as if it were a book and said, “There’s more to the world than pepperoni!” He too, then took his leave.

But he was easily forgivable and won others over easily. I often wonder if there is a gene in us that predisposes us to be willing to try new things. Like Brian, I have tried my fair share of exotic foods… everything from deep-fried Guatemalan ants to Alberta “prairie oysters” (bull testicles) and cajun alligator. I don’t mind octopus either, if it’s cooked properly.

A deadly secret revealed

Something in his voice on the phone that day didn’t sound right. He was serious, and Brian was almost never serious. “I know it’s your birthday,” he said. “And I am calling to wish you happy birthday, but I have to talk to you about something.”

“O.K.,” I said, sitting down.

“I am HIV positive.”

“What?” I asked, stunned.

Even though Brian had never officially “come out”, he had also never had a girlfriend or a wife. His private life was never a topic of conversation. His numerous trips around the world provided more than enough fodder for entertaining stories. His most recent trip, however, combined with his overly free spirit were to be his demise.

“Are you sure?” I asked, trying to process what I had just heard.

“Yes, I wouldn’t be calling you if I wasn’t sure. The test results are certain. I got it when I was in Thailand. I was stupid. I had unprotected sex.”

The conversation went on from there. It was the early 1990s… We knew about condoms, but their use was not as widespread as they are today. I had never met anyone before who was HIV positive or had AIDS. We cried together on the phone that day and promised to stay in more frequent contact.

Brian’s legacy

Our phone calls increased in frequency from a few times a year to once a month. There were no “phone plans” then. Every long distance call cost money. Brian knew I was a student, so he often initiated the calls. Nevertheless, I did not want to abuse his good nature and spent a fair amount of money on long distance calls, too.

A year later, I started teaching Spanish. I had no formal training as a teacher. I was a Master’s student and had been awarded a “Graduate Teaching Assistantship”. In the department where I studied, that meant I was given a textbook and a list of my students and told, “Go teach”.

In the first year of my teaching career I struggled to plan my lessons and engage my students. I often found myself at a loss for teaching activities that were interesting and purposeful. The textbook we used was not bad, but it contained only one or two activities for key concepts. My students needed more practice.

During one of our regular phone calls, I lamented, “This textbook we are using just doesn’t have enough activities. Do you have any ideas on how I can teach these basic language concepts?”

Brian replied with, “Sure I do! Don’t worry, textbooks often lack either activities or explanation. You get to fill in what the textbook lacks. That’s the fun part! I’ll send you a few ideas…”

The next week, a package arrived in the mail. Brian’s version of “a few ideas” was 75 or so exercises that he had created himself throughout his teaching career. Every activity included annotations about how what parts of speech it focussed on, how to set it up, how to lead the activity, how to evaluate it and how to connect the activity back to the language concept it addressed and how much time to allow for the activity in class.

He also included hand-written file cards as examples to use with the students. The activities included personal annotations such as, “This activity is good when students are low on energy.” or “Don’t use this one unless they already understand verbs in the preset tense.”

It was a treasure trove of knowledge, practical activities, insights and wisdom.

When the package arrived in the mail I called him and said, “Wow! This is incredible!”

Brian replied with, “Good, now try them and let me know how they work.”

“I do have one question though…” It seemed like an obvious question to me, but I needed to ask it. “You teach ESL. I teach Spanish. How are these going to work for me?”

He chuckled and said, “Some of them apply only to English, but most of them will work for any language. I learned some of them from my French professor in university. Try them. You’ll see…”

I put the activities to use immediately. Brian was right. The students responded well and the activities provided solid learning in an entertaining manner. I was thrilled.

Eventually the envelope that the activities had arrived in became tattered. I took the individual activity sheets, 3-hole punched them and put them into a binder. I still have that binder. Over the past 18 years of my teaching career, I have used every single activity at least once. I have used some of them so many times that I no longer have to refer back to the activity sheets. I just “know” them.

Brian passed away in 1995 from AIDS-related causes. His language learning activities became a staple resource for my professional teaching practice. As a young 20-something, it did not occur to me that he was leaving me his legacy. I was trying to navigate a new professional landscape. Brian not only gave me a map, he bestowed upon me a whole survival toolkit.

