[It’s been gratifying to see some teachers have been putting some of the activities and ideas from the blog into practice. One practitioner who’s been coaching his students for a long time and has provided us with plenty of ideas for the blog is our good friend, Mark McKinnon. Mark teaches, trains and writes in Barcelona, and we’re very lucky this week to read about his experience in the classroom. Over to you, Mark, and thanks for being our first guest blogger!…]
I have been taking on the responsibility for my students’ learning outside the classroom for quite a number of years now. Helping my learners learn how to learn simply made sense to me. I naturally saw myself as teacher-coach much like a player-coach would be to a sports team.
As any new coach would, I dived into my new job with great enthusiasm. My students were eventually presented with an entire itinerary of what to do outside the classroom and how to do it. This outside class plan was presented to them little by little, for example, this week’s idea for practicing your English outside class.
However, the initial reaction I received from some of my students was not at all positive. Asking them to comment on our work together by anonymous questionnaire proved to be the key to complete honesty. Although the majority of them were positive about the coaching, there were quite a number of students who were under the impression that my demonstrations were “taking time away from their language study in the classroom” or “taking away from their speaking time in class”.
I realised that although my coaching ideas were good and very useful for most of my learners, I simply wasn’t involving them in the coaching process enough. Somehow they were missing the point and I was certainly to blame for that.
By dealing with learner coaching communicatively in the classroom I have since found a better balance. The learners need to feel involved in the process and coaching should be integrated with classroom work.
Here is one idea to integrate learner coaching into classroom work:
A two-week learner diary
The students identify an area that they would like to improve. It helps if this is guided, for example, giving them a list of areas to choose from.
- Each student decides what he or she is going to do to improve this area. Again it helps if there is a list of ideas to choose from. These ideas identify a clear activity and can contain some guidance.
- Each student then makes a timetable of when they are going to do this extra work. They should be realistic about the times they are free to do extra study.
- They will then work on this area outside the classroom for two weeks.
- Two weeks later they prepare answers to the following questions before they come to class:
- What have you done to improve your chosen language area?
- Do you think you have improved? Why?
- What problems have you had while working on this language area?
- What material have you found to help you? (Web based or published material)
- The students sit in small groups to discuss the questions.
The result of this is that the students are more involved in the language practice process. They choose their own area of language to improve therefore they are responsible for their own learning. It’s communicative as the language learning discussion is prepared and carried out by them. The students are much more open to your coaching as they discuss the problems they have had. There is also a clear opportunity to swap material, websites and ideas for further practice. I have also found that by treating this speaking activity just like any other discussion they have in class, that means giving them correction and feedback on their speaking, my students feel that their “English learning time” and “English speaking time” are not being restricted in any way.