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Workshop Review: “SMART PRACTICE – Using Cognitive Science and Coaching Tools to make Learning Stick” with Marcela Harrisberger

in Teaching

At her excellent Inter-ELTA workshop in April, Marcela Harrisberger invited us to approach teaching and learning from a neuroscientific angle. Drawing our attention to the bigger picture, she shared what a teacher can do to ensure that the how of learning is tended to just as much as the what.

First off, Marcela stated an obvious but underrated fact: information is not the same as knowledge. Absorbing information is relatively passive and automatic. Knowledge, however, comes with regular practice and application of what has been learned.

Information is not knowledge.

Besides, the brain routinely hijacks learning – because its main function is to separate the wheat of necessity from the chaff of ornamental bric-a-brac. With its limited working memory, forgetting redundant information is a basic survival mechanism. Keeping you safe and sound: high on the agenda. A critical discussion of Plato’s allegory of the cave: not so much.

Thus, in order to convince your brain that what you are about to learn is important, it requires constant nudges and reminders to bypass the “spam” filter and allow content to finally be stored in the long-term memory.
To really master a skill, an ongoing routine and practice is key.

You need your students’ permission

From a neuroscientific perspective, it is the learners’ job to do the learning (i.e. nudging the brain). That’s right –  your students hold the power over whether they learn from you or not. It’s the teacher’s job to provide information, learning strategies and to be a go-to-person during the process.

As a consequence, you can only help your learners succeed if that’s something they really want and allow you to do. Marcela pointed out that a student can easily waste loads of money on weekly lessons through neglecting their own personal learning routine.

Why motivation is overrated

Since our brains operate in perpetual energy-saving mode, there’s a simple factor to consider: If you wait until you feel the kiss of the muse, you may end up waiting until the cows come home.

Fun fact: cows enjoy the great outdoors.

That’s why Marcela suggests just taking action anyway and building a routine that cuts through the Monday morning feels.

So while motivation is essential (especially in the beginning), through regular practice, learning easily becomes a habit that doesn’t require constant self-motivation.

Mind the forgetting curve

With the brain’s tendency to weed out irrelevant details, information generally has a short shelf life. This is called the forgetting curve, and it sets in almost immediately whenever we learn something new.

In fact, Marcela pointed out that, according to the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, 20 minutes after a lesson, the brain will have forgotten 60% of what you’ve learned. After a day or two, this will amount to 75%, with the rest gradually fading out over the following days and weeks.

Bummer? Absolutely…but there is something you and your students can do about it!

Stop forgetting – start reviewing

The best countermeasure against forgetting is to prevent it every time just before the forgetting curve strikes.

Thus, the best way to go about this is reviewing learning resources at specific intervals. Marcela suggested a minimum of three reviews, while highly recommending doing four:

  1. First review: right after the session
  2. Second review: 24 hours later
  3. Third review: one week later (or a little sooner)
  4. Fourth review: one month later (or a little sooner)

As learning resources, well-crafted notes taken during the lesson are the most effective (e.g. notes of new words, pronunciation tips, aha-moments).

More tips for staying on track

To boost learner motivation, Marcela gave us three catchphrases that make it easier to stay on target:

1) “Where attention goes, energy flows.”

Since the brain likes efficiency and can’t really juggle two things at once, it’s best for learners to focus on the process and not on the outcome of their efforts. If part of their attention is in “waiting for results” mode, it will be harder to make progress. Just tell your learners that if they follow the right strategy, success will naturally follow.

This goes hand in hand with appreciating baby steps. Constant small improvements will quickly add up. This is also known as “the 1% rule” of tackling challenges – making little changes counts, even if they just seem to make up 1%.

2) “What gets scheduled gets done.”

While good intentions are noble, they are sometimes not enough to ensure that we actually get things done. Therefore, Marcela recommended for learners to schedule their reviews. A practical way to schedule your reviews is to do it right after the very first one (the one immediately after the lesson).

3) “What gets measured gets improved.”

Another way to keep motivated is to document your progress on paper. For this, you can print out a one-page yearly calendar and check off the date after each reviewing session.

Your progress isn’t what you’ve learned, but that you got the review done.

