Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Real Work, Real Language

by AJ

"When we were starting [our school], I looked back at what really worked in my other schools and saw that it was real work. When it's real work, students do it-- no matter what the subject. A lot of the time, though, the work that is done in schools LOOKS like real work, but it is not real ENOUGH. I have always thought it's hysterical that inside the school building we work really hard to make lessons that look and feel real, when all the while, the real world is going on outside. Why don't we just step back outside? The world is this huge resource, and schools have to start taking advantage of it.

The work must be real. And not what I call 'fake real'. The best teachers in a traditional school can develop activities that seem real. What I'm saying is, that isn't good enough. The traditional curriculum just doesn't inspire every student to get excited about learning, nor does it meet the expectations of highly motivated or gifted students. So my teachers and I began looking outside the school and into the community for help. That triggered a formal apprenticeship program, which became very successful. It allowed us to meet some of the students needs and had the bonus effect of bringing the community in as a partner in the school.

A person's deepest learning usually results from authentic experiences-- those whose results really matter to an audience beyond the learner and teacher. Authentic experiences, such as work with a mentor or a community service project, motivate profound learning for several reasons. First, the work has real consequences. Second, the resources for learning are limitless when students are not confined to one building and a predetermined set of materials. Third, a student develops personal relationships with experts in areas of his/her passion. Aside from motivational concerns, a growing body of research indicates that for students to apply knowledge in real situations, they need to learn in those situations. Abstract knowledge gained inside schools is poorly applied by students in real situations outside of school".

--Dennis Littky

This is the direction my thoughts are taking me. That last sentence really hits home. Its consistent with my personal learning experiences: "A growing body of research indicates that for students to apply knowledge in real situations, they need to learn in those situations. Abstract knowledge gained inside schools is poorly applied by students in real situations outside of school."

How might this look for language education? It means, I think, that vocabulary, grammar, slang, etc. would be best learned from real situations... not textbooks, nor role-plays, nor other classroom simulations.

Here's how I might apply this idea for learning "restaurant English". As a class, we'd visit a restaurant. We would tour the facility. We'd talk to cooks, waiters, and the managers. We'd get copies of the menu. Then we'd sit down and order. During the meal, we'd discuss our opinions of the food.

Id record all of this... with an audio or video recorder. Id take notes on difficult vocab/jargon.

After our visit, Id use these recordings in the classroom. We'd rlisten to the conversations we had and review them as often as needed. After that, we'd discuss the experience. We'd read over the menu and other printed material.

Finally, we'd visit another restaurant (of a different kind) and repeat the process. Students with a particular interest in food, cooking, etc. might follow up with a job or apprenticeship in a restaurant... or some other authentic project connected to the subject. The rest of the class, if sick of this subject, would move on to another one... using this process as a general template.

Thus the "lesson" starts and ends with real-world experiences... and projects grow out of these encounters. The classroom becomes the place where these experiences are processed (including learning the relevant language involved).

My first attempt at this process will be the Retirement Home visit.... Stay tuned.

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