• Developing Competence in Teaching for Thinking within the TA: Conclusion

    go to the beginning of the article


    I would like to conclude with offering a brief checklist for a teacher who is applying the Thinking Task Framework for constructing and conducting his lessons. This checklist includes the three basic components that I discovered while observing expert TA teachers at work.

    There is the Thinking Task Framework that is supposed to help a teacher organise and manage the learning process where his/her students will be thinking. Every time a teacher plans his/her lesson following the framework, (s)he is invited to think about three other components by replying three questions:

    1. Is the sequence of instruction I am planning for Step 1 and 2 spiral-shaped? Will it make at least one loop during one lesson?
    2. Will there be space for a qualitative dialogue with my students? Will I meet all the three quality criteria?
    3. Did I think about making my students aware of lesson and task aims? Will they have the chance to contribute to their formulation?
  • Developing Competence in Teaching for Thinking within the TA: Data Used

    go to the beginning of the article

    The conclusions presented in this article were done as a result of analysing the following data:

      Expert (experienced) teachers Non-expert (non-experienced) teachers
    Nr of teachers Three language teachers Three language teachers
    Nr of lessons analysed 15 lessons (40 min each) 8 lessons (40 min each)


    The more detailed information on the expert teachers and the reasons for labelling them as ‘experts’ (experienced) is presented below:

    • Teacher 1 – EFL teacher. Expert in the development of learners’ inventive thinking skills (results supported by the research ) with more than 10 years of teaching for thinking experience.

    Refer to the following article for more details on the results: Sokol A., Oget D., Sonntag M., Khomenko N. (2008). The development of inventive thinking skills in the upper secondary language classroom. Thinking Skills and Creativity 3 (2008). ELSEVIER. 34-46.

    • Teacher 2 – EFL teacher. Expert in the development of learners’ inventive thinking skills (results supported by the research ) with more than 8 years of teaching for thinking experience. 

    Refer to the following article for more details on the results: Sokol A., Oget D., Sonntag M., Khomenko N. (2008). The development of inventive thinking skills in the upper secondary language classroom. Thinking Skills and Creativity 3 (2008). ELSEVIER. 34-46.

    • Teacher 3 – Teacher of Russian as a mother tongue. Expert in the Developmental Education (for references, see Leont’ev, Davidov, Elkonin, Repkin) . In 1997 has got the title of the best teacher of Russian as a mother tongue; has more than 3 years of experience in teaching for inventive thinking.

    For references on Developmental Education (from Russian, Развивающее обучение), check the following authors Leont’ev A., Davidov V., Elkonin D., Repkin V. (from Russian, Леонтьев А., Давыдов В., Эльконин Д., Репкин В.).


    The non-expert (non-experienced) teachers are those who have no strong background in any thinking-related education and no data is available to support their expertise. One of these teachers has only one year of teaching for thinking experience, while two others have been working with the Thinking Approach for around three years. All of the teachers are EFL teachers apart from one who is a teacher of Russian as a mother tongue.

    The limitations of the given study is clear cut. The data available for the analysis was only that coming from language classrooms. In addition, all the lessons were organised in a school context ranging from basic to secondary school students so no data is available for making any conclusions about application of the TTF for organising learning in a non formal context. In addition, more data coming from both expert and non expert teachers is needed to make any firm conclusions on the findings presented in this article.

    Despite the given limitations, the study allowed me to make the first conclusions on what expert (experienced) teachers do differently in the classroom when they apply the Thinking Task Framework for constructing and conducting their lessons. I am presenting below the three main differences that I discovered.


  • Developing Competence in Teaching for Thinking within the TA: Dialogue Quality

    go to the beginning of the article

    As it became evident from the previous discussion on the sequence of instruction, the teacher-classroom (T-Cl) dialogue plays a very important role in the learning process the teacher is organising in the classroom. There is quite a lot of research on the importance of the classroom dialogue in the development of thinking skills.

    A very remarkable difference was traced in the quality of the dialogue between expert and non expert teachers (see Fig 7).
    The quality was measured by three criteria discovered in different literature on the role of a dialogue in a thinking classroom:

    1. Nr of students involved in a dialogue;
    2. Nr of seconds given as a ‘think time’;
    3. Treatment of students replies.


      Expert teachers Non expert teachers
    Nr of students involved in a dialogue 4 and more 1-2
    Nr of seconds given as 'think time'  4-9 ?
    Treatment of students faulty replies

    a) Seeking clarification for tracing source of mistake

    b) Providing example to make Ss aware of faulty reasoning

    a) Verbal rejection

    b) Instant involvement of another student in correcting his/her classmate

    Figure 7. Quality of a Dialogue: Expert Teachers vs Non-Expert Teachers


    The question mark that is placed in Fig 7 for ‘waiting time’ of non expert teachers means that it is difficult to count this time in those cases, when the dialogues are hold with 1 or 2 students. Another point is that a teacher can wait even 10 seconds but if he expects the answer “2+2=4” then do we really speak about ‘thinking time’ in the sense we understand this phrase?