This will give you the satisfaction of visual progress and a sense of accomplishment. You’ll be looking forward to the next review.

Tips for the classroom

If you want to know what can be a game changer in the classroom, take Marcela’s advice and turn the regular student-teacher dynamic upside down.

Focus less on stuffing your learners’ brains with knowledge.

Instead, use retrieval practice to pull out of your students what they already know and remember. If they are self-conscious about speaking, tell them not to worry about it, but to just fire away and talk to you and each other.

 

Don’t think – just talk to me.

One easy exercise to do regularly is to ask your learners what they remember from the last lesson. Other ways of retrieving knowledge are quizzes, gap-fills, and interrupting the lesson to give your students time for writing down everything they remember from the last 20 minutes.

Conclusion – SMART learning is a smart idea

Some of the key takeaways from Marcela’s workshop were that smart learning isn’t all about perfect lessons plans and transfer of knowledge. Rather, it’s about eliciting knowledge from your learners at regular intervals, shared responsibility and building a brain-friendly learning routine. That way, learning becomes more effective, motivating and enjoyable.

Recommended Reading

Free materials for retrieval practice: retrievalpractice.org

Atomic habits by James Clear:  https://jamesclear.com

Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning by Pooja K. Agarwal and Patrice M. Bain: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42450467-powerful-teaching

“Next Stop: Northern India. Other Countries, Other Teaching Customs?” An Intercultural Conversation

in Teaching

Liz MacGarvey, formerly Director of Postgraduate Teacher Training at Liverpool Hope University, now consults widely on English teaching. Vaibhav Khulbe teaches English, German and Hindi as foreign languages in McLeod Ganj, Northern India. Here, they discuss the similarities and differences of teaching languages 5,000 km apart.

Editor’s note: Fun fact! Did you know that ELTABB Founder John O’Dwyer has also studied Hindi?

A Conversation Between Teachers

Liz MacGarvey

Liz: We’re both language teachers, but my main area of work is teaching English to native speakers; yours is in teaching Hindi to adults and in teaching German to Indian children. So I’ll start by asking you, which presents the greater challenge?

Vaibhav Khulbe

Vaibhav: It’s difficult to compare the two. In school I teach German lessons of  about 40 minutes to students aged 5-13. Here in McLeod Ganj I teach Hindi to individuals who are mostly travellers who have chosen to learn Hindi so that makes it easier.

School students aren’t as dedicated so I just present interesting content and hope that it filters through while they enjoy the class. German is not one of the core subjects so the kids can afford to take it easier  – they end up learning more because they feel less pressure. 

Liz: You’ve reminded me of a paper I once read by a linguist called Stephen Krashen. His theories around second language acquisition really interested me, especially the affective filter hypothesis which talked about the need to reduce learning anxieties…

Anxiety reduction definitely plays a big role. Young kids don’t even realise they’re learning; they’re just enjoying participating. I’m fortunate enough that in all my teaching, there’s less pressure on the learners.

How Learners Learn

Liz:  You are my Hindi teacher and have commented on differences in the way my friend and I learn. Could you expand on this and about different learning styles more generally?

Vaibhav: People learn languages in different ways. Constantly listening to language helps some. For these, simply listening to the radio goes a long way – they like to focus on communication, rather than reducing the language into a set of rules.

Then there are learners who wouldn’t feel comfortable unless they had systematically written down such rules – and of course many stand somewhere between these two types.

Liz: Do you find it easy to accommodate these different learning approaches – have you hit on useful strategies?

Vaibhav: Not being unidimensional in your teaching is very important. Offer different activities so that students can learn in a way that feels comfortable for them.

Presenting your class in a way that appeals to all learners is of big concern for a modern teacher.

Perhaps the biggest challenge today is the availability of language on the internet. How your students feel emotionally – how involved  they are in your class – has probably become the main role of the teacher in face to face lessons.

Presenting your class in a way that appeals to all learners and makes it challenging is of big concern for a modern teacher.

Liz: We tend to categorise children as faster learners of languages – is this your experience in general?  

Vaibhav: Not necessarily. Maybe in certain conditions they are faster, like when they are living in an immersive environment, rather than the classroom. They also have fewer inhibitions and are less conscious of making mistakes. 

