The Friday Four | #3

This week’s Friday Four reflects a couple of different, but related, areas of my professional interest. One and Two are, in general, applicable to getting better at, or learning, anything; they could be related to language learning as much as professional development. The Third and Fourth, while also being generalisable, are of particular interest and importance to me as a freelancer, in terms of motivation, productivity and organisation.
   
One
Deliberate practice is a concept identified by Anders Ericsson in his studies on how best to learn or improve a skill. This is an area of research, as you can read in this article, which relates to the ‘10,000 hours’ idea, popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers‘. Alex Quigley, in this blog post, relates the idea of deliberate practice to teacher development, pointing out that:
“‘Deliberate practice‘ is not ‘mindless‘ repetition, where a teacher uses the same resource or strategy willy nilly, in a loose ‘trail [sic] and error’. It is not trying lots of fun, new resources or teaching strategies out on a pliant group. Instead, it is about a deeply reflective process, that is highly rigorous and specific.”
This type of teacher development focus relates to reflective practice, as defined by (amongst others) Argyris and Schon, as well as goal-setting, action research, coaching and mentoring. Quigley discusses some of these areas and also offers links to further resources in his interesting post.


Two
This recent episode on Freakonomics radio, a podcast I listen to regularly, focuses on becoming good at ‘just about anything’, as part of a series investigating different areas of potential self-improvement. Stephen Dubner speaks to Anders Ericsson, and others, about what it takes to learn and improve. The discussion looks at deliberate practice and what exactly it is, the nature of innate talent and whether it actually exists, and some theories and suggestions as to how we can become better at getting better at things. They touch on goal-setting and the need to practice outside, or on the edge of, one’s comfort zone.
This all made me think about the idea of language teachers as coaches and how language teachers could become better at identifying personal goal with students and helping them self-evaluate their performance and level of improvement. I think it highlights the importance of learning how to learn and to manage our personal strategies for learning, also known as metacognition.
The website also has a full transcript of the show, if you’d prefer to read.


Three
Working from home, or at least for yourself, wherever you work, creates different challenges to being employed by a company as part of a team, with someone to report to and working alongside colleagues in an office. This morning I noticed a list of issues in an article on LinkedIn that some freelancers may have problems with, and there are a number of things here that can and should be avoided! The article ‘Freedom of the 8 hour workday’ discusses issues related to having the ‘freedom’ to choose and to be in control of your own working time. What I’ve found since becoming self-employed is that I really need to establish strong routines to make sure I get things done. As the article points out, creating structure actually enables freedom, and that is one of the main benefits of being self-employed. Mind you, I’m not saying it’s easy!


Four
Not something that is new to me this week, but this is an app I’ve been using for a few months now. It is related to number Three, above, as it provides me with an extra focus for improving my productivity and motivation: productivity by gamification! Essentially it’s a Pomodoro technique timer, with built in extras. I like to use the pomodoro technique to focus in short bursts, I have set the timer for 30 minutes work and then a four minute break, with a ten minute break after the third pomodoro session. I do this as it helps me focus, but also to remind me to take a break, stretch and focus my eyes away from the screens. I find this is essential for me, as I tend to suffer from back and neck problems.
Using this app, my productivity is measured and I can see how much I have worked, and this work can be added to different projects (four are free, more available in the premium version)  There is a leaderboard of rankings, from ‘Unrepentent Slacker’ to an unknown top rank that I haven’t unlocked yet! I’ve been as high as a ‘Resigned Attendant’, before dropping down again. I am currently a ‘Depressed Drone’ apparently. If you aren’t working (with the timer on), your rank will fall. And sometimes the app will let you know that if you work, for example, for 45 minutes more, you will rise to the next rank. It’s just a little something that helps me focus, maybe it would be useful to you.


That’s all for this Friday, have a great weekend!
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