I was reading a post by Geoffrey Jordan about whether he should accept an advanced learner for an immersion course, and it got me thinking about the same topic, rather deeply.
I believe in learner-centred teaching, learner autonomy. None of this is astoundingly new, nor is it unorthodox. Some of the hackles raised by the people opposed to it may be that it is tree-hugging hippy crap or they’re tired of people who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in ten years telling them how they should be teaching. Some of it is “common sense” or “just good teaching”. However, I do think that learners could do a lot more on their own: checking vocabulary, listening practice, reading for pleasure, etc.
In the language school I used to work at, there was also a debate about whether learners could ‘graduate’ from the school. The sales staff thought not; the teachers thought so. The sales staff get money for bums on seats whereas the teachers get the feelgood glow from thoughts of helping learners attain intended proficiency levels. It’s not that simple, though. I do know of organisations that have refused advanced-level students to join classes, though this is more to do with very-advanced-level students intimidating the upper-intermediate learners. I do not know of any that have done so for reasons of fostering learner autonomy. A lot of teachers don’t like to have their learners in too low a level. What if no level is high enough? Other teachers don’t want their students to be in over their head. In that case, how come they don’t have the tools to cope with autonomy at advanced level?
Geoff’s conundrum is whether his learner would benefit (or benefit enough) from the course. In an ideal world he might just curl up with a book, a video, put the radio on, talk to somebody online or write to a friend. However, I do mean ‘in an ideal world’; his learner might not actually be motivated to do it without a teacher there to motivate him. I feel that some of my most motivated learners would read and listen widely even if I didn’t moan at motivate them to.
I see my role as having my learners get to the point where they no longer need me. However, this leads to the issue of who decides. Should the teacher or the learner ultimately decided when they are ready for autonomy? (There is an interesting article by Sara Cotterall about readiness for learner autonomy [PDF].) I hate to feel like I’m saying there’s nothing to learn, but then teaching does not necessarily equate to learning.
Of course, it’s in no teacher’s best interests to turn down money from a willing student. I tend to wonder whether it’s the morality at play; that even if we are not wrong, that we feel bad for taking money when the teaching sometimes feels less intensive or there is less visible, near-immediate learning taking place.
Working as a teacher gives you opportunities to have interesting conversations with people and have fun with language. Sometimes, though, you just feel stuck in a rut and want to change things. This could be the start of something beautiful.
You can look at what you might make better instead of having a moan. Are your materials crap? Make some. Turn yourself into a cottage industry within a larger industry. You might learn a bit about what makes good materials. If you do decide to make your own materials, I recommend Powerpoint as opposed to Word, because you can get your layout aligned more easily. Test your materials and refine them (Eric Ries lays out this process in The Lean Startup as Minimum Viable Product [and you don’t have to sell your products for money. Kudos is currency sometimes]).
You might also do a bit of action research. There is a lot of high-faluting imagery about this but what it comes down to is this:
- Have a think about something you want to change or want to understand the effect of.
- Think of one thing to change in your practice so you can observe it.
- Record it.
- Keep doing it for a bit so you know if you are fluking it or whatnot.
- Maybe have another go.
This might lead you to new ways of working that are better for you. I would think so. Otherwise you might have other like-minded souls join you. However, some see things like this as too much work, rocking the boat or otherwise undesirable. Do it for yourself, not for gratification from others, else you will never see it through.
If you have a blog, why not show your work?
Stuff I’m working on at the moment is a beefed-up version of my TBLT board, and simple materials that can be used easily and widely for useful tasks. This will be coming up soon. But not very soon, so don’t hold your breath. I’m talking at least Summer.
Photo: Let me stand next to your fire, by me, 1/1/2010
I would like to thank myself for not knowing when to go to bed so that I know there are 24 usable hours in every day.
Of course nobody can keep that up, but over the last couple of months, due mainly to my own belief in my superhuman nature, I figured I could juggle family, work, Diploma and Masters degree overlap and job hunting.
I could, but my sanity ended up suffering and the other day I was up until four in the morning finishing off an essay. I don’t know how I did it but I did.
Anyway, this isn’t a brag, it’s a wake-up call. What’s more important, being well or getting stuff done? Who dies, really. At the end of the day, students will do another activity if you don’t plan the perfect one. Your boss won’t lose their job if you don’t complete a report in lightning time.
It’s nice to be efficient but mainly it’s nice to be nice, and that goes especially when you’re nice to yourself.
Breathe. Relax. And you don’t want that chocolate as much as you think you do.
Happy New Orbit cycle Earthlets. I had a zarjaz time reading 2000AD comics over the holiday. This post is nothing to do with that but is a collection of random resources that language teachers might find useful (and myself, for reference).
Diigo is great for collecting bookmarks to link to later and tag. It’s like del.icio.us used to be before it got swamped with spam. You can follow users and share links.
Pocket is a marvellous app for saving stuff to like Diigo, with offline reading and text-to-speech functionality so you can recommend it to your students and it can help them with checking pronunciation of a text. It works on Android, iOS and in the browser on a computer.
Stack Exchange is useful for anybody doing stuff with analysis of language and spreadsheets or computing, etc. It started as a computing Q&A forum but now there are communities about a lot of different stuff. It can also be a good resource for ESP teachers. You never know, you might even get inspired to write a webapp or set up a website!