As for directly teaching language, adults tend to have an advantage: they are more apt in dealing with concepts. The more mature a student is, the easier it is for them to organise information categorically and recognise language patterns.

Learn Smarter, Learn Faster

Liz: Are there things you’ve observed or tried that speed up the learning process in adults?

Vaibhav: Motivation. Provide your students with interesting activities, and they will learn. With very young children, if you use a game requiring levels and passwords, they get very excited and want to reach the next level. If an animal is the password, they will really want to learn it to succeed.

Simple activities make things interesting.

I think this is similar for adults. An activity such as designing an advert can be done very simply, right now in the present. This provides immediate motivation, as opposed to language goals which might be years away.

You are bringing them out of the academic world into a practical situation with immediate results. Such simple activities make things interesting and take away that focus on distant future perfection.

Liz: You’ve reminded me of how often I used role play when I was teaching English to the Tibetan students in TCV [Tibetan Children’s Village]. They had a presentation to work on and they knew they would have to come out and entertain their friends. 

Yes, but sometimes with young kids, while the ones performing are learning, the others get too excited waiting for their turn! But certainly as they get older it works because everyone is involved in some way… I suppose what I am saying is that it’s important everyone should in some way feel rewarded.

Lego or Literature?

Liz: Do you think there is a place for literature in the early stages of learning? Or should we concentrate first on the fundamental building blocks of the language?

Vaibhav: In terms of motivation, literature can certainly help. All human beings are, I think, interested in stories and as they read aloud they can learn language incidentally, as a by-product. So I think literature can go a long way in keeping students interested. 

I remember hearing an eminent critic, the late Barbara Hardy, talking about narrative as  “a primary act of mind”. *

Yes, I think storytelling is a very fundamental activity, almost at the same level as perceiving three dimensional space and moving through time. It is very primitive indeed. It is also much less of a burden on the memory as you don’t have to remember the individual details. Once you know the overall stories things are covered in a beautiful way which make the journey downhill rather than uphill – it flows and we follow with it.

Mother Tongue Twisters

Liz: Is it easier to teach Hindi, your mother tongue, to travellers in India or German to Indian children?

Vaibhav: There are advantages to both. I’ve been teaching Hindi for a long time and have learned what works but initially there were things I found hard to explain. The answer in my head was often “Well that’s how it is!” Now, with experience, I can present it in an organised way that can easily be received by the students. Most of those I teach also know English so I can draw parallels between languages.

The biggest challenge is that here in India, I am completely out of touch with spoken German. Because of this, my knowledge of day-to-day language use is less. In terms of grammar, though, it was easier at first because I could repeat explanations that I had recently learned. That was different to teaching Hindi.

Our mother tongue is a filter through which we look at the world but sometimes it’s hard to look at the filter itself. 

Zooming into the Future

Liz: During the covid pandemic we’ve been doing a lot of teaching on Zoom. Do you think it offers any advantages to teachers of language?

Vaibhav: For my part, I think face to face is much more enjoyable – with young students it is definitely easier to keep their attention in-person – but online has many advantages. For small groups of adults especially, Zoom works well.

Many people are now learning languages in this way and the fact that you can easily check things while learning and record the session is especially helpful. 

Liz: Well I think Zoom might be here to stay…. Thank you, Vaibhav, for your insights into language teaching – and for being my Hindi teacher.

***

—–
*Tellers and Listeners. The Narrative Imagination. Barbara Hardy.

One Year of Teaching English Online: The Good, the Bad and the Not-So-Ugly

in Teaching

Most English teachers are yearning for the real-world classroom and treat online teaching as a hurdle that must be overcome… And yet, despite the obvious difficulties, I feel there is a lot to praise about online teaching.

In the last year, as ESL professionals, we’ve all had to go through something of a baptism of fire. Whether we liked it or not, we suddenly found ourselves whisked out of the classroom and locked up at home, teaching all of our courses online. Gone were the paper printouts. Gone was the whiteboard. Gone were body language, mingle activities and textbooks.

And in their place, only one thing remained (for most of us, anyway).

Zoom.

But today I come to praise online teaching, not to bury it.