Inspired insights

Sarah Eaton speaker presenter keynote education literacyThe older I get the more I understand the importance of sharing what we have learned with those who are new to the profession. I have learned that excellent learning activities can often transcend individual languages. What works in ESL worked just as easily in Spanish (and apparently in French).

Too often, we divide ourselves professionally by the languages we teach. I have often wondered if this is due to language teachers’ own comfort speaking in the language they teach. Let’s face it, it is easier for native Japanese teachers to get together and do professional development in Japanese than it is for a number of people with a variety of languages to get together and share ideas in a common language (which is often English).

While I absolutely think it is important for language teachers to develop professionally and socialize in the languages they teach, I see no value in doing so at the expense of learning from other professionals who might teach a different language.

It is foolhardy to dismiss the validity or discount the wisdom of other teachers simply because they do not teach the same language as us. We have much to learn from one another as language teachers across the entire profession.

5 strategies to leave your own professional legacy

Ask yourself this: What legacy am I leaving? What have you learned over your career that could help others? Here are some simple strategies to capture those ideas, insights and activities.

1. Share your activities with other teachers.

The format is less important than the act of sharing. Whether they are hand-written notes, computer-printed worksheets you have created or digital activities, they are valuable and worth sharing.

2. Relate the activity to learning concepts.

An activity may be fun and engaging, but unless it relates in a functional way to a particular concept or language function, it has little pedagogical value. Help new teachers understand the “method behind the madness” by  making links between your activities and the language functions they support. Activities need to make sense and have clear links to content.

3. Add personal notes.

Have you ever seen a recipe book that is full-handwritten notes from the cooks who have actually tried the recipes? Maybe you have one of those cookbooks yourself. These notes add to the overall value of the actual step-by-step instructions because they share “insider’s tips” and knowledge that is only gained by actually going through the process yourself. Adding the notes personalizes the experience and helps others learn from what you yourself have lived.

4. Include ideas for evaluation or reflection.

In addition to knowing how an activity relates to a learning concept, it is also helpful to share ideas for evaluating it. Not every activity needs to be evaluated with a formal test or quiz. You can still increase a learner’s self-awareness of their learning with a simple reflection at the end of the activity. Sharing your ideas on how to effectively assess or reflect on a particular activity can be very helpful to others who are less familiar with the activity.

5. Share the best of your tried-and-true experience.

How many times have you tried an activity from a textbook and asked yourself, “Did the authors of this book even test this activity before they put it in their book?”

Leaving a legacy isn’t about sharing what you think would work. It is about sharing what has worked — and passing on the wisdom of what you learned from it. If you haven’t personally tested it, leave it out. Let someone else who has tried it share it. Your legacy is about sharing your authentic, lived experience and wisdom.

What are you leaving to the next professional generation?

 Related posts:

A year of inspired insights #7: What to do when a student hates technology

A year of inspired insights #6: You can raise me up: The lasting impact of a teacher’s words

A year of inspired insights #5: When reason falls on deaf ears

A year of inspired insights #3: Servant leadership in the scullery

A year of inspired insights #2: Conversations change everything

A year of inspired insights #1: There’s a silver lining in every ambulance

My 2012 resolution project: A year of inspired insights


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

What to do when a student hates technology (A year of inspired insights #7)

March 6, 2012

Gabriel sat there with his arms crossed on the first day of class. A third-year undergraduate student, he had not enrolled in my Effective Learning course by choice. The course was mandatory for students on academic probation. Enrolling and passing the course were among the conditions students had to meet in order to be allowed to stay at the university for one more semester.

Every student had their own story and their own reasons for being on academic probation. While their stories were unique, they shared a common sense of resentment and distain at the idea of being forced to take a class on effective learning. My job was show them strategies and tools they could use to improve their success at university and ultimately, to help them get off probation.

Rather than starting with the idea that the students were somehow deficient and needed “fixing”, I used a strength-based approach to learning and study skills. I started with the assumption that they were all talented, smart and capable. We were going to uncover their strengths and then leverage them to help them succeed.

