a date with Kate

does Kate do her homework?

I talked about learner coaching at the ACEIA conference in Seville, Spain last weekend. Thanks to everyone who attended for contributing, especially for your coaching work to help me achieve my goal of a date with Kate Winslet!

One question which arose was this: How responsible should teachers be for what students do outside class to practise their English? “For teachers looking at learning once the class is over” is the strap line for this blog. Are we just looking or do we need to go a step or two further? Consider this scenario which describes two contrasting weeks with a class you teach:

Week one: you have two very successful classes; students come up after class and tell you how useful and enjoyable the lessons are, you too are pleased with their engagement in the class, their commitment to speaking in English and practising new language. The material this week was perfectly pitched for the class and the role play activity on Tuesday was a lot of fun for them. Even Jordi, who has been struggling with the level, was participating…etc. At the end of class on Thursday you asked the students how much time they had spent practising English outside class that week. Your 10 students had done a total of 8 hours between them.

Week two: classes were not so successful this week you felt. Students spoke very little in the conversation activity on Tuesday and the listening task you chose turned out to be too difficult and a few students looked a bit lost…etc. At the end of class on Thursday you asked the students how much time they had spent practising English outside class that week. Your 10 students had done a total of 16 hours between them

So which week was the most successful, week one or week two?

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12 Responses to a date with Kate

  1. Hi Fiona,
    (Daniel here) You got me reflecting about how powerful certain metaphors have been for me in the field of learner autonomy and the consequent changes in role of the teacher (teacher = coach / councellor / librarian / etc…). They’re quite persuasive! Metaphors, anecdotes and analogies may prove an effective way to transmit ideas about good learning to our students, too.

  2. Fiona James says:

    There has been a recent entry on Scott Thornbury’s magnificent blog (An A-Z of ELT) related to the use of metaphor and I have found the ensuing thread hugely interesting. I think that it can shine a lot of light as to the kinds of thing we need to be doing with our students, which would answer some of the questions we are asking here. Our students are anything but a bunch of “tupperware” containers waiting to be crammed full of grammar and lexis. A group of 12 students comes ready made with the most amazing amount of “ready-made materials” of their life experience that is there waiting for us to tap into. I think if we are genuinely interested in our students, their lives, their aspirations amongst many other areas, those questions we are asking here will simply emerge organically through the process of empowering our students to be the centre of attention.


  3. David Young says:

    Not sure where the ‘how do we get them to do it?’ question came into it – quite agree. My question was ‘how do we do it?’, which is still in our control (pedant me).
    A classic, and something which requires zero technology, zero planning, zero resources, is simply to build up the pattern that students bring questions to class. For them to bring a question, they have to do some thinking about what that question would be, and in thinking about what that question would be, they had to do some studying whether formal or not – thinking about stuff counts as studying, right?
    It puts the emphasis on them, and it also means that whatever is dealt with in class is directly connected to their needs. It worked quite successfully in the small flexi/conversation classes that the school offered and was great for me as a teacher as my planning time was zero!! Kind of. I remember one student asking about how to know whether it should be un-/in-/im- etc as the prefix to adjectives, another asking about when they could leave out a relative pronoun. I was clueless about this at the time they asked, but it also pushed me to find out about stuff.

    • Hi Dave,
      I love the idea of encouraging learners to bring a question to class – that’s definitely going in the toolbox! When you did this it was in fairly relaxed conversational classes, right? I wonder what an effective way of doing this with a class would be? I’m thinking there could be a 5-minute slot each week, a space for a question on a handout, etc… Any neat suggestions?

      • David Young says:

        It was what the school called the flexi-class. I sat in a room for 6 hours and people turned up for a class. They had effectively paid for 12 classes at whatever time the fancied so could sign up 2 minutes before the session and there they were – sometimes just 1 student, think the max was 6 (or maybe nobody turned up and I read a book).
        Why only once a week? Why not every time you teach them?
        Students could work together to decide which question their group wanted answering or working on. In the process of deciding, they will probably end up doing a lot of peer-teaching, teacher can monitor and help already. It can generate a lot more than 5 minutes a week.

      • (Dan replying to Dave’s last comment) If I was a learner I’d prefer more of a bonded group than the flexi-class offered, I think, one where everyone pitches up and supports learners they know well. I think I’d like to feel part of a team (my motivations are usually highly community dependent – what we called ‘relatedness’ in the activity on motivation: https://learnercoachingelt.wordpress.com/activities/why-im-learning-english/ )
        But I do like the fact that the onus was automatically on the students to decide on content. I wonder whether you could sell this as the core of a course instead of just once a week.

  4. David Young says:

    I often feel that ‘in class’ successes are linked to some kind of ‘stealth’ teaching. Going in and writing ‘passive voice’ on the board and then trying to force the students to use it can get some results in terms of exercises completed, but when structures/vocab arise naturally, or seemingly naturally, in the classroom and the students feel that the question has come from them and the teacher is responding to it, the results seem much better.

    It’s not always the case that the language has just come up as the perceive it. In a slightly manipulative way, I know it’s going to come up and just make it look like it was their idea.

    For getting them to study and practise English outside the classroom, I think there’s an analogy with this. Telling students they have to do something outside the classroom is often hard work, demotivating for me when they don’t do it, and potentially damaging for them when they don’t have time and then decide not to go to the next class because they didn’t do it. We effectively need to manipulate them into thinking it’s their idea so that there is buy in from their side.

