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Leading a Horse to Water

January 03, 2006

In the complex process by which we acquire knowledge and develop skills, the teacher is a catalyst for effective learning.

Hello again,

In the complex process by which we acquire knowledge and develop skills, the teacher is a catalyst for effective learning. But the learning process lies ultimately with the learners themselves. For the best results in the classroom, it is essential that schools help learners understand how they can take charge of their learning and make the most of the opportunities offered in the classroom. Nothing new or controversial about that. But what I think is often overlooked is the considerable culture gap between western-style teacher training and the traditional educational styles in many other parts if the world.

The western model of teacher training encourages informality, experimentation, cooperation and enjoyment. Yet for many regions, this runs counter to traditional teaching styles. Teachers may be viewed with respect and students expect to show deference and may feel uncomfortable using a teacher’s first name; indeed they will often add an honorific of some kind, calling the teacher Mrs Jane or John Sir. Similarly, they may expect to be the passive receptacles of the teachers’ wisdom and may not easily participate in role play or group activities. They may have years of ingrained beliefs about to behave in the classroom.

It seems important to me, therefore, for schools to gradually introduce different teaching styles, not for their own sake or because this is what teachers want, but because language learning is ultimately about trial and error, doing, exchanging: in a word, communicating. Learner training, I suggest, needs to involve a graduated process whereby students are helped to understand that they will be introduced to new classroom practices that will make them more effective language learners. I would begin with the use of personal questionnaires that students can complete privately. They can then compare their answers with a partner. The next step is to use a questionnaire for them to interview a partner. Once pairwork has been tackled, small groups can be formed. Once students have got used to participating in small groups, role play can be introduced.

Alongside the new teaching patterns, the school should ensure that learners are helped to improve their learning skills: how to identify their preferred learning style, how to use memory techniques, how to use a dictionary and the phonetic alphabet, how to discover the most appropriate learning strategies, how to set personal goals, how to use authentic materials.

The aim of this two-pronged approach is to promote a cooperative classroom atmosphere where students learn not only from the teacher but from each other and to encourage learner autonomy so that they have a basis for continuing learning after the course has finished.

Patricia

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Comments

  1. Paul Tagney Says:

    All that really needs to be done is to animate conversation with each student. Make them talk, not listen, to you. Formally or informally, this is your mission. The article itself is too complex, as are many ESL lessons. Just get the students/clients to talk about themselves, & encourage them to talk to you. Correct everything, in every sentence they make. You don't have to say why. (Grammar !!! Ugh !!! Grammar is an autopsy !!!!) Just perfect their sentence structure & pronunciation, & keep them talking....

  1. Jane Keeler Says:

    Today my school wrapped up a three day seminar for local (non-native) English language teachers, put on by the native speakers at my school. One of the local teachers (I'm in Russia, by the way) was especially vehement about maintaining a formal environment in the classroom, as opposed to the informality that exists in the classes at my school. His rationale? "This is how we've always done it."


    Horse. Water. Drink.

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