Teaching mindfully and Facing exams courageously

IMG_0611I’m Back

I suddenly realised that I haven’t blogged on my poor, neglected space since September!! I can only hang my head in shame and mutter excuses about how tied up I’ve been with conference sin Prague, the student blog and its sister Facebook page,. etc. Please feel free to check them out and I’d love you to participate in some of our discussions if you feel like it. 🙂

Mindful Teaching

Well, I actually wanted to talk about mindful teaching today, which I am trying to put into practice. What this means is basically that I slow down, stop trying to do three million things at the same time in the classroom, worrying about whether we are doing too much, too little, whether it is appropriate or not for my students, what we should go onto next, oh yes, and where did I put that DVD?… You get the general idea? Instead of doing all that what I want to do is to slow down, breathe and notice what is going on in the classroom, notice how I am feeling, what people are saying and how they are sitting, moving and, (tricky this one) feeling. This may seem obvious but I felt the need to remind myself this week. What I noticed as I walked into my C1 university lesson in general English was this:

1) some people looked tired and had various types of colds and snuffles;

2) there was a general sense of agitation in the room and people were whispeirng together;

3) some people had very large wads of paper with reams of photocopies of Powerpoint slides on them.

You didn’t need to be a detective to realise that exams were approaching and everyone was worried about this. Obviously, if you have an important exam to do you concentrate on that rather than on your other classes, so I did the rest of the class in an understanding way, and if people had not done their preparation I made it clear that I realised why. This in itself had a positive effect because everyone relaxed and appreciated their teacher trying to relate to them. (I think)

Accepting Fear and Vulnerability

After this class, though, I went on to think about how students (or anyone else for that matter) can deal with these feelings of fear and nervousness, which can be so strong that they actually stop you concentrating; the exact opposite of what you want.

At some level, of course, this is tied up with the need to be perfect. We live in a world that frowns on mistakes and where we apportion blame rather than trying to learn from our mistakes helping each other. Of course we are frightened of exams, where someone sits in judgement on us, and our performance in twenty minutes or so becomes our very being.

To move beyond this is quite a challenge, but I strongly believe that the secret to success lies in “being who you are” together with all your imperfections, giving the answers you know and understand, in exams, and using the exam to show your examiners all this, rather than showing them your fear.

Courage and Speaking from the Heart

We all need to be courageous, and not only in exams, but the origin of the world lies in “heart” or “cor” in Latin, something we perhaps forget. So to be courageous in an exam means really communicating what you feel about the subject. If you are at unviersity studying languages you chose this degree course because languages are something you love.. so find the meaning and personal relevance of the exam you are preparing (Yes, even if it is a “law exam”, after all “law” is related to human beings and life, so find ways to make it important and meaningful to you.)

I include this amazinf TED talk on the subject of “vulnerability” here. It lasts twenty minutes, but if you take the time to listen to Brené Brown’s words, it will be well worth the effort.

So, make yourself a cup of tea, sit down and enjoy:


4 thoughts on “Teaching mindfully and Facing exams courageously

  1. Well worth the wait for one of your posts!
    What you suggest seems more applicable to oral exams, or essay type exams. Multiple choice reading comprehension exams seem to remain a territory where the axe still falls without mercy…
    Great post!

    1. Thanks for your comment Naomi,
      Yes you’re right although having just had to do a multiple choice test myself on safety in the work place, which was quite stressful as we had only a few weeks to find time to do the course and then the test, and our careers do actually depend on it… So…

      What I discovered was that the same things apply. If you are agitated and worked up you see the whole thing as this incredible, impossible mountain to climb, whilst you’d rather be at the beach. If you take the time to stop, breathe and see what’s fun about it you can learn a few great exercises for your body, when you’ve been behind a computer for too long etc. and the multiple choice test at the end, then became simply a matter of common sense… (I hope so anyway, as I haven’t had the results yet :-))

  2. Lovely post, Sharon. Mindfulness seems to be cropping up all over at the moment. I think it’s one of those noticing things. It’s something I really want to try and practise in as many different aspects of life as I can and I think I spot the word because I feel the need for it 😉 – and the vulnerability talk is great!
    Thank you 🙂 (and welcome back!)

    1. Thanks for the comment Ceri 🙂
      It’s true that a lot of people are turning to mindfulness. It’s a reflection of our times, I think, that we need to stop and take the time to… breathe, and yet something so simple can be rally difficult at times. I keep sitting down to do a mondfulness exercise and then I fall asleep! But I’m still finding just a little makes a big difference.

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