Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Student Knows Best

by AJ

I began today's "workshop" class planning to play Pictionary. The workshop is an extra, free class at our school.... open to all levels. Usually we play games or do other light and enjoyable activities.

However, today my school put a suggestion basket in the lobby. This seemed to stimulate the students.. when I asked how they were doing, one student complained about her English learning experiences. That led the other students to jump in. Rather than cut them off and "get back on topic", I started asking questions such as:

"What frustrations have you encountered with your English learning?"
"How could the school better meet your needs?"
"If you were the boss, what would you add, delete, or change at the school?"
"What are your needs outside of school?" "How might the school help you meet these needs?"

I got more than I bargained for.... we talked for an hour. As they talked, I recorded their comments on blank pieces of paper. At the end of class, we dropped them into the suggestion box.

The experience showed me, once again, that students already know what's best. The motivated & articulate ones (of any level) are eager to give suggestions. They know what they want. Here's a brief sample of their suggestions:

* "We want more practical English. We learn formal English in class, but when we leave school we can't understand people. We want to learn real conversational English as used by native speakers."

* "Instead of focusing the curriculum on grammar, focus it on practical life uses. For example, why don't we study doctor's office English, have a nurse visit us as a guest speaker, then tour a hospital. We could learn how to talk to doctors and nurses... not from a textbook... but from real medical people."

Other ideas: As above.. but visit a market, a wedding, a funeral, a party, etc..... Use class time to pre-learn some vocab, read articles on the topic, role play related situations, and listen to guest speakers. Then get out of school and visit these places and interact with people.

* Record and use real conversations in class. Teachers should record conversations with their friends... and use those to teach students (instead of using textbook dialogues that are too formal). Students could also record conversations and bring them to their teacher for use in class.

* Use movies every day. "Americans learn a lot of slang and casual conversation from Hollywood movies. We could watch movies everyday.... not all at once though... maybe 30 minutes each day. We could replay each scene several times, learn the vocabulary and slang... and practice listening skills".

* Demand more-- have higher expectations. We came to America to learn English... because we are serious about learning English. We should have more homework, projects, and out-of-school work.

* HELP US MEET AMERICANS!!!! All of the students expressed extreme frustration in regards to their out-of-school social life. They stated that it was difficult to make friends with Americans and therefore they get little practice outside of class (despite living in the US). They pleaded for help.... for the school/teachers to somehow help them connect with Americans in the community.

* Variety. All of the students expressed appreciation for the school and their teachers. However, they said they got bored having the same teacher every day. They want to change now and then.... to help them maintain interest and freshness.

* More repetition of vocabulary. Students complained that they dont review new vocabulary enough, and thus they quickly forget. "We should continue to practice the new words the next day... and later."

* Focus more on listening skills (especially everyday conversational English): "I can use classroom English when I speak and people understand me. But when they talk I can't understand them, because they dont speak the way that teachers do. They use different words. They use more slang. They talk faster. We should practice listening more."