{ I originally published this in Barbara Sakamoto’s wonderful blog – Teaching Village. I revive it here because I think its message is pertinent and important. }

“The problem with our profession is that there is too much teaching and not enough learning”.

I said this recently during a discussion and I think it is such an important point to understand about “teaching” a language – that we have to get away from delivery systems that are teacher directed and more towards models where students are self-paced, self-motivated and learning independently. The future IS learning not teaching.

English Language Teaching has been progressing towards an understanding of this. CLT (communicative language teaching), PBI (project based instruction), TBI (task based instruction), collaborative learning and other approaches have made big inroads into traditional teaching models. But they’ve been baby steps. The emperor still believes he / she wears clothes and won’t “give up the ghost” and stop swinging the baton. It IS all and too much, about control.

I’m not going to belabor the point nor expound on my own beliefs about why self directed learning is the future of language instruction and learning (given the access to curriculum technology gives us). No. Let me be down to earth and simply describe my “perfect classroom”. This will give you an idea of what I mean by SDL – self directed learning and giving students increasing choice and independence over what and how they will learn.
My Perfect Classroom.   It looks like this.

The class starts without any teacher talk nor any teachn’ and preachn’. Students walk into the classroom, sign in and head towards their assigned computer. They glance at the whiteboard for the assignment of the day.

The students work with a headset to produce language, finish projects, practice vocabulary word banks using quizzes/flashcards. The activities are leveled and self-paced. Low level students work with the right content – higher level students can challenge themselves. They help each other through English only chat or directly in the class. They are the experts.

The teacher sits in the middle, coffee and tea at hand. With a ring of the bell – she calls for a group to come meet. The teacher practices conversation with the students, using the target language and grammar for the week. She tests the students on the language they’ve been learning. He assesses their needs in a small group and gets valuable feedback about the activities. After 5-10 minutes, it is time for the next group.

The last 15 minutes of class, students get the choice to work on a variety of online activities. Games, songs, blogging, chatting, watching videos – all accessible as provided by the teacher.

The class doesn’t really end. The teacher flicks the lights and the students log off and walk out of the class. They can go online anytime and do the same activities and access the same content. The teacher can download a nice handy log with graphs of student progress and especially time spent on task/activity.

The teacher feels refreshed. He gets another cup of coffee. She skips into the staff room among her weary colleagues.

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That’s my perfect classroom. However, it actually did happen and I actually did teach like that! It isn’t pie in the sky. Moreover, it all worked like that described. The trouble-making boys became engrossed learners. The unmotivated high level students became engaged and ignited. I, the teacher, felt invigorated after a day teaching, not weighed down and kaput. It was like Sugata Mitra recently quipped, “When the students are motivated, the learning just happens.”

But we all can do similar things and take steps towards getting to true self directed learning. It isn’t so difficult and in fact it is what YOU as a teacher are doing right now, right this minute.

It can begin with the simple step of deciding it should be so…..

Let’s hear your stories and struggles to be a SDL teacher. We can all learn from them.

Interested in SDL with your students? You might start with these excellent sites – Young Learners: Mingoville Teens/Adults: English Central (sign up as a teacher). Flashcards: EFL Classroom 2.0 Quizlet sets