Conferences & Professional Learning

TBR: Professional Reading


Down here in Georgia we got an inch of snow Friday night, so of course it’s Tuesday and I have a report-by-ten-o’clock-work-day. This quiet time in my classroom feels like a gift, so I’ve used some of it to do some reading and reflection.

Whale Done

I have to admit my expectations were low when the admins gave us a book with a cheesy title on our first day from Christmas break and along with a deadline for reading the first two chapters. However, upon completing those chapters this morning, I was pleasantly surprised by the message. The authors explain how the whales at SeaWorld are trained with positive feedback strategies, and how those methods can be applied to managing people (I have to chuckle each time I read “animal” and think “student”). Some takeaways from today’s reading:

  • It is more effective to reinforce positive behavior than to punish negative behavior
  • Management is most effective when there is trust and a positive relationship in place
  • “The more attention you pay to a behavior, the more it will be repeated.” Therefore, reward students with attention for positive behaviors!
  • Praise progress, not perfection: give praise when something is done right or almost right
  • Whales need motivators other than food. Workers need motivators other than money. Students need motivators other than grades. (Intrinsic/extrinsic issue)
  • Too often, workers and students only receive feedback for doing something wrong. It is (even more) important to also give positive feedback for doing a good job!


The Language Teacher Toolkit

Christmas morning: yes, I asked for a professional learning book for Christmas. #nerdforlife

Confession: I follow The Language Gym through my feedly account, but I rarely make it through a whole blog post as the attention and focus required for processing each post is usually more than I can give in  those minutes I am scrolling through my phone looking for a distraction! This book is similarly dense, but I am committed  to getting through it. I read for thirty minutes today and found myself nodding and underlining on each page. Here are a few takeaways:

  • My goal in reading this book is to expand my repertoire of best practices – that is, add a few more tools to my teaching tool kit
  • Different methods have different advantages. I agree a lot with the Natural approach described in chapter 1, but my method is a hybrid with communicative language teaching and grammar-translation. The authors acknowledge that your teaching style is going to be heavily influenced by how your students are assessed, and I appreciate that they do so without judgement.
  • “Beware the teacher who claims that research supports their preferred method.” This made me chuckle, as I am guilty of it and know many teachers who are also guilty! The authors point out the difficulties in comparative research on different teaching methods and the many factors that play into a student’s ultimate learning. It is a good reminder to be humble and remain open to learning from others.
  • In chapter 2, the authors start out a discussion on oral work with questioning techniques (circling). “In the process of a ten minute exchange of this sort, students are getting lots of easy, repeated comprehensible input and a chance to practice their pronunciation and embed vocabulary. If students hear the word bag twenty times they are more likely to remember it without having to resort to a more tedious conscious rote learning method.
  • Things to try: chanting & singing things that need memorizing, oral gap filling (teacher reads aloud a familiar text with pauses for students  to fill in the next word. Would work well with a story or song), cumulative games (I go to the market and I buy…), running dictation (post texts around the room, partner A has to go to the text, memorize it, then repeat it back to partner B. No cell phones!)


What are you reading these days? What I should I read next?


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