A rebel without a cell phone

Like his classmates, Gabriel did not particularly want to be there. Unlike his classmates, he was reluctant to explore the idea that he had strengths. He was quietly rebellious. He had hobbies outside school that inspired and energized him, but he could not make the mental connection between the skills he used in his hobbies and the skills he would need to succeed in school and in life. Though his outward appearance did not scream anarchy, it was clear that part of him rejected mainstream culture. He secretly enjoyed the idea of not being part of the status quo.

As part of his desire to express his individualism, he renounced technology. In fact, he started the semester by declaring, “I hate technology. I hate computers. I don’t own a cell phone. I don’t text. I barely check my e-mail. And I especially hate social media! We should learn with books and pens and pencils!”

Being the techno-geek that I am, his words were like fingernails down a chalkboard for me.  I thought to myself, “Great. Just great… I have the only 19-year old Luddite on the entire university campus in my class.”

A strength-based approach to learning

I challenged him, but not on technology. I challenged him to re-examine himself and his skills not in terms of what he didn’t like or felt he was not good at, but rather in terms of his strengths. “So, tell me what you’re good at,” I said.

“What I’m good at?” He looked perplexed.

“Yes. You’ve just said that you’re not a fan of technology. So what are you a fan of? What are you good at?”

“Well…” He thought for a few seconds. “I’m good at public speaking. The art of rhetoric and oratory dates back to the Ancient Greeks. That, to me, education. The Greeks had it right. I think we need more face-to-face communication, not more technology. We need more contact with each other as human beings.”

Gabriel couldn’t help but turn his thinking back to what he didn’t like.

“OK, so forget about technology for a minute,” I said. “Tell me more about public speaking. What makes you good at it?”

He went on to talk about how he loved to stand in front of a crowd and give a speech. Gabe certainly did have “the gift of gab”. He could pontificate on any subject with no preparation. He rambled in a stream-of-consciousness manner and his speech craft needed work, but he was articulate and not at all nervous about speaking up.

I challenged him to explore the art and science of persuasive speaking and to refine his presentation skills. He seemed pleased that I had not pushed the technology issue. He agreed to explore the idea of deepening his public speaking skills.

Assignments using technology and social media: a pedagogical rationale

Throughout the semester, students had a number of assignments that involved technology including learning how to post to a class discussion board and an assignment that involved them using Twitter. This meant opening a social media account, learning how to post, use hashtags and interact with their peers in a meaningful manner.

Gabriel was not happy about these assignments. “Why do we have to use social media?” He growled. “It’s evil.”

“Hhhmm, I’m not sure evil is a word I’d use, but I get that you are not a fan of it. We are using it in a short assignment because learning how to interact effectively with others is an important skill that will serve you both inside and outside the classroom. When you are looking for a job after university, having a sense of what effective digital citizenship is may be helpful.”

He still didn’t like it, but since the assignment was required, he did it.

A strength-based approach to assessment – With digital and analog options

Instead of a final exam, I arranged for the students to do a strength-based assessment of their learning. Their learning portfolio was carefully explained and students were given a grading rubric so that they would clearly understand what constituted a highly successful – or not-so-successful – learning portfolio.

Students were given the option of choosing their own format for their portfolio. A traditional binder with pages inside divided into sections was one option. An e-portfolio was another option.

The archangel of surprises

To my amazement, only one student developed an e-portfolio: Gabriel.

While the other students were keen to use technology to text their friends or check in on Facebook, when it came to using technology for learning, they opted not to.

It was Gabriel who chose to develop his own website using Google sites, and add pages and entries to create a digital learning portfolio. He also used his digital camera to document the entire process of the creation and wrote reflective journal posts about the process of constructing his e-portfolio.

In his reflective online journal posts, he discussed the method he used to create his site, the process he went through to conceptualize what his e-portfolio should look like and how it should be organized and how he went about curating and including entries.

As a tech geek, it thrilled me to bits that my self-proclaimed technology hater was the only student in the class to choose the digital option for his final assignment.

