I’ve Heard of TTT vs STT, But What Does That Really Mean?

This article was originally posted on the BELTA blog.

A few years ago I wrote this cheeky post, reminding teachers that sometimes it’s a good idea to shut up for a while. I’m returning to this idea in a slightly more reflective way due to this post on Brainpickings about the twentieth-century novelist, poet, playwright, and psychiatrist Paul Goodman who examined “the nine types of silence present in life” in his 1972 book Speaking and Language.

Goodman says:

“Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each. There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.”

In our training as teachers we are often told about the balance between teacher talk time (TTT) versus student talk time (STT), but I think this is far too simplistic. For a start, it forgets about silence. Silence is an essential part of any lesson and the idea of getting to the end of a lesson without any of it sounds horrible to me.

Apologies to anyone reading this who teaches young learners as I have a feeling you may be scoffing at this idea. I teach adults and teenagers, so this is a realistic goal for me.

Our students have to be silent for a number of reasons. There are times when they need to listen attentively, whether it’s to you, to another student or to audio or video. They will probably have to do some reading or writing at some point, even if it’s only for a moment to complete an activity or to read a grammar explanation. Perhaps the most difficult one for teachers and other students is the thinking time some students need when asked a question. Extraordinary levels of patience can be required to wait without rushing in.

I also think that the idea of STT and TTT are too basic. What kinds of STT and TTT are taking place? Here are some possibilities.


  • Student talks to class very briefly (e.g. ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer)
  • Student talks to class briefly (e.g. Answers a question in the coursebook with a sentence)
  • Student talks to class for medium duration (e.g. Answers the question “How was your weekend?”)
  • Student talks to class in long form (e.g. Gives a presentation on a subject)
  • Student interviews a partner using pre-prepared questions
  • Student has a conversation with partner with no preparation
  • Student has a conversation with the teacher
  • Student repeats phrases (drilling)
  • Student participates in a group discussion
  • Student leads a group discussion
  • Student talks about something irrelevant to the lesson to another student, possibly in L1


  • Teacher engages one student in spontaneous conversation
  • Teacher leads a group conversation
  • Teacher offers ‘hot correction’ during a productive activity
  • Teacher answers a student question on language
  • Teacher answers a student question on culture
  • Teacher answers a student question on something irrelevant to the objectives of the lesson
  • Teacher explains a grammar point
  • Teacher explains how vocabulary is actually used in the real world

… and I’m sure there are more examples.

All of these exchanges are potentially worthwhile in a lesson, and equally there are times when they are inappropriate. In order to evaluate whether we are using the student’s time productively, we need to have a better understanding of exactly what is happening in that period of STT or TTT. There are times when a teacher spending a few minutes to make sure his students really understand what is going on is very valuable, but if he or she doesn’t know when to stop and continues rambling on for too long, it has become a problem. Equally, we want our students to produce as much as possible, but if they ‘over-produce’ and don’t allow other students a chance (and we’ve all had those students…), we’ll have to step in and do something about it.

Also missing from the equation are other forms of input such as recorded audio and video (from both authentic sources and from coursebooks), and listening to other students (if we think of this as being from a student’s point of view) which should also be taken into account.

All of these inputs and outputs need to be assessed in the same light – are they justified? Is this the right time for this to be happening, and if yes, for how long? If no, what should I be doing instead? A more nuanced approach to TTT vs STT will lead to more reflective, analytical, and ultimately, better teachers.

This article was originally posted on the BELTA blog.

150 ELT blog post ideas for when you’ve hit writers block

sts work copy 2

I saw this list the other day, and I thought it was perfect for adapting for ELT bloggers. So I present, ripe and ready for your Pinterest board… 150 ELT blog post ideas for when you’ve hit writers block

