Podcast: Personalizing Learning, Development and Work

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Personalization is in every aspect of our lives; the clothes we wear, the TV we watch, the podcasts we listen to. But what about in language teaching?

In this episode we discuss how teachers can personalize lessons and materials for students, how trainers can personalize development for teachers and how managers can personalize work for their staff.

Personalizing Learning, Development Work - Transcript


Tracy Yu: Hey, Ross.

Ross Thorburn:  Hey, Tracy.

Tracy:  I really like your shirt.

Ross:  Thanks.

Tracy:  Did you buy it in a shop or...?

Ross:  I got it tailor‑made.

Tracy:  Really? Also, it must be really expensive.

Ross:  Not really.

Tracy:  It's quite interesting actually in our lives. We are trying to have tailored, customized, and personalized experience like tailor‑made cloth. The same thing for learning, and our students also are looking forward to something actually tailored and personalized for their experience.

Ross:  If you're listening to this podcast now, you've tailored your radio experience. 20 years ago, what you listened to on a radio would just be whatever was on the radio at the time, but that's not true anymore, is it? The same goes for TV as well where you can choose what shows you want to watch and download them and watch them whenever you want.

That's how we get personalization the rest of our lives. Why is it important then for students to have personalization and personalized learning experience?

Tracy:  Because it engages students in the whole process. If they can talk about something or learn something that's relevant to their lives, their interests and preferences, and it's more likely for them to get involved in the process. There would be more engage. They will have more curiosities to find out more information.

Ross:  Can I add in a little quote from the Khan Academy? He's talking here about what happens in regular one size fits all classes. He's comparing it to riding a bike.

Khan:  In a traditional classroom, you have a couple of a homework, homework, lecture, homework, lecture, and then you have snapshot exam. That exam, whether you get a 70 percent, and 80 percent, a 90 percent, or a 95 percent, the class moves on to the next topic.

You go build on that in the next concept. That's analogous to, imagine, learning to ride a bicycle. I give you that bicycle for two weeks. I come back after two weeks, and I say, "Well, let's see." You're having trouble taking left turns. You can't quite stop. You're an 80 percent bicyclist, so I put a big C stamp on your forehead.

I say, "Here's a unicycle." As ridiculous as that sounds, that's exactly what's happening in our classrooms right now.

Tracy:  I think it's going to be very interesting to have a discussion about how we can personalize in education. We've got three questions to discuss. The first one?

Ross:  How can you personalize learning for student? The second one?

Tracy:  How do you personalize development for teachers? The last?

Ross:  If you're a manager, how can you personalize work experience for your staff?

[background music]

Ross:  Let's talk about personalization for students. We have an acronym today to help you remember. The acronym for personalizing for students is...

Tracy:  CONNECT.

Ross:  Let's go through them. The first C is for...

Tracy:  Content.

Ross:  Right. The idea here is that whatever you're teaching, you can connect that content to the students' lives, like where they're from, what they like doing.

Tracy:  Just making more localized, represent the students' background and where they are from. Sometime, we may have a discussion about something, but the very common situation I experienced was the students told me, "Oh, I don't know what to say."

In this point, I don't think the teacher personalized the lesson enough. The teacher can provide the students a chance to link their assumed knowledge and their experience to the new language or concept they're learning in the lesson.

Ross:  That was C was for content. What is O?

Tracy:  O is for outcome. How I understand this point is how we set personal learning objectives in class. For example, maybe we have like five new words or maybe two structures that you expect students to achieve in the lesson. It's impossible for every single student achieves the same thing.

Don't force the students to achieve the same thing in the same class because they're different.

Ross:  Throughout different levels to begin with so that they could be able to get to the same point at the end. Yeah, absolutely.

Tracy:  Next one is N.

Ross:  N for needs. Something I heard David Graddol say a while ago at ITEFL, he was talking about how if you're a waiter and you're beginner level, often what you get covered in a course book is talking about yourself, describing your family, describing your clothes.

He said, "If I go into a restaurant and meet a waiter with A1 level English, I don't want to talk to him about his family, [laughs] I want to order a meal."

The point here is to think about why your students are learning English and then taking that into account in what you decide to teach them.

Tracy:  However, do you think the reason why they're learning the language is because they are preparing themselves for future?

Ross:  Yes and no. I can see that a lot of people need to learn English to pass a test. A classic thing that I think I have mentioned on this podcast before, is that a lot kids I've met, one of the mains of authentic ways to use English is when they go abroad with their parents.

They have to help their parents buy things or translate things but we never really do any translation in class with students. You pretend to be the mom, I'll pretend to be the shopkeeper, and you can translate. I think that's a great example of a need that we don't really fill.

That was content, outcomes, need. What's the second N?

Tracy:  The second N is noticing learning and how can we make the learning visible, and also outreach our students' awareness about how they learn and what they learn. It's everyone...

Ross:  Everyone will learn a different thing. There's nothing really more personalize than that is talking about what you learned. Even, what activities you found were the most helpful for you in class? You can do that with almost any age group.

I remember teaching three‑year‑olds and giving them smiley face and sad face flashcards, after we would play game. For example, that you just say, "Oh, did you like it, or did you not like it?" They could use the flashcards to tell you about their preferences.

What's next?

Tracy:  E means engage. Engage students by choosing activity that match their preferences.

Ross:  Not learning styles.

Tracy:  [laughs] Yes.

Ross:  The point here is that most of what we talked about so far is personalizing the what of the lesson, but here I ' talking about personalizing the how. So funny, for me, students like what activities do they like? Maybe by doing a thing, I mentioned before, "Did you enjoy that? Did you not enjoy that?" Asking it at the end of the class.