    What are the possible reasons for such a difference? I assume that very often novice TA teachers keep strongly in mind only the framework, forgetting to pay attention to such an important aspect as classroom interaction.

    I would also like to connect this point on the dialogue with the previous one discussed above. As you remember, the dialogue is a form of providing help on the produced result (i.e. make aware of the problem and offer thinking models). The questions which are often asked during this dialogue are so called open questions: Why? How? In what way?, etc. They allow variations in the answer. If there is nothing to discuss, then probably the task a teacher gave to students is not ‘problematic’ or challenging, it’s more knowledge-based so there is nothing to discuss. And a teacher is ‘not interested’ in students’ reasoning. So, when planning a lesson, a teacher can use a dialogue planning stage as a criteria for checking whether the task being offered will require any solution building or not.

    The following video excerpt from a lesson of an expert teacher is supposed to illustrate the second point. This is a lesson of Russian as a mother tongue in form 8. The translation of what is being said is provided in the transcript.

    In order to contrast the difference in the quality of the dialogue of an expert and a non expert teacher I am presenting below the comparative overview of the dialogues of two teachers (one from the video above and the second one - a transcript of a dialogue of a non expert teacher).


    EXPERT TEACHER  ......  NON EXPERT TEACHER ..................................................................
    T     Please, read the topic of our today’s talk and explain the reason why it has been offered to you. Why does the teacher offer you this topic for today’s lesson?  

    Let us specify, why we need these questions?


    00:14-00:27 waiting time

        [is not calling any specific student]
    There are more hands. Thank you, Ksenya, I see. Thank you.   Class  [in one voice] In order to find new parameters.
      00:33 – 00:43 waiting time   T [confirmative tone] In order to find new parameters.
    T [calling a student] Rita. You know that I first ask those who don’t raise a hand.   T Tell me, how the work with these questions will help you to find new parameters?      
    S1  I think this topic is offered to us today because we have studied ellipses […] but we haven’t covered everything on this topic yet.     [is not calling any specific student]
    T Do you mean that this is a part of the topic that we have been studying for several lessons?   S1 [volunteers] We see similarities.
    S1 Well…yes.   T Similarities in what? 
    T Who does NOT agree?   S1 We reply the questions and compare the result.
      [calling a student] Marina.   T Absolutely right. We have to compare if we want to find the parameters. We describe one element, another one and as a result find the parameters.

    I think that on the previous lesson we were describing our problems and we found out that we still don’t know a lot of things. Probably that is the reason we will study ellipses again. 

       T What do we have to compare? Where exactly are you looking for similarities? 
    T [calling a student] Ksenya.     [is not calling any specific student]
    S3 I think we will study ellipses because we use it very often so have to know it properly.    S1 [volunteers] Highlighted words.
    T Please, explain your idea. What do you mean ‘we use it often’?    T  Exactly, highlighted words and word phrases.
    S3 In our essays.    T What else? Look at the questions. Where else can we find similarities or differences?

    I haven’t noticed that. Don’t know. Then maybe you should say ‘I use it often’.
    A short remark. You actually do not use ellipsis often in your writings.

    So do you mean that on the previous lessons we were talking about ellipsis? Our object of inquiry was ellipsis?

        [is not calling any specific student]
    T [calling a student] Polina.    S2 [volunteers] parts of speech
    S4 The task says ‘we continue our inquiry’. So maybe there will be something new about ellipsis.     T  Parts of speech of what?
    T Let’s avoid too general words like ‘something new’. We’ll define the aim later. I am interested now why this topic appeared.    S2 …of words or word phrases.
    T [calling a student] Lada.    T Of the highlighted word or word phrase. In a word phrase we will always have one main word and we can define its part of speech. 
    S5 You said that we were studying ellipsis but in fact we were focused on the choice between a dot [.] and an ellipsis […]. And now it is clearer for us when to use a dot but it is not so clear with an ellipsis.       

    I remind you that when you reply you, you speak only about yourself. ‘This is clear for me and this is not clear so I can assume that my classmates may have problems as well”
    Are there any other ideas on your part?

