[EDLING:1633] EducationGuardian.co.uk: Don't play communication for laughs
fmhult at DOLPHIN.UPENN.EDU
fmhult at DOLPHIN.UPENN.EDU
Fri May 26 22:49:28 UTC 2006
Francis Hult spotted this on the EducationGuardian.co.uk site and thought you should see it.
To see this story with its related links on the EducationGuardian.co.uk site, go to http://education.guardian.co.uk
Don't play communication for laughs
New teachers must take care not to confuse fun with learning, argues Rose Senior
Friday May 26 2006
If you eavesdrop on a communicative language class in action, the chances are you will hear a great deal of animated talk, laughter, scraping of chairs and footsteps as students move around the room. What's happening? Is it party time? Are the students really engaged in meaningful learning?
These are the kinds of questions that someone unfamiliar with communicative language teaching might well ask. It is also a question that may occur to learners who have studied English the hard way - by traditional methods. Are they going to get their money's worth in terms of high-quality tuition - or are they going to waste valuable learning time in class? These are important questions we can't afford to ignore.
Communicative language teaching (CLT), as its name suggests, involves communication in the classroom. In countries such as Britain and Australia, students communicate with one another in class in pairs or small groups. Its strength is that it is a general teaching approach rather than a specific teaching method. It can be used in any course. It can be adapted for classes at any level, ranging from beginners to advanced. It is particularly suitable for classes comprising students with different linguistic backgrounds and varying levels of communicative competence, since students can work in different permutations and communicate with others at their particular level of proficiency. In effect, CLT gives teachers a high degree of freedom to organise their classes in the ways that they want - and to select from the widest possible range of learning activities.
There are today large numbers of textbooks and resource books containing the widest possible range of interactive games and activities that promote the view that language learning can and should be fun. As a result it's easy for language teachers - particularly novices who lack experience and who receive little in the way of professional support - to confuse fun with learning.
It's tempting (particularly if they have a casual job with low pay and a high number of teaching hours) to grab a book off the shelf, photocopy a few interesting looking activities, and rush off to class. Until they become more experienced it's convenient for teachers to assume that, if the students in their classes are interacting with one another in lively ways, successful learning is taking place. In effect, these teachers are confusing enjoyment with learning.
The relationship between enjoyment and learning is complex. If students appear lively and animated, it may be that they're deeply engaged in a worthwhile learning task. In this case their animated facial expressions and expansive gestures are evidence of a high level of involvement. However, facial expressions and body language can be deceptive. It may be that students are not as involved as they appear, but are going along with the activity while secretly thinking, "Why am I doing this?" or "This activity is a complete waste of time."
Even students who willingly engage in communicative tasks during class time may believe deep down that they could have learnt more quickly and efficiently if the teacher had spent less time providing them with opportunities to discover things for themselves, and more time addressing the class directly.
All language learners come to class with expectations based on past learning experiences. Adults from traditional educational backgrounds tend to have sets of assumptions about classroom language teaching and learning that differ significantly from those of their teachers. They may find it hard to accept that learning can be enjoyable - and that it's appropriate to feel relaxed in class. Past experience is likely to have taught them that learning is a serious business that requires considerable effort.
The CLT activities in which they find themselves required to participate may not sit comfortably with their "no pain, no gain" attitude. They may not be convinced that imperfect practice makes perfect: they want to be taught to say things correctly first time round - and to be corrected by the teacher whenever they make an error. They may find it frustrating to spend a significant amount of class time engaged in conversation with classmates from a range of other countries who, being learners themselves, are unable to provide models of correct usage - and whose pronunciation may be difficult to understand.
In the hands of experienced language teachers CLT is a highly effective approach. Such teachers are able to select, sequence and where necessary adapt communicative activities so that they reinforce what has been taught. Experienced teachers regularly ensure that within each lesson there is a balance between teacher-fronted sessions and student-centred activities.
Most important of all, experienced language teachers explain the purpose of each activity, so that their students are confident that each lesson has a clear direction and will help them progress towards worthwhile learning goals. Students who have been taught by experienced teachers readily recognise the benefits of the communicative approach. They can see how being engaged in relevant interactive tasks with their peers allows them to participate actively in the learning process - rather than being spoon-fed by their teachers.
Over the past 25 years CLT has proved to be a flexible and robust approach to the teaching of English. In the hands of experienced teachers it is a highly effective approach that provides students with multiple opportunities to engage actively in the learning process in interesting and worthwhile ways. However, in the hands of less experienced teachers CLT can lead students to believe that language teaching as it is practised in countries such as Britain and Australia is "loose" - and that the classroom activities provided for them fall into the category of frivolous party games.
· Rose Senior is a senior lecturer at Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia. She is the author of The Experience of Language Teaching (Cambridge University Press, 2006), which was recently awarded the Ben Warren International House Trust Prize for the most outstanding work in the field of language teacher education
Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited
More information about the Edling