Monday, 3 March 2014

Teaching, not talking.

I shouldn't have gone into work this morning. I woke with my throat still hurting and knew that it was likely to only get more painful if I spent the five hours of lessons looming in speaking, instructing, correcting etc. I could stay at home: however, unless my legs have actually been gnawed off by a tiger, I always feel a bit of a fraud when it comes to illness and being off - that, or I enjoy spreading the viral joy around the staffroom.

So: how to have a lesson without using my voice too much? Simple - just don't speak. I knew I had a lesson due on going to the doctor and describing symptoms etc, so I decided to bring it forward by a day. I went into class, and literally acted dumb for the next hour and a half. This didn't mean not communicating:I wrote questions on the board, added on vocabulary items, expanded ideas on how to express the same idea in different ways, did plenty of mime - even doing work on pronunciation - and by doing so ensured the whole class was engaged in working on the tasks in hand.

What is interesting about engaging this 'Silent Mode' is noticing how the dynamic of the class changes. for starters, the whole room becomes much quieter. There's less chat going on and more focus on the tasks given. The students have to work harder at understanding instructions, but with a decent amount of miming and a whiteboard, it's remarkable how even difficult ideas can be expressed without too much hassle. And by t he class going silent, it becomes easier to monitor, to actually listen to what the learners are saying, understanding, doing with the language.

It also allows the teacher time to reflect on how much time he or she spends in giving instructions, explaining and just generally speaking. After all, we are there to facilitate language learning - if we could somehow absent ourselves entirely from the dialogue, wouldn't we actually be getting more language learning done in class?

I won't pretend that giving a silent lesson is easy. I had a colleague who decided to give it a try and ended up being given a formal warning because his students thought that  he was taking the piss. I had a decent pretext however, namely my sore throat, and in the context of the previous few lessons (use of modal verbs) it worked and worked well. You may find that it works in half-hour stints - it's good for the students as it makes them concentrate on what's happening in class in a different way, but also for the teacher, as it allows us to monitor without the interference of our own voices and also make us mindful of what we normally do and say when we instruct.

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