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TEFL Masterclass – Overt Teaching

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David Byrne – Author, Teacher Trainer, & Director of Studies @EC English.

David Byrne has worked in EFL for over a decade and in that time has taught all the ages, levels and exams he could find. He’s worked in Ireland, England, Spain and South Korea, but the majority of his career has been spent in the UK where he currently works for EC English.

Mark Heffernan – Author & Teaching Fellow @Queen Mary University of London.

Mark Heffernan has taught English for over 18 years. From the very beginning, he shared lesson ideas and started to run CPD sessions. He spent many years focusing on exam teaching before moving to Queen Mary University of London in 2016, where he teaches EAP and is a module convenor.

What you will learn

We all learnt to teach through coursebooks and other materials. It was how many of us really grasped the grammar points or learnt about connected speech and so much more.

But sometimes (we know we were guilty of it early on) we fall into the trap of moving from one activity to the next “covering” material without actually discussing the learning.

In this workshop, we will make the case for involving our learners in the discussion of their learning, involving them in the “why” of the lesson as opposed to just the “what”. We will suggest some key stages of the lesson and some practical activities you can put into practice immediately to make your lessons more overt.

Workshop Summary

Introduction to Overt Teaching

Mark Heffernan and David Byrne introduce the concept of overt teaching. Overt teaching is presented as a transformative approach that seeks to make the learning process transparent and participatory, moving away from traditional didactic methods. By utilising comprehensive teaching tools, such as single texts that embed all necessary language skills within a contextual framework, they aim to connect learning more closely to real-life language use. Their teaching philosophy is deeply influenced by John Hattie’s research on visible learning, which underscores the effectiveness of dialogic teaching over traditional monologic approaches.

Core Principles of Overt Teaching

The essence of overt teaching lies in explaining the function and purpose behind each language point, thereby making the language learning process more applicable to real-life situations. Heffernan and Byrne stress the importance of moving beyond mere lists of grammatical points to establish clear, functional aims and objectives tied directly to communicative functions and real-world tasks. This approach not only enhances the relevance of learning objectives but also fosters a productive dialogue between teachers and students, encouraging student engagement and the co-construction of knowledge.

Addressing Varied Levels of Success

Overt teaching recognizes the diverse levels of success within a classroom, acknowledging that students possess different strengths and weaknesses. This approach advocates for tailored teaching that respects individual learning paths and promotes student autonomy. By openly discussing what success looks like for each student, teachers can adapt their assessment criteria, making learning more inclusive and personalised. This method goes a long way in ensuring that every student’s unique needs are met, thereby enhancing the overall learning experience.

Transforming Teaching through Continuous Dialogue

Incorporating aims, objectives, and success criteria into teaching practices clarifies the learning intentions and transforms these elements into subjects of continuous dialogue. This shift encourages an interactive exploration of language, where both teachers and students actively participate in shaping the learning journey. Such an approach not only prepares students for autonomous learning but also enables them to assess their progress and set their own learning goals, fostering a more engaged and motivated learning environment.

Conclusion: Demystifying the Teaching Process

Ultimately, overt teaching aims to demystify the teaching process by making the aims and stages of each lesson transparent to students. This shift from teacher-centred to student-focused instruction equips learners with the necessary tools to deeply engage with the material. By focusing on the ‘why’ behind each activity and ensuring that learning objectives are clear and relevant, overt teaching not only enhances language learning outcomes but also fosters a dynamic and participatory classroom culture, breaking down the barriers between teacher and student and establishing a shared venture in the learning process.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. Do you write your aims and objectives up on the board? If so, why? Who is it for?
  2. Do your students need to know what they’re doing?
  3. Do they need to know why they’re doing it?
  4. Do you hide grammar from your students? Why / Why not?
  • Hattie, J., & Clarke, S. (2018). Visible Learning: Feedback.
  • Hattie, J., & Zierer,K. (2017). 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning: Teaching for Success.

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