    General analysis:
    • Total number of students involved in a dialogue: 5
    • Waiting time: 10-13 seconds
    • Treatment of students replies: Neutral acceptance, asking for clarification
    • Quality of students replies: full sentences
      General analysis:
    • Total number of students involved in a dialogue: 2 and one all-class reply
    • Waiting time: less than 3 seconds
    • Treatment of students replies: Immediate verbal acceptance with affirmative tone, asking for clarification
    • Quality of students replies: short word phrases



  • Developing Competence in Teaching for Thinking within the TA: Introduction

    For more than two years I have been interested in the Thinking Approach (TA). I was trying to implement it in my own teaching and to understand what actually the TA is. This task is difficult to perform if you stay within your own classroom and have no possibility to look at the teaching-learning process objectively, as an outside observer. Luckily, I had the chance to spend almost a year in observing various TA classrooms and trying to figure out what a TA lesson is and what a TA teacher is like.

    Even though TA teachers differ in many respects (for instance, in terms of the subject they teach, age group of students they work with and even type of education they provide – formal or non formal) they all rely on the Thinking Task Framework when building the teaching-learning process with their classes. Since they share the framework, my assumption was that we must observe some typical similar patterns in the process of how their lessons unfold. The Framework must unite the teachers in what they do and how they do it. And the big question I asked myself whether it does.

    In order to find an answer to this question, I was observing the lessons of various TA teachers (either by being present physically or watching videos from the lessons). And I discovered that there are similar patterns in how expert (or experienced) teachers transform the steps of the framework into learning situations and manage them in comparison to non expert (non-experienced) teachers. So this short article will present you the main findings I made, namely, those similarities that make expert TA teachers different from less experienced teachers in how they apply the framework. The main purpose of this article is to uncover essential instruction and interaction components that stand behind the Thinking Task Framework, thus helping non expert teachers have a broader view on the process of constructing and conducting a TA lesson.


    Follow the links below to read the following parts of the article:

    4. LEARNING THE WAYS OF DOING (from Russian, “освоение способов учебной работы”)



  • Developing Competence in Teaching for Thinking within the TA: Sequence of Instruction

    go to the beginning of the article

    The first similarity shared by expert teachers can be called a sequence of instruction. In order to understand the point, I would like to pay a closer attention to the first two steps of the Framework (TTF), forgetting for a while about the third step. 

    Basically, the first two steps show us the actions the teacher has to perform if (s)he wants to bring more thinking into the classroom. These steps are the following: offer a challenging task (in other words, offer an open ended task or create a problem situation) and when students are stuck, help them build the solution (in other words, develop a method for solving the difficulty). Even though the steps seem straightforward, there are various combinations of how these are administered by teachers.

    After analysing lessons of experts, I discovered the following pattern that distinguishes instruction of expert teachers from non experts.
    A teacher gives a challenging task number one and students do it. As a result students produce result one (see Fig 2)



    Figure 2. Sequence of Instruction: Step 1


    I would argue that students always produce something. It is very rare that they cannot do the task at all. A teacher has given an open ended task; therefore, it is not that difficult to produce ‘something’. The question is often about the quality of what students produce.

    Thus, the next step is very important – how the teacher deals with the produced result.

    The second step of the framework says ‘help learners build the solution – develop the method for coping with the challenge’. There may definitely be different forms of providing this help. In my observations I’ve discovered that experts normally provide help in the form of a dialogue. So this is the point to hold a dialogue with the class on the quality of the first result (see Fig 3).


    Figure 3. Sequence of Instruction: Step 2


    The function of this dialogue is twofold. On the one hand, it is supposed to help students become aware of the problem with their first result. A teacher can use the following questions during the dialogue to achieve its function:

    • How can we assess what you produced?
    • How do you know that this is what it has to be?
    • The task is one, the results are different – how do we know which one is correct?
    • Looks like your results (you) disagree with each other, how shall we resolve it?
    • How did you do the task? Why this way? Are there any other ways of doing it?
    • The task was given; you were not able to do it, why?, etc..

    The second function is to provide learners with the thinking models for building a solution, i.e. thinking models for constructing a method/a tool, which will allow students to come out of the difficulty. In the case of TA teachers, these thinking models are various OTSM-TRIZ models (e.g. ENV, Multiscreen, Problem definition, etc.).

    During this dialogue-stage a degree of teacher’s help/involvement can differ depending on the extent to which students are familiar with the approach the teacher implements.

    And as the last point of the instruction, students are invited to come back to the very same task they were doing and improve it, taking into account the conclusions they made for themselves after the T-Cl dialogue (see Fig 4). So basically, help is intended to help students improve the first result they produced.


    Figure 4. Sequence of Instruction: Step 3


    It is important to notice that the class stays within one task and the whole cycle forms a kind of a spiral or a loop where the students come back to improving the first result after holding a dialogue. It has been noticed that there may be several spirals/loops of this kind during one lesson. Sometimes one loop appears only as a result of two or more lessons but I would argue that when a teacher only starts working with the Thinking Task Framework it is better that (s)he plans a task that would allow students experience the loop during one lesson.

