Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Ideal Class

by AJ

Today my BAS students designed "the perfect English class". The criteria I gave for perfect were: a) Maximizes English acquisition and b) Is a fun, interesting, absorbing, euphoric, addictive experience.

I was impressed by the design they created and happy to see that many of their ideas mirrored my own...

* The students stated that CONFIDENCE should be the number one objective of the English class... not grammar, not vocab, not any particular parts of the language. Rather, building student's confidence with English should be the top goal. This surprised me at first but I understand.

The students are concerned with REAL communication in REAL situations. They want to have the confidence to USE English... not just master an exam or some other tedious aspect of the language. As these are upper-intermediate to advanced students... they already have functional vocabulary and grammar. They are eager to put it in action!

I then asked them, "How, exactly, can the teacher build confidence". They suggested a) Require students to make a presentation (about a book or article or topic) EVERY class, b) Meet one on one with the students to chat with them in English, encourage them, and bolster their confidence, c) create outside social activities to give students opportunities to use English in real social settings (with native speakers or people of other nationalities). They specifically mentioned a class camping trip.

I love this social idea as it resonates with many of my own. Ive often thought that language programs should think of themselves more as "social centers" than "schools". How about speed dating between native speakers and students? How about field trips. How about a film club or book club open to the public... with emphasis on drawing in native speakers that will mingle with students. How about parties? Dances?

The ultimate expression of this would be to house the program in a coffee shop, used book store, cafe, or bar (or some combo of them). Thats my plan should I ever stay put long enough to create my own "school". But for now, I need to think of a way to graft this vibe onto my classes at Thammasat. Any suggestions?

*Decision Making should be done by consensus (students and the teacher). The students did not want rigid rules... but rather suggested a few basic principles such as "mutual respect", "consensus building", and "self-reliance".

*Assignments: The students like the blog assignment and the project assignment that they are doing this semester and felt they should be used in the "ideal" class. They added weekly presentations to this list.

The class could not reach a consensus on vocabulary notebooks. Many students felt they were a good idea and suggested their use. Some, however, were strongly opposed to them and considered them useless.

We ran out of time, but they seemed to be heading towards some sort of alternative to the vocab notebook: perhaps rigorous question and answer sessions after presentations (to be sure the student read the Chapters, watched the movie, etc.), writing a short paper about reading/movies, etc. Another idea was to give students a choice... let them decide whether to do a vocab notebook, papers, or some sort of exam.

Still another idea was to require weekly vocab goals instead of one giant goal for the semester. The class seemed to be split 70/30 on the notebooks (70% for and 30% against).

*In Class Activities: The students suggested dividing in-class time among the following activities-- a) Watching movies with English subtitles turned on,.... then discussing the movie or particular scenes, b) Listen to English songs and then discuss the vocab and slang... and maybe do puzzles or listening gap activities, c) Read thought-provoking articles then discuss them and problem solve (articles chosen by the teacher).

*To encourage vocab and grammar growth the students recommended a MASSIVE amount of reading and listening (/watching). To encourage these activities the students recommended weekly presentations, weekly vocab goals, etc. (see above).

* Finally, I asked the students, "What is the teachers role and job in your ideal class?" They listed:

1. Encourage self-reliance
2. Relax the students and energize them. Help them to enjoy learning English.
3. Get students to think... challenge them. Excite them.
4. Meet with students one on one to encourage, support, and challenge them.

So there it is... the perfect English class according to Thai (and one Japanese) students at Thammasat University.

Happy to say that I note an uncanny similarity to the "book/film club" class Ive been contemplating.

Interesting. I will put these ideas into action with all of next semester's classes... starting in November (and damn the exams!!)