Instructional Vision

Think of this metaphor: Before you get behind the wheel of a car, you’re handed a book with all the rules of the road. This is a vision for how an optimal roads system operates. Then, you’re asked to pass a written test to assure your understanding of this vision before you motor out into the real world to start making all those grey area decisions required of a driver. Eventually you might define your own vision—within the letter of the law—of what optimally safe and efficient driving looks like, but while you’re learning, your driving instructor asks you to adhere to the DMV’s.

The same goes, we believe, for teaching. In order to learn and grow as an instructor, you need to have some vision for what optimal instruction looks like. This vision ideally has specific language for how to talk about that optimal instruction.

And, crucially, in a coaching relationship, there needs to be alignment around this vision. If you can develop agreement between coach and teacher, then feedback will make sense because you’re both operating within explicitly clear parameters. You both know you need 30 feet between you and the car in front of you on the highway—it said so in the manual. Now here comes the coaching. “Hey, teacher. You’re at 25 feet, let’s just tap the brake lightly.”

By clarity of instructional vision, we mean that both the coach and the teacher that they’re coaching should have a shared idea of what a high functioning classroom looks like at any given moment of instruction. Importantly, we believe that that vision should be student-facing. That is, the picture should be of what the students should be saying, doing, and thinking at any given moment of the class.

“Students are on task, paying attention, and working hard throughout the lesson. They think the teacher notices their behavior, so if they do slip off task for a moment. They’re able to be redirected without much fuss or complaining.”

“The students also feel like the objective of the lesson is really clear to them and it’s rigorous too. It’s something that’s difficult, yet still attainable for the given class period.  They also know that the activities of the class are aligned with that objective. They’re helping them achieve the ultimate goal of the lesson. And they feel like they’re getting tons of opportunities for practice and receive feedback from their teachers, so they know where they are at any given moment. And they know how far they have to go to master the goal of the class.”

The moral of this story is not that you need a particular philosophy, it’s that you need a shared approach with the teacher that you’re coaching. An aligned instructional vision is a necessary prerequisite to an effective teacher-coaching relationship.

Continue reading “Instructional Vision”


Improving Oral Production

“I’ve seen the same process in many of the students that I interview for placement tests and during casual conversations with intermediate levels. They are not sure how it works, but they are able to find the structures and words to express their ideas.”

As I look back to the time I started composing oral language, I realize that it actually took place long time before that. It worked like magic because I didn’t have to consciously remember how to say things in my native language, and mental images would take the form of words when I needed it.

I’ve seen the same process in many of the students that I interview for placement tests and during casual conversations with intermediate levels. They are not sure how they achieved it, but they are able to find words and structures to express ideas.

You too, can develop this ability if you’re serious about your effort to learn a new language. All it takes is commitment and work. For some, it will be easier, and for the rest of us -like it was for me, it’s the result of systematic enforcement.

Firstly, there’s the need to increase vocabulary, which is the base of language. It’s been said that a learner needs to incorporate at least 7 new words everyday, so imagine the importance of collecting words, expressions and collocations, so you can speak up.

Secondly, being aware of the structure that is required to keep up with a conversation, such as: simple present tense, simple past, and future. Learning the rules of tenses includes different types of sentences: affirmative and negative statements, Y/N questions, WH-questions.

Lastly, making sure that intonation, pronunciation and clarity comply with the standard accepted; in other words, there’s no effective communication if the other person cannot easily understand you.

So, just follow this 1-2-3 method to accomplish the goal of producing oral language, and be proud of communicating with others, through this wonderful channel.



Best Teacher You Can Be

The more help we need to develop a wide set of pedagogical resources, the more we can realize that support is always available.

Be the Best Teacher You Can Be

What do you think about the subject of this question? WHY would you want to be a better teacher? Is it important for you? for your students? for our society? When it comes to making decisions about our careers there are several considerations to take into account and it could be hard to get the right choice.

