Training Language Teachers as a Way to Build Expertise

September 2023

In this issue, we focus on the art and science of teaching teachers! Perhaps you’ve developed your expertise by pursuing professional development opportunities, or maybe you have co-taught with a master teacher and learned invaluable tricks of the trade that way! It’s worth reflecting on our progression from novice to expert teachers and looking back at the mistakes we’ve made and the hard-earned lessons we’ve learned along the way. 

Our cover: “Your heart is slightly larger than the average human heart, but that’s because you’re a teacher.” – Aaron Bacall

Cover photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels; others from Pixabay & Unsplash

Watch before you read...

Chances are if you read Think Tank articles, you’re interested in developing your teaching expertise. Our September issue focuses on the journey from novice to expert teacher. In the Main podcast episode, Daniel Willingham draws on his knowledge of cognitive psychology and education to talk about teacher education and good teaching. In the Lite video, Steve Heimler shares an Aha! moment in the classroom that fundamentally shifted his perception of what a good teacher does. Curtis Kelly gives a couple insights on the podcast and video in the introduction.

In the Think Tank, Jamie Emerson teases out the differences between novices and experts and connects this to an analysis of how we gain teaching expertise. Heather Kretschmer carries on by sharing some ways teachers can develop their expertise. Next, reflecting on her experiences as a teacher trainer, Evelin Schotte-Grebenstein discusses helping student teachers to overcome the challenges they face. After our readers share their stories and ideas for developing teaching expertise, Harumi Kimura writes about how one of her pre-service teacher students reflected on and improved a published grammar activity. Finally in our PLUS, Curtis Kelly rounds off the issue with a misinformation inoculation exercise teachers can try out with students.

Pre-Frontal / Willingham

Cognitive Advantages to Teaching the Right Way

Our Thoughts on Teacher Training

A Quick Word on the Intro Video and Podcast Curtis Kelly

The Intro videos are listed on page 2. You are checking those out each issue, right? We include those so that you can hear and see the best in the breed, discussion on the latest research and practices by the masters themselves, usually more meaningful than what you would find in any one academic journal. As for me, I don’t always have time to watch them, but I copy the links into my iPhone Notes App so that I can turn one on while out mountain climbing, bicycling, or shopping.

Think Tank Articles

An Environment for Expertise: Reflections from Language Teaching Jamie Emerson

As we saw in the last Think Tank, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman has arguably done more than anyone to popularize the study of cognitive biases. His work, brought together in the monumental but readable Thinking, Fast and Slow, has had a profound impact on academic and mainstream views of human cognition. Less well known is what he has taught us about expertise. Despite attracting less fame outside academia, Gary Klein is another influential contributor to the study of decision making. For years, the two were viewed as opponents. Their article Conditions for Intuitive Expertise: A Failure to Disagree is a masterclass in the exploration of different perspectives in what is termed “adversarial collaboration.”

Moving Towards Teaching Expertise Heather Kretschmer

At a small, private language school, a line manager, Greg, is busy onboarding a new teacher, Olivia. Greg has given Olivia the textbook and told her what she needs to know about the course (topics, typical tasks, students’ language level, assessment, organizational information, etc.). Since Olivia already has several years of teaching experience under her belt, Greg feels confident that she’ll easily step into her teaching role at his school. However, just a few hours before her first class session, Olivia asks him what exactly she’s supposed to do during class.

The Rewards of Being a Teacher Trainer Dr. Evelin Schotte-Grebenstein

Editors’ Note: Dr. Evelin Schotte-Grebenstein is a teacher of English and German and now a principal at a German school. Before stepping into her new role as principal last year, she was also a teacher trainer for aspiring English teachers in Germany. Her role in supporting student teachers included meeting with them in seminars, observing their teaching, and assessing their teaching. She kindly agreed to sit down for an interview where she shared her expertise in helping student teachers develop their teaching skills. Sit back and enjoy her interview and think back to your own transition from novice to experienced teacher. Do you remember how hard that was?

Stories from our Readers about their Early Days as Teachers Think Tank Readers

We asked our readers to share stories from when they first started out teaching. A whole bunch replied! Enjoy learning some hard-earned lessons vicariously. 

Grammar Learning as Cooperative Social Action Harumi Kimura

People learn languages primarily through social interaction with others in a particular language community. When learning first languages, people find patterns while interacting with significant others and adapt their verbal and non-verbal behaviors to their social environment. Although the same is true for the learning of additional languages, people in the so-called expanding circle (Kachru, 1992), like Japanese and Koreans, usually learn their L2s in formal, educational settings, where linguistic patterns are explicitly taught and intentionally learned in classrooms.

Think Tank Plus

Introducing a New Language Competency: Misinformation Immunity Curtis Kelly

I remember hearing Prof. Tomoko Yashima speaking on a topic I was not familiar with, “Willingness to Communicate” and I realized that it is related to a particular problem Japanese learners of English have: a tendency to remain silent in group interactions with native speakers. Although MacIntyre (2007) says it comes from a lack of intention, or “willingness,” in all the struggling learners I have worked with (and Tomoko agrees), it is not a lack of willingness as much as a deficiency in the communication skills needed to take part in the group conversation: figuring out when to break in, signaling you will do so, and knowing how to shape your contribution to fit the flow. On hearing Tomoko talk about her own early struggles speaking out to native speakers, it dawned on me that we should identify that ability as a language competence: a measure of proficiency and something we should teach.

Call for Contributions: Ideas and Articles Think Tank Staff

Become a Think Tank star! Here are some of the future issue topics we are thinking about. Would you, or anyone you know, like to write about any of these? Or is there another topic you’d like to recommend? Do you have any suggestions for lead-in, or just plain interesting, videos? How about writing a book review? Or sending us a story about your experiences? Contact us.

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The MindBrained Think Tanks+

is produced by the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group (BRAIN SIG). Kyoto, Japan. (ISSN 2434-1002)

Editorial Staff

Stephen M. Ryan                Julia Daley                   Marc Helgesen

             Heather Kretschmer          Curtis H. Kelly            Skye Playsted               

    Jason Walters                               Mohammad Khari



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