When I return to the classroom, I won’t just be mourning the extra hour-and-a-half each day I lose to commuting, but I’ll be missing a whole suit of fantastic tools we all have at our disposal – let’s examine why online teaching is something to be celebrated!

Whiteboards

I’m going to start with the whiteboard… Zoom’s whiteboard isn’t great, but I prefer it to its physical counterpart! If you run out of room, you can easily move and edit components, or flick over to a second page (the small ‘+’ at the bottom-right). If you’re using Windows 10, Microsoft Whiteboard has unlimited canvas space and the ability to post pictures and videos.

You can share links, your students can add their own content and use the board for homework. There are also browser-based alternatives such as WBO and Mural.

Virtual whiteboards don’t just replace the features of their physical counterparts – they offer many more:

  1. Your students can write simultaneously.
  2. You can paste videos and websites.
  3. If you prepare whiteboards in advance, you can later edit and organise in-lesson notes into something worth keeping and email the results to your students.

Presentations

With screen-sharing, it’s easier than ever to give presentations – no more relying on a smartboard or projector! Microsoft Sway allows you to quickly make snazzy presentations. Google Slides gives you more control over design and can be supplemented with the Pear Deck addon. With this you can ask multiple-choice questions, or ask (anonymously) if anybody is struggling. Students can even draw their responses, for more fun engagement.

Presenting with Prezi

For something more swish, many teachers use Prezi – and once again, these presentations can be shared with pupils afterwards, so they don’t need to frantically scribble notes the whole time.

Tests

Even tests are now easier – and more fun! Kids (and many adults too) groan and delay when you give them a paper test. But the same test online using Kahoot or Quizizz? They will yell out their answers, dance when they win and demand to play again! These websites will also mark the tests and present you with statistics. No more printing or marking!  You can even integrate photos and videos to supplement written English with spoken.

Yay for “Ctrl+Z”!

Similarly, LearningApps offers dozens of different types of activities, including pelmanism, gap-fill, crosswords and wordsearches. It takes a few minutes to make your own, but then you can save them and reuse them, see completed statistics, give them as homework and edit them. Again – no more printing, cutting-out and laminating. No more carrying round and losing packs of cards!

Rooms

OK, I’ll admit a little defeat here… The internet doesn’t replicate meeting each other in an actual, physical room. However, that is changing! Spatial.io is geared towards education and business, and tries to replicate the sensation of sharing a room. If you want something less overwhelming, CozyRoom offers a simple cartoon world.

You can place furniture, point things out and move around – volume is based on distance to the person speaking. Mingle activities are possible again! If you fancy something a touch more powerful and professional, there’s Spatial.Chat – this even allows you to post pictures and videos, so you can replicate your favourite ‘art gallery’ activities.

Of Mice or Men?

I’ve adopted a technique that one student nicknamed ‘Mouse Teacher’ (after the rodent, not the gadget). I keep my camera and microphone off at first, giving new students only a few pictures that describe me. They then have to guess as much as possible about me before properly ‘meeting’ me for the first time.

I can still communicate through on-screen annotations, but this way they talk more, I talk less, and we have a thought-provoking introduction:

  • “He is under 40 and creative, by the way he types.”
  • “He doesn’t speak, he’s a mouse!”

With some of my classes I’m now a mouse for most of the lesson, noting errors in a separate window before pasting them onto the whiteboard for correction. Students have said they really enjoy the opportunity this gives them to talk together, and they don’t look to me for constant guidance.

Conclusion: I, for One, Welcome our New Robot Overlords

Of course, teaching online has its disadvantages – but so does any medium. For me, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages – and some of my students have been pleasantly surprised with their online lessons. It seems like we’ll be stuck online for a while yet – so let’s stop seeing screens as an obstacle, and rediscover the sense of wonder the internet once offered!

This post has offered a variety of suggestions for within-lesson tools. If you want something to help with a ‘macro’ approach, check out Slobodan Kelecevic’s article on digital tools from the earlier days of lockdown.

***

08.07.21 Update:

One of ELTABB’s members has suggested this impressive-looking collection of online teaching tools! Check it out, and let us know your thougths in the comments!

