“It’s Impossible!”

Over the years I have heard this exclamation from teachers regarding a broad range of teaching practices. Early in my career as a trainer I thought this was obstinacy or unwillingness to try new things, or maybe a teacher who had reached a place in their career that was past caring. However it was during a training session regarding listening for in-class speaking proficiency in large classes (30+ students) that another reason became clear.

We were exploring in-class assessment with regard to how we knew if students had met a given lesson objective. Things were going well with writing (it is permanent, it could be seen), and reading (responses to tasks could be written), and with listening (matching lines could be seen, blanks filled in, actions done, etc.). All of these things could be made, in a way, to stand still. But speaking can not be made to stand still, not unless you are recording it, and then well, you have 30 students and who has time to listen to all that! Choruses of “It’s impossible!” and “It can’t be done!”

As we started to brainstorm ways that we might be possible, the tide slowly started to turn. “Impossible” started turning to possibilities. At the end of the session we had a variety of things to try in the next days practice teaching: developing selective listening skills (tuning in to one student or group), focusing on a subgroup of students each day, using a hand size check box form. And in fact I observed teachers trying out their new ideas. [maybe a couple of actual examples here?] During group feedback sessions there was a buzz about how things had actually worked and how they could further improve or new things to try. The “impossible” had turned into an adventure.

Upon my reflection as a trainer I kept asking the question “What happened?” As I worked my way through the experiential learning cycle, ELC, I realized that “It’s impossible” seemed to mean “I don’t know how to do it.” Since this experience I have had the opportunity to test this hypothesis in a number of other contexts. So far, my new belief that contained within each “impossible” is a “possible”, a learning moment yet to be discovered.

What teaching and training “impossibles” have you turned into “possibles”? Which are still ‘puzzles’ for you and your colleagues?

written by Tana

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