Monthly Archives: April 2012

One-to-One Teaching Within a Group

This post includes: (1) an article by Adrian Underhill (2) a one minute video clip of Adrian talking on the same topic (3) a reflection task which you are invited to comment on (4) a practical experiment which you are also encouraged to try out – and then comment on.

There is a way of teaching one-to-one within a group and making it useful for all

(Adrian Underhill)

(Building on an idea from the recent #eltchat on Demand High Teaching. Thanks to Lizzie Pinard and the participants)

Working one to one can be very precise. But, when done within a larger class  there can be a tendency to think that only that individual concerned is benefitting and that the rest of the group are somehow idling.

But my experience (and for many of you it may be the same) is that you can harvest that learning yield for all the others in the group. This requires the usual things: 1) a certain attitude from the teacher 2) a set of interventions 3) watchfulness. Here is a true story:

For the first years of my teaching I worked with groups of about 18 learners at all levels. Then I began to spend my time teaching scientists, doctors and business people in small groups or one to one, perhaps spending hours across a table from a single learner. One thing I found was that in the absence of the clamour of a group I could focus my attention on what my student was thinking, and I learned to watch and wait, to track the student’s processing and to include what I saw in my interventions and our conversation.

I was not especially aware of doing this until a year or two later when I returned to teaching larger groups and found that it was possible to maintain this individual focus even within a larger group.

Not only that, but the whole group was magnetized by the work that the individual was doing in front of them, by seeing the moves of learning made visible just for half a minute. And they were tracking that individual’s effort and using it for their own insight. I didn’t ignore the rest of the group, but I didn’t fret about what they were doing, so my attention for the individual learner was complete, and that is what helped make the action palpable and engaging. I might look at the others as if to say “Hey this is pretty interesting”. And out of this developed a different quality of attention in the class and a vivid impression of a closer learning relationship between all of us, in spite of the group size.

This was an area of experience that had not been included in my training to teach groups, where the aim had been to keep everyone occupied all the time. Perhaps it is quite difficult to discover until you do some one to one teaching. Maybe it is less possible in crowd activity to catch sight of the inner movements of learning.

My one to one experience had enhanced my confidence and ability to follow an individual learner’s subtle inner moves, or at least to recognise them and to make them visible using a variety of interventions. I think of this relationship as close up teaching simply because I feel closer to the learning moves the student is making, as if I am in amongst the learning action rather than prodding it with a long stick from some way off

I think that I can only demand high in an accurate and appropriate way when I can to some extent see the learning moves going on in front of me. If I don’t see the movements then my kind of demanding high is like traditional teachers I had at school, who meant well but simply gave us excessive work and a tough time which was not targeted, as if they were just lobbing it over the wall and hoping for the best.

Video: See Adrian talking about One-to-One within a group

Reflection Task: Thinking about your own teaching experiences, can you recall instances either of raising the demand by working one to one in a group or of somehow getting in close to a students’ learning moves?

Practical Experiment: In a suitable language group class, try out the idea of working for a short time one-to-one with an individual while the rest of the class listens and looks on.

Afterwards, consider whichever of these questions seem relevant:

  • Was this any different from what you usually do?
  • If so how? What did you have to do differently to do this? Was it difficult?
  • In your view, did the experiment succeed? How do you know?
  • Regardless of the student’s learning, were you learning?
  • Did you feel that the individual you worked with learnt differently than might have been the case if you had worked with him/her in a more usual large class manner?
  • Were the rest of the class engaged by what was happening? Did they learn something?
  • Were you completely committed to that single student or was your attention dispersed by anxiety about the rest of the class?
  • Was there any connection between the quality of your attention to the individual student’s work and the degree of engagement of the rest of the class in what was happening?

We encourage you to use the comments section below to answer or discuss any of these issues. We are particularly keen to hear of your practical classroom experiences and observations.


Filed under Challenging learners, Classroom management, Close-Up Teaching, Demand High, ELT, Engaging Learners, Hands-on with language, Learner processing, Learning Potential, Reflective teaching, Teacher Training, Teaching Ideas, Teaching Interventions, TEFL, TESOL, Whole class teaching

#eltchat on Demand-High ELT (28/3/2012)

This is a summary of the #eltchat session on Demand-High teaching on 28/03/2012

(If you haven’t come across #eltchat – you may be wondering what it is! It’s a weekly discussion on live ELT issues using Twitter. You can find out more about them at   Highly recommended!)

We’re very grateful to the organisers and #eltchat participants for choosing the topic and having such a wide-ranging and useful discussion and to Lizzie Pinard who compiled this excellent report and summary – which is also available on her own blog at

Summary of #Eltchat on12.00 Weds 28.3.12: Demand-High Teaching

(Summary by Lizzie Pinard)

Having been privileged to see Jim Scrivener (@jimscriv) talk at length about Demand-High Teaching (DHT) at the recent IATEFL conference in Glasgow, which led me, via a follow-up session with both @jimscriver and Adrian Underhill, to their blog on this subject as well as his recent book on Classroom Management Techniques, when #Eltchat time rolled around, for me it was the obvious choice of topic to nominate. And, not only was it selected as the number one discussion choice but @jimscriv, himself, was able to join us today from his hotel room in Philly where he is currently attending another conference.

