Last post, we left off with students’ enthusiasm for games they had suggested for practicing spelling. We also left off with their less-than-enthusiastic reception of the semester course booklets. As promised, here’s what I make of the situation.
We started the session with some basic but real communication. I needed to note their names in my course record book. To do so, they needed to spell their names. In doing so, both teacher and students realized the gap in many students’ interlanguage, namely the confusion with certain letters like A vs. E vs. I, J vs. G, and the pronunciation of Y and H. Most of the students had the same pronunciation problems and the teacher picked up on the problem that had emerged to try to remedy it.
Then, rather than taking a prescriptive approach and just telling the students the correction, the teacher asked how the students would like work to improve their pronunciation of the letters of the alphabet. In fact, recognizing that the students could and should be actors in how the course proceeds empowered them. They could draw upon their own experience, what was successful, what they liked, etc. to decide what to do to solve the problem they themselves had noticed.
The content of the lesson was based on what was shown to need work and the procedure was decided by the students themselves based on their own past language learning experiences. Some worked in several small groups or pairs and some worked as a whole (well, half) class, depending on what they preferred.
Although I don’t know if we could say the activity placed a lot of demand on the students in terms of language complexity, I believe it relates to what Adrian Underhill calls “demand-high teaching” in that I expected them to lead the lesson. Confronted with my expectation of them to co-construct the lesson, they responded. I doubt (though I cannot say for sure) that this was often the case in their past courses.
It is not easy for students to simply flip into the role of course content decision-maker. In my Dogme experimental practice semester, this comment came up a few times. It took a few classes for learners to get used to being solicited for input as to what the next step should be. In the experiment, several students commented on how motivating that was. The same seemed to be the case with this group of students.
However, I’m not sure why this group seemed to move into the role of decision-makers more easily. In following lessons, they have also enthusiastically responded to the call to be actors in their course and thrive on less teacher-fronted activities that allow them to help each other and optimize the communicative opportunities of the lessons. Do I need to look into the group’s past ELT experiences or could group dynamics be the main influence? Maybe both and perhaps the question could be put directly to the students themselves.
But now I have begun to wonder: Have I just come upon a fantastic group of students or is there something deeper that’s been tapped into?
And for the anecdote, last week I had this group for a 2-hour session after a run of 6 hours of lessons with 2 other groups. Lacking the energy to Dogme the lesson (it happens to all of us, right?), I set them to work on a few activities in the course booklet.
And I was promptly met with “But Miss, what about Dogme?” 😉