Small Teaching: Small Changes, Big Difference
Have you ever gone to a teaching conference and come home with inspiring ideas about revolutionizing your classroom? Have you actually done it? Most of us love great ideas, but find we don’t have the time or energy to reinvent how we teach once we come off our conferen...
Have you ever gone to a teaching conference and come home with inspiring ideas about revolutionizing your classroom? Have you actually done it? Most of us love great ideas, but find we don’t have the time or energy to reinvent how we teach once we come off our conference high.
The book Small Teaching
(Jossey-Bass, 2016) can have a tremendous impact on your classroom efficacy without requiring you to reimagine everything. The purpose of this book is to give educators incremental, research-based changes they can make immediately that will significantly enhance their students’ learning experiences. This winter, a group of ESL part-timers met to read and discuss this new book by James Lang. It has impacted our teaching in small but meaningful ways.
One small change that the book recommended was looking at the way you begin and end class. Dr. Lang recommends being very intentional about your closing activity as well as your opening one. I realized while reading that I do not usually end class in a meaningful way – it’s more of a rushed push to assign homework while students hurry out the door. Following the book’s suggestion, at the end of class I now take 1-2 minutes to briefly review something that I have taught: a pronunciation point, a small grammar item, or a couple new vocabulary words. It’s a small change, easy to execute, and I am seeing a difference in retention
Harder to grasp and implement is the concept in Chapter 3 of interleaving. Interleaving consists of “spacing out learning lessons over time” and mixing up your skills practice (page 65). Instead of plodding through a book unit by unit, Dr. Lang suggests circling back to chapters and reviewing them again in different ways throughout the semester. Research suggests that continually reviewing concepts through interleaving significantly improves students’ retention. This spoke to me. When I teach my level three grammar class, I typically plough through the verb tenses one after the other, following my textbook’s layout, for the first half of the semester before moving on to different grammar topics. I usually don’t review the tenses again until right before the final exam. And my students often do poorly on the tenses section of the final. This has inspired me to stretch out my teaching of the tenses over the whole semester, continually reviewing the tenses I have taught for the whole 16 weeks.
The book also offers insight into how the brain learns new material and gives you suggestions on how to motivate students and teach them to study. There is helpful information on leading norming sessions on the first day of class and making your syllabus accessible to students. Small Teaching
is full of helpful teaching tips that are easy and promising to implement. You’ll be able to transform your classroom through a series of small tweaks rather than grandiose action.
Corey Hanson Hegger loves teaching ESL at Glendale Community College. She has also taught at Citrus College (Glendora), Capital Community College (Connecticut), and Tianjin Foreign Studies University (China). She co-chairs the Part-Time Educators Interest Group for CATESOL along with Jennifer VanHyning.