Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Monday, July 03, 2006

Taking Control

by AJ

The greatest challenge I now face as a teacher is encouraging my students to take control of their own learning.

Frankly, the school and classroom setting works against this. Put a group of students in a room, sitting at desks, with a whiteboard on the wall... and a sort of auto-pilot takes over. Teacher and students sink into automatic roles. Breaking those roles, and the assumptions that go with them, is very very difficult.

The thing that I can't get out of my mind is how incredibly wasteful classroom instruction is. Despite hours in a language class, students get a remarkably small amount of comprehensible input. They waste countless hours on explanations, pointless textbook activities, time killers, nit-picky analysis. At times, I wonder if the last thing they want to do is actually read, listen to, and use comprehensible language.

Studying (Spanish) on my own, I can work through a couple of short articles in an hour. I can learn the new vocabulary, figure out the basic grammar, and also listen to the audio multiple times. I am a beginner.

By contrast, it often takes my advanced class two hours to work through an article. Why? Because we will analyze, discuss, and explain it to death. We'll spend 20 minutes actually reading the thing... then 60+ minutes on detailed explanations (not counting discussion of the actual issues/meaning of the overall article). In this time, they will hear me read the article only one time.

Another example: On my own, I can review a great deal of vocabulary quickly. I do so almost everyday. I try to do this with my class too... but it wastes tremendous time. Why? Because we get bogged down on almost every word. Quick & rough explanations never seem to be enough.... and I end up giving long treatises on the shades of meaning of each phrase or word. This wastes a tremendous amount of time.

Boiled down, I find two essential problems with traditional classroom instruction. One, students surrender responsibility for learning to the teacher. Two, students and teachers alike are frightened of ambiguity. Both of these tendencies are fatal to actual learning and mastery.

San Francisco, CA