    As to what concerns non experienced teachers, my observation shows that they would give one big task, subdivide it into smaller steps and during the dialogue would hold the discussion on the ‘next step’ students have to do (see Fig 5). So basically, the help will be never provided for improving the first result of the first task, but would be ‘addressed’ to ‘push’ students agree on the upcoming task.


    Figure 5. Sequence of Instruction: Non-Expert Teachers


    At the same time, I do not want to claim that experts don’t make any subdivision into smaller sub-tasks, but every sub-task of an expert teacher goes through the loop (see Fig 6). In other words, the difference will be that non-expert teachers will not make students experience a loop when working with sub-tasks.


    Figure 6. Sequence of Instruction: Expert Teachers vs Non-Expert Teachers


    This may seem a little bit complex, but for those teachers who have already tried to apply the framework for creating and managing learning activities following the framework this observation can help to think about their own lessons and plan tasks in ‘loops’ ensuring every single conclusion (s)he wants his/her students to make is done through a task, not explanation:  

    • task
    • my students do it
    • they produce the result
    • we talk about the result and agree on the method for improving it
    • I let them improve the result individually (in pairs/groups) after this discussion.

    The following video excerpt from a lesson of an expert teacher is supposed to illustrate the first point. This is a lesson of English as a foreign language in form 11. Since this was an open lesson you will see some teachers present. The slides in the video are used to help you notice the main components of the instruction.


    To sum up the first point:

    • Process for every task is spiral-shaped/done in loops: task 1 – result - help – task 1 is back;
    • Before help is provided the presence of the problem is explicitly agreed on;
    • During the help stage the OTSM-TRIZ thinking models are offered;
    • Sequence “teacher activity – students’ activity” is maintained.


  • Developing Competence in Teaching for Thinking within the TA: Ways of Doing

    go to the beginning of the article

    And the last point concerns a well known but very seldom implemented point. It has many times been highlighted that the focus of educational process should not be placed on getting learners acquire the factual information as on helping learners acquire components of the learning activity (from Russian, компоненты учебной деятельности). There are five main components mentioned in the literature:

    1. set learning aim
    2. define learning task
    3. perform specific actions for doing the task
    4. ensure self control
    5. ensure self assessment of ones own performance

    I will pay attention to the first component only – setting learning aims.

    Observations of the lessons showed that expert teachers would make students think about learning aims (for the lesson in general and for each task in particular), while non expert teachers would not do it at all. I would like to highlight that ‘making learners set the aim’ is not the same as ‘teacher voicing the aim in the beginning of the lesson’. It means involving students in defining the aims, entering into the dialogue (the quality aspects of which have been discussed above).

    To illustrate this third point, I would invite you to check the following video excerpt from a lesson of an expert teacher. This is a lesson of English as a foreign language in form 11. While watching the video you will notice that students are already used to defining learning aims so respond to the task very actively, which will obviously not be the case with the class that is only learning how to do it.

  • ESP Course - Background Information

    October 2014

    Having made various observations of TA Teachers, I discovered three main differences that make expert TA Teachers different from non-expert ones (follow this link if you are curious to read my article where the issue is discussed in more details). These are

    • (a) involving students in formulating learning aims;
    • (b) holding qualitative dialogues with students;
    • (c) building spiral-shaped (loop-like) instructions.

    Starting my teaching at the University of Strasbourg with my new students, I decided that I will be trying to construct my lessons having in mind these three steps. I am clearly aware that I do not implement TA at all. My main task for the first semester is to learn to make pre-steps for bringing thinking into my lessons. Moreover, my previous teaching experience showed me that I have poor classroom management skills. So this semester I will be focusing on developing these skills as well.
    I work with 9 groups of students: four groups of first year management students, three groups of third year law students and two groups of first year master students.

    This is a series of my reflections on my new teaching experience.

    1. WEEK 1: October 06-10, 2014 - First Data
    2. WEEK 2: October 13-17, 2014 - Some Notes on Aims and Classroom Management
    3. WEEK 3: October 20-24, 2014 - General Notes
    4. WEEK 3: October 20-24, 2014 - Vocabulary Trap
    5. WEEK 3: October 20-24, 2014 - English Sound System
  • Fears of a TA-newbie and where do they come from

    Double aims – double challenge

    If I had to compare my traditional views on language teaching and learning with my TA-view then I would say that the first difference I see is in setting aims.

    Traditionally I would enter a classroom with only one main aim in my head - which is connected to teaching language only (including teaching intercultural competence, communicative skills, public speaking and everything that nowadays is supposed to be taught during a language lesson). These become the objects of my teaching. Consequently, every activity I do or choose should support this aim and be directed towards achieving it. I put forward a specific language aim and find appropriate material to introduce and practice new items. Books and structured lesson plans are a magic wand that helps me to organise teaching/learning process and conduct interactive lessons. They offer clear evaluation criteria and allow to check the result in a rather short period of time. The result in this case is clear, either ‘learnt and understood’ or not.

