(And I should thank people like Andy Baxter and Michael Rodden for first getting me interested in it and encouraging me to develop that interest!)
'It' in this case, is a toolkit. It is the activities, learning tools and general approaches a teacher takes into a classroom each time they teach. The toolkit varies from teacher to teacher, and often students' descriptions of their teachers reveal some of their trademarks. I remember at high school my English teacher was obsessed with unannounced tests, also a technophobe (no TV in his classes) and liked to get us reading out loud for longer than other teachers. My own students have, in the past, remarked to my teacher colleagues about my own obsessions with dictation, story telling, or using powerpoint in the class! What would your students say about you?
Yet if you ask a teacher to reflect on who they are in the classroom, what you often hear are nouns describing roles ('facilitator', 'guide' etc) or adjectives ('calm', 'patient' and so on).
I recently did a really enjoyable workshop with IATEFL Poland in Krakow where I asked the teachers present the same question: 'who are you in the classroom?' and the answers were similar. I then spent a bit of time going through who I was, in the form of my classroom 'toolkit'. Just listing it doesn't really do it justice, but the items were, in no particular order:
- Vocabulary cards/Evernote
- Thinking before speaking
I'll set myself a challenge here to write about some of these on this blog (Evernote's here already), though be patient! However, the list gives you an idea of what you might see or hear me talking about if you were in one of my lessons.
Being aware of your own toolkit can be a great help. Just thinking about how your lessons have changed from, say, five years ago, to how they are today can be a starting point. Have they changed? What's changed? Why? Sometimes it's due to technology - I certainly wasn't recommending Evernote in 2005. Sometimes we just forget things too of course. Have you ever observed another teacher and seen something that you used to do but just, sort of, forgot??
It's the observing and talking to other teachers that really matters. Seeing other toolkits might spark you into making little changes to your own. And a lot of research suggests that it's the small changes in what you do in the classroom which makes for a happier teacher*.
Above all, being aware of and happy with your toolkit might just make you feel more confident about responding to all those unexpected learning opportunities that come up in the course of a lesson.
* Michael Huberman's The Lives of Teachers from the 1990s is one example. Though not an ELT text, it recently came back into view via Tessa Woodward's plenary at IATEFL 2010.