While reading the first chapter of Scrivener’s Learning Teaching (Macmillan 2005), I asked myself what I would expect of a teacher were I beginning a new language course. Here are my thoughts.
I would want the lessons to include:
- Topics which engage me
- Tasks that make me want to communicate something
- Help in formulating the language with which to complete those tasks
- Plenty of practice (both supported and freer) in using the new language, preferably within the context of a fun activity, and ideally as close to reality as possible
- Continual feedback to ensure I’m using the language correctly
- Time to process and record in my own way what I’ve learnt
- I would want to be able to SEE, HEAR and FEEL the language.
SEE – the word(s) or phrase in a memorable context (i.e. close to my reality), written and perhaps illustrated, along with a clear and consistent way of showing pronunciation.
HEAR – the word(s) or phrase repeatedly: from the teacher, from others, from myself.
FEEL – the word(s) or phrase in my mouth in order to experience and practise the pronunciation, and in my body. That is to say, where possible I would want my physicality to be closely related to the meaning of what I’m trying to say. For example, if I were practising language of ordering food in a restaurant, I would want my physical stance and environment to be as close to reality as possible. If I were learning the word excited, I would want to practise saying it in an excited manner in order to fully experience the meaning of the word.
Aside: Perhaps this need to experience language is something informed by my acting background, although in thinking about learners other than myself I don’t think it’s uncommon, and believe that the more closely an activity relates to the learner’s real-world activities, the more likely it is that the language being practised will be retained. This is a belief I’ve developed largely through my teaching experience and although I’m not yet able to support this feeling with evidence from SLA research, I anticipate (and hope) to be able to do so in the not too distant future.
- Most of all, I would want to revisit the language again and again (and again).
To what extent does the above happen in my classes?
- I work really hard to choose materials and topics which I believe will stimulate and inspire my students to communicate, and believe this is one of my strengths.
- I try to do this, but would like to do so more. I anticipate that the Teaching & Reflection module on this course will make me more acutely aware of what happens in my classroom and allow me the space to develop and implement more frequently things that I want to happen, which perhaps don’t happen enough.
- As above. Sometimes when working on a project with students, I have to work particularly hard to respond to what’s happening and ensure the students have the language they need to complete the task. To quote Peter Wilberg (One to One, LTP 1987), ‘Responsibility is Response-Ability’. This is probably what I believe most strongly about what it is a teacher should do.
- Yes, but I want to do more, more, more! While I aspire to do this, like every teacher I’m constrained by time limitations and work-load. It’s all too easy, and frankly lazy, to think (as some students and no doubt teachers do) that we’ve ‘done’ a language point. But as I’ve described above, if it were me, I’d want repeated practice. While I frequently revisit relatively new language, I don’t do so as consistently as I’d like. So perhaps something I need to implement is a short task or activity at the beginning of each session (and again at the end of each week) which requires the students to reuse previously learned language. On the Cert IBET course in January I noted the trainers used a lovely technique of getting the teachers to reflect on the previous day’s input and share their thoughts about what most struck them. Since then I’ve done the same with my students – frequently, but once again not as consistently as I feel I ought.
Aside: so I seem to be unearthing a pattern for me here: I learn about and discover new techniques which I believe in passionately, but fail to maintain them on a regular basis. There’s only so much time in a lesson – am I being too hard on myself? How can I address this without total brain overload? Ah – this is reflection doing its work!
- Yes, for the most part.
- Frequently but not regularly. I expect learners to take responsibility but occasionally neglect to ensure they know how. If I ask learners for homework to review the day’s lessons, I should provide them with a more specific framework with which to do so (along the lines of a Responding to a Text handout: What did you find most interesting, useful, surprising, etc). It doesn’t have to be complex or lengthy, but something to give a starting point and perhaps structure for their thoughts. Some time ago I created a Learner Feedback and Reflection Form inspired by Thomas Farrell’s writing on Lesson Planning (in Methodology in Language Teaching, Richards & Renandya, CUP, 2002:36) so perhaps I could adapt that.
- Again, I want this to happen more. It comes into my teaching in small ways. Last week, for example, the word disappointed came up in a lesson and I role played a mini scenario in which I was disappointed, before asking the students to ‘show me what disappointed looks like’. The class were engaged and seemed to be enjoying the activity, and it was clearly effective as I noticed students reusing the word in subsequent lessons. Sometimes with a new phrase or expression (or word – but always within a larger context of a sentence) I’ll ask students to ‘say it like you’re happy/sad/tired’, etc, or ‘say it like you would to your boss/mum/a child/someone stupid’, etc. Again this is something they appear to enjoy.
- See 4.
Points to take away
- When lesson planning, try to always ask myself the question ‘will this make these students WANT to communicate?’
- Try to implement a daily REVIEW
- Make a little homework REFLECTION
- Write see hear feel in the corner of my whiteboard and ask learners to try to do all three with new language. Is this too abstract?