  1. Product review – something you use in the classroom which isn’t a book
  2. Describe your perfect classroom
  3. Describe your perfect student
  4. Describe your perfect boss
  5. Invite someone to do a guest post (but only if they have a track record or you trust them)
  6. Tell us who you are. Who you really are.
  7. Top 5 resources
  8. A day in your life
  9. Or a day in someone else’s life
  10. Write about the ELT scene in your country
  11. An activity idea
  12. Top 10 blogs you read
  13. Wishlist – what would change about ELT if you could?
  14. What’s your favourite app to use in class?
  15. What’s your inspiration?
  16. How do use photos in the classroom?
  17. 5 go-to activities
  18. Describe project work with students
  19. Last minute lesson ideas
  20. What’s in your teacher’s bag? In other words, what do you take to every class?
  21. What’s on your phone, apart from apps, that you use in the classroom?
  22. Top 5 apps
  23. Can you use apps like Instagram in the classroom, or is it not worth it?
  24. Five things that make your students happy
  25. What’s your recipe for the perfect class?
  26. Is there a difference in teaching in the daytime to the night time?
  27. Blogging tips
  28. 20 Facts about yourself
  29. Quick & easy homework ideas
  30. Does it matter what you wear to teach?
  31. Songs you use with your students
  32. Fitness & health tips for teachers
  33. Have a clear out
  34. Teacher of the day / week / month / year
  35. Review of a conferencests work copy 4
  36. Places to watch webinars
  37. How you stay organised
  38. 5 Things you learned this week
  39. Seasonal post eg. favourite Halloween lesson ideas
  40. Do you have a routine?
  41. Teach paperless
  42. How to eat well quickly
  43. How you choose your photos
  44. Behind the scenes of your blog
  45. Why you started blogging
  46. An experience/story you went through
  47. An old favourite activity that never lets you down
  48. Tell us about a time it went wrong
  49. Disappointing things about teaching
  50. Monthly favourites
  51. Your teachers bucket list
  52. Favourite places to get away from work, online or offline
  53. React to another blog post
  54. 10 quotes you love
  55. The moment when everything changed
  56. The awkward student
  57. Top budget book buys
  58. A post about methodologies you don’t use
  59. Blogging goals or resolutions
  60. Favourite TV series’ for students to improve their listening
  61. What you did in your first year as a teacher
  62. How do you treat yourself?sts work copy
  63. A recent event you attended
  64. Is it different teaching in winter as opposed to summer?
  65. Blogging advice/your success
  66. How you promote your blog
  67. A personal post about something you deal with
  68. The unteachable student
  69. How you achieve clear instructions
  70. Favourite writing topics
  71. Campaign to change things for the better
  72. Interview a professional/blogger
  73. Professional inspirations
  74. Where should I work?
  75. Crafting in the classroom
  76. Things you’ve learned since turning __
  77. Gift ideas for teachers
  78. Currently trending
  79. A new release
  80. Working at home
  81. Places you want to teach
  82. How to develop online for free
  83. How to make a class go smoothly
  84. How to manage time
  85. How to stop your students from falling asleep
  86. Things to do when you’re bored of teaching
  87. Then & now pictures
  88. Your school experience
  89. Things you’d tell your younger self
  90. Guilty pleasures
  91. Book review
  92. Books to read
  93. Affordable software
  94. How to curb unhealthy habits in your teaching
  95. How to curb unhealthy habits in your students
  96. How to overcome writers block
  97. What is currently inspiring you
  98. How to teach ____
  99. Recently watched presentations
  100. What blogging has taught you
  101. Favourite stationery
  102. A before & after
  103. Find an influence from outside ELT
  104. Underrated & overrated ideas in ELT
  105. What does every student need to learn?
  106. Write something funny
  107. Write something in a different person’s voice
  108. 10 life lessons
  109. Job interview tips
  110. DIY activities
  111. Places you’ve traveled to in the classroom
  112. Highlight milestones, launches & important events
  113. Share a free resource
  114. Flashback post on your life
  115. The best advice you’ve receivedsts work copy 3
  116. Pros & cons post
  117. A diary entry
  118. An open letter
  119. A link roundup
  120. An FAQ
  121. A beginners guide to blogging
  122. Tips for improving your instructions
  123. What I learned from ___
  124. Your process for creating & publishing blog posts
  125. How to make money blogging*
  126. A free printable worksheet
  127. A comparison post (eg Dogme vs Demand High)
  128. Your blogging mistakes
  129. New methodology ideas
  130. Tell us a story
  131. A tradition of yours
  132. Products every teacher has to own
  133. Summarise an #eltchat
  134. The best ways to teach vocabulary
  135. Grammar – overrated or the backbone of language learning?
  136. Your workplace
  137. How you improved (or need to improve) your boardwork
  138. A new routine
  139. How to get ready for a class in 10 minutes
  140. A 5 minute activity
  141. Favourite youtubers/youtube videos
  142. Top 5 websites to learn from ____
  143. How important are qualifications, really?
  144. Let’s collaborate
  145. Thoughts on learning online
  146. How do you deal with new students arriving during a course?
  147. How to switch off and relax
  148. ELT specialities – have you taught something or someone not many people have?
  149. Why bother testing?
  150. Revisit and rewrite an old blog post

