A lesson in coaching

At its heart coaching is about helping students realise their own power; power to make choices about where, when and how they learn.

Where before the challenge for students was finding access to ways of learning, the challenge now is one of choice. Twenty years ago a learner would have been hard pushed to find any decent listening material on her own; she had to rely to a large extent on her teacher. Today, that same student may be bewildered by the millions of listening opportunities available to her. Is she any better off now?

Unless teachers are active English learners themselves (many are), we are probably not best placed to help learners through this maze of possibilities. Their classmates might be, though; they do have all sorts of techniques, websites, mental activities, apps and tools to share. One thing we can do is give students space in class to tell each other the things they do to learn and practise English.

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Here is a lesson that does just that. I demonstrated it at this weekend’s InnovateELT conference in Barcelona. If you missed it and happen to be in the Cadiz area on the 30th May, I’ll be doing so again, minus the students this time, at the TEFL del Sur mini-conference.

1 The teacher shows the class a simple technique for practising language. This could be something you do in your head to practise a language you are learning, a dictionary app you use on your phone or a TV series you enjoy in that language.

2 Students watch two learners, Elena and Juan Antonio, talking about things they do to practise English. They answer the questions:

  • What is the technique or tool they are describing?
  • How does it help their English?
  • Would you try it? Why? Why not?

3 Students prepare to talk about a technique or tool of their choosing, using the questions in 2 to guide them.

4 In groups, students share their learning practices. They are asked to choose at least one technique from what they hear to try out in the near future. Ideas from students so far have included:

  • reading daily news articles about familiar stories
  • listening to song lyrics and watching TV series with subtitles
  • going to ‘Meet Up’ language exchanges
  • talking to yourself! (Come on, admit it  – you do it, too!)

5 Whole class round-up. Students report the learning practice(s) they plan to try out and why.

But how do we know if these learning practices are any good? How can we evaluate ways of learning English?

At the Innovate conference, there weren’t just students and me in the class; some teachers attending the conference observed, and I got them participating in the last ten minutes. They worked with the students to evaluate the effectiveness of the learning technique. Scott Thornbury recently compiled a list of criteria shown to matter in learning languages. Based on this list, I designed an evaluation form learners can use to identify what’s good about their learning techniques. Here’s the form: Evaluate learning techniques.

Thanks to Elena and Juan Antonio for being pioneers in this project! Thanks also to Simon for letting me try the lesson out at Active Language. And to Dan and his students for welcoming me into their class. Thanks also to Scott Thornbury for making research into SLA so accessible. And a big thank you to OxfordTEFL and ELT Jam for making the Innovate conference so enjoyable!

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4 Responses to A lesson in coaching

  1. laneelt says:

    Nice – there’s definitely plenty of scope to learn habits of highly effective language learners. I’m not one, but one thing that helped me make leaps and bounds in Spanish was watching Spanish TV with Spanish subtitles. Watching with the subtitles in your language is helpful but doesn’t allow you to capture the new vocabulary. If you see the L2 subtitles, you capture the word because it stays on the screen and you’ll remember it because you’ll have seen it in a particular context. I always recommend it to my higher level students who want to improve their language skills.

    • Hi Alistair,

      Great to see you on the blog – you’re quick to reply!
      Three or four of the class I tried this with last night watch TV and movies with subtitles, and they are by no means advanced, having just passed their B1 exams. I was really impressed that they are motivated to tackle such ungraded material, and that they get so much out of it.
      Thanks for commenting, Alistair :o)

      • laneelt says:

        I’m always online, I am! Another nice trick I heard was to listen to English music on the day of an English exam, just to get the mind working in a foreign language. I liked that one a lot.
        My Spanish coursebook (Aula) came packaged with the audio CD of the course and I used to listen to that after the lessons while I was ironing, which helped me a lot. I could finally understand the listenings, which I never understood in the classroom.
        Have fun in Barcelona – I won’t be at the conference but it looks like it’ll be a pretty sizable event!

  2. Yes, I’m really looking forward to it. Shame you won’t be around :o(

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