It strikes me that some of the best books for English teachers go much further in breadth and depth than their titles suggest.
One example of this is Jim Scrivener’s excellent Classroom Management Techniques. It’s such a rich resource brimming with practical ideas for running your classroom but also offers a lot of philosophical concepts and insights that can bolster teachers’ classroom creativity and confidence all the more. A goldmine that you might miss out on by taking the title too literally.
Marnie Reed’s Goal-Driven Lesson Planning is another such book.
Don’t expect chapter after chapter describing the ins and outs of constructing the correct or “best” type of lesson plan. While reading this book will surely enhance the written plans you complete, you’re sure to get much more than that from its pages.
Here Reed offers a plethora of crystal-clear, research-grounded advice for English teachers on the “whats, hows, and whys” of things like doing needs analysis, selecting materials, responding to student errors, assessing student progress, and yes, practical classroom management issues too, like using the whiteboard effectively. And while the contents are intellectually substantial, their presentation is very straightforward and not too dense. Perfect for working teachers without a lot of extra time to process an academic tome.
A couple of the many brilliant ideas in the book
On motivating students: as English teachers we tend to think a lot about intrinsic and extrinsic types of motivation.
We may notice how some students come in more inwardly inspired to learn English than others, and we try different ways to motivate our class groups outwardly by using praise, points, playtime, and perhaps promised pizza parties.
Goal-Driven Lesson Planning suggests a focus on “resultative” motivation, and it’s a potential game-changer. Resultative motivation describes how learners’ effort increases fueled by the satisfaction of recent achievement. In other words: when we get one sweet taste of success, we naturally want more!
Why might this be a better way to think about motivating our students? Well, by definition their intrinsic motivation isn’t really in our control to affect. And using extrinsic motivational rewards is often quite shallow; the leverage becomes more important than the language.
What we can do as teachers instead is hyperfocus on setting students up for small and specific clear language learning successes in each class and then consistently highlight those successes for them, transforming that feeling into fuel for future engagement. We can expect this “closed loop” motivational system to guide our teaching and feedback choices to really influence students’ motivation level going forward.
On error correction: as English teachers in Thailand specifically, we are mindful of the danger of causing our students’ to “lose face” in front of their peers by highlighting mistakes and errors and thus de-motivating them in dramatic fashion.
But Goal-Driven Lesson Planning reminds us not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. If we as teachers don’t provide these learners with direct corrective feedback on their English as they practice it, who will? What environment but the classroom provides the conditions for doing this safely and effectively? It’s on us to become masters of sensitive and yet direct, incisive corrective feedback to boost the students’ performance. And this book contains a lot of great ideas about exactly how to systematically do this. For example, keeping in mind exactly what has been taught or not will guide you in what to correct.
If a class studied the past simple last term, great: they’re still practicing it and surely have not perfected it yet. So, this is the time for consistent immediate corrections using simple prompts to help them notice and self-repair (and each time they can do that - be sure to highlight that success with resultative motivation in mind!).
Another concept is “tell-backs”: simple phrases students can learn and remember when they make an error like “She said me…”, for which a “tell-back” might be ‘say and tell have the same meaning, but different grammar’. Tell-backs are like little packets of info that can be memorized and then trigger deeper memories of past learning in the brains of our students when needed.
A lot of food for thought and teacher learning
Like most excellent books written for hard working full-time English language teachers, Goal-Driven Lesson Planning respects that throughout our careers we are essentially our own trainers. We might take courses, do degrees, and read books in order to educate and inform ourselves as teachers, but just because a trainer or author says something is best practice it doesn’t mean we’ll take it and run with it.
This is why Reed begins and ends this book prompting us to take honest stock of our strengths and weaknesses as teachers and reflect critically on our own teaching habits and methods as well as what she proposes we do in this book.