And don’t ever say you’ve got nothing to write about again!

*Let me know if you write this one 😉

Thanks to my pal Daniela Sanchez Medina for the drawings.

Book review – 50 Activities For The First Day Of School


50 Activities For The First Day Of School, published by Alphabet Publishing, is, as the title suggests, a highly practical resource book for teachers looking for ways to add some variety to their first day activities. The author, Walton Burns, has created this ebook as a handy guide containing a variety of tasks mainly for lower level learners, although they are easily adaptable for all abilities and ages. In fact, one of the book’s main strengths is the flexibility the activities have, and it’s easy to imagine them being tweaked for use in any lesson.

Walton starts with the most famous of first day activities, Getting To Know You. This is such a classic of English teaching, you could forgive him for a lack of originality. And while he does include familiar tasks like Find Someone Who…, he also includes more unusual tasks like Snowball Fight, where learners write questions and throw them around the classroom, and Time Capsule in which students leave messages for themselves to open at the end of the course (the version of this involving filming interviews with the students which they watch on the last day I found particularly interesting). As a result, I found this chapter to be full of great ideas, ready for use by teachers. 

The second chapter looks at Assessing and Evaluating, and includes ways of encouraging the students to produce in English with whatever they are able in order to allow the teacher to get a sense of their level. Personally, I’ve never done specific activities with this in mind, preferring to get a sense of the students’ level over time, but I enjoyed these tasks and I think they have a lot of potential, particularly with lower levels.

The final chapter contains 6 activities for setting the tone in a course, a crucial and easily underestimated part of a first lesson. While I enjoyed the activities he included, I felt that this chapter could perhaps have been expanded to include a greater variety of tasks.

This minor criticism aside, the book is a very good resource for teachers, particularly those in the first few years of their careers, looking to add some variety to their lessons. It’s always a good idea to have a suite of activities to rely on, but these tasks can easily become stale. Walton Burns book is a great help in keeping your first day activities fresh and motivating for your learners.

The ebook is available here. It is accompanied by a support website containing online resources including printouts. Find out more about the author Walton Burns here.

Songs In The Key Of ELT – New York I Love You

It’s time for the third part of my extremely occasional series of lesson ideas based on songs, especially the kind of songs that don’t usually appear in coursebooks. Here’s a track by one of my favourite bands of all time…

Artist: LCD Soundsystem
Song: New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down
Written by: James Murphy


New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down
New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down

Like a rat in a cage
Pulling minimum wage
New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down
New York, you’re safer
And you’re wasting my time
Our records all show
You are filthy but fine
But they shuttered your stores
When you opened the doors
To the cops who were bored
Once they’d run out of crime
New York, you’re perfect
Don’t please don’t change a thing
Your mild billionaire mayor’s
Now convinced he’s a king
So the boring collect
I mean all disrespect
In the neighborhood bars
I’d once dreamt I would drink
New York, I Love You
But you’re freaking me out
There’s a ton of the twist
But we’re fresh out of shout
Like a death in the hall
That you hear through your wall
New York, I Love You
But you’re freaking me out
New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down
New York, I Love You
But you’re bringing me down
Like a death of the heart
Jesus, where do I start?
But you’re still the one pool
Where I’d happily drown
And oh.. Take me off your mailing list
For kids that think it still exists
Yes, for those who think it still exists
Maybe I’m wrong
And maybe you’re right
Maybe I’m wrong
And maybe you’re right
Maybe you’re right
Maybe I’m wrong
And just maybe you’re right
And Oh..
Maybe mother told you true
And they’re always be something there for you
And you’ll never be alone
But maybe she’s wrong
And maybe I’m right
And just maybe she’s wrong
Maybe she’s wrong
And maybe I’m right
And if so, is there?

