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My head is chaos….I go.

 I have a few hours before my evening shift, to sit and reflect. I think we try to do too much. No. I think we try to get our students to do too much. I’m talking about a timetable that has 7.5 contact teaching hours a day and a further 6 hours of social time with native speakers in a full immersion environment. Note I wrote contact “teaching” hours. And that old thing which says, “Just because you teach doesn’t mean they learn” really smacked me up side the head today. My poor student. He starts his day at 8.15 with breakfast where, if he speaks at all, it has to be in English because no one speaks Turkish and because this is a full immersion programme and he is obliged to speak English only. He then has to gather his wits about him for  a full-on dogmetic conversation/dialogic class when all the skills and all the systems come and go and fluctuate and emerge and recede as the conversation dictates. Then he has a 30-minute respite, but he still needs to speak English if he wants to talk or read English if he wants to read. No wonder he heads for the garden and solitude. Then he has to focus once more for his listening lesson – challenging piece of video with a role play lesson to follow, where he needs to put on his salesman hat and sell me some insurance products for my fleet of buses. Then lunch –  he eats and runs up to his room to escape the relentless Englishness of it all. Individual lesson with horrid me again this afternoon. Conversation plugged into family, as pronouns were to be recycled from this morning. Halfway through the lesson he looked at me and said, “My head is chaos. I go.”

Now is that A Good Thing or A Bad Thing? More and more I think it is A Bad Thing. I have taught and taught and taught and all I have achieved is chaos. I’m not allowing this man to learn – I am entertaining him, occupying him, making sure “the time is filled”, because that is what the timetable says and because he has paid and because I’ m a teacher and because there’s so much to accomplish and and……. and it’s WRONG. A learner’s needs in this case consist of more than increasing vocabulary and how to manage meetings. They are also for time to learn, time to reflect, time to consolidate, time to revise and review and practise and relax. It’s just not possible for anyone to function effectively at that level of input for that length of time.

And the day hasn’t finished. According to the timetable, he now has to prepare for and participate in a 90-minute speaking and presentation workshop with his colleagues and then join a team to continue with their project which is to be completed by tomorrow. THEN he still has to participate in the scheduled evening activity which, if nothing else, involves a high level of social interaction with colleagues and a teacher. It’s inhuman. What on EARTH are we trying to achieve? The students have no time to learn anything. They are just fulfilling given tasks – quite poorly sometimes, and certainly not to the level to which they would like because there just isn’t enough time. No. WE aren’t GIVING them enough time.

What is manageable and achievable in the time available is very different for each student. Some need the entire week to get to grips with one tense, others need a lot of time alone to consolidate and absorb, and yet others skate along happily reactivating and practising their fluency at any and all given opportunities. Perhaps we need to step back for a  minute and really think about the students’ needs – their learning needs, as opposed to their language needs. The timetable should be flexible enough to allow for reflection time, consolidation time and time alone. I have recently read some comments and been in discussions about the beloved/hated Language Lab. And it has been mooted that it is an exercise in cost-cutting, “Put 15 students in there with a set of headphones each and you only need one teacher.” Yes, that’s true, if you look at it from the CFO’s point of view; or a waste of time from the more sales-driven lot: “But time in there is WASTED. They have paid a lot of money to be here and they aren’t INTERACTING and LEARNING when they are in the Lab. We can’t sell a course that isn’t wall-to-wall teaching.” 

Listen to your students – they NEED TIME  for reflection and consolidation and thinking. They need time to LEARN at their own pace and in their own time. That time can ideally be spent in a language lab, as long as the time spent in there isn’t structured and SMART- goal-oriented, as long as they aren’t pestered and pressured to “do” stuff that is essentially time-filling; as long as they are allowed to have that time to take what we’ve taught them and convert it to something learnt, not just something taught.

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11 responses »

  1. ‘No wonder he heads for the garden and solitude’

    I’ve seen that many times!!

    Something I learned with immersion students (I was lucky enough to have constant feedback from them) was that they need more time off for their own benefit, and no, they won’t feel ripped off if they are not being constantly ‘taught’ as long as they feel they are learning, and to learn they need some time off! Full-circle.

    Reply
  2. Great post, Candy!