Workshop Review: “What about the fifth skill of viewing?” with Kieran Donaghy

in Teaching

Language learning is traditionally broken down into the four skills: Reading, Writing, Listening and  Speaking. In a recent webinar, Kieran Donaghy drew our attention to a fifth skill: Viewing.

The concept of visual literacy has been an important topic in many undergraduate humanities programs for quite some time now.

As the world we live in is becoming more and more multimodal, it only makes sense that we also include images and films in language teaching. Donaghy quoted Sophia Mavridi:

As the offline and online worlds increasingly intersect, students need new sociocultural literacies to live, learn and communicate.

Multimodal refers to any form of communication that utilizes more than one mode to convey a message. So, for example, a book of poetry is not multimodal, but say, Allen Ginsberg reading HOWL, accompanied by conga and alto sax is.

A photo: not; but a photo with text: certainly.

multimodal teaching
A multimodal image

So how can teachers facilitate visual literacy in the classroom?

Introducing the Five Core Concepts

As an introduction, Donaghy borrowed a slide from the Center of Media Literacy, which outlines five core concepts and related questions as follows.

Five Core Concepts Five Key Questions
1. All media messages are ‘constructed.’1. Who created this message?
2. Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules.2. What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
3. Different people experience the same media message differently.3. How might different people understand this message differently from me?
4. Media messages have embedded values and points of view.4. What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?
5. Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.5. Why is this message being sent?

 

Though the concepts and questions above might be fruitful for discussion with a group of intermediate to advanced-level learners, they might not work so well with elementary-level learners.
 
Still, most learners enjoy being entertained while learning a new language, and film serves as an excellent source of authentic language spoken in the context of a visual narrative.
 
What could be better than that?
 

Extensive Viewing in the classroom 

The actual process of integrating films into language lessons can be challenging and time-consuming. Luckily, I found a couple of viewing guides for films that I have really enjoyed on Donaghy’s Film- English website. His guides include a synopsis and discussion questions that are often specific to the film in question. They are part of the Extensive Viewing methodology and organized into three phases:

Pre-viewing, Viewing, and Post-viewing, comprising 7 stages in all. For an average class, the teacher would need to stretch the lesson over the course of several meetings.

The following lesson plan is for a drama about a divorce.

Pre-viewing: Stages 1-3

1) Priming
Discuss questions that focus on activating learner’s background knowledge and generating predictions.

  • Can you think of the names of film dramas that you’ve seen?
  • Do you know anyone who has ever been through a divorce themselves, or whose parents have divorced?

2) Focus on Context
Read the film synopsis (with a glossary of terms).

3) Glossary
Read the glossary of frequently used language along with synopsis of each section of the film before viewing. (Note: these glossaries can be quite long thus learners might need extra time to read them. Teachers may want to include translations for intermediate-level learners.)

Viewing: Stages 4-5

4) 1st Viewing
View film in its entirety (for pleasure).

5) 2nd Viewing

View film in sections after reviewing the glossary used in each section in order to better notice target vocabulary and how it is used.

Post-viewing: Stages 6-7

6) Multimodal Analysis of Film with the 5C’s and 5S’s Framework
The 5C and 5S frameworks organize the film into categorical areas of discussion. They expand on the 3 C’s and 3 S’s used by IntoFilm.

The following are a few of the questions organized into the film guide categories. They are intended to help learners develop their own personal response to the film. 

STORY: Why do you think C fired his lawyer and hired a new one? Why did N choose to stay in LA? 

CHARACTER: How does N and C’s relationship change over the course of the film? How would you describe H’s character? and so on…..

SETTING: How are New York and Los Angeles represented in the film? How important are the two cities to the story?

COLOR/LIGHT: How are the colors in New York and LA different? How is the light in New York and LA different?

SELF: Did you find the film easy to follow or confusing? What character did you empathize with the most? What do you think the message of the film is?

7) Multimodal Response
In the final stage, students are to produce a personal, multimodal response to the film. For example, they could write a review of the entire film or analyze a particular scene and incorporate still shots into their text. Or, they might record themselves summarizing the film.


SEE THINK WONDER — Visible thinking for still images

Donaghy summarized techniques like “visible thinking” to introduce and discuss still images in the classroom. He referred to a routine called “SEE THINK WONDER” in which the following questions can be asked about most images:

  1. What do you see?
  2. What do you think about that?
  3. What does it make you wonder?

Encourage the learners to use the same stems to scaffold their responses:

  1. I see…
  2. I think…
  3. I wonder…

The teachers should limit their role to summarizing the learners’ responses and encouraging group discussion.

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS)

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is another approach to introducing still images. It uses the following sequence of inquiries to challenge learners to find meaning in imagery and express their opinions:

What’s going on in this painting/photo?

After learners offer their opinions, the teacher then asks:
What do you see that makes you say that?

And then later to the group as a whole: What else can we find?

Final thoughts on the workshop

I enjoyed the workshop, but we certainly covered a lot of ground. If I remember correctly, there were more than 150 Power Point Slides over the course of a 150-minute-presentation.

Personally, I would have appreciated less time spent on the first part of the talk, which dealt with the importance of multimodal texts in curricular frameworks. That might have allowed more time to explore the second part of the talk, which dealt more hands-on with the use of multimodal texts in the ELT classroom.

***

Learner Autonomy and Teacher Wellbeing: Flip Your Classroom and Achieve More by Doing Less

in Professional Development/Teaching

This article explores the journey a teacher may embark on to support learner autonomy. It also looks at the challenges and benefits this entails for both the teacher and the learner.

In an earlier article for ELTABB, we focused on how language coaching can support students in a way that provides empowerment and true motivation.

This time, we’re taking a look at the benefits of language coaching to the teacher/learner dynamic.

Rethinking the Teacher-Learner Relationship

As teachers, we tend to feel as if we are underachieving if we do not put 120% effort into planning, designing, implementing, checking, testing, and discussing.

On the other hand, incorrectly calibrated and oftentimes needless work will just increase frustration and demotivate the learner. The issue here is the insistent focus on ourselves: our planning, our implementation, our checking.

But what about learner planning, learner implementation, and learner checking?

How about working just the amount needed to help learners reach their goals and allowing them to take ownership of their learning process?

By keeping in mind coaching guru Tony Robbins’ words, “Energy flows where attention goes,” you can learn to direct this flow to concentrate on what is truly necessary. This leads to less fretful preparation for the teacher and heightened learner autonomy.

Research Says…

The above coincides with research in the field of learning. In fact, a workplace learning report from LinkedIn suggests that:

Over 40% of Gen Z and millennial learners and 33% of Gen X and boomer learners prefer self-directed learning experiences, or opportunities to craft their own learning goals and choose the learning content that helps achieve them.1

Language coaching is intended to make time for understanding your learners’ language learning goals and how to best reach them. It’s about figuring out steps towards becoming a more effective learner and communicator.

As you engage in coaching-style activities and conversations, you will notice that learner engagement grows. Consequently, it will be easier for you to come up with motivating activities, as learners are already focused and ready to learn.

The Learning/Teaching Matrix

In order to find out more about learner autonomy in the classroom, take a look at this matrix.

©2020 Gabriella Kovács ACC

If we rethink the roles that we as teachers have traditionally been assigned—or have assigned ourselves—we might start redesigning the basic components of our classes.

To highlight a few:

  • Decision-making processes (top-down vs. collaborative)
  • Classroom language (instruction vs. questions/statements)
  • Processes (pre-planned vs. on the spot)
  • Creativity (low vs. high)
  • Correction work (controlled vs. open)
  • Strategies to overcome challenges (few vs. many)
  • Materials usage (excessive vs.  moderate)
  • Rewards and success focus (macro vs. micro)

Colour Zones in Teaching

With a coaching mindset, your lessons will mostly tend to be in the green, occasionally yellow and blue zones. More traditional approaches to teaching will primarily be in the red zone, with occasional excursions into the yellow and blue zones.

The ‘greener’ your teaching becomes, the more it will lead to:

  • Collaboration in partnership settings
  • Diverse thinking
  • Multiple pathways to reach goals
  • Exploration of a wider set of skills and competencies
  • Stronger awareness of learning strategies
  • Promotion of learner strengths and successes
  • Clearly defined goals and clear communication

Small Tweaks, Big Gains

What we have found out so far points towards learner empowerment, increasing flexibility, and resilience—and we must surely agree that in these turbulent times we can all do with a larger dose of these.

Coaching can help here because it is largely based on asking the right questions.

This leads to opening up conversations instead of instructing—paying attention with curiosity rather than with the intention to lead. In turn, learner autonomy will develop and flourish, breeding teacher and learner wellbeing that’s built on a high level of trust.

Focusing on micro-skills and rewarding on a small scale will create a safe learning environment.

However, if we fail to support learners when facing their weaknesses and blocks, these will persist and resurface as low motivation, boredom, and poor language learning skills. Working towards large-scale goals and celebrating only major successes will keep learners with lower self-esteem caught up in negative self-talk and believing they are not good enough.

Focusing on subskills and micro-skills and rewarding them on a small scale will create a safe learning environment. As they say, it’s about “progress, not perfection.” These small tweaks to teaching can all increase self-esteem for learners, which in turn leads to the motivation to make progress and learn more.

5 Practical Steps to Increase Learner Autonomy

Now that we know more about learner autonomy in theory, how can teachers and educators create a learning environment that enhances learner autonomy?

1. Use the 80/20 Rule

80% teacher silence enables 80% learner talking/thinking time. 20% teacher talking time is sufficient, no matter the language level.

Activity: Record yourself during a lesson and roughly add up your talking time. Do one thing differently to increase your learners’ active class participation time.

Reflection: What did you change? What changed?

2. Welcome Silence

Appreciate silence in class as thinking time not to be reduced in favour of “doing things.” Thinking is when your learners are creating connections, bridging earlier and new ideas, knowledge, and skills. The most valuable time in coaching is when the client is discovering, exploring, and figuring out how to proceed.

Activity: Count to 10 before you ask your next question, give your next instruction. Also, count to 10 after asking/instructing.

Reflection: How did things change? What reactions ensued?

3. Offer Guidance where Needed

Make sure you guide the reflective process at the ends of activities, lessons, courses with 2-3 very simple questions/activities.

Activity: Use a multi-sensory approach:

  • How did this feel?
  • What did you notice?
  • What new thoughts do you have now?
  • How does this sound to you?

(Naturally do not ask all at once, but choose the appropriate question after an activity, at the end of the lesson or a complete course.)

Reflection: Did their answers surprise you? How did these questions and the answers make you see, feel, and think about your class?

4. Flip the Classroom

Learners will be more motivated and feel more involved if, instead of telling them what to do (strongly instructing), you open up space and ask them which of 2-3 things they would like to move forward with during the lesson.

By giving choices, you build responsibility. As they begin to own the decision-making process, they will become more aware of the reasons underlying the choices they make.

By giving choices, you build responsibility.

Activity: Divide your learners into two groups. While Group 1 writes down the questions that they would ask as a teacher from the class before an exercise (e.g. “p. 42/ex. 4”), Group 2 writes down the instructions that they would give to the class as a teacher before that exercise.

Reflection: How do the different types of messages make the learners react and why? Which do they appreciate more and why?

5. Focus on Resources

Focus on the skill sets and techniques learners use when learning. Call attention to and ask about these strategies. This way learners become more aware and autonomous, and you can encourage them to be open to new learning-related ideas from each other.

Activity: Create a strengths/positivity wall. Ask learners to write down what they see as a learning-related strength or positive learning habit in the person sitting next to them. Put these on the wall (or whiteboard in Zoom).

Reflection: What one word describes this activity for you? And for your learners?

Adopt a Coaching Approach in Your Classes!

Have these ideas sparked your interest in more activities of this sort? Do you wish to unlock your learners’ potential? Gain clarity and structure to support a language coaching approach in your classes and trainings.
If you think this could be the missing piece in your language teaching puzzle – take the first step and visit our website.

https://internationallanguagecoaching.com/training-courses

Courses start each season, from foundation to advanced levels. Also, check out our ILCA YouTube* channel for insights.

*ILCA is the International Language Coaching Association.

References

1. https://learning.linkedin.com/resources/workplace-learning-report

 

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