@theteacherjames recommended that we all read this blog post by @jemjemgardner before kicking off and finally, following strict instructions from @marisa_c, the discussion itself began with an introduction from @jimscriv. This culminated with the question,

Is where we are really where we want to be? Or have we just ended up here somehow?

@Jimscriv proposed that we, as teachers, “have drifted into a sort of dead end” and, in response to @Shaunwilden’s argument that a new name is not needed for what is simply expecting the most from our students, states that the main purpose of coining the term, DHT, was to be provocative and generate discussion. (An aim that was certainly achieved during this #eltchat session!)

A lot of questions were raised, and in the spirit of avoiding the spoon-feeding method, I’ll start  by listing these for you to reflect on before offering up the responses that tweeters volunteered.

– Do you think that we’ve drifted into a touchy feely style because we’ve incorrectly associated engagement with fun?

– Has it become ‘politically correct’ to overpraise?

– Does DHT match with learner expectations or wants or needs?

– Is DHT just expecting the most from your students?

– Maybe deferring to the [course] book isn’t all bad, if it leaves more time to allocate to more challenging tasks with pupils?

– Demand high cognitively or linguistically? Some lessons put both at elementary level.

– Are teachers afraid to demand high linguistically?

– Why aim low?

– How does ‘demand-high ELT’ sit with differentiation? Seems a demand too high. I’m already stretch as far as I can be sometimes.

– How do u distinguish between positive feedback and praise?

The discussion focussed initially on defining DHT, reaching an understanding of what it involves and, indeed, what it does not involve. Here are some of the suggestions:

– Demand-High isn’t a negative argument. It’s a positive assertion that it’s ok to “teach”.

– Everyone means well but somehow we have lost touch with where the learning is going on.

– We used to call this ‘having high expectations of our Ss’ and research suggests if you do,ss rise UP to ur expectation.

– We need to treat students like adults (if they are) and challenge them in every way

– Encouragement as valuable. Feedback as essential. Praise as mostly harmful.

– Demand high can be for any kind of student, low or high ability, just have to differentiate the demand.

– It’s about providing the right amount of challenge for each student.

– It’s about not giving indiscriminate praise- which means nothing.

– Of course lessons shld be enjoyable – but that comes from engagement with real learning – not spurious “fun”.

– All sts should be treated like ‘achieving students’ rather than like slowies…..

– I think that there is a way of teaching one-to-one with everyone in a class. And making it useful for all.

– Goal is that feedback is neutral or comes from students themselves, rather than mechanically from T.

– It involves an endless struggle between what Ts believe in and the philosophy of CB-based syllabus and exams imposed by the school?

– DHT means more teaching moments or periods in a lesson

– I think of high demand as my Ss being able to do things with the language. I want to see what they can do. So more them than me.

– Demand-High is definitely learner-centred and learning-centred.

– The challenge must be sensitive and supportive. The aim is not to terrify! But helpful, coaching, focus makes a huge difference.

This led on to exploring the obstacles that obstruct the way to DHT:

– In theory, I see myself as a “demand high” teacher *but* in some contexts, it isn’t always practical/possible

– Demand-low or average teaching is infectious in institutions where there is blame culture

– There is a culture of praising when it isn’t fully due, I’d say – hard to separate from ‘encouragement’

– We also have the difficulty of judging what is demand high of an elementary and what it is for, say, an upper int student

– There’s a misunderstanding that just because they look like they are enjoying themselves, they must be learning

– We need to ensure the level of challenge is right in so many ways (not too heavy linguistically) not too light (content)

– Schools, ministries etc do a great disservice to Ts by imposing targets – so many units a week

– Having to enroll students on a course knowing that they are going to pass the final exam

– The trouble with any term is that it’s open to interpretation.  Inevitable.

– DHT is also demanding of the T – more time, effort, preparation, energy required. Can’t just sit back and do same old.

– I worked in a language school where “no” was a word we were not allowed to say to students. Impossible mission.

– Seen so many teachers getting swept along by syllabus – doing 5 rushed readings per week instead of one good one.

– Uncritical coursebook use promotes a kind of dependency in Ts and Ss – hand-holding all round – we all need a degree of challenge.

– Often teachers are scared that they’ll upset the students. There can be cultural sensitivities in play too.

– Humanism is hugely misunderstood in ELT. It is almost the opposite of “touchy feely”. It is a muscular, robust way to help.

– There’s a lot of treadmill in ELT (& edu generally), often exam driven – more bits of paper

So despite all these obstacles, how can we promote DHT? How can we bring it into our classroom?

