Monday, 1 September 2014

How valid is your lesson?

Well, my nose is most firmly back to the grindstone once again, and I'm busy with the usual start-of-year rigmarole of assessing and enrolling, checking my SoLs, all while sporting the first head cold of the academic term.


Before long, I'll be getting down to the fun and games of lesson planning. As I've mentioned in previous posts, the degree of elaboration I've put into these has waxed and waned over the years, depending on what I'm doing, how often I've done it before, and if I'm being observed. Like many teachers with a similar number of years' experience, I have a store of lesson plans safely ensconced in my head, along with a more or less encyclopaedic knowledge of the various methods of delivery that we in TEFL love to fiddle with.

Now, I'm sure you've experimented, as I have, with all the available methodologies, from mainstream CLT to the dark arcana of Suggestopedia, or even my own Blockbuster Approach (see my post from July 2013 for that), and I suspect that you may have reached the same conclusion that I have: All these techniques are fine, but I wouldn't like to do them all the time. Again, as I've mentioned before, there is not a single piece of empirical evidence to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that one technique is better than another, so why should I bother with any of them? If Grammar Translation gets results, why not stick to it? If ELT Dogme floats your students' boats, why not go with that?

All this speculation has lead me to this question: How valid are my lessons?

By validity, I am of course referring to the concept of validity when it comes to exams. It strikes me that we can also use the term when we think of our lesson, or indeed our course. And yes, I know that it may sound as if I'm reinventing the wheel - surely a syllabus must have validity in order to be meaningful? - but I suspect that the reason why we're teaching a given lesson may sometimes get hidden beneath the need to complete, let's say, a course, or because we're using a particular methodology.
If we think of a lesson in these terms, we could ask the following:

A)Does it have construct validity?
 That is, does the construction of the lesson actually end up teaching what it's meant to teach?

B)Does it have content validity?
 In other words, does the lesson's contents (in terms of the methodology) lead to the desired outcome?

C)Does it have criterion validity?
 Does the lesson, within its constraints, demonstrate that the desired learning outcome has been learned?

D)Does it have face validity?
 In other words, does the lesson look, feel, taste, smell, and/or sound like a lesson?

Two things are obvious from looking at a lesson this way.

The first is that all lesson planning should be outcome lead. This is remarkably simple, yet it is remarkably easy to forget, especially if we're teaching our backsides off and only have time to copy Unit 4, page 35, or whatever.

The second thing is that A) and B) are the two questions that teachers should ask, while C) and D) are the two questions that institutions and inspecting bodies always ask.

I suspect that in the rush to make our lessons engaging and fun (not least for the teacher), our objectives can sometimes become lost, and this in not merely a problem for the tutor - the institution itself can be culpable, leading to lessons that may well be entertaining and full of activity, but which actually deliver far less than they potentially could.

Anyway, back to the grindstone....

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