One of my fondest memories of the colors black and white is from in country orientation in Somalia in 1966. In the evening, as we were planning lessons, some of the volunteers sang “The paper’s white, the ink is black, together we learn to read and write” a most moving civil rights song. Just as all too often we see people as black or white or yellow or brown for that matter–one dimensional perceptions–so we see many of our teaching activities as either black or white. Just as seeing people as one dimensional, so seeing our teaching practices as one dimensional is detrimental to understanding as well as personal growth. So here I describe a way to move beyond black and white evaluations of what we and our students in our classrooms.

Patients, nurses and doctors have found that the question “Does it hurt?” is less helpful than “On a scale of 0 to 10, tell me how bad your pain is.” If a person says “It just hurts a little—around 2 on that Rating Scale you are pointing to with the numbers and the faces showing different amounts of pain.” the nurse or doctor knows whether to prescribe a pain killer or not. Obviously, there is no need to prescribe a pain killer if a person rates the pain at 2 rather than 10.

If we rate our teaching activities related to our beliefs about teaching using the same type of sliding scale doctors and nurses use when they ask patients about the intensity of their pain, we can more accurately rate what we do in relationship to what we want to do. And we can compare what we do on different days
Rating what we ask our students to do based on our beliefs using a range rather than black and white labels not only enables us to be more precise but also reminds us of ways we can make small changes in our activities that have the potential for producing quite different results. Rather than rejecting or accepting a belief such as requires thinking or does not require thinking (V below), you can rate the extent to which various activities are in tune with this idea on a scale of 1 to 10 or 1 to 5. You can then alter the activity so that it requires less or more thinking.
As you probably know by now, I favor the assumptions about learning on the left hand side of the continuum. But the purpose of the sliding scale is not to convince you to do activities related to the premises I note on the left hand side of the continuum. Rather, my purpose is to illustrate a way for you to compare what you believe is important with what you actually do. Matching activities with values is the only way we can see the extent to what we do, want to do, feel we should and actually do.
There is no reason to start with the XXVI assumptions/beliefs/ideas about teaching that I list below. Feel free to write your beliefs on the blank lines in XXVII and XXVIII. I list the XXV beliefs as examples of some many teachers have told me are important to me.
The blank lines below after the word Activities are crucial. If you do not write specific activities on these lines to match your with assumptions about learning, you cannot circle any numbers on the continuum. Most conversations about teaching are general. They contain no specific examples of activities that are related to teachers’ beliefs.

A continuum of criteria for reflecting on Activities*

Activities: __________________________





1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

• shows ways • does not show
to learn independently ways to learn learn and encourages such independently
learning and discourages such learning

• integrates vocabulary • does not integrate
grammar and grammar and
vocabulary vocabulary

• is novel: the opposite of • is not novel: the usual
usual practices practices are used


• relates to personal • does not relate to
experiences personal experiences

• requires thinking • does not require

• encourages creativity • does not encourage

• requires accuracy • does not require

• integrates listening, speaking • does not integrate
listening, writing and reading speaking, listening
writing and reading


• presents incomplete information • provides complete
such as the first letters of words information such as
or gestures to provide clues for writing out entire
letters or pictures to suggest what words or sentences
we are to say or write or read and and saying complete
mouths words rather than speaking words
words to listen to


• the volume, speed and emotional • the volume, speed
feelings of spoken language are emotional feelings
constantly changed of spoken language
are never changed

• errors treated by indicating what • errors treated by
words or sounds were left out, repeating the error
that it was wrong, and not moving correctly and moving
on till the students say or write on to another student
the item accurately and fluently

• students realize when • students do not realize
they have completed a task when they have
correctly, indicated by a student completed a task
saying “Aha!” or some other correctly or
sound implying “I got it!” or incorrectly because
incorrectly by saying “Huh?” or someone says “very
another sound showing confusion good” or some other
comment intended to
indicate success or


• source of language to be taught • source of language
is what students say, write, to be taught is the
listen to and read textbook, test or
aloud syllabus

• tasks and questions are controlled; • tasks and questions are
choices are narrow: “Write two open ended: “What did
people you saw on Saturday and two you do on the
things you did and ate and drank.” weekend?”

• teaching • testing


• multiple use of the same patterns • use of the same patterns
spaced over time once or twice on one


• participants discuss attitudes • participants do not
towards language and material discuss attitudes towards
used: usefulness, interest* language and material
used: usefulness, interest*


• participants discuss attitudes • participants do not
about methods used: likes discuss attitudes,
or dislikes, level of challenge * about methods used:
likes or dislikes, level
of challenge*
• language is used • language is talked about
or explained or defined*
• questions are asked to satisfy • questions are not asked
curiosity to satisfy curiosity but
to test recall


• allowed a lot of time between • allowed very little time
questions and answers or comments between questions and
and comments answers or comments
and comments
• students use language a lot • teacher uses language a
and teacher uses language lot and students use
very little language very little

• directions are short, simple • directions are long,
and clear and accompanying complex and not clear
gestures are minimal* and accompanying
gestures include big
sweeping movements*

*Indicate whether the first language, LI, or English, E, is used.

• taboo topics such as sexual • taboo topics are not
orientation, AIDS, single parents, dealt with
drugs dealt with

• ads, magazine and on line articles • textbooks which contain
catalogs, fiction, movie scripts, homogenized texts and
song lyrics and other authentic listening passages selected
materials students select are used by experts are used

• ________________________ • ___________________

• ________________________ • ___________________