This was the question posed the other week on my MA discussion boards: “Based on your teaching experience, write down the criteria you think are essential for language learning.” And it’s a good question. In many respects the ultimate teaching question as it really gets down to the core elements of your pedagogical belief system – what do you know, or failing knowledge, what do you believe to be true?
So… I had to think about that one for a bit…
But what I eventually concluded was:
Relevance, engagement & use.
Whatever goes on in the classroom has to be relevant to the learners in some way. Either by being set in a context that the learners have themselves experienced, or that they hope to experience, or that they feel they might experience anyway. Hence a module on job interviews with teenagers might not at first seem relevant, but by situating it in a context where they’re applying for a job they hope to get after university, it became relevant in the classroom (albeit, not for all of them!).
This leads to learners being engaged – with the language, but also with the learning process. If learners feel as though they can be passive “participants”, sitting there at the back, hiding away in the corner, and get away with it – it’s likely that the learning process will not be as effective. Selecting task types that appeal to different learning styles, or tasks that involve collaborative or competitive elements can help with this – as can selecting materials and topic areas that are relevant to learner lifestyles.
Use. I find it difficult when I look at materials and realise that they’re basically coming at things from a PPP (Present Practice Produce) approach – but that something’s different. It’s not all there – ah – one of the “p”s is missing! It’s very frustrating when learners are presented with a language point, then do a gapfill and then…. move on to something else. What a wasted opportunity! Admittedly it can be difficult to create authentic situations in which learners might express regret (I wish I hadn’t eaten that chocolate cake) – but an essential part of any lesson must surely be an opportunity for learners to DO SOMETHING with the language they’ve been exposed to in the class!
So these are my ideas – entirely subjective – I’d be very interested to know how far this gels with anyone else’s experience or thinking.