Handout: here
Level: Intermediate / Advanced

1) Ask if any of your students have been to New York. If they have, ask them to share their experience (if they haven’t, skip to 2). Make a note of any descriptive language the student(s) use to describe the city and put it on the board when they’ve finished. 

2) Ask the students to write down as many words and phrases as they can to describe New York. If you have students who have been there, you can ask them to add to what you’ve already written. If they haven’t, elicit a few suggestions and put them on the board first before asking them to add to them.

3) Collect their suggestions and go through them, making sure the meaning is understood and the students have an idea of how they are used. A quick online search brought up these suggestions, although if you have students who are this good there’s probably not much point teaching them!

If you want to, you can go into some quite detailed language work at this point. If you think the learners would benefit from this kind of work, I say go for it.

4) Tell the students they will hear a song about New York. Ask them to listen and think about the singers opinion of the city. Take feedback as a class. They will probably only have a rough idea of what he is singing about, but hopefully the tone of his voice should suggest disappointment. They may also understand the idea of ‘bringing me down’. Or they may just hear “New York, I love you” and not hear the rest of the line. Either way, it’ll be interesting.

5) Looking at the words to this song in the Oxford 3000 text checker, there are very few individual words that I think the students would find difficult, but together as phrases, I think it becomes a lot more tricky. 


For example:

shuttered your stores
New York, you’re perfect
Don’t please don’t change a thing 
(he’s being sarcastic)
So the boring collect
I mean all disrespect 
(there are many boring people now in the city, he knows this sounds disrespectful and he doesn’t mind)
There’s a ton of the twist
But we’re fresh out of shout
(there are plenty of good things, but there are a lot of bad things too)
Like a death in the hall
That you hear through your wall
(a reference to New York’s small and intimate living spaces, it means that you know bad things are happening even if you can’t see them)

There’s a lot of ambiguity, double meaning, irony, dark humour and cultural referencing here, so I don’t think it’s worth spending a lot of time on the vocabulary. You can explain some of the phrases if you wish, but I don’t think the students need a detailed understanding of the song, rather they should use it as a springboard to reflect on the complexity of living not just in a big city, but anywhere.  So next I’d give them the handout of the lyrics and play the song again, asking them to underline any phrases that demonstrate how he feels about New York.

6) After listening, I hope they would notice the following phrases:

bringing me down
wasting my time
freaking me out

Those are the ones I think are particularly worth talking about with the learners.

7) Ask the students what they think he means by the phrase

But you’re still the one pool
Where I’d happily drown

(But despite everything, he knows that NYC is the only place where he can live. Also notice how he sings “Maybe I’m wrong” and “Maybe I’m right”, which suggests that he can’t make up his mind.)

8) Ask the students if they identify with the singer when they think about where they live. Ask them to divide a piece of paper into two columns, and write 5 things they love about their city / town / village etc in one column, and 5 things they don’t in the other.

9) Ask them to share with a partner and discuss the similarities and differences. When they’ve finished, put all their ideas on the board, also in two columns, and together identify the recurring themes.

10) Put students in groups of threes or fours (not including their previous partner) and ask them to discuss the issues raised by these lists. Do they think there is anything specific that can be done to improve the negatives and maintain the positives? You could extend this into a project where they identify problems where they live and suggest a plan of action.

To see more of my Songs In The Key Of ELT, click here.

Book review: Punctuation…? by User Design


Readers of this blog will remember a previous post in which I argue that punctuation errors by students shouldn’t be ignored…

There is a temptation to ignore (punctuation errors) which must be resisted, I think. It’s very easy to think that the priority must be the vocabulary and grammar, and while I would agree with that, it doesn’t have to come at the expense of form. If the students are writing in the first place, they need to understand that in a professional capacity, which is how most students will use their writing abilities in English, poor writing can create a lasting and damaging impression.

