To all our TDSIG members, Happy New Year and happy holidays! As the new year gets underway, we wish for peace and joy around the world. May your 2024 be productive, collaborative, and meaningful! To start off the year, here are five ideas for engaging in professional development from 5 TDSIG Committee Members.

If a colleague asks you for PD tips, what would you recommend?


 “Am I Learning?” (A TD activity suitable for experienced teachers)

I sometimes feel that if I were a student in my class, I wouldn’t think I was learning enough. Sure, there’s language input, skills work, (hopefully) interesting topics, even perhaps some (meta)cognitive development, etc., but would I really think the class is value for the money? (Couldn’t I perhaps learn as much or even more working alone?) In most mixed-group classes, there is often the underlying philosophy of ‘teaching to the median’, so that everyone stays on board. (This is notwithstanding attempts at differentiation, which will support the slowest and push the quickest.) So are students optimally challenged, how much are they learning, and at what points in the lesson?

This TD activity is to try to establish this. Give learners a way to record how much they feel they are learning at each stage of the lesson. This could be a graph to complete, where the x-axis is the level of learning (e.g. on a scale of 1-10), and the y-axis is the lesson from start to finish, with activities or stages marked. (You might think of other ways that will appeal to a variety of learners).  You will need to explain what to do, and probably remind learners to make a record on the graph at regular points through the lesson.

Towards the end of the lesson, get the learners to explain to each other when felt they were learning most, and least, and why.

Collate these graphs into one summary graph (or get your learners to do it?). At what points did your learners feel they were learning in your lesson and what was happening at the time? When did they feel they weren’t learning very much and what was happening? What can you learn from this and take into subsequent lessons? This activity will probably raise more questions, but such is the nature of TD!


Challenging yourself as TD

One of the most prolific times in terms of TD in my career was around 2010, triggered by great amounts of interaction with teachers from all over the world through Twitter and blogging. I kept a blog talking about teaching (Cecilia Lemos « Box of Chocolates ( and it was because of blogging that I had one of the most amazing TD experiences.

In October 2010 I “joined” (as many other teachers/bloggers did) a challenge proposed by another teacher/blogger, Karenne Sylvester. She proposed that every Thursday, for 10 weeks, we blogged in response to questions she would put up, in an attempt to take a deeper look at Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings’ Teaching Unplugged (Dogme) approach. One of the other people who joined her challenge, Jason Renshaw, proposed (yet) another challenge: The Wondrous Board. The idea was to teach a lesson (unplugged)  starting with a blank whiteboard and putting the marker on the students’ hands, without giving them any directions, without saying anything, building the lesson from what they wrote on the board, right there on the spot. I am a very methodical person, and like to write very detailed (and long) lesson plans for my lessons. So going into a classroom without a lesson plan was my idea of a nightmare. But I did it anyway. And it was one of the best lessons I have ever taught. The students were super engaged, we were able to draw out interesting topics and language-teaching opportunities throughout the lesson.

Taking part in the challenge and then writing about it forced me to examine several of my teaching values and beliefs. It completely changed my mindset about teaching without a plan – though I still plan thoroughly my lessons – and what makes a good lesson.


Peer-observation as a means for TD

One of the first TD exercises I have ever tried was encouraged by an amazing coordinator I had when I first started teaching and it is something I still practice today. He used to emphasize that teachers can greatly contribute to each other’s professional growth through peer observation. Following certain guidelines over the years has contributed to my development as a professional, fostering a strong network of colleagues. Here’s my approach:

First and foremost, find a peer whose opinion you value and feel confident in.

Arrange a pre-observation meeting with your fellow teacher. Having a preliminary discussion allows you to have some insight on what the teacher seeks help with, and adds purpose to the observation.

Consider following a lesson observation questionnaire. Review it with your peer, discussing key aspects of the lesson. If possible, familiarize yourself with the lesson plan beforehand.

Schedule a post-observation meeting. Refer back to your pre-observation meeting and provide input on the points discussed. Reflect on the pre-observation discussion and offer feedback on the discussed points. Taking on the role of a peer takes much of the pressure off, fostering receptiveness to suggestions and insights.

Overall, I’ve been able to reassess many of my values and beliefs by viewing my teaching practice from another person’s perspective. I believe I’ve incorporated numerous invaluable suggestions into my daily routine. I strongly recommend this approach, whether you’re a novice or an experienced teacher.


Learn another language

When was the last time you were a student studying a language? Can you still remember what it’s like–the joy and the struggle? Learning another language is undoubtedly a personal development bucket list item for many people. Maybe it’s one of your New Year’s resolutions. For teachers, it can double as a professional development opportunity.

Teacher observations: When I found myself back in classrooms–as a language learning student, not a teacher–I couldn’t help but focus on the role of my teachers, their methodology, techniques, sequencing of activities, how they cultivated a learner-centered environment, and how much rapport they developed with us. Even the program itself, with its extra-curricular activities, became an area of reflection. Being able to observe other teachers regularly in a natural context is worth the time. It pays dividends.

The good language learner: Descriptions of what makes a good language learner go back a long time. You can find thick descriptions in Lessons From Good Language Learners (Carol Griffiths) and The Good Language Learner (Neil Naiman). Do you showcase “good language learner” habits? What specific strategies do you make use of? And do you promote these same strategies to your own students? How much does SLA research play into your own language-learning adventures? By the way, journaling is a great way to archive your foreign language endeavors.

Compassion and empathy. Maybe you aren’t even learning a language any more. Not required because those days are over! You’re busy. You work full-time or have family obligations. There’s just not enough time in your day. Well, ditto for our own students! They have busy lives, and time management is also an issue. Stymied by a lack of progress or motivation. The list goes on. When we study a foreign language, we become more sensitive to our students’ needs.

Professional development: By studying a foreign language, teachers engage in PD. Again, through observations of teachers, we develop and enhance our own teaching skills and repertoire. There’s also the benefit of developing a more sophisticated awareness of language. On top of that, teachers expand their personal and professional perspectives regarding the cognitive processes that language learning entails.

2024’s a new year. Start learning another language!



My favorite TD activities

All my favourite TD activities include interaction with colleagues and critical friends. The learning I find most meaningful, enjoyable, and memorable involves conversations that stay with me long after actual professional development activities. Virtual, hybrid, and face-to-face conferences are great for discussions that stay in my mind, chatting about conference activities I’ve participated in and ideas I’ve taken away. Feedback conversations after classroom observations are full of growth opportunities. When team-teaching, the planning discussions are a valuable resource for new ideas. Face-to-face, hybrid, and virtual courses are also where I’ve had those discourses that stay with me. Trying out ideas from these conversations has led to many of my best growth moments!