Monday, June 03, 2013

Developing a Classroom Culture that Prioritises Communication

Theories about English Language Teaching have been prioritising different skills through the years, in order to find the best way to teach English as a Second or Foreign language.

Even Elementary and Secondary schools have a different view on how skills should be taught  or about the importance of grammar in second language teaching.

What linguists could not expect is that the solution was much closer to the classrooms that to the university or psychological researches.

Some time ago I read an article written by Professor Claire Kramsch who believed that “learners have some say in the classroom culture by assuming topic control and taking more responsibility for turn taking”.

Professor Kramsch hits on the nail when she mentions that by following some simple rules, we are not only promoting speaking skills but also promoting the development of the language overall, including its grammar and vocabulary. (Remember my post Who said that we cannot do PBL in ESL teaching? )

Let me give you some of her do’s (and some dont’s!) that make me improve my classroom management through the last two years:

  • Use the target language not only to deal with the subject matter but also to regulate the interaction in the classroom. You will thus offer a model of how to use interactional gambits in natural discourse. 
  • Keep the number of display questions (i.e. teacher questions that are aimed at getting learners to “display” their knowledge, such as “What’s the past of go?”) to a minimum. The more genuine requests for information, the more natural the discourse.
  • Build the topic at hand together with the students; assume that whatever they say contributes to the topic. Do not cut off arbitrarily a student’s utterance because you perceive it to be irrelevant. It might be very relevant to the student’s perception of the topic.
  • Tolerate silences; refrain from filling the gaps between turns. This will put pressure on students to initiate turns.
  • Encourage students to sustain their speech beyond one or two sentences and to take longer turns; do not use a student’s short utterance as a springboard for your own lengthy turn.
  • Extend your exchanges with individual students to include clarification of the speaker’s intentions and a negotiation of meanings; do not cut off too soon an exchange to pass on to another student.
  • Pay attention to the message of student’s utterance rather than to the form in which they are cast. Keep your comments for later.
  • Make extensive use of natural feedback (“hmmm”/”interesting”/”I think so”) rather than evaluating and judging every student utterance following its delivery (“fine”/”good”). Do not over praise.
  • Give students explicit credit by quoting them (just as X said…”); 

Of course this list is already in my teaching portfolio and I always keep it in mind when I start a new topic! 

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