So you can imagine how pleased I was when I had the opportunity to get my hands on the book Punctuation…? by User Design. The book is a handy and accessible guide to the rules of punctuation, accompanied by witty and original illustrations.

Each chapter describes how different punctuation marks, from the often confusing apostrophe to the underemployed semicolon, are used in text that clearly and directly explains the rules. As a teacher, I particularly appreciated the straightforward nature of the descriptions and in this respect the book is an excellent resource for teachers who wish to have a quick and easy reference for checking students work and explaining the functions and use of punctuation marks to their students.

I also enjoyed some of the more esoteric punctuation marks described. These include the pilcrow, guillemets and the interpunct. Admittedly, these aren’t very useful for your everyday teacher, but if you’re a bit of a word nerd, you’ll find them interesting.

What sets the book apart from other reference books are the illustrations. Each entry is accompanied by a series of humorous drawings which provide the reader with an amusing visual representation of the rules and examples in the text. I especially enjoyed the apostrophe snakes and the colon footballers, but any of the David Shrigley or Spike Milligan-esque figures with their long noses and longer limbs are a part of the unique look of the book.


All in all, I’d recommend Punctuation…? as a handy guide for teachers who need a convenient guide to that most underrated aspect of English writing, punctuation.

To find out more about Punctuation…? click here to go to their website where you can see more images and find out all the places it can be bought.

Think! – It’s All In The Mindset

In this follow up to my earlier post on mindsets, Carol Goodey reviews Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential by Carol Dweck. In my original piece, I reflected on an infographic which described an open vs a closed mindset, and laid out some ideas for how a teacher could encourage their students to adopt the former, with the aim of helping them reach their language learning objectives. Now Carol reviews the book that inspired the image, and gives us a more detailed look at how it can affect us as educators.

mindset book cover


In James’s earlier post, he shared a graphic of the two mindsets identified by Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck Ph.D in her research. The graphic is a succinct summary of the two sets of beliefs about learning. I’ll quickly reproduce that information here before going on to highlight some implications for learning from the rest of Dweck’s recent book: Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential – a book that I had coincidently started to read before James published his post. This is not a weighty, academic book, but the ideas in it are based on years of academic research and it serves as a good introduction to these.

So, looking at the graphic, we find out that people with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence is static. This belief leads to a desire to look smart and therefore a tendency to:  avoid challenges; give up easily; see effort as fruitless or worse; ignore useful negative feedback; and, feel threatened by the success of others.  By acting on the belief that our qualities are fixed, people are less likely to reach their full potential.

Opposite this, we see that the belief that intelligence can be developed underlies the growth mindset and leads to a desire to learn. There is, therefore, the tendency to: embrace challenges; persist in the face of setbacks; see effort as the path to mastery; learn from criticism; and, find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.  Because of these tendencies, people are more likely to achieve higher levels of success.

Dweck found that very young children already displayed beliefs related to one mindset or another. In one study, four-year-olds were offered a choice between redoing an easy jigsaw puzzle and trying a harder one. Some chose to play it safe and not risk exposing themselves to failure. Smart kids “don’t do mistakes” they said. The other children couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t try to do the harder one. Dweck found that “children with the fixed mindset want to make sure they succeed. Smart people should always succeed. But for children with the growth mindset, success is about stretching themselves. It’s about becoming smarter.” (Dweck 2012 Ch.2)

From an early age, we are continuously interpreting and making sense of the world around us, attaching meaning to what people say and do, and forming beliefs about our and other’s abilities. These beliefs can have a huge impact on our actions and the lives we choose to lead.  Mindsets, according to Dweck, are an important part of our personalities, but just as intelligence is not set in stone, neither are our mindsets. We can change our mindset, even if temporarily. So, assuming that the growth mindset is most conducive to learning, what can we, as educators, say and do to influence our learners.