As a teacher, what impressed me the most was the depth of his metacognitive and self-reflective process as a learner that he invested into the project. It was evident that he did not do it as a slap in the face or some kind of bizarre act of defiance. It was not a case of, “See? Any idiot can do tech!” Instead, he demonstrated a sincere willingness to step out of his comfort zone and try something new.

He engaged deeply with the assignment and used self-reflection and analytical thinking to drive his learning process.

I reflected for some time on why Gabriel may have chosen a digital option for his final assignment. While it was true that over the course of the semester we’d had some good conversations and he was doing much better in his studies, I was not convinced that alone was enough of a reason to make him to a technology-based project. He was not just using technology to consume information — searching web sites and reference articles on line, he was using technology to create something that was entirely his own.

I was so happy I wanted to cry, precisely because I knew that this was a really, really big deal for him. He was willing to go out on a limb and try something that three months earlier he had been dead-set against.

Here’s what I learned:

7 Tips to deal with a student who is resistant to technology

1. Allow critics the right to their opinion

This creates a mental and social space for dialogue to occur. Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.” If you are a tech supporter, are you really ready to entertain the thought that technology is a turn off for some people?

2. Be an advocate, not an antagonist

If someone really, really hates technology then you saying, “You MUST do it this way!” does little to inspire them. Instead, try engaging the learner in an open dialogue about why they feel that the way they do. The point is not to try and change their mind (antagonistic), but to allow the other person to be heard, and ensure that you are heard, too (advocate).

3. Provide logical reasons for what you are doing

If you incorporate technology into your classes, be very clear about you are doing do. Do not go high tech simply because it is fashionable. Ensure there are sound pedagogical (or at least logical) reasons for doing so. Be able to articulate those reasons to your learners. Even if they do not agree, they are more likely to respect you as a professional for being able to explain why you are using technology in a particular way.

4. Focus on learners’ strengths

Just because a learner may not like technology does not mean that they lack talents, skills and abilities. If tech is not their strength, find out what is. Help them identify and cultivate what they are really, really good at. Make it about them and their learning journey, not about prescriptive course content or worse, about using technology simply because you say they have to. Students do not have to be “fixed” and they will not suddenly become complete and whole human beings as soon as we stuff them with the right knowledge. Start with the idea that they are strong, capably and perfectly OK they way they are. Build on what they are already good at.

5. Earn, then develop learners’ trust

When you help learners shine in a way that makes them feel comfortable and safe, they are more likely to trust you. When students trust you, they are more likely to allow themselves to be vulnerable when they are around you. When they allow themselves to be vulnerable, the are more likely to engage in new acivities or tasks in which they have lower levels of confidence or engagement.

6. Let learners adopt technology at their own pace

Sarah Elaine Eaton, speaker, presenter, keynote, technology, social media, Calgary, Canada, educator, education, professional developmentNot everyone is an innovator or an early adopter. That is not only OK, it is a scientifically proven phenomenon, as evidenced by Everett Rogers in his 1962 Diffusion of Innovation theory. People adopt new innovations at a variety of rates. Some people lag behind others. There is nothing wrong with that. Let them be a little reluctant. It’s who they are. Gentle guidance is more effective than pushy insistence.

7. Give learners options

Acknowledge that while technology is an important aspect of twenty-first century learning, it is not the only way. As human beings, we were perfectly capable of learning before the the personal computer was popularized in the 1980s. We can train our brain to be curious even if there is no technology around. We can also develop critical and analytical thinking skills without sitting in front of a computer. By giving learners options in terms of how high-tech they want to go, we keep the learning focussed on the student and their lifelong journey as learners.

Inspired insight: As an educator, I have biases too

Every now and then, a student with a completely different way of thinking and looking at the world may open themselves up to try something new. We lead by example when we  as teachers, allow ourselves to look at the world differently, too — even when it makes us uncomfortable to do so.

While I remain a huge advocate of technology and a techno-geek, I also realize that this  is a bias in my own personality and teaching. As teachers, we all have biases. I am openly biased in favour of using technology for learning. There are those who are biased against it.

There is value in recognizing and questioning our own biases as educators and as human beings. When it is helpful for our students, being able to set aside our biases and focus on what helps them learn in a way that makes sense for them is one of the most difficult — and most productive — skills we can learn as teachers.

