Low Impact Teaching

Over the last 5 to 10 years, I’ve been developing new ideas about how we should be teaching in our classrooms.   These ideas have changed as the possibilities and promises of educational technology have become reality.

The most fundamental of these ideas are always revolving around learning and the student. The possibility to differentiate and deliver personlized study to students is the most important possibility before us teachers. Technology allows us to tailor curriculum, materials, delivery to and for each student. It allows us to correct the most horrid feature of schooling – that everyone learns the same thing, at the same time, at the same rate.

Here are three approaches that I espouse and have worked to develop.

SCC, student created content    Students create the content that will be the basis of their language learning. We start from the students’ world and understandings and build on that. A teacher elicits language from the students, forming a material. This material is the basis for further language activities and practice. The teacher is the facilitator and organizes the language practice and learning of students – there is no direct instruction.

The Flipped Classroom for ELT    Students can learn and practice the structures, vocabulary and content of our language classrooms through mediated self directed learning. Either in a computer lab or BYOD class at school or as homework.  No longer do classes need a teacher in the front, leading the whole group.   Classroom time is taken up with actual production and the teacher having direct time with the students assessing, getting feedback, engaging.  The teacher no longer has to spend time (usually wasted), teaching infront of the class a language point or eliciting language for a group on a topic probably only 2 or 3 students are interested in.

Low Impact Teaching     I’ve long had a big interest in the work of Sugata Mitra and especially his concept of MIT – Minimally Invasive Teaching.  Now, he’s developed it along the principles of allowing learners maximum autonomy in the class and to allow for “self organizing learning environments” (SOLE).  I go a little further and more broad with my concept of low impact teaching (and I highly recommend Kevin Gidden’s DNT – Do Nothing Teaching approach).

Low impact classrooms are classrooms where a teacher is not the dominant focus, the central power and puppeteer. EFL has always been for better or worse, led by a teaching model where the native speaker was the primary source of authentic language/input.  Nowadays this shouldn’t be so and needn’t be so. Students in most parts of the world have access, immediate access to all kinds of spoken English, even at an appropriate level.   So now, the role of the teacher shouldn’t be one that dominates and talks but one that organizes and disappears.  The best teachers are invisible, just like the best use of technology is.

Low impact teaching is about organizing the environment in which the students will learn and then, as I’ve referred to Sugata Mitra’s approach – “going away”.  It is about driving back into the learning environment organic, intrinsic student motivation, curiosity and independent learning.  And that is the end goal of all education, helping to create a learner that will learn when we are not there, when nobody else is looking …… Low Impact Teaching is “I’m going away now” teaching – where the teacher doesn’t tell the student the answer but teaches slow and allows the learner to learn for themselves. It is about putting students back in control. Low impact  teaching but high impact learning.

It’s so energizing to be involved in education at this moment of time. Beyond opportunity, we teachers must realize there is a heavy responsibility on our shoulders to not let things get hijacked and to push for change, be disruptive and enact approaches like Low Impact Teaching or the Flipped model in our classrooms.  Once we’ve changed the existing cultural paradigm of teaching, I’m sure we can then take school out of the walls it inhabits and into the wide open world where it will best flourish and nurture students.


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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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1 Response

  1. ddeubel says:

    I heard a metaphor about language today that on the surface seems great but has a few kinks.

    Language is like cooking.

    Words are the ingredients. The recipe tells you how much and in what order and is the grammar. The meaning is how it tastes and sharing with others at the table. No two dishes are ever alike (but there still is a lot of overlap).

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