What was useful? What was not useful? With that all, you can do surveys with them. You can even notice overseas students' reactions and find out what they seem to be more interested in or engaged in.

Tracy:  Overall, it just means we need to differentiate the task and activity, and to make sure this variety of things going on or use in a class.

Ross:  That work?

Tracy:  Yes.


Ross:  The next one is...

Tracy:  Choice. We try to empower our students by giving them voice and choice during the learning process. Students know what are most suitable for them. Parents always believe, "We are the experts and know what's suitable for them." Actually, no. "I know myself. I know. I don't like doing that. I know it doesn't work. I'm not interest in it."

Give them the option. The last one is T.

Ross:  For tailoring language practice.

Tracy:  For example, there is accuracy‑based activity, and you have gap fill or make sentences. The sentence probably have a person, like Ross, but the student's name is not Ross, it's Tim.

You can just let the students to change the name to someone that they know and make sure the content of the language production, something that they're familiar with, not just imagine a person on its feet or try to make up some facts that they've never heard about. Just make it relative to what they know, what they are sure about, and they feel more confident or more willing to share with us.

Ross:  CONNECT, C‑O‑N‑N‑E‑C‑T. C is for...

Tracy:  Content.

Ross:  O is for...

Tracy:  Outcomes.

Ross:  N is for...

Tracy:  Needs.

Ross:  N, again, [laughs] is for...

Tracy:  Noticing learning.

Ross:  E is for...

Tracy:  Engage.

Ross:  C is for...

Tracy:  Choice.

Ross:  T is for...

Tracy:  Tailor language practice.

[background music]

Ross:  Let's talk about how to personalize development for teachers.

Tracy:  This just reminds me of a teacher telling me and said, "Oh, I've been to this training before but I have to go to this training." I asked him, "Why?" "Because my manager runs this training. I have to be there. Otherwise, I am not showing...I care about personal or career development." It's quite funny.

Have you ever got this kind of feedback from teacher were heard?

Ross:  I've definitely seen it, like, "Oh, we're running a training this week on X." It's like, "Why are you running a training on that?" The person's like, "They read about it the week before." They thought it was interesting, or it's something they know a lot about. It's centered on the needs of the presenter to share rather than the needs of the trainees to learn something.

It has a problem.

Tracy:  How can we solve this problem?

Ross:  We need to get out of this mindset that the best way for teachers to learn is to have whenever it's 5 people or 20 people or 100 people sitting in a room at the same time, looking at someone going through a PPT. That's not what teacher development should be.

Teacher development should start off with either you or you with someone else observing a video of your lesson or someone observing you teach a class, and talking about what went well, what didn't go well, what some of themes were in the lesson, what things you would like to improve on.

If you're a manager, for example, or a trainer, then saying, "Why don't you go and observe this person, and you can see them do this thing that you feel didn't go very well, or why don't you read this book, or watch this YouTube video."

Tracy:  I don't understand. My question is, or my concern is if you have a group of teachers, maybe 200, 500, 1,000, or 10,000, how can you do that? How can you make it so personalize because you have such a big number of teacher?

Ross:  In those circumstances, it's still possible, for example, to give teachers the tools to observe their own classes. You can quite easily stick your mobile phone at the back of the room, hit record, and then sit down for an hour, the next day or something, and watch back just to work on them.

Tracy:  When he's very self‑disciplined and...

Ross:  Again, I think this is one of the problems. There's an assumption that if he sticks on bodies in the room with someone who's presenting something, learning will occur.

Tracy:  That's true.

Ross:  I don't think that's true.

Tracy:  People who are doing training and ask them to sit in training sessions, they believe and the teachers who have never exposed to the concept or information before, it's great for them to understand and learn. For people who have already knew this, and it's great for them to consolidate that area so it won't hurt anyone.

Do you think that's right or...?

Ross:  No. Anytime you force people to develop, it harms [laughs] their attitude towards development. With that stuff, I think it can be harmful. It's also harmful just in the way it treats teachers that assumes that you don't have the knowledge or self‑awareness to know how you should develop.

[background music]

Ross:  Last point, and it's, how do you think as a manager you can personalize the experience of your staff work?

Tracy:  First of all, you have the same things like we do with our students. Have a chat with them. What's your favorite cartoon?


Tracy:  Do you like playing soccer?

Ross:  You're talking about the students, not the teachers here, right?

Tracy:  No, I'm just talking about...I think for managers, it's the same thing. You need to speak to your staff like, "What are you interested?"

I manage a team and always try to have a small chat with the team members and just say, "Hey, what are doing? What are you working on?" Then just ask how they feel about it and also something they're super interested and they want to get involved in it in the future.

If readily there are some opportunities to provide to them, and we can make the work or tasks even more personalize because everybody got their expertise that something they would like to develop even more.

Ross:  Maybe key difference here between the students coming to class, we assume maybe that the students don't have to be there, and the same with the teachers developing, they don't have to do it.

Of course, the difference with staff is that you're paying people to be at work. It's a limit to choice. When you said one ways, maybe, asking people like, "What they'd like doing?" think in other ways looking at or asking people what they want to do in the future.

For example, even if someone's planning on leaving your school in six months' time or a year's time, if you can find out where they're going, what they want to do, and again, you can try and find some tasks for them to work, which match their interest or help build their skills in the directions that they want to go into in the future.

[background music]

Tracy:  Thanks very much for listening to our podcast. That means you've already personalized your own development. That's the first step. Thank you. See you next time. Bye.

For more podcast, videos and blogs, visit our website www.tefltraininginstitute.com.

Ross:  If you thought of a question or a topic you would like to discuss, leave us a comment.

Tracy:  If you want to keep up to date with our latest content, add us on WeChat at @TEFLtraininginstitute.

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