Deciding on being better at what we do can be simplified by a method, a decision model that it’s simple and efficient, especially when our decision involves two options: being a better teacher or staying the same. Here’s a plain decision- making model convenient at any given condition:

  1. Relax. Take a deep breath and expelled air, do it twice. Bringing oxygen to you brain will enhance your performance and health.
  2. Say something positive. Something like “I can do this” or “I was born for success” to boost good vibes.
  3. Identify the problem: The issue here is to make a decision that is relevant to you and many others, and what are the consequences of it.
  4. Think of all possible solutionsGreat teachers help create great students. In fact, research shows that an inspiring and informed teacher is the most important school-related factor influencing student achievement, so it is critical to pay close attention to how we train and support both new and experienced educators. Consider the consequences of your solution. 
  5. What is important to you? Are you a persistent and progressive professional? Experience is not doing the same thing over and over again but to improve the methods over the course of time.
  6. Make the decision. After reflecting on all the previous, it’s time for action.

This way, and following up a methodical path to successfully achieve the goal, think for a moment in three variables of WHAT is needed to become better at teaching:

  • Knowledge: Reflection, Self-Assessment, Conferences & Workshops, Peer coaching, Readings, Degree & Certifications.
  • Resources: Pictures, Audio texts, Games and Visual aids: Projector/Interactive Board/Computer, Lesson Plans, Teacher Guides & Textbooks.
  • Motivation: Professional Growth, Retribution, Expertise, Status, Passion and Knowledge Share.

Then follow the logical next step, which is HOW to overtake the challenge. There would be many, but we have gathered some that are essential and commonly seen in a teacher everyday’s tasks:

  • Opening our Minds
  • Planning
  • Reflecting and Sharing
  • Exploring
  • Interacting

To illustrate each, here are some stories that relate in distinctive ways:

Open your mind. One day teachers are invited to a workshop of the new Editorial assigned to make the book changes in the teenagers’ program of the school after 6 years of using another Editorial.  Through the plenary, teachers find out about the “no homework” strategy used by this new platform, and the technological input in the monitoring and assessment of students’ progress. Immediate reaction can be witnessed in the room as a negative feature to implement. The panel in charge presents three teachers through a Skype call, in order to tell their own experience using the new method. A teacher raises the hand and asks, “Does this mean I have more paths to communicate with my students at any time?” The presenters confirm the statement and elaborate based on that idea. You can notice the difference in the ambient of the room.

Plan. Jules is preparing for her Adults class next Thursday, and she notices she has only two more classes to cover a full unit. She feels nervous and anxious, since by her own experience and knowing how she likes to deliver the lesson, she would have to select the material to teach and sacrifice the rest in order to achieve the goal. While selecting the material, she feels frustrated and basically disappointed because she understands that this could’ve been prevented.

Reflect and share. The bell rings, students leave, and I stay behind picking up for myself. I start thinking of the last activity we had just 5 minutes ago, mainly about my previous expectations and how that makes me think now that it was a failure. I keep recounting my steps even after I’m home an hour later. The next day I still feel disappointed, and one of the substitute teachers was around and I decide to ask about similar situations. I tell him step by step what happened the day before, and he just looked at me and said, just play with it the next time.

Interact. “It’s time for review…” teacher Jay thinks out loud, knowing that tests are coming next week. He sits with a longing face and thinks about the lesson he’s about to deliver, the exercises to use, the topics to address, and the monitoring involved in the process. Seems to have it under control, it’s usually the same. He takes a moment to ponder of other ways to impart the review, he asks himself what can he do different and what could make my students think different than any other day. After 25-30 minutes alone with his thoughts, another teacher passes by rushing in, and greets Jay. The other teacher starts to take out some papers and items that look like monopoly game pieces, and Jay feels the burning need to ask about it, and the other teacher tells him how he got the idea to play a board game as a review from another colleague. Jay feels excited and really wants to try this.

Explore. The assessment week is here, and Rose is taking her time to grade each student carefully in classwork, homework and writing assignments. Time is running fast and she realizes she needs to speed up the process, but she’s also aware that she might need a plan B at this point. She stands up from her chair and she just takes a minute to think and then she sees a student noticing a mistake in a writing assignment she had on top of the desk. At that point she had the idea to pair students and have them do the checking on the writing assignments by giving students some prompts on how to do it. Students react excitedly and even express their willingness to do it. The teacher starts thinking what other ways she can make students feel useful and make it beneficial for her as well.