Tell them about the growth mindset

As James suggested in his post, we can share what we know about the mindsets. Show them the graphic. Dweck claims that “just by knowing about the two mindsets you can start thinking and reacting in different ways.”  Even if someone generally has a fixed mindset, this doesn’t mean that they will always be in that mindset. Dweck found in her studies that they were able to put people into a growth mindset. “We tell them that an ability can be learned and that the task will give them a chance to do that.” (Dweck 2012 Ch.2) So, we can let people know about the mindset, and we can also highlight how we expect activities to help them learn and develop. (We can then ask them to reflect on whether they think we’re right!)

Tell them how learning can affect the brain

Dweck and her colleagues developed a series of workshops to teach students about the growth mindset. In it, students find out how the brain develops when people practise and learn new things.

“When you learn new things, these tiny connections in the brain actually multiply and get stronger. The more that you challenge your mind to learn, the more your brain cells grow. Then, things that you once found very hard or even impossible—like speaking a foreign language or doing algebra—seem to become easy. The result is a stronger, smarter brain.” (Dweck 2012 Ch.8)

On learning about the brain in their first workshop, one disengaged student asked emotionally “You mean I don’t have to be dumb?” Following the workshop, his teacher reported that he was putting a lot of effort into his homework, where before he didn’t submit any, and as a result of this increased effort improved his grades considerably.

It may be important to note here that growth-minded people don’t believe that anyone can become anything, but that a person’s true potential is unknown and unknowable.

Help them identify strengths and weaknesses

Dweck quotes Howard Gardner who concluded in his book Extraordinary Minds that very successful people have “a special talent for identifying their own strengths and weaknesses.” This, Dweck remarks, is a talent that people with the growth mindset have.

We can help people identify what they need to learn, and we can help them to be realistic about what they can’t do… yet! Some people with a fixed mindset may think they are not capable of some things but others may also have inflated ideas of their abilities, which will also affect their learning.

We also need to encourage people to recognise what they can do and what they have learned either with you or in other (perhaps less formal) contexts.

Value effort and learning

We all want to help our learners to feel good about themselves but we need to be careful how we do this. From her studies, it became very clear to Dweck that “praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance.”  When we tell someone they’re smart because they did the work so quickly, we’re communicating that if they don’t work quickly they’re not smart. If we tell someone that they’re brilliant because they got an A without studying, we’re telling them that they’re not brilliant if they need to study.

We want our learners to work, to learn and to continue to develop, so it makes sense to value learning and effort rather than what they can already do with little work.

Help them find the right strategies

If someone is finding learning difficult, we need to help them find ways that work for them. Watch them as they tackle a piece of work.  Ask them what they’re thinking and how they feel. Let them try different ways of approaching an activity. Make suggestions. Tell them that there’s not just one way to learn. Scaffold.  Highlight when they accomplish something they originally didn’t think they could. Encourage them to reflect. Increase the challenge. Help them see that they can learn! A lovely example of this can be found on Vicky Loras’s blog.

Make a vivid, concrete plan

Many of us will have had discussions with learners about work they can do independently. They usually think it is a good idea. They will agree to do it. But they don’t always manage to do it as much as they or we’d like. Dweck suggests that what is needed, and what works, is making a vivid concrete plan. She gives as an example, “On Wednesday morning, right after I get up and brush my teeth, I’ll sit at my desk and start writing my report.”

It’s the simple things that make a difference – and I do like to keep things simple! Sometimes we just need to highlight what appears to be common sense in case we take them for granted, or assume that everyone thinks or believes like we do.

What’s important to me is the idea that a person’s potential is unknown. We can’t write people off as not being good language learners, or tell them that science is not their thing.  It may well be that they are finding it difficult right now, but there are different ways to learn, different approaches and strategies to try, and we should help them to explore these different ways. We can also learn from them if we don’t impose our way of learning, and are open to finding out what works for them.

We don’t want to be that teacher who tells a future Nobel prize winner that the idea of becoming a scientist is ridiculous because “he will insist on doing his work in his own way.”



Dweck, C. (2012). Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential. Kindle Edition.

Gardner, H. (1997). Extraordinary Minds. New York: Basic Books.

