Number One** Not your ordinary, endless list – just what’s number 1.

Assuming The Students Understand

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

~George Bernard Shaw

I’ve thought a lot about this and based on my own experiences as a teacher in the trenches, based upon my own development and reflection, based upon knowledge of how a brain works and students learn – I’m convinced too many teachers don’t check student understanding enough. Especially language teachers. They assume there is communication with students when indeed, many times, they didn’t understand a thing.

I’m sure it is a familiar scene for all teachers. The teacher talking, explaining an activity or idea. The students nodding. The teacher continuing and assuming everyone understands. Do they?

The pragmatic elements seem to dominate. The students using context and non verbal communication “assume” to understand. Also, students just never want to say they don’t know. They are human. Teachers do the same. They see the polite nod and eye contact, the paralanguage of students and assume they are listening, they understand, there is communication. But really is there? Too often, I believe there isn’t.

As a language learner, I’ve had so many conversations or been in so many situations where this is the case. Teacher assumes she/he is communicating. The students not understanding and just “playing the game”. There is learning failure.

I think teachers need to do several things to avoid this kind of surreal and ineffective situation.

1. Filter the teacher language. This is a teacher acquired skill that often must be done by thinking through the lesson, the language of the lesson.

2. Pausing. Give Ss time to process language. 2nd language learners have brains that are hot and overworked – they need time to process the information.

3. Rephrasing. Get Ss to rephrase and communicate for the class what was said, explained. Students will put the language into a form better for student understanding. The teacher will know the students did understand.

4. Slowing down. All of the above entail that many teachers need to slow down in their lessons. Of course, this entails not pushing through units, coursebooks and you’ll have to negotiate this with your school. It does no one any good to finish a unit, if so little was understood!