Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


by AJ

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The number one advantage of individual learning is that its more intense.

I now have an individual private student named "Emiko". She is Japanese and we meet for 15 hours every week. Usually we meet 3 hours a day.

At my school, I teach an "intensive" class 4 hours a day. We meet four days for a total of 16 hours per week.

The weekly hours for each are thus about the same. But what a contrast! My private student and I waste very little time. In my school class, however, we waste tons of it.

Today, for example, Emiko and I chatted about her friends and family, worked through an article (a section of Steve Kaufman's book), learned new vocabulary, discussed the article's main ideas, practiced pronunciation intensely, and recorded a conversation with a waitress at a cafe. We also discussed Emiko's past English learning experiences, her goals, and her learning plan. Most of her time was spent directly with the language- reading, discussing, listening, writing. In other words, she spent most of that time focused on genuine communication.

By contrast, much time was wasted in my school class today. The first 30 minutes are always a waste, because almost none of the students come on time. They slowly file in and most arrive 30 minutes late, or later. Once we do get started, I inevitably get bogged down by one or more students who demand hyper-detailed explanations of vocabulary or grammar. I usually try to give a concise explanation, but often this is not enough and the student demands more detail, or debates my explanation, or ask more and more and more questions. These questions are usually about the form and structure of the language and relate only tangentially to meaningful communication.

Another classroom problem is that some students are easily distracted, or don't want to concentrate, or are bored by the material or topics I choose. When I put them in groups to discuss a topic, some will speak their native language. Others will chit-chat about small talk and avoid the discussion topic. Some play with their cell phones.

Finally, because the class is getting bigger and bigger, its more difficult for me to pay attention to individual students and their needs. When my class had only 6 students, it was easy to do. Now I average 17-24 and its nearly impossible.

Thus, a huge amount of time is wasted in the classroom. I therefore believe that even an "intense" school program is far less intense than a well executed individual learning plan. Two hours of intensive, repeated, comprehensible input is more effective than five hours of classroom instruction.

I'm trying to convince my classroom students of this. I've seen it over and over- students who follow a self-study plan focused on massive comprehensible input (repeated listening & reading) progress MUCH faster than students who only come to class.

And yet, most of my students don't believe me. Most still seem to think that school is enough- and that the teacher is the one who is responsible for their learning.

Tragically, this is a belief that severely inhibits their progress.

San Francisco, CA