Carol Goodey is currently an Adult Literacies & ESOL Worker in Community Learning and Development with a local authority in Scotland. She’s also taught general English & EAP to students coming to study at university in Scotland, and does some tutor training. She has an MSc in TESOL and really enjoy keeping up with what’s going on in the ELT/ESOL world, via Twitter (@cgoodey), forums and blogs and, whenever she gets the chance, talks and conferences. You can read her blog here.

Think! – Two Mindsets

This post was previously published on a now defunct blog called Think! Language And Culture I used to write. I’ve dusted it off and republished it here for your reading pleasure.

If there’s an attitude that I want this series of Think! blog posts to encompass, it’s right here in this infographic:

Two Mindests

Taken from here. Originally published in Information Graphics by Sandra Rendgren (Taschen).

Or, and it’s something I’ve been trying is to do, is to choose the second option to push yourself down that right channel, the path of growth. I say push yourself because it’s not easy, it’s hard work and requires you to think outside of your comfort zone. I’m doing this because I know the reward is to reach a higher level of achievement, a greater sense of understanding of myself and the universe, and an increase in my self-confidence. As the image shows us, there are two ways to approach life and learning. You can adopt the approach on the left, the closed minded, “fixed mindset” that prevents us from growing and improving. Every challenge is seen as a threat and any excuse to disengage is taken.

I’m trying to choose the difficult path to progress rather than the easy path to atrophy. And that’s why these blog posts exist.

But as language teachers and learners, we can also see how these options can relate specifically to language learning. It is clear that those students who adopt a “growth mindset” have a far greater opportunity for success than those who don’t. In fact, I would go so far as to say that those who choose the left path will never learn a language as they might say they wish.

It’s at this point that I have to reflect on my own language learning and concede that I have often  chosen the path of least resistance. I’ve never been a particularly comfortable language student (you can read about my troubles here), and in part this is due to the fact that I’ve rarely had a good teacher who could even recognise my difficulties, let alone help me with them. Of course I accept that it is ultimately the students individual responsibility to facilitate their own learning, but as a language teacher I feel it is my responsibility to help them along as much as I can.

The position of a ‘fixed mindset’ is primarily going to be adopted because of fear. The student is frightened of looking stupid in front of the class or the teacher when they have an information gap, or realises that this part of language is something they have struggled with in the past and they don’t want to face it again, or some other reason that prevents learning. So the question I have to ask is how can I change this person’s mindset from fixed to growth?

The first thing that springs to mind is openness. There’s no reason why you couldn’t print off this infographic and use it as the source of a lesson. Get the students discussing their own fears, worries and hang ups. Turn those fears into positive objectives which together you can plan to tackle over the duration of the course.

Create challenges which are in line with their objectives. Ideally you want the students to be coming to you and saying “this is what I want to achieve and I want you to help me get there”. Don’t confuse their needs with your own perception of what their needs are. Doing some kind of needs analysis at the beginning of a course is a great way to do this.

And as well as making sure you recognise their achievements, give them the mechanism to recognise their own achievements. Together, create course checklists, make goals which you pin up on the wall and come back to regularly. Get them to tell you and each other when they have achieved something, instead of it always coming from the teacher. Make sure that appraisal of their progress is a consistent part of their course.

Make criticism an integral part of their studies, and most importantly, make most of it peer criticism. They will expect you as teacher to be the one who tells them how good or otherwise they are doing, but building peer feedback into their course right from the beginning is invaluable. They will need training and guidance, but once they have an understanding in how to give and receive criticism in the correct manner from each other they will begin to use it as a part of the improvement process.

Give them the opportunity to find realistic role models. Discuss their heroes and what they have learned from them. Make them explain these characteristics and get them to discuss how they will try and include their influence in their own lives. This discussion doesn’t have to be limited to language learning, but their lives in general and hopefully the effect of consciously thinking about their influence will trickle down into their language learning.

And finally, don’t be scared of taking yourself down that difficult path and do a little reflection yourself. Does part of their difficulty lie in the way your class is organised? Are your activities focused enough? Do you give them space and time to really achieve their objectives? Are you listening to them? The answers to these questions may be yes, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be asked in the first place. It’s all part of having a growth mindset.