    I’ve seen variations on this time and time again myself, too.
    As you say, it sounds like more flexible timetable is needed, with more scope for personalisation.

    A relentless, full-on approach to learning isn’t always the best strategy, as many people need time to process new information in order for it to stick. Better for a student to achieve some deep learning duting a course than to go away befuddled by lots of new things that they haven’t quite grasped, I think.

    Sometimes less really is more.

    Sue

    Reply
    • Thank you Sue – I am so pleased to hear that I am not the only one who feels this way. It seems to be one of those things that has got caught up in the relentless dash for more and more “stuff”. Our students should be the ones to dictate the pace of their lessons and learning.
      Candy

      Reply
  3. Having done my fair share of intensive programs, I can’t help but agree with you here…

    If there’s too much teaching, when is there ever going to be enough time to learn?

    Cheers,

    – J

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting Jason. Intensive teaching, more and more, I believe, is about PERCEIVED value for money rather than real added value.
      Candy

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention My head is chaos….I go. « Candy'Stripe -- Topsy.com

  5. Callie Wilkinson

    Hi, and thanks so much for this…

    …I’ve had this guy sitting in on some of my classes recently (while he waits for his wife who is doing a degree course at the college where I teach). His level is way above the level of the class, but he seems to enjoy being there…Anyway, last week he told me at the end of the session that some of my learners are dissatisfied with my lessons on account of the fact that they don’t have sufficient time to practise the new language, and in particular their speaking skills.

    Of course, I was quite gutted to get negative feedback, and even more so because I hadn’t picked up on this myself. Anyway, after a week or so of mulling it all over, I can see that they are absolutely right. I am so preoccupied with bombarding them with as much information as possible so they get their money’s worth out of their two hours per week that I haven’t been providing them with sufficient time and space to assimilate the torrent of new information. I think my propensity to do this, however, is due in part to my relative inexperience. As a new(ish) teacher, I realise I am still trying to prove my worth to both my students and myself. But cramming as much as possible into a lesson just leaves both me and my class with a ‘chaos head’.

    Mmmm. Time to make a few changes, methinks…as you say, “Listen to your students…”

    Best, Callie

    Reply
    • Dear Callie
      Thank you so much for your comment – it means a lot to me. I think possibly the most important thing for a teacher is to be aware and to reflect. The financial people and the marketing people and even the directors and DOS don’t have to be and it is up to us to keep the students needs at the forefront and to meet those needs – whatever they are.
      Many thanks again
      Candy

      Reply
  6. Hi Candy,

    I find myself identifying a lot with what Callie mentioned above, about cramming in as much as possible into the increasingly short times we have with our students. I also teach ESOL (like Callie) and our evening programmes have shrunk from 6 hrs/week to just 4. I ‘manage’ one such group at the course level, teaching them for just a 2 hour session every Thursday.

    However, I find myself unable (and, yes, even unwilling) to plan and prepare in minute detail or for vast quantities of teaching for what goes on in these sessions. More and more I find myself ‘going with the flow’ – which I think (and hope is true) is of most benefit for the students, rather than cramming in as much of the good stuff as I can. What comes will come, I think.

    I’ve taught intensive courses like the one you describe above (a summer school) and found it to be one of the most draining experiences in my life (and I have life-guarded for 10 hr shifts before!). There isn’t the time to take it all in, I agree with what I think you said or implied above – give the students space to use and assimilate what they have learnt. Cheers for that affirmation.

    I also work currently at an FE college (oh dear, this is a bit of a ramble) where we are supposed to set SMART targets for our students (something I am terribly bad at). I am not always sure that the students understand them (I teach a few classes at very basic levels) and whether they are actually of any use. But, perhaps that is another facet to the discussion.

    Thanks for a great read. I need to come back here more often.

    Mike

    Reply
    • Hi Mike

      Many many thanks for YOUR affirmation – it has come as quite an eye-opener as to how many of us feel this way. It cannot help but reinforce the idea that teaching cannot be the same as meeting sales targets or pushing relentlessly towards the next milestone in the project – at any cost. I feel so strongly that learning is being left by the wayside as we all plunge ahead getting the next chapter out of the way and trying to deliver the wickediest lesson and teaching that one last little thing as the bell rings.

