Why We Notice

We recently published Language Teacher Noticing in Tasks by Daniel O. Jackson. The author previously wrote a post explaining the concept of ‘teacher noticing’ – in this follow-up post, he discusses why we notice.

Following up on my previous blog contribution on Language Teacher Noticing in Tasks, I wanted to share that book’s practical implications. In my view, one role of a language teacher is to consciously perform the art of noticing. This differs from noticing by learners and is grounded in core assumptions about language learning and teaching. As the book explains, teacher noticing involves attending to, interpreting, and making decisions about events while engaging with learners. Noticing is essential to teaching practice because it supports five major goals.

The first three pertain directly to instruction. Namely, noticing helps us to:

  1. Build rapport – Harmonious relationships and a friendly atmosphere improve the learning environment. Teachers need to be able to swiftly orient to student identities to achieve rapport, which provides the foundation for communication and engagement. We can also ask students what they want us to notice.
  2. Support acquisition – Because second language development is highly individualized, scholars argue that it is effective to focus on form at the point of need during communicative lessons. This means attending to a learner’s use of language and acting on it appropriately. To provide such feedback, we can tell students what we noticed.
  3. Enhance participation – Learning-centered lessons depend on active participation. Teachers can notice various dimensions of engagement by asking themselves at key points during their lessons: Who are my students connecting to? What are they doing/thinking? How do they feel about it?

The final two goals link instruction to teacher development, where noticing is used to:

  1. Foster reflection – Noticing-based reflection is valuable because it relies upon evidence drawn directly from teaching experiences. By focusing on interactions with learners, we improve our classroom practice, refine our noticing skills, and develop professional identities as “noticers” of student learning.
  2. Guide observation – We can also co-notice with teaching colleagues during class visits. By sharing our insights, we can coach others toward professional development. To enhance post-observation feedback sessions, try to establish a focus prior to the observation, to which the teacher and all observers pay close attention.

These reasons to notice are discussed in more detail in the book, which opens the door to an integrated account of noticing by teachers and learners by providing a theoretical framework and methodological options for future studies. The book also reports a task-based study of noticing by pre-service English teachers in Japan. More research is needed on when, what, and how language teachers notice, as we live through and learn from these challenging times.

You can read the author’s previous post here.

For more information about Language Teacher Noticing in Tasks please see our website.

Language Teacher Noticing as Professional Development

This month we are publishing Language Teacher Noticing in Tasks by Daniel O. Jackson. In this post the author explains the concept of ‘teacher noticing’ and the book’s aims.

To teach effectively we need to notice. Detailed accounts of how language teachers attend to and act upon student contributions in a range of ways are somewhat rare, however. The article I have already published on this topic needed expansion. My new book dives deeper into this key aspect of teachers’ mental lives and how it develops. The Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching (PLLT) series is the ideal venue for this research.

Teacher noticing involves attention, interpretation, and decision-making. It is a form of reflection that happens during engagement with learners. That engagement can be cognitive, affective, or social – it’s something we experience every time we teach. For years, such encounters have informed my practice and my identity as a teacher. This book examines noticing by a group of pre-service English language teachers studying at my university in Japan. It offers fresh insight into the teacher’s role in task-based language teaching in this setting and beyond.

The book’s main purpose is to introduce the concept of teacher noticing to the second language field. It situates noticing among related concepts and theories, but instead of being a purely theoretical book, it uses evidence to shed light on noticing in practice. I drew on a rich array of sources and methods to illustrate the implications for teacher development. The results show how tasks guide pre-service teachers to notice verbal and nonverbal resources that underlie successful communication in a second language.

I regard this effort as a tribute to and a continuation of the work of the late Richard “Dick” Schmidt, who was Professor Emeritus in the Department of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He is especially renowned for his widely cited noticing hypothesis. Dick was my PhD supervisor and he truly was a great mentor. For this book, I revisited his account of learner noticing and sought out connections with teacher noticing. It frames joint attention by teachers and learners within expanding contexts of tasks, programs, and schools.

Ultimately, I aim to encourage dialogue between teacher educators and language teachers about learning to notice. Pre-service teachers should have opportunities to observe on video how they interact to orchestrate performance on a range of tasks. I also offer practical suggestions to improve the noticing skills of in-service teachers. A key point for reflection is to consider when, what, and how you and your students notice during lessons.

Lastly, I could not have come this far without the support of my loving family, many wonderful students, teachers and colleagues, the PLLT series editors, and everyone at Multilingual Matters – thank you all!

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Teacher Recognition by Alison Stewart.