EFL Compass: Reflection and planning in difficult times

I’m a huge fan of reflection and planning. Every year I sit down with my partner or a friend (or sometimes even alone) and go through the YearCompass questions. If you haven’t heard of it, it is a little booklet designed by a group of Hungarian university students, which went viral in 2012. You can download it in 61 languages (to print out or fill in in the digital version) and only last year around 1,500,000 people downloaded it. 

On January 2nd 2021, I sat down to do it again, and frankly, just couldn’t. 2020 was such a difficult year for everyone and it really has turned our whole world upside down. What’s the point in reflecting on such a year? So I put it aside but for some reason couldn’t let go of the idea completely. What’s there to reflect on? Until I realised: my professional life! I’m sure many of you working in ELT can say that although 2020 was an extremely challenging year, it was a year in which we learnt A LOT about teaching (whether it was socially distanced, online, hybrid or a combination of these), and since I keep telling my students that revision and reflection are key to learning, that’s what I should do, too!

So in this blog post I’m going to select a few of the YearCompass questions and answer them about my professional life in 2020/2021. My hope is that it will motivate you to reflect, too!

What are three things you are grateful for?

Of course, in the ‘private life version’ of this booklet I would say something like my health and my friends and family, but what was I grateful for in my profession in 2021? Well, one thing was the outpouring of support that teachers, publishers and other ELT professionals gave me in 2020. I don’t think I have ever done or attended so many workshops! I learnt about online teaching, materials writing, building rapport in socially distanced classrooms and many other aspects of teaching. One of the sources for professional development that I used a lot is the Pearson Teacher Training Hub where you can find lots of webinar recordings that you can watch whenever you have time. 

Something that made life much easier for me is the plethora of tech tools that have become available (many of them free during the lockdown). The one that I used most in 2020 was definitely GoogleJamboard. To illustrate how many things I have used it for, here’s a jamboard 🙂 

Click here to see the full JamBoard

Another tech tool I am very grateful for is Genial.ly. This is a fantastic presentation tool that helped me create activities and interactive presentations for my students. It took me a while to learn to use the system, but it has really paid off! If you are feeling creative and would like to try to design interactive presentations, it’s really worth trying out!

List your biggest challenges from last year.

I have previously written a blog post about my digital challenges and life hacks, but what about the strictly teaching-related ones? Before going fully online, I thought of my lessons as playful, student-centred and dynamic. Well, actually, these are 3 things many online teachers complain about a lot! Zoom is a fantastic tool, but it’s challenging to make a lesson student-centred and dynamic when you can’t even make proper eye-contact with your students and making them move around is very limited, too. 

Something I learnt this year was that building rapport online definitely takes longer for me and building class dynamics is even more difficult. I often found myself becoming the focal point of communication (all information coming from me and to me) as it was harder to facilitate peer-to-peer interactions. I had to start consciously putting effort into this aspect, which had previously “just happened” by the nature of the lesson. This often meant that we could do less in an online lesson, and that was something I had to learn to accept. Actually, my students who are working from home seem to bring more of their private lives to the ‘classroom’. Previously, I hadn’t had an adult bursting into tears about how worried she was about a family member in hospital… Nor had I seen their pets, living rooms and family members before 🙂 

Who are some people who influenced you the most?

To answer this question, I’m going to mention some of the blogs that I followed in 2020 and learnt a lot from. 

  • The first one is the FluencyFirst blog written by Neil Anderson and Neil McCutcheon, which is a collection of task-based lessons for online teaching. I have tried many of them and they were all engaging, relevant and useful for my groups and one-to-one students (I used them with adults and teens, too).
  • The other blog is written by Sean Hutchman and it’s called BetterLanguageLearning. Sean is very interested in the lexical approach and CLIL, but what I learnt about from him the most is using tech tools like GoogleDocs or Quizlet to really enhance the learning process. 

What were you not able to accomplish?

I really like this question in the booklet because the way they phrase it shows that it’s not there to make you feel bad, but to acknowledge that something was not accomplished and then consider if it should go on the list of plans for 2021 or be let go of. 

Something I was not able to accomplish in 2020 is to have the same level of learner authority as in my face-to-face classrooms. This did not only lead to an increased workload for me but also made my students a bit lazier! I was the one deciding what to revise, communicating about the course, creating Quizlet sets, planning all aspects of the lesson, rather than handing over to my students more. I guess it was because it was easier to control the lesson flow. But here’s to 2021 and my autonomous students!

Ok, so these are my answers, what would yours be? I’m going to put some other questions from the booklet that you can apply to your professional context:

The second part of the booklet helps you to plan your next year. Here are some questions from this section that you can go through and reflect on your professional life. Click on the picture  if you want to see the speech bubbles with my answers. Of course, yours are going to be entirely different, these are just there to show you an example:

I hope this blog post has helped you to reflect on this hard year and that you have plenty of ideas and plans for 2021!

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