Classroom activities

I am often surprised at the effort that teachers put into getting their students to undertake activities, such as creating slide shows or movies, or talking in pairs, (role playing), going on scavenger hunts, or whatever comes to mind to get the language learner doing something. I find that simply listening and reading , using content of interest, is a more effective use of my time, than putting effort into these activities.

I am not a fan of spending time on conversations with other learners. When I speak to a native speaker, or at least a very fluent speaker, I can pick up a lot of words and phrases. I notice my gaps. These conversations are opportunities to hear relevant bits of language. The experience has strong credibility, and I am more likely to learn from situations that I consider real and credible.

If I had a class with 25 or 30 learners, and if I were allowed to do so, I would have them come in once a week, 5 or 6 people at a time. Those that did not come to class would be asked to go to a study room and listen, read or write. I would use LingQ or some other system to monitor what they are doing.

I know that many learners are motivated, or can be coerced, to come to class and to study for exams, but will not study on their own. However, the results of this approach are pretty abysmal. Maybe it is time to look at other models. The New Brusnwick experiment, where children just read and listened, and progressed in their language studies, should be an example.


13 thoughts on “Classroom activities

  1. Are you referring to adult or children learners? I challenge you to find A topic that is of interest for a whole class of 25 or even 15 students. Not all teachers have access to a computer lab.

  2. <html><body bgcolor="#FFFFFF"><div>I have seen this with both children and adults.</div><div><br></div><div>Why should the teacher have to find &nbsp;a topic for all of his students? Let them find a topic of interest. Content abounds. Who needs a lamguage lab? An mp3 player is all that is needed.<br><br>Sent from my iPad</div><div><br></div></body></html>

  3. Where do you suggest students can find the content (without computers)? Some of these children, for example, are 1st graders and still discovering the world and not sure of everything they like or "will like". If left up to them then they would just follow one track (video games, etc.) What the teacher CAN do is introduce with enthusiasm and in a age appropriate manner a variety of topics and then may be do more with the topics that were most popular. Mp3’s? You still need computers to load them with music/audio. In one school where I work students can’t afford the workbook we are using. You are assuming everyone as equal access to technology. Not realistic in all contexts. But I do like the self directed approach for adults (even high school or college).

  4. Very few schools do not have at least one computer from which to download texts and audio, with the help and guidance of a teacher. The teacher is necessary, as a guide, helper, coach and inspiration. She /he need not "teach" the language, rather just inspire an interest in it.

  5. I teach mainly before and after school programs for children 1st through 5th grades in public schools were World Languages are not offered. Parents pay extra for these Spanish classes before and after school. I do not have access to a computer in any of these classes because we "borrow" a classroom at the school. I cannot use their resources. These children are lucky to have parents that understand that WL learning should start early (and that they can afford to pay extra for the classes). Your idea of a classroom it’s not a bad one but a bit idealistic and not applicable to all contexts. I could go on an on with several other factors. For example: Students in 1st grade are still learning to read in English, they do not need to learn to read Spanish yet. Also, why "plug" children to an mp3 when they have me, a native Speaker, LIVE! 🙂 Believe me, I do my best to inspire and develop an interest in Spanish in my students. Just not with LingQ 🙂 Sorry.

  6. It would not be difficult to load up MP3 players with a wide range of content in most circumstances, although there may be exceptions. Whether a live teacher is better than an MP3 player depends on the teacher and the preference of the learners but it does mean that all students have to learn the same thing. The New Brunswick experiment I referred to earlier worked very well for kids between the ages of 8 and 11.

  7. Oh, Steve, if you send me 15 mp3 players I will gladly load them up with Spanish content (from my personal computer) so that my students can listen on the ride back home! 🙂 It is so much easier (and more Fun!) to learn a song as a group rather than individually. No, children don’t have to learn ALL the same thing ALL the time but there is something powerful about common experiences (such as learning together) that you can’t create with individual learning. Society (specially US society) takes care of making students "individuals" (and why not: "individualistic"). I wish students had more chances to experience the "whole".

  8. You assume that the songs you choose and share with the class are more fun. They may be in your case, but it depends on the songs and the teacher. In the example I gave, the kids who learned on their own listening to and reading stories, (8-11 year olds), did better than those who were "taught" by teachers, and they enjoyed their classes more. They also became more independent learners, which has many positive advantages when it comes to life long learning.Most kids have MP3 players, Paulino, or they can be bought for $10, so do not expect any shipment from me.

  9. I don’t assume the songs I choose are more fun but that I make them fun! You are absolutely right. It depends a lot on the teacher. That’s a different issue. Teacher preparation and training.

  10. My reading suggests that the teacher's communication skills, especially verbal communication skills, are more important than any formal training. The rest needs to be learned on the job from what I have been told.

  11. I think teachers need to be fluent in the language, for sure! And continue their own Language education after they graduate. The problem with current training is that it focuses too much on the theory (or theories) and not much on the practical stuff. It leaves teachers to "learn on the job" but most schools are not "equipped" or ready to support teachers with professional development for them to survive in the "real world" right after they graduate. It’s my humble opinion.

  12. I would imagine that what you learn on the job is what is most useful. In verbal communication skills I meant not only fluency in the language, but an ability to communicate meaningfully and enthusiastically with students. This, I am sure, is true for all teachers, not just language teachers. I do not think they can teach that skill at Teachers College. Teaching must be a lot like language learning, attitude is 75% of the battle.

  13. "I would imagine that what you learn on the job is what is most useful". Yes, but teacher training could do a better job in preparing Teacher/Learners to be able to learn "what is most useful". Teachers College SHOULD design their programs to help teachers develop skills to communicate meaningfully and enthusiastically with students and not just the theory behind it (that they do so well right now, but just only the theory)

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