May 25, 2011 by Willy Cardoso
Kim really surprised me yesterday.
As part of the Business English course, I ask students to give a 20-min presentation each on a topic of their choice (except from their home country), I video-record it and they do some self-assessment later. Yesterday, Kim talked about a business management system, something she’s studying at university back home. The slides were good, her research on the topic was also good – the ‘language’ oh very good. I say ‘language’ with ‘ __’ , because it’s the language that we’ve been working on this month: she used presentation signposts we saw two weeks ago; new expressions like ‘to sum up’, which she hadn’t had active in her vocabulay; and some adverbs that caught her attention in the previous lessons.
All language input I’ve been giving come after students’ production, spoken or written. Fortunately, I don’t have to follow a grammar-based syllabus. So, when I say Kim used the adverbs, it’s not that she had to use them because they were prescribed, but because during our first conversations, adverbs of manner were nearly absent, so I brought it up in class, later she used them in one of her writing tasks, made one or two mistakes, which I showed her – and in her presentation, I don’t know why they were there. Well, I kind of know why; Kim pays a lot of attention and she’s a good note-taker (interestingly, I realized that she only takes notes of the things that she finds useful – unlike her classmate who takes notes of everything and ends up with lots of things he’s not likely to recall and use later).
I don’t know to what extent this approach, of dealing with grammar in a more natural way, is better or worse for my students. Maybe Kim would’ve learned the adverbs anyway if we had used grammar boxes and gap-fills instead of dialogue. Or maybe not, since she’s about 22 and has studied English in her home country for about 10 years now, most probably with grammar boxes and gap-fills. What I know is that it’s better for me as a teacher, I feel the lesson is more pleasant, that the language work is less artificial, and it feels good that what I teach is closer to what they need, instead of what someone else who is not even there thinks they need. I’m not delivering pizza.
But back to the presentation and why Kim surprised me. She didn’t surprise me so much with the presentattion actually. It was alright, but she hesitated a lot and well, she was nervous, so it affected the quality of her presentation of course. The main problem was eye-contact, sometimes she was talking looking at the wall, she couldn’t look at us for more than 2 seconds. She already said many times how shy she is; and I once told her it would be a good idea if she kept more eye-contact when she speaks.
When her presentation finished, she wanted to go straight back to her seat, but we had some questions so she waited, answered the questions, and then I started to ask about her opinion. All these students’ presentations tend to have no more than 3% of personal opinion or experience – I don’t know why they keep them factual and distant, even when I let them do it about their countries.
So, then I started to ask about her opinion on how much of a company’s financial situation should be disclosed to employees, the other student also wanted to give his opinion, and I also had my point of view. The Q&A part of Kim’s presentation turned into a conversation, we shared some experiences, agreed, disagreed, changed perspectives, well it was great – and she was on a stool, we were in our student chairs; she started to look more comfortable, kept more eye-contact. I was so good to talk to a student that was sitting in a higher position than myself, and I think it did her good too.
So here’s the real surprise: The second half of this 2-hour lesson was prompted only by 2 questions. And for the first time I was able to ask only 2 questions because yesterday Kim was on fire; she engaged in real conversation, gave her opinion, even interrupted the other student to take the floor.
(A parenthesis to the other student: he’s adorable, very intelligent, and he likes to talk, so many times he talks a lot and dominates the conversation, and for Kim’s learning this is not so good because most of the lesson is conversation-driven)
Normally, I need an arsenal of questions to keep Kim talking, I’ve tried very informal topics, serious stuff, personal, professional, anecdotal, humour, and rarely did she engage in a sustained speech that would allow me to understand better how I could help her improve her language. But yesterday, it was so easy! She talked a lot, made mistakes – great! – I could draw her attention to the lingering I’m agree, she helped me draw the other student’s attention to the also lingering It depends of. We refined the nuances of agreement and disagreement with more adverbs, I partially agree; she contributed to a couple more adverbs, I noted on the whiteboard. They learned they can use one / one’s instead of using he when talking about an unspecified individual, and so on.
So what happened?
From an eye-contactless shy English language learner to an engaged participant willing to share her thoughts.
I can try and believe it’s the dialogic teaching, or I can try and believe it’s the magic stool. What happened I’ll never fully understand. No teacher can fully understand what makes his/her learners tick. I can think about the lesson, blog about it, listen to your comments and I’d love to; I can try the same material and approach with other students and see if it there’s a similar outcome. But there’s no way I believe whatever I conclude hasn’t got some guesswork.
Well, my dear readers, there’s no grand finale in this post, sorry, it’s as simple as that – simple, because teaching is simple. Learn how to observe, listen and care for other people’s development and you’re halfway to become a great teacher. I like to believe I’m on my way to become one.
– I’ll come back next with the ‘lesson recipe’ I used yesterday.