predictable unpredictability

I never want to stagnate. I don’t want to stagnate in life nor in my career. As a teacher that means I must reflect upon what I do in class and always work to improve.

I also believe anti-stagnation necessitates experimentation.

Experimentation in a language classroom (or perhaps any classroom) can be difficult. Students learning languages need structure. They like to know what is coming and how to be prepared. These are important aspects that I (as a language educator) must consider when creating lessons.

However, when we become predictable we also can lurch into the realms of the boring. When we feel we have a formula that “works good enough” some of us may feel entitled to stagnate. The problem is, no matter who you are, what career you’re in, or what you’re doing, “good enough” should never BE enough.

I mentioned in the recent #KELTchat slowburn, that being predictably unpredictable was a good way to engage students, and help with student “buy-in” (in that students understand why and what they’re doing and truly see how it relates to their life outside of the classroom).

I received many positive responses to this comment. However, I was left wondering about about what I actually meant. I could see the me of three years ago reading that and thinking…”Umm, right?”

To be more clear, to be unpredictable is a good thing. Experimenting is a good thing. What one must remember, though, is that the first time will most predictably be a rough time. The teacher is still finding their footing in terms of explanation and directions. The students are grappling with new language AND new directions and demands .

This is to be expected. It does not mean the experiment was a failure.

As with science teachers need a hypothesis. I think ___ ___ is going wrong because ____. Reflection plays a key role in describing and analysing the problem. The action plan is where we can create fun, innovative ways to address said issue.

However, unlike science, we teachers have no control group. Even if you do the lesson the same as before in one class and experiment in another, no two students, classes, or situations are alike. Because of this fact experimentation needs active reflection and persistence on the part of the educator.

The long and short is, be unpredictable with the knowledge that the first few times doing an activity will be a learning experience. It will be a learning experience for student AND teacher. If the teacher does not learn from the experiment, it is doomed to failure.

I have found that, with my former middle school students, some activities just don’t work well. Be it due to size of class, their level, school expectations, whatever. But I did not make that determination without some effort and much reflecting.

So, what I am really saying is to take on board the ideas you here across the internets, regardless of who or where they come from. Don’t reject anything out of hand. If someone somewhere is talking about something that worked for them, it might work for you too, and deserves to be explored. To not do so would be to cheat your students and stifle your growth as an educator. If, in the end, it doesn’t work, your students and you have both learned from it regardless.

Be predictable in the expectations you have. Do so by being clear and consistent.

Be unpredictable with how you go about achieving those expectations.

In doing so, your students will be more engaged because, while they will know what you expect from them, they will not know how you will have them achieve those expectations. In addition, you may just find a few nuggets of knowledge for yourself along the way.


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