    On the contrary, TA-ed me has to keep at least two main aims in mind, teaching language and thinking, where thinking means skills and dispositions (I am not sure I clearly understand what disposition stands for though. Attitude?) necessary to deal with non-typical problems. It is difficult for me to formulate what are the relations between thinking and language in a TA classroom. Though I would like to say that teaching thinking is more important and language is just a context for it (that is to say, thinking is just wrapped in a language) I would not do it. It seems these relations are of a different nature which I am not able to formulate now. Anyway, keeping in mind 2 aims the whole teaching learning process opens up in an absolutely different light. The question appears – what exactly am I going to teach? The answer will be – thinking models, or to be more precise, using specific thinking models to discover the language system. One of the central problems in such a lesson should be – unlocking language system (solving problems) by using specific thinking models, which are ENV, contradiction, multi screen model (system operator), …anything else? In this case, no materials can help as no structured lesson plan can exist. You can get a task which has high thinking potential (which actually means - it is challenging) but unless you know what to do with it you will not move far. You should see the whole system in your head – where you are moving – seeing every task as one element of that huge and flexible system (flexible because though you have a general picture its every element is used only when it is needed and its up to you to evaluate the situation and decide which element is to select in a specific point of time). So with 2 aims in your mind you should not only think about what language to teach but also how to do it in a ‘thinking way’. And the main fear at this stage is – do I really know this ‘how to’ part?


    Switching to ‘thinking’ style – going for a free flight

    Why is it so difficult to switch to a TA-lesson-style? First of all, because I am not sure I see language as a system. To be more precise, I doubt I know how that system functions and can describe its elements through ENV or use ENV to solve a language task. Secondly, we are not only speaking about teaching language (its grammar system, syntax, etc.) but we are also speaking about various aspects connected to language (as mentioned above these might be making presentations, reading texts, etc.). This part might seem even more complex as it suggests that the teacher knows how to work with problems through the models and teaches his/her students to do so. In this case, the teacher has to master thinking models (s)he is teaching (should be able to solve problems thought these models). If (s)he does not then teaching of these models is complicated – how to teach to solve problems through models if you yourself do not solve them through these models. If ENV looks like (I highlight, looks like) the simplest model to teach and the simplest for integrating language context into then all other models are much more difficult to master and to see potential integration of language.

    To be a TA-ed teacher one has to keep in mind the system – moving towards helping students to master thinking models – and be able to use the language context for teaching to use separate models for specific language-problem solving situations (where language stands not only for language system as such but also for everything that is done through and is about the language, e.g.making a speech). Moreover, one has to evaluate when the context is favourable for teaching which model.

    Unless the teacher clearly sees a bigger picture of the system the lessons will turn into chaos. In fact, it is said that a TA-lesson looks like chaos for someone who is not acquainted with the system and just intrudes in the middle. It’s like coming to a theatre performance set by post-modernists in the middle of the act and trying to evaluate that performance using criteria for evaluating classical plays. So unless the teacher himself/herself sees the system a TA-lesson seriously risks turning into a real chaos.


    Dealing with problems here and now

    Even if it seems to you that you see the general picture, how can you know that you use the right time for teaching the right language and thinking element? One of the principles of the TA is to deal with those problems that students bring themselves. Nothing is forced or artificially brought into, learning potential comes from students’ problems. The only thing you can do is to show students that they have problems.

    Moreover, when students start dealing with the task you yourself do NOT give students the correct answer once they produce some nonsense. What you should do instead – is to direct their replies in the right direction. It means that you have to be ready to deal with questions/comments/answers that appear here and now and quickly find the way to ‘repel’ them and turn them on the right path.

    At the same time, we should not forget that any problem can be subdivided into its levels (e.g.working with grammar, one has the distinguish between different grammar forms, another one – to use them in a context) and students can be and normally are on different levels. So the teacher has to deal with this mess as well.


    There is no end to perfection

    Nothing is finished within the TA and that adds to the perception of it as being something messy. TA is organised in different technologies (grammar, text, research, self-study) and you can select within which technology you work (for instance, you can do all apart from research or you can do only grammar). However, if you choose to work with several technologies at a time you should remember that NONE of them will have anything finished. They need to have some more or less closing elements (for example, if one works with grammar and makes students develop and test their models then it is expected that the draft model will be developed and tested and improved, but nobody says that all or any student will develop the final model which will function eternally. Every model can be challenged and apart from that, students work at their own pace so they just can’t all at once approach their model closer to perfection. And a TA-teacher has to be ready to live with it. That’s why the feeling of something unfinished will be haunting every TA-newbie. If you as a teacher can live with it then be ready that at least in the very beginning some of your students will complain about ‘your not teaching them anything’.


