I think AJ’s post from May 4 entitled: A Great Day sums up how I’m feeling today:
"In other words, the students did all the work, and reaped all the rewards."
I’m totally proud of one of my students. This guy has been with me for a little more than a year, and has always been the weakest member of the group. The weakest member until now that is!
After a few months break away from this group of four tax lawyers, I’ve started classes with them once again. But started in a very different way. I no longer am following a book. I’m no longer keeping the English neatly contained inside the 4 walls of our classroom. I’m no longer positioning myself as the "gateway" to English, and the solution to their English learning needs. I’m no longer subscribing to the idea that the English classroom is all you need to succeed in learning the language.
For a long time I have supported such ideals: your course book is a guide, not the LAW. It’s really good to deviate and bring in "student centered content." Real English is outside the classroom, etc. But rarely have I ever truly aligned my classroom practice to the implications of these thoughts, and rarely have I acted on them.
That has changed drastically this year. Now I’m actively teaching my students to NOT rely on me and our classroom. I’m trying to show them how they can work and develop their English skills on their own. I’m teaching them about podcasts, blogging, and RSS as a means to individualized English content.
During class, I bring in blog posts. I download and play podcasts which speak to their interests and day to day work requirements, and the results have been fantastic, especially with the student I started this story with.
He’s swallowed the pill. He’s now an avid podcast listener. He follows several, and now comes to class buzzing about the lattest one he’s heard.
But he’s not just listening, he’s soaking! He’s starting to pay careful attention to vocabulary words, idiomatic expressions, and sentence structure, and this careful attention is really starting to pay off in the classroom. The guy’s writing and vocabulary is really starting to blossom!
Today he floored me. A few weeks ago, as a primer activity to a project we’re starting, we watched a series of CPA promo videos from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Each 2-5 minute video features a CPA describing their workday, what got them into what they do, why they like what they do, etc.
In class, we’ve been working on how to do the same thing: tell a bit about themselves, like what they studied in university and why, why they opted for the career they have chosen, what they like about their jobs, what their day-to-day activities are etc. Their objective: to speak naturally and easily about these topics. And when they feel ready, we’re going to record their stories to include in their personal portfoflios.
So far we have been doing the work mostly on paper. We’ve spent time outlining what they wanted to include, which was quite a challenge for some, and worked on combining those ideas so that they tell their story in an interesting and engaging way.
Today my student opened his portfolio binder with three entire paragraphs that he had done on his own. I was shocked. This was completely new, ENGLISH ATTACK behavior that I have never seen in him before. I was even more shocked as he started reading.
I thought I was watching one of those videos again. Yes, there were mistakes. A few sentences weren’t working well, and there were a few pesky preposition flubs, but over all, his work was amazing. He wrote like he was talking to someone. He shared naturally and easily, and told a really interesting story. In fact, it was so interesting that the other students stopped their own work to listen. That has never happened before!
He even attempted to employ a heavy duty expression that he had heard on one of the podcasts he listens to - an attempt that failed mind you, but one he tried to use anyway.
I was thrilled, and I let him know it. This is what English class should be about. And these are the kind of results you can expect if you swallow the pill and start devouring English outside the classroom, away from your teacher.
My student left the room at the end of class with a huge smile on his face. As AJ said: "The student did the work, and reaped the reward."