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.

4 comentarios:

  1. Very interesting thoughts. I've been doing some teaching in a secondary school, and going to Warwick Uni for my business, attending some lectures on e-business and the like. Many students at uni and school are not particularly motivated, which I find sad (and boring). I will dwell on your thoughts about people following the crowd.

  2. I know you teach schoolkids and do teacher training, but your forays into adult education are new to me. Have you noticed a lot of difference?

  3. Hi Alan,
    Teaching in a highly multicultural environment, this is one of my main challenges. I follow "very" democratic principles of education, but most of my students at the moment don't get it, it seems. For instance, the majority won't respond when I make an open question to the whole class, esp. the 'what do you think...' kind of questions.
    You say we have to tell them, and I agree. But also we have somehow to show them how they can be less passive; it's a very tricky thing, but I have seen improvements with these same students by having more preparation stages in the conversation lessons, by giving the difficult questions as homework (oh, this is important: homework now is inquiry-based, zero grammar exercises), and by sitting in a student chair in a circle with them instead of the authoritative standing-up front position. Also to share the board with them, i.e. they stand up do the writing on it, etc. All in all, I'd say these small things start to create changes.

    re: your tweet about theoretical literature on this matter, I don't know. It's hard to isolate it since it involves the culture and history of all involved.

  4. All useful techniques, Willy - cheers.

    You mentioned using a circle of chairs: I'm a bit of a seating-arrangement freak myself, especially with young learners. It definitely changes the classroom dynamics.

    Just a random thought: Have you ever found that using pronunciation drills as an excuse for lots of shouting can promote more STT?