    Additional aspect for an absolute newbie

    In addition, nobody has excluded other elements of the teaching-learning process such as classroom and time management, ways of working on the task, monitoring and evaluating the process (where evaluation is one more pain in the brain). Maybe these aspects are less important for an experienced teacher but for a teacher-newbie these surely add to ‘pain’.


    So these look like the main fears when you start working with the TA and when you start getting your first true teaching experience.

    No wonder that many teachers withdraw. It’s much easier to see learning process as a line which can be stopped and evaluated at any point.

  • Self-study technology (1)

    Sep 09

    Defining aims & objectives (1)

    - introduce the notion and procedures of self-study that are going to be used during the first school semester;
    - develop skills to formulate learning problems, aims and objectives: make students think about their own problems in EN, aims and objectives;

    Time: 20 min.

    In the beginning of the lesson I gave students back their tests with their results. It served as an introduction to why we need to do self-study: a) results are poor we have only two years to make them better b) Time in the classroom is not enough to improve the results to an acceptable and good levels; c) Students’ level is so much different that it’s impossible to work on their specific problems during the lesson.

    In order to start doing self-study I suggested students to define their wishes, identify their problems, and formulate their aims and objectives. The following questions were put on the blackboard.
    1. What do you want to be able to do in Eng?
        a. I want to be able to…
    2. Difficulties you find in trying to do the things above.
        a. I cannot…
    3. Define the goal you would like to reach by Dec 30
        a. What needs to be improved;
        b. How the result will be measured;
        c. How realistic the aim is.
    4. Define the objectives for the goal above.
        a. I will be able to…

    I read every question and in one group gave an example of what might be written under each point e.g. wish – watch EN movies without subtitles;
    I cannot – distinguish words in a fluent speech used in movies
    Goal – improve …
    Objective - distinguish every single word when watching a movie ‘title’

    Students were given 5-7 min. to write down their replies.
    I asked them to be more specific when they write their wishes, goals and objectives.

    Then I asked some students (one by one) to present his wishes, problems, aim and objectives. I put replies under every question.
    One of the replies was:

    • I wish to go to England and be able to speak and understand native speakers.
    • I cannot understand native speakers & I cannot speak fluently.
    • I want to improve my speaking skills.
    • I will be able to speak correctly and understand native speakers.

    When students gave me their answers I could only make general comments asking ‘is it specific’? You say you want to ‘improve your speaking’. How should I check it after 4 months if you improved it or not? When you say ‘I want to understand native speakers’, what are the topics you want to talk to them about/what should their conversations be about that you would like to understand. If in Dec I’ll give you topic ‘theory of relativity’ and will ask you to talk about it, would you be able to do it? Will you be able to understand everything in 4 months, is it realistic? etc. I think the main problem is that my comments were not systematic. I suppose they made students think that their replies are too general. But they did not give clear directions on how to improve them.

    Students’ reaction

    • Do not break their problem into sub-problems (e.g. I want to improve my speaking in general);
    • Do not distinguish between different problems, put every problem in one (e.g. Wish – to improve my speaking. Objective – I will be able to understand texts better when I read them).
    • Are not specific in their objectives (e.g. I will be able to speak correctly and understand what native speakers say).
    • De-motivated reply – I want to go to England and I will learn English there. I just want to finish school and I do not care about my mark.

    My problems

    • I did not think of exact procedure of how to process students’ replies - did not pre-thought their replies and thought of the ways to direct them.
    • I did not prepare good examples of wishes/problems/aims and objectives. This might be very useful.
    • I did not think of good analogies (connected with other topics than language). For example, in my life I want to be able to travel to different countries every month…etc.
    • Why is it difficult to prepare an example with analogy? I guess it’s because I still need to make a clearer distinction for myself between wishes/problems/aims/objectives.
    • Probably, I was talking too much myself without inviting students to evaluate their peers aims. I should have offered a better alternative to the presented aim/objective and ask which one sound more specific and realistic. In order to be able to do it on the spot I have to be more prepared at home, listing typical answers and pre-preparing possible alternatives.

    General reflections
    Forms 10 seemed to take self-study more seriously, at least their formulations were more elaborated, i.e. still too general but the wish to identify real problems was evident;
    Form 11 (one group) is too difficult for me to control (more impatient and disturbing) so I need to be more systemic in my replies and find the ways of keeping them all busy.

  • Self-study technology (2)

    Sep 12

    Defining aims & objectives (2)

    Help students see the difference between specific and measurable goals and objectives and less specific/measurable ones.

    Time: 20 min

    One student is asked to read his/her problems, goal and objectives. I put them on the board. I ask students to evaluate if goal/objectives are clear and specific enough. When students give their opinions, which is not well-thought as they say ‘yes, everything is clear’ I ask students to check the coherency of their problems/aims/objectives by asking themselves the following questions (taken from http://en.thinking-approach.eu/). 

    a) Will you be able to [GOAL] when you are able to do [OBJECTIVES].

    b) Will the problems [CANNOT] be resolved when you are able to [GOAL].

    Students see that the formulations are not coherent. So I ask them to come back to their own plans and check their own formulations.
    I also give an analogy on being specific and coherent:
    I want to be able to cook. VS I want to be able to cook lasagne bolognaise as Italians do.
    I want to buy something in a shop. VS I want to buy products for cooking lasagna bolognaise.

    I ask students which statement sounds more specific and is easier to measure in the end. They agree that the second one.

    In addition, I offer them examples of goals/objectives formulation (taken from http://en.thinking-approach.eu/) and ask to work in pairs and decide which goals/objectives are more specific and why.
    After they work for few minutes (though I should confess they do not do it willingly and seems do not quite understand why they need it) they are asked to express their opinion. Some students claim that ‘I want to improve my English because I need English in my life’ is still a better aim than, for example, “to improve my listening skills in understanding unstressed words in a fluent speech”. I ask them what does it mean ‘to improve my English’ and how they would be able to judge if English is improved or not. Probably I lack arguments and more good examples here as some students still claim that “I want to improve my English is better”.

    In the end I ask students to add to their plans activities they will do to achieve their objectives and time they are planning to spend on it. I tell them that for the next lesson (Sep 13) I will collect their self-study plans.

    Students’ reaction

    • Some students argue that ‘improve my English’ is a better aim. Probably, it would have been useful to make a distinction between ‘short-term’ and ‘long-term’ aims. It might have helped to see the difference between small steps that one needs to make if he wants to climb on the top of the mountain. 
    • Many students in both forms 10 and 11 do not write anything and thought I try to explain the reason behind self-study they do not understand why they need it. The phrases ‘why do I need it’ and ‘why do we need a teacher then’ starts being pronounced on my lessons.

    My problems

    • This time I was more ready to face students reaction and replies but I still lack good arguments/analogies to turn students on the right track. For instance, one analogy that came to my mind now is connected with planning activities that are not connected with students wishes and aims. I might be able to use this analogy later on so it is good to have it in the pocket:

    Your girlfriend/boyfriend is Italian. (S)he will celebrate her/his birthday in 3 month. You wish to make her/him a good present and you know that (s)he adores lasagna. Your wish is to organise for her/him an unforgettable birthday. You know that apart from other things your girlfriend/boyfriend adores lasagna bolognaise. Thus, your aim is to learn how to cook a truly Italian lasagna bolognaise. If during these 3 months that you have till her/his birthday you will be learning to cook in general (for instance, you will learn how to make a good steak with boiled potatoes) then as the result, you will learn something. The question is – will it help you to achieve your aim and will your girlfriend/boyfriend be happy if for her/his birthday instead of her/his favourite lasagna (s)he’ll get a steak?

    • Other possible analogies might be: I want to improve my skills in playing the piano. VS I want to improve my skills in playing waltzes of Chopin on the piano.

    General reflection
    Though in general it looks like some students understand what you want from them, the majority either absolutely ignore your tasks or do the things very superficially. So I am looking forward to get their self-study plans to see what they have written there.
    So far, I start thinking that it is not a good idea to break self-study planning into parts ‘aims/objectives + activities/time + materials’. I am not sure why I started this breaking but if I had to do it now I would ask students to think about everything at once.

  • Self-study technology (3)

    Sep 20

    Thinking about Activities, Materials and Time

    to share general feedback on the self-study plans (goals/objectives/activities/time) and highlight common problematic areas.

    Time: 5 min

    Students were given back their self-study plans. Words ‘aim’, ‘objective’ and ‘activity’ were put on the board. Students were asked to express their opinion on the differences between these 3 notions. When listening to students opinions, I reminded them that (adopted from en.thinking-approach.eu):

    • ‘Aims’ include new things/improvement that one will be able to do and there should be simple ways of checking this improvement. 
    • “Objectives” are the result of learning, i.e.what one will be able to do as the result of doing certain activities. 
    • ‘Activities’ are specific actions the person will do to reach ones goals.

    Students had to look back at their study plans and improve them, taking into account the feedback and the differences just discussed. Many of students did not put any time or activities for their plans so the task for the next lesson was to put down time and activities and start selecting the material for working on one’s self-study.

    General reflection
    Many of students in both form still do not believe self-study is going to be evaluated, they continue either keeping silence and doing nothing or ask every time ‘why do we need it’ and ‘what is this we are doing on English lessons’, ‘you are not teaching us anything’. It feels really discouraging. Probably, I need to think more about motivating students for self-study. The first motivation I tried to use was connected with their results of diagnostic test but seems it no longer works. Reminding them about their exams also does not seem to work. In the form 10 the reply is – it’s still too far – or – don’t worry, we will pass the exam.

  • Self-study technology (4)

    Sep 26, Oct 07

    Materials and Work implementation

    General reflections

    Every lesson before starting a lesson I asked students if they need any help with selecting the material. I reminded them that starting from October they will have to implement their self-study plans. In general the reaction was neutral. Many students were just smiling and it was clear that they are not going to do anything and they probably still believe that this is a joke and I will forget about it soon. Some students raised from time to time the eternal question ‘why do we need it’. I reminded them that they need to be able to understand their own problems and work on them and I also referred to the aims of education nowadays. Probably I have better to think of a better motivation telling them that they can learn English easier if they do things they are interested in (listen to the music, watch videos) and at the same time learn English.

    From time to time it seemed that some students start thinking about doing something (for instance, one student from form 11 told me if he can listen to RAP where many swear words are used. I replied that he can listen to whatever he wants and if he listens to one new RAP song every week and works with the text then at the end he can ‘read’ any RAP song he wishes to the class, thus showing that he had been working with it). It seemed to work as an argument as he didn’t expect me to agree and allow such an activity but I know that he hasn’t started doing anything yet so probably he was just looking for an excuse.

    There were only 3 people (out of 53 students) who asked for help with materials. One student told me he wants to become a lawyer so would like to work with the text connected with law, another student needed links to online English books. I send them some direct links to possible resources they might use (for instance, to some newspapers where the ‘law’ topic is discussed). I am not sure if this is the best resource but for the start it might work.
    One more student found a website (http://lingualeo.ru) and looks very enthusiastic about it. He shared the information with his classmates and is regularly working with the website. Of course, it makes me glad he does something and shares his positivism. On the other hand, a little bit later I will try to make him think if the work he does on the website corresponds to his aims.

    In general, I would say that there are only around 5 students out of 53 who do something. Al other are either complaining all the time ‘why do we need it’, ‘we do not understand what you want’, ‘why do we need the teacher’ and ‘why don’t we follow the programme as all other students do’ or just doing nothing and I expect that at a certain point they will join the group that is complaining. And it honestly is very hard to bear.

    In order to follow what my students are doing I offered them a template that they have to fill in regularly and show me once a week (normally, it should be Monday but for some days due to some reasons it might also be Friday) together with some evidence of their work: what did you plan to do; what have you done; what have you learnt.
    Let’s see how it works. So far, almost nothing looks positive.

    On Oct 14 one of my groups (form 10) made a real riot saying they do not absolutely understand what I want from them with that self-study and what we are doing on our lessons and why they are so much different from ‘normal’ lessons. One student asked me if I really believed that if one watches movies and stops them every minute to understand the text (s)he would be able to learn English. When I said ‘yes’, the student said I am telling nonsense and she does not believe me and would ask her class teacher for the right to change the group. I will have to be able to come back to the question of self-study the week that is coming and honestly that obviously won’t be easy.

    When I asked two students from form 11 if they understand what I want from them about their self-study, they told me ‘yes’ and ‘you are the only one who wants us do something’ and ‘those who normally work will do self-study as they understand why they need it but those who generally do not do anything will continue doing nothing’.

    At certain points you start asking yourself if you really do good things. If almost ALL your students are unhappy isn’t that the reason to go upset?

  • Speaking about the Past II (2): Imposed model

    Support materials for the Diary Entry “Speaking about the Past II (2)

    Imposed model (Present perfect/Present Perfect Continuous)

    Parameters HAVE DID (Ved) HAVE BEEN Ving
    Action completeness


    I’ve read this book.I’ve written to Aunty to wish her Happy birthday.

    (Possibly) not completed

    I’ve been reading a great book, I’ll give it to you when I’ve finished.

    I’ve been writing my essay all morning.

    Action/Process repetition 


    Paula has left early today.


    Paula has been leaving work late this evening.

    Action temporality 

    Permanent action

    I’ve lived here for 10 years.

    Temporary action

    I’ve been swimming 20 lengths today.I’ve been living with my friends for 10 days.

    Speakers interest in/attitude towards the action 

    Interested in the result

    She has painted the bench.

    She has talked about this subject before.

    Interested in the process

    She’s been panting the bench the whole day, she’s tired now. 

    Action duration


    I’ve saved up about 200 euro.


    I’ve been saving up to buy television.

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