A Call to Arms for ELT.
On Sunday I wrote about a couple of the themes which emerged over the course of the week at IATEFL. Here I will continue!
Demand More, Be More!
How much do you challenge your students? Do you get them to think in class? Like, really think?
When you have been a learner of something, be it a language, an instrument, a dance move, what gave you more motivation and made you more excited about what you were learning –
- a) doing something easy and boring?
- b) doing something challenging that pushed your abilities?
And which of these taught you more?
I would hazard a guess that b) is the answer.
This was the call to arms which Jim Scrivener set out in his talk on Demand High ELT, a concept he and Adrian Underhill have been discussing for a while. The belief behind this is that teachers have become too “nice”, too “Well done, Maria! Fabulous, Muhammed! Brilliant, Marcus!” when doing so-called “feedback” on tasks.
I say “feedback” because this isn’t really giving them any information except that their teacher seems to have some form of extreme-adjective-Tourette’s, is it? How is it helping them grow if we just accept answers and move on to the next one? What about exploiting the opportunity to use what language is already in the room to push the learners’ thought processes more? Make them think, make them all think, not just the ones who always answer the questions, but the whole class?
Questions lead to answers lead to learning.
So, how should we do this? Jim gave us a few suggestions of what you could do with a sentence from a typical course book exercise of “Correct these sentences.”. Here’s the picture I took of his slide (Sorry for the poor quality!):
These ideas ask the students to engage with the language more, rather than just rushing through the tasks in the book. Now, some of you may be thinking “I do this already!”, but I reckon there are probably quite a lot of missed opportunities in a lot of our classrooms to get the students to think more and engage more with the language, thereby learning more.
Being a Dogmematician myself, I feel very strongly about dealing with emerging language and issues, and how this can help students to focus on aspects of the language which are present in the classroom at the time. I can’t imagine anything more boring and undemanding than working through a coursebook simply by “do number one, get the answers, do number two, get the answers, etc…”. It goes against everything I have come to believe as a teacher and a learner.
The Curse of the Coursebook?
For me, the argument for Demand High ELT, which I think is a brilliant concept, is actually a response to how teachers use coursebooks as a basis for the whole lesson, rather than removing the ideas from the page and making the students get the language to work harder? So is the problem here that teacher training revolves too heavily around the use of coursebooks, that schools are set up to promote the use of them, that students come to expect them, and that teachers don’t actually know how to use them? Over the course of the week at IATEFL, I spoke to quite a few teachers about using coursebooks in class. There were many comments about the fact that their students have been given the book, or that they expect to use it, so the teacher feels obliged to do so.
So how can we rectify this? Well, for a start we can begin to use less of the coursebook page in class. I often see on teachers’ record of work that they have done pages 34 – 38 in class in one 90 minute lesson. Without setting up a super-sonic treadmill in the classroom, I have no idea how that is even possible!
Here’s Jim’s list of ideas for making our students work harder –
And here’s some of my own ideas on how to stop rushing through coursebook pages at an inhumane pace. (I wrote these in about two minutes over breakfast before my first cup of tea of the day. If I can do this that quickly, surely we can all come up with many ways to exploit what we take into class, eh?)
- Select smaller parts from the book and think about how to exploit them.
- Take the idea from the book off the page and get the students to make the language themselves by asking them to discuss the topic in the book, noting down what they say, focusing on some of the examples that came up, feeding in some of your own (or the ones originally in the book), ask the students to write their own examples, then let them have the conversation again with a new partner. Perhaps ask them to work in threes and the third student notes down uses of the language, then they discuss this together after the task is complete.
- Photocopy texts, cut them up, get the students to put them back together in the right order then create questions for the text to give to other students or answer questions you have prepared dealing with discourse/genre features.
- Create an information gap activity by dividing the class in two, dividing the material in two (be it a text, a grammar explanation, a gapfill, etc…) and get the students to work together to gather the knowledge their partner has.
- Use guided discovery approaches, either orally or on paper to get the students engaging with the language more.
- Be ready to ask questions about the material yourself but also –
- Create a culture of questioning in your classroom to develop the students’ ability to question both you and each other. Let them talk on their own about things, don’t be a part of every second of the lesson, they are adults, they can do it!
The key quote I took away from Jim’s talk was –
“We need to get our hands dirty.”
So come on guys, let’s throw away the wishy-washy soap, and let’s get down to some hard graft, or better – let’s get our learners down to some hard graft! What are we afraid of?
I’d love to hear any of your ideas about how you make the language, material or students in your lessons work harder, so please feel free to comment below.