      As teachers we need to allow the process of learning to take place: the problem-solving that leads to understanding, the making of the intangible, tangible – in a very real way providing the right environment for the “A-ha” experience to happen, and then be enjoyed and tried and practised and grasped.

      Please pop by whenever you have a mind to.

      Candy

      Reply

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My head is chaos….I go.

I have a few hours before my evening shift, to sit and reflect. I think we try to do too much. No. I think we try to get our students to do too much. I’m talking about a timetable that has 7.5 contact teaching hours a day and a further 6 hours of social time with native speakers in a full immersion environment. Note I wrote contact “teaching” hours. And that old thing which says, “Just because you teach doesn’t mean they learn” really smacked me up side the head today. My poor student. He starts his day at 8.15 with breakfast where, if he speaks at all, it has to be in English because no one speaks Turkish and because this is a full immersion programme and he is obliged to speak English only. He then has to gather his wits about him for  a full-on dogmetic conversation/dialogic class when all the skills and all the systems come and go and fluctuate and emerge and recede as the conversation dictates. Then he has a 30-minute respite, but he still needs to speak English if he wants to talk or read English if he wants to read. No wonder he heads for the garden and solitude. Then he has to focus once more for his listening lesson – challenging piece of video with a role play lesson to follow, where he needs to put on his salesman hat and sell me some insurance products for my fleet of buses. Then lunch –  he eats and runs up to his room to escape the relentless Englishness of it all. Individual lesson with horrid me again this afternoon. Conversation plugged into family, as pronouns were to be recycled from this morning. Halfway through the lesson he looked at me and said, “My head is chaos. I go.”

Now is that A Good Thing or A Bad Thing? More and more I think it is A Bad Thing. I have taught and taught and taught and all I have achieved is chaos. I’m not allowing this man to learn – I am entertaining him, occupying him, making sure “the time is filled”, because that is what the timetable says and because he has paid and because I’ m a teacher and because there’s so much to accomplish and and……. and it’s WRONG. A learner’s needs in this case consist of more than increasing vocabulary and how to manage meetings. They are also for time to learn, time to reflect, time to consolidate, time to revise and review and practise and relax. It’s just not possible for anyone to function effectively at that level of input for that length of time.

And the day hasn’t finished. According to the timetable, he now has to prepare for and participate in a 90-minute speaking and presentation workshop with his colleagues and then join a team to continue with their project which is to be completed by tomorrow. THEN he still has to participate in the scheduled evening activity which, if nothing else, involves a high level of social interaction with colleagues and a teacher. It’s inhuman. What on EARTH are we trying to achieve? The students have no time to learn anything. They are just fulfilling given tasks – quite poorly sometimes, and certainly not to the level to which they would like because there just isn’t enough time. No. WE aren’t GIVING them enough time.

What is manageable and achievable in the time available is very different for each student. Some need the entire week to get to grips with one tense, others need a lot of time alone to consolidate and absorb, and yet others skate along happily reactivating and practising their fluency at any and all given opportunities. Perhaps we need to step back for a  minute and really think about the students’ needs – their learning needs, as opposed to their language needs. The timetable should be flexible enough to allow for reflection time, consolidation time and time alone. I have recently read some comments and been in discussions about the beloved/hated Language Lab. And it has been mooted that it is an exercise in cost-cutting, “Put 15 students in there with a set of headphones each and you only need one teacher.” Yes, that’s true, if you look at it from the CFO’s point of view; or a waste of time from the more sales-driven lot: “But time in there is WASTED. They have paid a lot of money to be here and they aren’t INTERACTING and LEARNING when they are in the Lab. We can’t sell a course that isn’t wall-to-wall teaching.” 

Listen to your students – they NEED TIME  for reflection and consolidation and thinking. They need time to LEARN at their own pace and in their own time. That time can ideally be spent in a language lab, as long as the time spent in there isn’t structured and SMART- goal-oriented, as long as they aren’t pestered and pressured to “do” stuff that is essentially time-filling; as long as they are allowed to have that time to take what we’ve taught them and convert it to something learnt, not just something taught.

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