Meeting the needs of diverse groups of students is perhaps the greatest challenge for a teacher. The bottom line: only a flexible teaching approach can hit a home run.
Richard Hamilton, Director of Studies at the Mackenzie School of English, understood the importance of a flexible teaching mindset early on in his career. Since then he has developed the concept of Adaptable Teaching to improve his students’ learning outcome. Richard will deliver a free webinar ‘A Guide to Adaptable Teaching-The Adaptable Mindset’ on December 23 at 5pm. This webinar is part of the Featured Teachers series, hosted by Fluency MC.
I had the chance to interview Richard to learn more about his experience, successful teaching approach and upcoming webinar on WizIQ.
- You have extensive experience as a teacher. In what ways has teaching changed since you started?
I started in 1999, and I haven’t really seen much change to be honest. There’s still far too much emphasis on talking about grammar at the expense of language learning; most people still use coursebooks, and they are still generally awful and weird. There’s a lot of noise being made about technology, but the effects are largely cosmetic. One good thing about technology by the way: just five or six years ago, teachers around the world would tell me they were waiting for the school authorities to install internet, IWBs etc. In a lot of cases, that still hasn’t happened, but nowadays more teachers are bringing their own tech to class instead – quite right, forget about top-down pedagogical directives! Hmm, that could be a t-shirt slogan: Forget About Top-Down Pedagogical Directives! OK, perhaps it needs some work.
- What lessons have you learned and unlearned during your journey? How have they made an impact on your teaching style?
Everything starts from the learner. Almost all the bad teaching I’ve seen and delivered has been the result of teachers bringing their own agenda to class irrespective of the learners. The quest, in my view, is the subordination of your ego to the learners, and that is one of the things that makes teaching such a profound lifelong journey. I’m a much more perceptive, watchful, listening, thinking teacher than I used to be. I’m much more willing to experiment when things go wrong. I’m infinitely more careful about how I use humour.
- Technology is becoming mainstream in education. What changes have you had to make to integrate technology in your teaching?
Technology has helped me to increase the range of resources and the mixed media I can bring to class, and in so doing enabled me to be a much more adaptable teacher. I don’t expect Wi-Fi and I don’t like IWBs; I just need my MacBook, and, if the space requires it, a projector and some speakers.
- What advice would you give to teachers to cope with changes in technology?
In my experience, the people who are most excited about technology and make the most extensive claims about its potential impact are always the people who lack a deep grasp of what it is and can do. I grew up with IT. My father was at the forefront of the first real generation of computer technicians in the UK. Back in the 80’s, I spent my Saturday mornings sitting on his knee writing code (including one programme that linked my grades to my pocket money!). In 1989, because of an injury, I ended up doing my A levels on one of the UK’s first laptops. Anyway, perhaps as a result of being around computers and gadgets my whole life, I’m under no illusions about the limitations of technology. So my advice is this: don’t feel under pressure to embrace technology that isn’t intrinsically worthwhile and immediately easy to use, particularly when it’s being sold to you by someone who came to technology late themselves and is all dazzled by it. If you have a choice of a car with those cool headlights that come up out of the bonnet and go back in at the touch of a button, or just a normal car, you should always go for the latter.
- What is Adaptable Teaching and how does it help teachers develop?
Adaptable Teaching makes the case for teaching expertise. After the learner, the teacher is by far the most significant factor in the learning process, so what we need are expert teachers, rather than a ‘perfect’ methodology, material, tool etc. To this end, Adaptable Teaching proposes three elements to help us be the best teachers we can be: mindset, toolkit and skillset. When we apply this framework, it becomes immediately clear what we can work on and how.
- What would you say are the benefits of following an Adaptable Teaching model rather than an “Aims and Objectives” model?
A surprisingly apt question! Aims and objectives too often put the learner last. Adaptable Teaching recognises that, although there’s considerable benefit in bringing aims to class, if we are not ready, willing and able to adapt them at a moment’s notice when we get there, we’re not doing our job as well as we could be. To adapt in this way requires not only adaptable materials and a wide range of skills, but also a flexible and responsive mind, which is the focus of my webinar on Tuesday.
Get on the bandwagon of Adaptive Teaching and join Richard Hamilton to learn more about the technique, LIVE, on WizIQ in his free webinar on Dec 23, 5pm UTC.