    How to do that is the next question.

    • Hi Dave,

      Dan here – Great to hear from you, mate! And good comparison of what goes on in and out of class. There could be several approaches to the question you pose. First I’d like to suggest rephrasing it from “How do we get them to do it?” to “What is a teacher’s role in learner independence?”. Perhaps ‘getting them to do something’ suggests that we’re still accountable; we could be doing our learners a disservice if we continue with this notion that it’s our responsibility they learn. Duncan used an analogy with Weight Watchers in an earlier post; I wonder to what extent the group leader there feels a responsibility for the clients’ weight loss? Proud or disappointed maybe, encouraging and motivating hopefully, but accountable to them for their success or failure? I doubt it.
      One solution seems to be in peer coaching, the idea that you tend to follow what people you relate to are doing rather than what you are told to do by people in authority. One natural conclusion, then, is to give learners time in class to share their experiences, tips and problems, and to let them read about successful learners in the world of ELL. Another possibility is that we explore the field of behavioral psychology and ‘nudge theory’, which uses what we now know about human behaviour to ‘persuade’ people to follow good learning practices – ‘the soft sell’, if you like. This falls well into the ‘manipulation’ approach that you alluded to, which sounds sneaky but I don’t think it has to be. Finally, of course, I think teachers need to become better aware of the new out-of-class resources available to learners so that we can show them that independent learning is no longer the sole domain of studious types.
      I really hope we can expand on these ideas because your question is key to the whole thing. Thanks again Dave, and see you here for more, I hope :o)

  5. I think that a teacher is not necessarily responsible for how much time students spend in English outside of the class, but rather for encouraging them to do so in interesting and engaging ways. I’d certainly feel better about the first week, with classes that went very well, than about the second since students pay for a service that we provide and will keep coming back if they feel that they are taking something away from the class.

    The fact that students spent more time the second week in English activities outside of the class could be due to one having gone to England for the weekend, or a family visit from the brother-in-law that doesn’t speak Spanish. Juan could have had his yearly business meeting in English that week. I don’t think it necessarily correlates with the classes that didn’t go well.

    As a teacher, I tell my students that most of their learning will take place outside of the classroom. Two or three hours a week isn’t enough to really advance unless they are practicing elsewhere. Movies and TV series with english subtitles become homework to be discussed in the next class, kids make me CDs of their favourite English music for us to go over in class. (This worked wonders- I taught a group of 11 year old girls on Wednesdays and their younger sisters on Tuesdays. The younger sisters all learned the songs in English because they wanted to sing like their older siblings.)

    How would you feel, honestly?

    • Hi Willow
      The kind of activities you talk about doing with those girls is very much what we are aiming at and I think what David is referrring to below with stealth activities. Somebody in that talk in Seville made the point that we don’t know what they are learning from that. Well I dont think ewe know that well what students are learning in class either. Getting English hours under your belt, like air miles for pilots is the key I think. My example scenario is a caricature of course to make the point that it is worth attending in some way at least to our learners language life if we can see benefits. Would your girls have made those CDs and learned those songs without your coach style approach? I accept there are other learners who might feel they can sort themselves out and are paying you exclusively for a classroom learning experience, which is great. They are coaching themselves!

  6. thanks Fiona
    yes I imagine the mirror role can be very important and highlights the inadequecy for me of a lot of the learner training literature which tends to be all about advising people about the best way to learn such as, “make sure you keep a box of vocab cards”, instead of tapping into and validating their own preferences.

  7. Fiona James says:

    Hi Duncan – and Daniel of course

    I promised I would drop by and even if now only briefly, wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoyed your session on Saturday at Aceia. I too believe that this area or focus of coach applied to language trainer will become increasingly widespread in the future, simply because there is a need to tap into the Inner game as opposed to only deal with the outer game that each of us is playing. (As you so rightly made a reference to in the talk). Language learning is not only a mental process, in the same way that mind and body are one, our affective side, our idea of self-concept, self-confidence and many other aspects of our make up are impossible to exclude from the language classroom if we are to get through and provide real and lasting reasons for communication. Becoming a coach as well as a trainer can help us to understand and give a voice to all of this.

    To a degree it reflects the “psychologist” role in Teresa’s job description of Learner Coach, although by no means as coaches do I believe we should consider ourselves as such. Psychologists have their area of expertise and coaches have a very different role to play. The main role for me, and one that is clearly outlined in Timothy Gallway’s amazing book, the Inner Game of Tennis, which you also commented on on Saturday, is the concept of coach as a MIRROR for the coachee. I quote, “Effective coaching in the workplace holds a mirror up for clients, so they can see their own thinking process. As a coach I am not listening for the content of what is being said as much as I’m listening to the way they are thinking, including how their attention is focused and how they define the key elements of the situation” . If we remember that only 7% of what we communicate to others is through verbal communication and that a mind-blowing 55% is expressed through body language, (coupled with 38% voice tonality) – according to psychologist Professor Albert Mahrebian, then what Mr Gallway is saying makes sense. Active listening involves picking up on all the cues and a good coach learns how to mirror those back to their coachee, without imposing their map of the world on the client. ( i.e. we need to seriously reconsider the benefits of “giving advice” per se.) Only by coming to our own realisations about where we are, what we are doing and where we are going, will free us to making the necessary decisions to get that bit further on to where we are heading.

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