Our next featured speaker for our SIG Day at IATEFL is Tom Heaven. Tom originally comes from England’s second city, Birmingham, but lives and works in Berlin where he teaches lawyers, art historians and engineers, among many other people, on various courses at different schools across the city. Working out how to use the full potential of whiteboard drawing in the classroom is currently keeping him awake at night. We’re thrilled to share his thoughts with you.

Lesson Jams

By Tom Heaven

Freelancing can be a lonely business. I have been teaching English in Berlin for three and a half years and all the teachers I know work freelance. Until I joined the Berlin Language Workers’ Grassroots Association (Berlin LWGAS) I knew very few English teachers in Berlin. And even now, apart from at Berlin LWGAS meetings I rarely see my English-teaching colleagues. We all work in random places at random hours across the 950 km2 of Berlin and out into Brandenburg. Berlin LWGAS was set up for us, the freelance language workers of Berlin (especially the English teaching contingent): to meet, share our experiences and experience, share our problems and be a little bit stronger for it. We have been going for less than a year. Setting ourselves up to tackle the low pay, precarious freelance contracts and health care problems and pension costs that Berlin language workers like us face is a long-term goal. So in the short-term we decided to start sharing experiences and experience with each other and that is what gave birth to the first lesson jam.

Lesson jams are about talking, but we try to keep talking from the front to a minimum, as frontal presentations are not usually a very good platform for discussion and sharing. Instead a member of LWGAS who is familiar with the lesson jam idea acts as facilitator for each of the small groups taking part. The facilitator explains the goal, addresses any problems and moderates when necessary. The rest is up to the group. The practical goal of a lesson jam is for groups of four or five to make and present lesson plans within three hours with no prior preparation. Lesson planning is one of the many parts of the job that most teachers do alone. We wanted to provide a platform to break this isolation and for teachers to work together.

A stimulus is given to each group around which the members of the group discuss and plan ideas. Then one group presents its ideas to another group for feedback. After that each group pulls together a lesson plan before presenting it. But the finished lesson plans, although often fabulously original, are less important than the ‘jamming’ that takes place; language teachers, who otherwise rarely see each other, coming together, working together, getting to know each other and learning from each other’s experience. Just as there is something quite fascinating about the way different people learn, it is fascinating to see how others teach and how initial ideas lead to different lessons taught in different ways.

Our group is young. So far we have put on two lesson jams, which have received positive feedback. We have attracted teachers from different teaching areas and also a couple of teachers of other languages. Participation is growing. Over the coming year we want to put on more activities and start on the road to setting up a communal business. We want to continue bringing Berlin language workers together to work together.Tom Heaven Head Pic

I hope to see you in Manchester on 13th April to talk about Lesson Jams and Berlin LWGAS!

There is a full guide on how to set up a lesson jam here.


There are some photographs of the first lesson jam here


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