By Flor de María Vila
Nowadays, in the technological and digital era, acquiring knowledge is at the tip of our fingers or should we also say that an oral message would be enough to search what we want?
Even though the answer may be affirmative, we need to consider that finding the right information does not necessarily mean learning takes place. If we want learning to be achieved, we must at least have a plan and other components. Nevertheless, even if we did, we may still need the help of a professional, the teacher.
What happens in an everyday class? Who decides what needs to be learned?
Apparently, that is the teacher’s job: to decide what has to be done in order to help students achieve their goals. In fact, that is why everybody registers for a course in an institution or takes classes with a private teacher. Most of us need somebody to instruct us in what we need to do. Thus, a teacher would perform many of the following tasks:
1. Identify what students want or need to accomplish.
2. Make a diagnose of students’ level of English.
3. Determine how much time the student will need to reach the required level.
4. Choose the best material: a textbook if possible, and additional material to provide
What else do you think a teacher must keep in mind?
What about methodology?
This must be connected to the students’ learning style, rhythm, and skills. We teachers always have to adjust our teaching strategies to our students’ needs and interests so as to keep their motivation buzzing.
If we do all this, why are there still students who either take too much time to learn or seem to learn nothing at all?
Unfortunately, many times some students think that because they attend classes, they would just learn magically as if we teachers had a sort of powerful mind able to transfer all our knowledge and enable them to either speak or write, for instance, in the blink of an eye. It is true that a good class should be such that students will leave the classroom knowing what was taught; however, what the teacher does in the classroom is not the only element that should be considered when measuring results. Actually, there are many other factors intervening and the students themselves constitute an important one. Thus, whatever they do or fail to do certainly affect their learning as well. Acquiring would depend on a number of different experiences provided by the teacher as well as by the students themselves. This number of experiences will affect learning as you will see in the following simple graph.
I also need to underline how important it is to recognize that the more learners practice, the better and faster they will learn. Experience in this context will be connected not only to what students do in class but also to what they do outside the classroom. Furthermore, we need to remember that mastering a language is the result of developing both, motor and cognitive skills, which are closely related according to Piaget (1). I always compare mastering language with flying an airplane or how driving a car. Nobody, as far as I know, would be able to fly a plane or drive a car by just reading the manuals. It is necessary to practice an extended period to begin doing it and then a large number of hours to overcome the skill. Thus, anybody who thinks that attending classes will be enough to gain control of a language is mistaken. In order to make it possible for a person to lodge something into their long term memory, they have to “experience” or practice many times, especially if he wants to learn fast. If a student relies only on what the teacher offers in class, he will certainly take more time to absorb anything.
What does a learner have to do then? What suggestions could we give him?
In order to help students practice intelligently, the teacher has to help him by recommending the following:
1. Review what has been done in class
2. Apply what he has done in class in something he is doing at school, university or work. That is, if he has learnt how to give suggestions in class, he could start writing or recording recommendations to people in his environment. The student must experience that what he has been taught proves useful.
3. Watch videos. Just make sure to teach students how to take advantage of the videos. It is not useful at all to only share links without telling them what to do. Even better, open one of those links in class and model how to use them. Otherwise, watching videos or listening to them would be a waste of time and energy, yours and his.
4. Organize his time to practice constantly. There is not much efficiency in doing some exercises from time to time. Just remind them how many hours pilots, for instance, invest in their flights before becoming authorized pilots.
5. Monitor their progress. For this, they first need to set objectives. Without them is like going to the supermarket and buy something and then return home and start wondering: What can I cook today? A waste of time and money, isn´t it?
By the way, some of these suggestions could also be useful for self-taught students who would try skipping classes or saving some money. In any way, one always needs some guidance. If one happens to have a kind of coach, as most of us teachers are, it could be better because we will save them time relying on our experience and knowledge, though I have met some students who needed merely very little help because they were already accustomed to studying on their own.
What else can we suggest to our students?
Share your experience and ideas with us*
(1) Piaget, J. The origins of intelligence in children. Norton & Company, New York, NY; 1952
M.A. in Cognition, Learning and Development from PUCP, B.A. in Education with a major in English Teaching. Ms. Vila is currently Teacher trainer, Pedagogic Consultant and Member of the Research Team at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico. She is Academic Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications advisory) and relationship manager for American universities´ MBA admissions officers with International Contacts. She is official Examiner for several University of Cambridge tests, freelance consultant with Universidad ESAN, experienced speaker on diverse English teaching issues for prestigious institutions, and senior international examinations trainer (GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS)