Why I stopped spending time on preparing elaborate materials to teach the language: the joy of focusing on the learner and the learning environment!

I am one of those educators who has to try everything in order to adopt it or reject it. Especially at the beginning of my teaching career I used to experiment with methods and materials all the time. I guess this is the reason why I started researching and documenting my findings, piloting educational programmes in my school later on, and finally, presenting our methodology and findings in conferences around the world. It is through trial and error that humanity has moved forward and education is not an exception to this.

Text by: Elizabeth Veliou

As a novice teacher but also later on when I started my career as a school owner, I was fascinated by those elaborate crafts that teachers posted on social media, followed by long posts, on how their students were playing with them while learning. So, I would spend endless hours trying to make those perfect crafts for my students, just to use them for 5 to 10 minutes in our lessons and then make different equally beautiful ones, for the next lesson. That thing went on for about a year or so.

The next year I had to hire someone to make those crafts for me because I had been working for around 35 hours per week so cutting, drawing and gluing would take too much of my time. So, one day, while I was teaching present continuous (if I remember well) I realised that I had forgotten my valuable crafts at home. So, I had to improvise. I took my students out of the classroom for a walk and we used the place instead of materials. It instantly got me. Why do I need those silly crafts when I have the world around me? It was the last day that I used crafts to teach language. Long story short, the pictures on social media may be catchy BUT, the thing is:

  • Most of the times those crafts take long hours just to be used for a couple of minutes during the lessons.
  • The teachers spend valuable time making them while they could be doing something much more useful or actually having a rest after a long day at work.
  • The learner would be happy and the learning objective would be achieved with much less effort from the part of the teacher.

Same case was my story with the Interactive Notebooks. For three years we tried and tested them in our school. Teachers were stressed and tired. Students didn’t really spend time on them at home (that was supposed to be the original plan) and the moment I realised that they weren’t really useful at all, was when I had a teacher trainer observe lessons in our school. She sat opposite me and asked me “Do you really need those things? Do you realise how many amazing things you can do instead of cutting, sticking and doing silly exercises in these notebooks?”.  She was totally right.

As teachers nowadays we are constantly trying to find the new “it” thing that will attract students, clients or even followers to make us more popular in the field. The new thing is not always the right thing though. So, how can we know what to choose and what to reject? Judging from my trial-and-error experience, my research in the field and my role not only as a teacher now but as a teacher trainer too, I’d say:

  • Go materials light. You don’t need elaborate crafts, tons of materials and hours of preparation to make a memorable lesson. You just need creativity and a clear understanding of your teaching aims.
  • Have your lessons observed by a colleague or a teacher trainer. I know it sounds scary but it’s the most valuable feedback you will get. Sometimes you know something does not work but you just can’t tell exactly what unless you hear it from someone else. I would never be the teacher I am if I hadn’t subject myself to constructive criticism.
  • The environment is the third teacher. Organise your classrooms in a way that students will be able to interact with each other, with the teacher and the materials around them. In our time and day flexibility should be the key when organising the classroom environment.
  • Don’t use any technology when teaching VYL or even YL. They spend too much time on their phones and in front of screens. Not even interactive games or tablets in the classroom. Take them outside, read them stories, cook with them, organise sensory play and messy play activities and experiments to explore the language.

Then again, if you see something that you really, really like you may try it. It may work for you and your students. Or it may not. If it doesn’t, please admit defeat and reject it. Maybe, let other teachers know that it didn’t work either.  Education moves forward not only because we glorify our successes or innovation, but also because we share our failures.

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