Thursday, April 14, 2011

A short conversation with...Sean Banville @SeanBanville

Sean Banville

How long have you been teaching?
I've been teaching for 18 years. I had a few jump-in-at-the-deep-end introductions, which I loved, prior to my deciding to become a teacher. The first was at an orphanage in northern Thailand to do voluntary work. I had no idea what to do. I found a dusty grammar book in the library. I think my first lesson was on abstract and concrete nouns. Probably not the best thing to start with. My next pre-certificate assignment was an 11-week, 7-day-a-week, 10-hour-a-day stint at a language school in Bangkok. The school owner gave me a book on TOEFL and wished me luck. I loved lecturing from the book for 50 minutes non-stop. Definitely not the best method :-0. But, I decided ELT was pretty cool and would help me travel forever. I did my CELTA with the British Council in Izmir, Turkey in 1993 and earned my Master's in TEFL/TESL in 2003. Have spent the past 18 years overseas. Must do the DELTA one day…. and perhaps a PhD.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?
Of course. The CELTA was amazing in showing me in four weeks how much there was to teaching for a beginner teacher, and the importance of the communicative classroom, authentic materials, PPP (presentation, practice, production…) integrated skills, etc. And then joining a school in Japan that relied on the audio-lingual method showed me the importance of drills and controlled practice. And then learning Japanese the Silent Way and introducing the Silent Way into my own teaching showed me the importance of subordinating teaching to learning and trying to understand what each student needs next to move their interlanguage forward. And then working at another school in Japan that gave me total freedom to experiment in class and with lesson preparation showed me how important it is to listen to student needs and create lessons based on the topics they ask for - a great way to increase motivation. And then my Master's showed me the importance of understanding that there really is a scary amount of stuff to know, and how important task-based learning, lexical approaches and project-based learning are in one's classroom arsenal. And not to mention the realization that grammar translation and dictation really can be quite useful and that the use of the L1 in the classroom isn't the big monster I was told it was. Oh yes, let's not forget differentiated learning, teaching unplugged and personalizing the course book - or throwing the damn thing away. And then coming across CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) and realizing the importance of independent learning for students and the power of Web 2.0 and social media. And then if all that wasn’t enough to make me rethink my teaching philosophy for the 958th time, iPhones and iPads came along and I'm now struggling to keep up with how important m-learning (mobile learning) is and will be. Am now wondering what's next - Web 3.0 and the as-yet-not-invented technologies and tools that will further change our classrooms and philosophy. So has my educational philosophy changed since I began teaching? Yes and no. Here's the biggest 'no': I began teaching knowing I had a deep sense of empathy with students who had a desire to learn something that was very important to them and probably quite difficult. I knew each learner was different and that I had to try and focus on the needs of each student. The toughest thing to do as a teacher. That’s still central to my teaching. And here's the biggest 'yes': I thought I knew everything about teaching ESL/EFL after my CELTA in 1993. My first week in the classroom after the course taught me otherwise. Each year, conference attended, journal read, educator talked to, social media site engaged with… since then has changed my thinking on the "how-to" in the classroom and the "what-with". I think empathy and a willingness to experiment and accept change are essential as a teacher. Also, a liberal sprinkling in your lesson plan (that you always deviate from) of the techniques and methods above will inform the permanent and evolving parts of your philosophy.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?
Twitter has been the main source of my PD (Professional Development) since June 2009. I knew very little about Web 2.0 before Twitter. I knew very few people in ELT before Twitter. Now I know lots of stuff about teaching using social media, Web 2.0, m-learning, e-learning… I was also invited to speak at conferences (in person and online) and even shared a taxi to the airport with Jeremy Harmer (hope I remembered to tell him his was the first book I read on ELT) and had an evolutionary (for me - I just listened) breakfast with Ken Wilson, Gavin Dudeneye and Lindsay Clandfield - to drop just four names :-)

Twitter has been an endless source of new ideas, links to cool tools, advice from experts and very cool people to share ideas with. I'm sure there are other ways to keep one step beyond being up to date, but Twitter does it for me and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Now all I have to do is keep up to date with applying what I learn and pick up on Twitter in the classroom and on my websites. I'm lucky that there are younger whizzes in my Twitter PLN (Personal Learning Network) for whom incorporating interactive tools and stuff into their online lessons is second nature. I need to learn from them. Some of them are (by Twitter handle) @shellterell @davedodgson @harrisonmike @ozge … and many more.

I have been following your Breaking News English blog for awhile now. I am amazed at the amount of material you have amassed and the swiftness of your posts as events happen. How long does it usually take to make a lesson?
It takes between three to five hours to make a lesson, depending on how well the topic lends itself to quickly generating discussion questions and ranking activities. I have built up a handy array of shortcuts to help me cut the time down. I've made over 3,000 lessons for that site and I still like making them - haven't quite figured out why. I guess that means I'm up for the next 3,000. I hope lesson # 6,000 looks quite different to lesson # 3,000… more tools and interactivity, and... stuff.

Sean Blogs here.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sean,

    Your English lessons are an awesome contribution to our professional community.

    It's so interesting to read how you have, through your own journey, ended up in this same virtual place on Twitter. I can really relate to the impact of Twitter as you describe it.

    Bye for now!

    Ingrid @mmeveilleux