Additionally, there’s a critical view to reflect on WHO to becoming better. Reflect on these words and discover if success alone is possible or if it’s worth trying available support: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Next, answer the question of how often you engage in these best practices:

  • I plan my classes.
  • I reflect on what helps or hinders learning.
  • I receive peer-coaching.
  • I explore creative ways of teaching.
  • I give-receive feedback.
  • I try to keep engagement in my classes.
  • I practice professional-development.
  • My classes are based on experiential-teaching.
  • My teaching practices are oriented to meaningful lessons.
  • I ask my students to ask questions.
  • I include collaborative-learning in my lessons
  • I deliver my lessons as scheduled.

The more help we need to develop a wide set of pedagogical resources, the more we can realize that support is always available, find out about the Professional Development programs that are set up near you and reach out.

Finally, think of the question on WHEN you’d like to take steps to become better; it will depend on the opportunity you give to yourself, bearing in mind what a great scientist once said: It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.                            

Workshop at ICDA’s In-Service Sept-2016. Source: Be the Best Teacher You Can Be.


Improving Pronunciation

There are English students who develop good levels of fluency, but it’s hard for others to understand what they say and this is why we must try to speak fluently, but more important, to speak clearly.

Pronouncing correctly defines the level of your English to others, especially native speakers. We need to consider several aspects and improve in each one of them: Linking, Intonation, Stress, Vowels and Consonant sounds, etc.

There are English students who develop good levels of fluency, but it’s hard for others to understand what they say and this is why we must try to speak fluently, but more important, to speak clearly.

Engaging in practices such as repetition, modeling sounds, imitating native speakers and such, can really make the difference for English to be comprehended.

I chose this simple video because it is one of multiple tools that you can use in your goal to become a proficient speaker. Please click on the link and make the best out of it.

5 Techniques to Speak Any Language

This is very INTERESTING, Sid Efromovich speaks seven languages and he gives testimonial of how to learn a new language reflecting on meaningful learning. The five tips he provides are:

  1. Make Mistakes
  2. Scrap The Foreign Alphabet
  3. Find a Sticker
  4. Shower Conversations
  5. Buddy Formula

Watch this video and start practicing!

Grading Low Performance

So, when the moment comes to grade their effort and academic achievements, we have to face important decisions regarding their performance. In most of the cases, teachers are benevolent with students who have shown hard work and attention but who could not do well in their tests.

Be Ready for Tomorrow!
Be Ready for Tomorrow!

Teaching is a passion that I have carried with me for all my life. I love when students are paying attention to what I try to convey and when that magical moment of learning happens, that is, when it happens.

Unfortunately, the lessons I deliver are not always so adequate for their level of interest. Maybe this is due to the engagement that I can reach from them, or the technique used in a particular lesson. But for one reason or another, not all my students achieve the initial objectives.

Naturally, this brings consequences reflected on their scores and also on their exams. So, when the moment comes to grade their effort and academic achievements, we have to face important decisions regarding their performance. In most of the cases, teachers are benevolent with students who have shown hard work and attention but who could not do well in their tests.

Nevertheless, attaining academic goals is not only about passing exams since performance is also measured with other variables. By including participation, homework and quizzes we gather more information of the student’s profile, which can serve as a basis to extended scores. But what do you do when all numbers add up to less than what is required?

This is something I would like to leave in the minds of those who struggle to pass successfully, but do not show the level of execution that is expected. This is when teachers turn to their personal impressions and have to decide for them.

I do it all the time, but I’d really like to be sure that they won’t need it again because their effort will be higher in the next level. I just want to make sure that this investment involves the promise that they will do better in their next challenge. Just saying!

Grammar Form & Function

Sugerencias: Shall, Let’s, How About, What About, Why Don’t, Could and Can.
Para expresar preferencias: Prefer, Would Prefer, and Would Rather
Para pedir permiso: May, Could, and Can
Para hacer pedidos: Will, Can, Could, Would and Would you Mind
Para expresar posibilidad: May, Might and Could
Para expresar probabilidad: Should and Ought To
Para hacer deducciones: Must, Must Not and Can’t
La forma Progresiva y Progresiva Perfecta de los modales

Hi all: Here’s the link to the summary of Unit 7. Please review. Warm regards.

Alexander Cueto | Certified Trainer and Language Coach
Better Services Consulting