My first experience with a class of near-native English speakers was about 24 years ago. It was similar to the group that I have now, a group of professionals who use English for their work, who want a place to exercise their linguistic muscles, but who want to do little else with it in terms of serious development.
The question I ask week after week is, “What do I do,” and “What do they want”? I am little better off in answering either of those questions now than I was 24 years ago.
Then last week there was a problem. One of the participants became frustrated with one of the others’ pedantic questions and comments and blew up at him. It didn’t come to blows, but it emphasized to me that everyone is there for slightly different reasons, and that not all of their needs are being met.
This is a group class, so I am now struggling to find a way to insure that all of their needs are met. My overall conclusion is that they should have more autonomy than they do now to choose and discuss topics that are of interest to them.
These are how I plan to structure future classes, starting tonight.
- I will give them the task of deciding what topics are covered for the 6-week period. (I have done that in previous sessions, but with limited success, mostly because the proposed topics did not include learning-specific options. For example I gave them lists that included topics such as music or food, but which did not include options such as TOEIC preparation, or learning strategies.)
- I will include learning-specific options in the list, including TOEIC preparation, learning strategies, public speaking, and Internet options for learning.
- Finally I plan to give them their own time for asking questions to me or other learners about the topic at hand. Depending on the number of students, I could imagine giving each learner 5 minutes to ask, comment on, or just express themselves on topics that interest them.
Advanced learners attend classes for a variety of reasons, and the teacher’s role in these settings is to provide the space for each one to express her/his needs and fulfill them for him/herself.