Building a safety-net: Negotiating expectations at the start of a course

This week I taught the first lesson of an eight week course (1 x 90 minutes a week) for a group of six learners who are at or around C1 level. The course has been set up as a “Skills course”, in which we would cover: meeting skills, presentation skills and telephoning skills. After a successful warmer/ ice-breaker, I introduced them to the idea of building a safety-net during the first meeting you have with an international team in order to establish the group´s needs and expectations ahead of future meetings. In international teams, cultural and language differences can become barriers to communication if the team members are not aware of the others´needs and expectations. In the Business English classroom, cultural and language barriers often also exist between the teacher and the participants and perhaps between the participants too. The teacher needs to be aware of the learners´needs and expectations in order to meet them and the learners also need to know what they can expect from the other members of the group.

I asked the group to each take three post-it notes and write what they expect from the teacher on one, what they expect from the other members of the group on the other and what they agree to do themselves on the third. No names were written on the post-it notes. I then invited them to stick their post-it notes on the training room door and group them together if they were in similar in some way (exactly what “similar” meant, I left them to decide for themselves). This is what happened:

The light in the training room isn´t the best, there not being any windows in it, so allow me to shed some light on what they actually wrote:

I expect Claire to correct me immediately if my grammar or spelling is not correct. 

Give us not so much homework

Do our homework

From the group I expect to be patient and listen if someone is talking

Group should give everybody time for their speaking

I´d like to have a certain amount of time for small talk/ non-business conversation

Fun should be a part of the lessons

I expect from Claire that she identifies our needs and guides us in the right direction to make them to strengths

When they had finished sticking their post-it notes on the door,  I came over to take a look. I asked the group to explain why they had grouped the post-its in the way that they had and to elaborate on the points they had made. At this point, we also did some error-correction on a few mistakes they had made with the written English they had used. One of the main points that they wanted to make was that I, as their teacher, should be aware of their needs and lacks and help them to improve their English skills in these areas. “OK,” I said, “so tell me what exactly your needs are.” At which point, they told me very clearly what they were expecting me to deliver in the course: to help them communicate more effectively in English while giving presentations, taking part in meetings or telephoning in English. We discussed the fact that they see me as being a guide and a facilitator for them, as they do this and what impact this would have on the course. Then we turned our attention to the topic of homework: how much are they prepared to do exactly? So you want the course to be fun? What can do in the English lesson that you find fun? How much grammar do you actually want or need? And what grammar? They were definitely a lot more aware of their expectations of me than they were of their expectations of each other, but basically, they wanted the other learners to support them in the course by helping them where they could and giving them space to talk when they wanted to.  The group agreed to support each other and ensure that everyone had an equal opportunity to contribute and I agreed to provide them with lessons which would meet the needs they have, to make the lessons fun, to give them short homework assignments every week, to correct their errors (I made a start on this while we were standing by the door to show them that I meant it), to give them the opportunity to practise making small-talk, to make the lessons fun and include some grammar work among the skills training.

At the end of this process, we were all feeling optimistic and smiling broadly at each other. One member of the group suggested taking a photo of the door with her Blackberry so that we would have a record of our discussion. This is the photo you can see above. Now the learners know exactly what is expected of them: do their homework and support other learners during the lesson, and I know exactly what is expected of me: give them training in the skills they need to master, do some grammar work, correct their errors, make it fun and give them homework assignments, all of which I can certainly do.


Filed under From the training room

5 responses to “Building a safety-net: Negotiating expectations at the start of a course

  1. Pingback: Building a safety-net: Negotiating expectations at the start of a course | TeachingEnglish |

  2. Hi Claire,
    I used this technique last week for a group of under graduate students studying business and marketing. It was a great success. I could see during the exercise they felt really empowered by the exercise and that they were in control of the class. The real proof of its success was when a student came up to me at the beginning of the next class to say how they had all felt so happy leaving my first class with them. Great job.

    • Hi Mark,
      Thanks for your feedback. I think the feeling of empowerment the students get from doing this and how much they seem to enjoy it is the best thing about it. It´s great when the students go away feeling happy and looking forward to the next lesson, isn´t it?
      Best, Claire

  3. Roxana

    It’s a great idea, Claire! I’ll use it with my next group, too.

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