Related posts:

A year of inspired insights #6: You can raise me up: The lasting impact of a teacher’s words

A year of inspired insights #5: When reason falls on deaf ears

A year of inspired insights #3: Servant leadership in the scullery

A year of inspired insights #2: Conversations change everything

A year of inspired insights #1: There’s a silver lining in every ambulance

My 2012 resolution project: A year of inspired insights


Share or Tweet this post: What to do when a student hates technology http://wp.me/pNAh3-1it

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Success Strategy for Students: How to Make Sense of Scholarly Research Articles

January 17, 2012

Students sometimes find it hard to figure out what a research article is really trying to say. The language is dense and thick, full of long, Latin-root words. Before you know it, their eyes are drooping. Their phone chimes and they pick it up, eager for any reason to abandon the dull and hard-to-read article.

This handy tool helps students move from being passive readers to active readers of research articles. It helps them figure out key information and dissect the article in a way that helps them make sense of it.

This is a free, downloadable and printable resource designed for high school and post-secondary students, as well as adult learners.

View this document on Scribd

Related posts:

Success Strategy for Students: How to Cite Class Notes

Success Strategy for Post-Secondary Students: Get to Know Your Profs

Share or Tweet this post: Success Strategy for Students: How to Make Sense of Scholarly Research Articles http://wp.me/pNAh3-1aj

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

4 ways to engage learners without losing your mind

December 5, 2011

StudentsThere’s no doubt about it. Schools, universities and adult education training classrooms of today look very different than they did half a century ago.

Heck, they look different than they did 20 years ago. Twenty-first century learning is all about “engaging” the learner. What does that mean, exactly? There is not a single, concrete definition (at least as far as I have found). Here are a few common characteristics:

  • The teacher’s authoritative role is downplayed. Teachers are expected to be guides and collaborators, rather than the “ultimate authority” on a subject.
  • The “lecture” style of teaching is considered ineffective. Instead, group work and models that involve learners interacting with each other are preferred.
  • Students are encouraged to share their own ideas and opinions, not just regurgitate information. In an ideal situation, students also learn to back up their arguments with data and research.
  • Students discover meaning for themselves (often through a process guided by the teacher).
  • The one-way transmission of the teacher imparting knowledge and the students madly writing down everything the teacher says in order to absorb it all, is considered outdated and ineffective.

Let me be honest about my bias and say that I believe whole heartedly in engaging learners in this way. However, this way of teaching requires a substantial “re-wiring” of an instructor’s brain. If you were raised during a time or in a place where teachers could — and did — use the strap or a ruler to discipline students who misbehaved, you know what I am talking about. When I went to school, the strap had been outlawed, but rulers were still used.

Certain nuns in my school were particularly fond of whacking a ruler on a desk to grab the attention of a student who was daydreaming. Instantly, 25 students felt fear rush through them. I may be dating myself a bit here, but really, I am not as old as that statement might lead you to believe I am. My point is that education has changed dramatically in the past couple of decades.

The problem for many people like me is that we find it hard to reconcile 21st century ways of teaching and learning with the model that we know. Not only do we know it, it is all we knew growing up. Teaching in a way that supposedly “engages learners” seems “airy fairy” or “a waste of valuable classroom time” to some people. Some of those same people are very well educated. They have taken years to develop their expertise and they know their stuff darned well.

The problem is that no one really cares what teachers know any more. The whole concept of “teacher” has changed. Now, the person leading a class guides their students along a learning journey that neither begins, nor ends in their classroom. The model is unsettling and uncomfortable for educational professionals who feel that their worth and value as teachers is undermined unless they are imparting and actively transmitting their knowledge they carry within them.

So, what is the solution? Here are some easy ways to begin to transform your teaching practice, while still being true to who you are:

1. Start in the hallway. This may seem counterintuitive, but if the classroom is your sacred space where you teach and students learn, then acknowledge that bias and begin your exploration of new ways in a more neutral setting. Instead of rushing from your classroom to the teacher’s lounge or your office right away after a class, linger in the hallway. Ask students what they thought of the class today. Ask them how they might apply what they learned in the real world. Engaging students in these kinds of conversations gives you insights into your students’ abilities to engage in reflective thinking. It will also give you an idea of how they are making sense of what they learn.

