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An interview with Alexandra Chistyakova

A few weeks ago, Alexandra Chistyakova, an English teacher in Moscow who had taken a live on line iTDI course with me in Jan. 2019, interviewed me via Zoom. Zoom is an application we used for the live on line course in Jan. as well as a live on line course I had taught in the MA TESOL Program at The New School in New York. A great application both for interviews and live on line courses.

If you watch interviews on TV you realize that the quality of the interview is determined to a great extent by the person asking the questions. If the questions stimulate the person being interviewed then the conversation is a success. Good interviewers also listen well. I was very fortunate with the interview with Alexandra. I said things I had not thought about before since she asked questions I had not heard before.

I am copying below just one exchange from the one hour of our conversation.

Alexandra transcribed the interview which was of course time consuming but she realized that she had missed some points, as had I. I discovered that I said things I did not know I had said.

So again the obvious lesson: what we say and do, think we say and do and want to say and do are different events. Without transcribing we cannot learn. Without transcribing we cannot learn.

Do not believe me, record and transcribe!!

Look forward to both comments and questions that you would like to ask that I can respond to.


AC Earlier you mentioned reflective teaching, what does it mean to be a reflective teacher?
JF Since 1983 when Donald Schön started talking and writing about it, this term has become a kind of a fad. John Dewey at Teachers College in 1938 and before was talking about observing your teaching and looking at what you are doing, thinking about it and making changes. But the point is that not until 1983 had it become a kind of a fad. In none of my articles and in none of my books have I used the word reflective teaching. And I think the reason I haven’t done this is because it means so many different things to so many different people. There is usually a list of things you should do to be a reflective teacher: you are supposed to keep a diary, think about what you do, ask your students to comment on what you do, do peer observations, write down what your remember you did in class, and record. But recording is only one of the dozens of things they think you should do as a reflective teacher. I personally think that writing in a diary and trying to remember what you did and write down why you did it and how you might change it is pretty much a waste of time because it is not based on data. And again, if a unit of analysis is a lesson, it’s too much to think about what you did, and in fact you can’t remember what you did. Two or three communications in class, how can you remember? [9:38] Which things that you did had what effect? It’s impossible to tell. It’s absolutely impossible. So that’s why I say: one sheet of A4 paper and 1-3 minutes of transcription – that’s all you need. And that’s should be the focus of reflecting on your teaching because it’s looking at what you actually did. And as we look we begin to see how what we did, what we thought we did and want we wanted to do are often three different events.
However, there is another difference between reflective teaching and my idea of how to understand your teaching and make changes. The tenets or kind of beliefs of those who advocate reflective teaching is that they think you should look for problems and try to solve the problems, then you should evaluate what you do and set new goals. But I don’t think you should look for problems. I think you just should look at random, see what you did and see what happens if you do this instead of that. For example, I ask students a question “What you did over the weekend?” and everybody stays silent for a long time and then somebody says “I shop friend” or “I visit friend”, but I don’t know what they are talking about. On the weekend you can do two hundred things. So if I say, “What did you do on the weekend?”, which of the two hundred things a should a student select? Instead, I can say: “Please, write down two foods you ate on Saturday that you don’t usually eat. Write down one person you saw on Saturday who you usually don’t see.” These are very precise questions. So you ask a precise question, the students write down the question, write the answer, and compare what other students wrote. So, go from a general question to a precise question, from asking a question aloud to having students write it. You can also make even a smaller change and say, “What did you do over the weekend? Please, write the question and then write the answer” and compare that with a specific one or just an oral one with a written one. And that’s what I mean by a very small change.
And then you can see the result. And it doesn’t take a lot of planning.

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