miércoles, 22 de febrero de 2012

A Question of Etiquette.

Ken Wilson has written recently of his dismay at all his fellow German students slavishly following the oral grammar-practice task while he and his like-minded partner chatting around the same subject. Now clearly, the ball is in the teacher's court on this, but I sense that Ken is especially frustrated with his classmates having bought into the conspiracy of dullness.

In the unlikely event that you haven't been following Ken's diary of a Learner, you can do so here.

Now I'm certainly not going to comment on the thoughts and motivations of a bunch of people I've never met, but the feeling is familiar to me as a teacher, especially if my adult students are new to communicative lessons.

Why are they so passive? Don't they want to bring something to the lesson?

Now it could be dullness or passivity or loss of youth. But I feel that it's more a question of etiquette. They don't know what behaviour is acceptable and what isn't. The classroom is a foreign land for them.

And I know what I'd do if I found myself in Laos or Zanzibar tomorrow - I'd do what everybody else was doing, and submit to any authority figure there. Wouldn't you?

I think our passive adults have found themselves in a foreign country. How should they behave? The closest reference they may have is their own memories of  high-school. In high school, there are two ways to behave - either defer to authority or be a rebel without a cause. And now as adults, Dennis the Menace has dissolved, leaving only Walter the Softee. I think that's the default acceptable role for an adult student.

Walter and Dennis discuss TPR
If we expect our students to be cheerful and proactive, independent and experimental, I think we have to tell them. In other words, I think it's legitimate to establish classroom etiquette openly. But how to do it is another matter...

When giving instructions for a pair speaking activity, I make a point of including phrases like this:
"If you finish discussing all the points, keep going. Improvise a little. It's great practice."

We make no bones about establishing class etiquette with children and adolescents. But that's largely a question of "Don't do this, don't do that." Is it feasible to establish the etiquette of "Please do more of this and that."?

Do you teach adults unfamiliar to adult education? Do you explicitly set up classroom etiquette in some way? Do you find that your students are able to settle into a bigger role as time passes? Or is it an exercise in futility? I'd love to hear.

lunes, 13 de febrero de 2012

My Challenge to You

And once you've done that, show it to your students and get them to do the same.

I for got to say two important things - no reading, and no editing the video. Upload it warts and all!

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In lessons, I find I'm referring more and more to Benny Lewis' blog Fluent in 3 Months. Not only does he offer a great set of specific techniques, but more importantly he gets to grips with THE problem of language learning - fear.

I've taken this challenge directly from his blog, more specifically here and here, although there are many others. It was a real challenge to me, since I've never really spoken Galician before. It's always been there, but Spanish has always been the easier option, and the conventional one, since locals automatically speak to guiris (foreigners) in Spanish.

But all the practice involved in making that short video really gave me a boost in confidence. I feel a bit like a Galician speaker now. Not a good speaker, true, but a speaker. i.e. not a learner.

I gave this task as homework to a group of approx B2 level adults last week. Although they all looked like rabbits caught in the headlights of an oncoming 18-wheeler, I am chuffed to report that every one of them had done it. And it was a comfort for all of us to see all the others grappling with the same problems. Searching for words,  fluffing a verb form, that I've-made-a-mistake-so-should-I-just-leave-it-be-or-correct-myself feeling. And so on.

I'm certainly going to give them video homework again, and I think the second time, we'll all approach it with more courage.

Have you made speak-to-the-camera videos with your students? Do let me know.

And I can't wait to hear your second languages!