2. Temporarily relinquish control of the chalkboard. Traditionally, the chalk board or white board is where the teacher writes down the information they want students’ to copy into their notebooks. It is part of the teacher’s “sacred space”. Traditionally, a teacher’s desk is located in front of the chalk board and there is an invisible field of authority around this space that includes the chalkboard or white board. Try this review activity in the last 20 minutes of class. Ask students to form teams of 4 or 5 students. Give the teams 2 minutes to write down the 10 most important aspects of the lesson. Draw vertical lines down your board so that the number of columns equals the number of teams (5 teams = 5 columns). Give each team a piece of chalk or a white board marker. Have them simultaneously go to the board and write down their 10 points. Then, have them find the common denominators among their lists. Talk about why those points rose to the top as being the most important. Then, review the points the teams did not agree on. Do all this while students are gathered at the front of the classroom in front of the board. At no point in this activity does the teacher write on the board. Let the students do the writing and circling of common denominators.

3. Include a group “discovery” or “creativity” project or activity. The project should not include going through a rote set of exercises and coming up with standardized answers. Instead, choose an activity that forces students to think “out of the box” and use their resourcefulness to create something new, using what they have learned. For example, in a foreign language class, group work might traditionally be done read through a dialogue. Each student would read the part of a different character. Together, students figure out the meaning of the conversation and answer standard questions. Instead of that traditional activity, an alternative would be to give students a list of key words or phrases in the chapter they are studying and have them create sentences using their new words. Groups trade copies of their work with each other and correct one another’s sentences. The teacher used to traditional classroom instruction needs to be aware that this type of activity will take much longer than a traditional group activity. A brief verbal survey after the activity is over will let you know which type of activity the students prefer more. Encourage them to articulate why they prefer one over the other.

4. Incorporate metacognitive activities. One aspect of creating “engaged” learning is challenging students to become more self-aware about their own learning process and increase their levels of personal responsibility. In order for this to happen, learners must become aware of the processes involved in acquiring new knowledge. Then, they can determine which methods are most effective for them. An example of how to do this in a language classroom would be to give pairs or small groups of students an assignment asking them to determine what is the most effective method to learn new verb conjugations. This activity begins with the assumption that there is more than one method. Students then embark on a journey of discovery to determine what those methods are. Part of the assignment might include testing a variety of different methods to determine which they feel works best. Then, they must use analytical thinking and research skills to determine which method is most effective. This not only helps them learn their verbs while focussing on the effectiveness of their method, it also increases their awareness of themselves as learners.

Evangelists of 21st century learning will tell you that traditional ways of teaching are bad and that your methods are arcane and do nothing to help students learn.

There may be some truth in that, but if you have been raised and trained to think and teach a certain way, becoming a 21st century teacher is not something that happens overnight. If you are interested in learning what will keep your students engaged, incorporating small, incremental changes to your teaching practice might be the most effective way to go. You don’t have to throw away everything that has worked for you over the past ten, fifteen or more years. Take stock of what you do very well and take pride in it. Incorporate new strategies slowly, in a way that makes sense for you. Observe how your students react and most importantly, if they are learning and absorbing new material in an effective manner.

Personally, I believe that most teaching methods have some merit. Certain methods work better with certain students. There is no absolute right way. Having said that, the teaching profession has changed… and continues to change. Our students and our world have changed. If we are to be not just teachers, but also role models, it is up to us to challenge ourselves to try new ways of doing things, too.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Using Portfolios for Effective Learning

June 6, 2011

Lately the topic of asset-based or value based evaluation has come up in conversations with colleagues. People want to know how to do it and how to maintain academic rigour and standards when incorporating strength-based evaluation. Here’s a brief on how I incorporated both the philosophy and practice of asset-based evaluation into one of my courses — and how you can, too.

View this document on Scribd

Related post: Student portfolios for Language Learning: What They Are and How to Use Them


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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