Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Training Modules

“By saying that in a good video game, players learn to play the game by playing in a “subdomain” of the real game, I mean that training modules and early episodes, where fundamental learning gets done, are built as simplified versions of the same world in which the player will live, play, and learn throughout the game. Learning is not started in a separate place (eg. a classroom or textbook) outside the domain in which the learning is going to operate.”

--James Paul Gee

The last line is my favorite.... learning is not started in a classroom or textbook. Gamers rarely read the manual... they jump straight into the simplified training “episode”.

Think how ridiculous our language teaching methods are, by comparison. Our students start their learning in a classroom, using a textbook. They do this FOR YEARS before they encounter anything remotely resembling the domain in which they will actually use the language.

In other words, the student spends years learning decontextualized language in a setting that has no resemblence to the world in which they will use it to live, play, work, and learn. No wonder they cant “use what they know”.

My best friend Kristin (also a language teacher) has an idea for a language school that models real life. She wants to open a school in a large house. Each room in the house would be designed as a training module... one that resembles a real world environment in which the students might use English. For example, one room would be designed as a restaurant/bar (complete with a mini commercial kitchen). Another would recreate an office work setting. Others might recreate a science lab, retail store, post office, music/video studio, etc. (These could be rotated/changed on occasion). I suggested adding a permanent bookstore/cafe to serve as a social focal point for students (and the community at large).

To this could be added many of Littky’s ideas-- particularly the use of mentors, projects, and apprenticeships. Working with the teacher and volunteers, students would first simulate the real world.... they’d learn language while researching projects related to a particular real world environment. Once they reached a suitable level of competence, they’d graduate to “outside” internships.... spending some of their time doing (simpler) projects at real sites... then returning to class to “process” their experience (with the teacher helping them understand difficult language or concepts) and would then present what they learned/did to other students. They’d carry video cameras or cheap audio recorders when they were “on site”... so they could record the language they heard and bring it back to the class to decode its meaning (with the teacher’s and other student’s help).

Language teaching techniques would still be useful. For example, the teacher could use TPR Storytellling, the movie technique, simple authentic texts, etc. in the on-site training modules... and with the student recorded material.... to help the student understand and remember the language. But this would happen in the broader context of meaningful environments that closely simulated the real-world in which the student hopes to eventually operate.

As the student gained real-world competence, text, difficult articles, and other input would become more meaningful... so long as they related to the “embodied” (real, physical) experiences of the student.

Once they have acquired a great deal of language and have mastered interactions in everyday life, they may finally be ready to study linguistics. But now they are doing so as accomplished users of the language, with the aim of refining their mastery.

Such is my vague global vision for a new kind of language education.

Now the hard part: doing it.