FAQ: How can I study outside class?

A guest post this week from Secil Canbaz, based on her recent talk at IATEFL, Glasgow. Thanks Secil for this report on your action reseach, which illustates the kind of impact coaching can have on students and teachers.

I’m an instructor in the school of English Language at an English medium university in Turkey. So far I’ve met a wide range of students, studying at different levels with very different study skills. However, all those students had something in common as they asked the same question ‘HOW CAN I STUDY OUTSIDE CLASS?’
At first, I regarded that as an easy question; as a result I shared the same answers with the students studying at the same level. However, in time I realized that such generic answers and guidance do not mean a lot to the students since they need an individual and customized self-study program and a coach to show them direction. This led me to have individual meetings at the beginning of each course to learn more about them and their study skills. One of the striking facts I realized was that most of them were not on the right track. Another interesting fact I noticed that I couldn’t follow students’ progress as I couldn’t have follow up meetings so students had to study on their own with a lot of materials at their disposal. One size fits all approaches I shared with my students didn’t work. Consequently, I decided to have a mini action research with three of my Elementary students repeating the level.
Considering ‘meaningful engagement’ and ‘quality exposure’ outside class as the basic principles of my action research, I had the following schedule in the 8 week course.

Week Actions Taken
WK 1 Initial Individual meetings (their interests, approach to language learning, their strengths and weaknesses, outside class study habits)
WK 2 Students’ reflection
WK 3 Individual study plans for each student for WK 3 (prepared by the teacher – you could carry out our Operacion Triunfo activity first then have the learners fill in a weekly diary)
WK 4 Same individual study plans
WK 5 individual meetings
WK 6 Taking necessary actions by referring to WK 5 individual meeting, preparing study plans for WKs 6,7and 8 by focusing on their grades and their teachers’ feedback
WK 7 Following the plans
WK 8 (the final week of the course) Final individual meetings (to reflect on the course, and to get students’ final reflection

Students’ Reflections
‘I started studying regularly. Thanks to the plan I learnt that I need to study a variety of things, not grammar only’.
‘Before having a weekly study plan, I didn’t spare time to read graded readers.’
‘I didn’t study on some days at all. Now, I regularly go to CALL lab and the library at least twice a week.’
‘Our individual meetings helped me gain practical tips. Everything seems manageable now.’
‘I’ve started planning my social life as well.’
‘It’s good to have a plan but I still find it difficult to plan on my own.’
‘I study reading and writing every week but I can’t focus on all skills in a week. For example, I can’t study listening or pronunciation.’
‘This course I’ve become more aware thanks to the meetings and plans. I’m more motivated…’

My reflections.
It has been a great learning experience for the following reasons:
– learning more about my student and customizing plans accordingly
– catering for their affective needs as well as cognitive and linguistic needs
– incorporating ‘high demand teaching’ into outside class strand
– empowering students gradually by setting short term and long actions
– maximizing their potential
– asking them how many hours and what kind of outside class work they did
– analyzing obstacles together
– providing explicit guidance for goal setting and then referring to reality (acting as a directive coach)

Based on my experience and the students’ feedback I’m planning to take the following actions:
providing them with time management tips in a more systematic way
making use of technology more i.e online organizers/ asking them to keep a log
incorporating peer feedback/ peer coaching
integrating ‘can do statements’ into mid-course and final reflection
allocating a specific in-class time for planning

As language teachers, we need to incorporate positive visualization into our day to day teaching to help students see the relevance of what they are doing in relation to their future goals. Therefore, I believe in the importance of acting as a coach to enable them to find joy in their journey.

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2 Responses to FAQ: How can I study outside class?

  1. simon says:

    hi there,

    i really enjoyed this piece. i think personalising study plans is a practical way forward and will enhance the learner experience no end (providing we all truely engage in it). thanks.

    one thing, i can’t seem to find the “attached samples”. is it just me?

    thanks again.

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