March 24, 2010 by Willy Cardoso
Preamble, Prelude or Prologue:
Not long ago I decided that I would never stop learning* languages. Be it formally – with a teacher in a classroom – or informally, the plan is that every time I reach an intermediate level of one I’ll start another, of course carrying on with the former till I feel I know it well.
*By learning a language, for the sake of this post, I mean noticing it consciously and intentionally, as opposed to picking it up.
I ’d like to outline on this post how some of my teachers’ attitudes might have prevented me from learning better.
Not that I’m blaming them of anything really, especially because the last five ones were hired by myself, I’m just using these examples as things I don’t like as a student and consequently I don’t do as a teacher.
So here we go,
9 Steps to Prevent Learning
– Teach by the book (in this case, the Teacher’s Book)
It might say there to play the audio twice, and that exercise 3 comes after 2 and 1. But that is not a medical prescription.
– Overuse initial TEFL training common senses
PPP, drilling, controlled practice, etc. E.g. Lots of pair work is fine, but doesn’t work with intrapersonal learners, which leads to the next offence.
– Generalize tastes and theories
I’ll take this one more personally: I’m a musician, but that doesn’t mean I like to learn through music. My occasional unwillingness to speak is not shyness, lack of confidence and neither a manifestation of my intrapersonal intelligence. What is it then? The teacher should ask instead of labeling.
– Don’t negotiate homework
Only 20% of my students will do their workbooks no matter how persuasive I can be. 80% will do more authentic homework such as reading novels, preparing presentations, or writing compositions, when they’re given the gift of choice. Somebody needs to tell writers and publishers that workbooks are the second most tiresome thing after commuting in Sao Paulo.
– Avoid taboo or controversial topics
In a workshop I attended earlier this year, Jeremy Harmer mentioned the importance of ‘the rush’ in developing fluency. In Brazil, I see taboos and controversies as highly engaging.
– Be a chatterbox
We were given two ears and one mouth to listen twice as much as we speak.
– Just talk the talk…
I hate this cliché phrase, but… I had teachers who were also students in other subjects and were lousy students. The ultimate question is: Do you, the teacher, demonstrate the level of learning you expect your students to have?
– Neglect knowing students on a personal level
From my experience, knowing your learner’s referential point is paramount. I tend to spend at least 10 minutes of every class to know more about their lives, and I mean ‘know’ as I know my friends, not as I know my fiancée’s step-grand-mother-in-law.
– Fear silence
(sshh… I’m thinking)
These are some of the things that can happen when teachers follow instructions/methodologies religiously and forget to pay attention to students’ reactions, interests and motivation. Ironically, yet obviously, I myself have found some of the instances above in my teaching. I had read about how to do it, and I had been told about it as well, but it really hit me the hardest when I became a student again. And there will be many other things I’ll learn by being a student again and again. That’s one of the very good reasons I have to never stop learning languages.
Knowing, of course, that we shouldn’t teach the way we like to be taught. What have you seen in yourself as a student that made you a better teacher?
I’d like to mention the three things that triggered this post:
– While reviewing the training sessions I gave in 2008, I stumbled upon some role-plays based on Scrivener’s How to prevent learning, from the iconic Learning Teaching.
So, thank you all three for inspiring the dude here.
Scrivener’s list is:
- TTT (Teacher Talking Time)
- Helpful sentence completion
- Complicated and unclear instructions
- Insufficient authority / Over-politeness
- Not checking understanding of instructions
- Asking ‘Do you understand?’
- Fear of genuine feedback
- The running commentary
- Lack of confidence in self, learners, material, etc
- Flying with the fastest
- Not really listening (hearing the language but not the message)
- Weak rapport: creation of a poor working environment