– By guiding them [learners], leading them towards an achievable goal, but without a script, adapting to their needs during the lesson.

– If we are going to challenge them we have to know where they are at. Our relationship w the Ss important.

– “Challenge” [the learners] to acquire – if tasks dont’s have enough challenge there is no acquisition.

– Giving hints to get students to reformulate something rather than immediately gving the correct version yourself.

– Teachers need to slow down and learn to stop meeting targets in course books. Focus on what’s happening, then and there.

– Question what we are doing  in class rather than just doing it for the sake of doing it.

– When the topic is ‘tedious and insulting’, we need to find a better angle from the sts (or change the book!)

– We need to train Ts to (a) say “no” supportively and (b) have techniques to help sts to “yes”

– No more spoonfeeding, let them develop ideas and shape them, less book-based teaching and more exploration.

– Being straight foward and asking students to not to settle for good enough.

– I ask them questions that I think may intrigue them.

– Honesty is great, but correction needs to be sensitively and supportively done.

– Choose subjects which the sts will find motivating. High demand will come easier from their own engagement.

– Push them,challenge them, support them then let them lead

– Involve ss in discussing what we’ve done, how can we do it better and what needs to be done next: learner responsibility.

– Get sts working for answers. Get sts to explain rules & meanings. Empower sts & give yourself room to see the bigger picture.

-Look at them as individuals and not homogenizing expectations for whole class

We then considered the role of pre-service teacher training in promoting DHT, what happens beyond this training and what should happen…

There were some questions:

– DHT seems a post-CELTA step to me. A higher plane of evolution. How do Ts get there? Who wil support/guide them?

– Wondering how could this be incorporated into e.g. CELTA..

– What T standards are there post-CELTA? What are Ts goals after they have taught for a few years? Do they get lost in the soup?

And some opinions:

– [Wondering how this could be incorporated into CELTA?]It is, but then it gets lost achieving a tick box criteria

– I think they [pre-service teacher trainers] have a responsibility – more looking at techniques etc rather than here’s a good activity for

-Maybe it’s for post-CELTA, maybe it comes with experience as well. It’s about questioning approaches, methods and techniques.

– Hate to say but maybe Teachers have problems with HDT & support because in their certificate programme their trainer made them feel like an idiot.

– You probably can’t “train” in 4 weeks. That course [CELTA] is survival skills. But an experienced T needs more skills.

– My sense is CELTA (no offense any1!) often pushes Ts 2 follow list of things to do/not do rather than focusing on Student Learning

– We can’t teach this in 4 weeks, but we can make the goal clear and model in own practice

– There is a higher skillset for experienced Ts that is largely unnoticed and untrained.

– At the end of the day it’s not about he qualifications it is about the skills in the classroom

– This is definitely where DoSes come in – observing Ts and forming understanding of what they are about, then guiding.

– Maybe CELTA can promote DHT but we need to develop it ourselves

– It’s hard to get new Ts to reflect and question practices/methods on the Celta when there’s only 4 weeks to teach them how to teach.

– Delta courses “should” go there – but are so wound up in stress and checklists that they tend not to.

-It’s very important that Ts understand the value (or not) of what they’re doing

– I think CELTA trainees can only cope with so much. It’s a survival intro. Sure, intro the idea  but expect “lag”

– A suggestion-come up with a series of DHT commandments. See #dogme for an example. V.useful for post-CELTA Ts.

– Demand-high is the business of in-service development, peer observation, action research, supportive observations etc

– Truly it all begins in the training classroom but the microclimate of institutions also plays an impotrant role

– Ts sit and wait for PD to come to them. They often don’t know where or when to start.

– Hard in a sector where too many institutions r concerned abt bums on seats not quality. Like mobile phone companies.

– Teachers carry around a lot of assumptions – DoSes need to investigate, identify and challenge these regularly.

– Trainers can b afraid 2 stomp on trainees egos -knock-on effect inclassm. ‘Aim high’ should be a life philosophy.

– It’s also about changing preservice teachers perceptions of what teaching is & precedence for lifelong learning

There seemed to be a feeling that some institutions can make it difficult for teachers to be or become demand-high teachers but that despite this, we can still bring demand-high teaching into the classroom, via any of the suggestions for promoting DHT listed earlier in this summary. As a grassroots movement, the best thing we can do is spread the word.

To conclude with, here are four quotes from the discussion that, for me, really summed up what we are trying to achieve with Demand-High Teaching and how those moments might feel:

– Our students are capable of great things if we don’t underestimate them.

– Goethe:  ”If I accept you as you are, I make you worse; but if I treat you as I believe you are capable of being, I help you become that”

– How will I know if I am getting my hands dirty? When learners lean back in chairs after class with tired, happy faces.

– You will feel it. Uncertainty. Having to think rather than auto-pilot. A real conversation.


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