Learning WITH your students!


I’ve always been one of the guys screaming for a more student centered focus in language instruction. Especially with such a “human” and “deep” subject as language — a social oriented subject — this has to be the case. We learn language by social interaction – the research is unequivical on this point. If a baby has no social interaction or little, their language skills are dramatically effected — same with the L2. If you learn a language in a very direct, teacher centric fashion, your acquisition of that language will be stunted. We learn by interacting/doing and so I’m going to continue cheerleading task based, communicative based, project based, student focused lesson delivery.

But I will go further and suggest that it is the “little” and very subtle emotive and human things we do when teaching that really make the difference in our student’s learning. Little micro teaching details that bring us closer to the learners/students and make teaching less about preaching and more about social interaction and LEARNING WITH THE STUDENTS!

Charles Leadbetter recently wrote an incredible article on this very topic. He’s a guy I’ve followed/read over the years and nobody says it better….A must read and especially for his recommendations for teachers.

Here is one quote;

Learning is best done with people, not for them. It is most effective when learners are participants rather than recipients. The central element in promoting learning, therefore, is promoting relationships—teacher-pupil relationships; peer-to-peer relationships; and children’s relationships with siblings, mentors, and role models. All the traditional and high-tech resources of education—from whiteboards to the Internet and even to classrooms themselves—are best understood as different kinds of interfaces for relationships that support learning

There are some things a teacher can do to lessen social distance and stop the direct instruction, teacher in front of the class syndrom. Here’s a preliminary list.

1) Use a name! Studies have shown that when students are addressed by name, their brain lights up and is much more perceptive to learning/input. Much More! Just using a name can make a difference, even a nickname. Seems that when we hear our name, our ego is inflamed and because of this “connection” cerebrally, we learn and connect the input better . One caveat — when asking questions, don’t use the name first! Address all students with the question. Then repeat and direct, using a name a second time. This way all students first , become attentive and take in the question.

2) Inductive Teaching! Let students play in the sandbox that a classroom can become. Turn your regular lesson upside down and start with the “Activate” portion of the lesson. In groups, just give them the materials and let them figure it out! Try it, it will take the pressure off you and you can at the end, summarize and direct, but only at the end.

3) Bend down! When addressing students, sit in a chair or get on their level. This decreases social distance and brings emotion and intimacy into the instruction. Simply put – we learn much better when on the same level as the one we are learning with!

4) Amplify and emote your voice! Get a microphone. It is so simple to plug in a microphone to a CD player’s external jack and use it in the class. Your students will hear much more clearly and this will decrease social distance because they will pick up on the emotion in your voice much better. Recent studies have confirmed that just by simply improving the audio in classrooms – student learning DRAMATICALLY increases.

5) Question based curriculum. Let them pose the questions about what they want to know and then go from there. This is more for Content Based Instruction but it can be a powerful student centered way to design curriculum – what do they want to know? Then, students research and report….

This is just a preliminary list, much more you can do to learn WITH your students…think about it and start to make a change if you haven’t already!

Direct instruction is a dinosaur and we have to bring our students into a more socially filled and dynamic learning environment.

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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