Albert Einstein once said, “I never teach my
pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn”.We all know who Albert Einstein was, but why
would he say those words? It is easy to understand when we look at it from a
practical perspective. Teaching is not as powerful as creating and finding real
opportunities for our students to develop their own knowledge. This is true for
all kinds of learning, including English language learning. Among all the
skills and contents to be learned, there is the facilitator teacher. Students
of English benefit from a teacher-mediated focus on specific language forms, for
Why is this true and what are the factual supports for that statement?
The reason why students of English benefit from
a teacher-mediated focus is highly related to how our brains learn. It is
interesting to notice that, according to James Zull, deep learning occurs when
there is a sequence of experience, reflection, abstraction, and active testing.
Whenever we are lecturing, we are not providing our students with the challenge
to go through all these stages. To create opportunities for them to learn and
deeply acquire the language, for example, is to have them experience it,
reflect upon this experience, hypothesize and finally test their hypothesis in
an active way. That means that they are doing the job, not us. What Einstein
tried to say is that teaching is about exposing knowledge. Learning is about
However, if students can create their own knowledge, why
would they need teachers?
Students need teachers because although
awareness and ability are developed autonomously, there must be an interposing
between the communication environment and the students. Only by designing
favorable circumstances for the students to interact, they are able to learn. In
an attempt to explain the language acquisition, Krashen has stated that it happens
through interaction in an environment where the learner has lots of
comprehensible input. However, as Vygotsky theorized, the language input must
be one step beyond the learner’s proficiency stage. Both, Krashen and Vygotsky
agree with the fact that the teacher is a mediator, and the teacher’s role is
to provide this favorable learning environment.
So, how can teachers deal with
In fact, teachers deal with
language acquisition and mediation situations all the time. EFL teachers are
not different from that. When EFL students are learning specific structure and
use of language forms, for example, their focus might not be the language study
itself. According to Harmer, it should take place in a lesson sequence. It is
the teacher’s responsibility to design a lesson that supports all the learning
opportunities, including the ones related to language forms. However, these
opportunities are better designed when covered through interaction-based
activities. That means that, although the lesson includes language forms, the
structures are presented, practiced and produced along with well-designed
activities that prioritize interaction. A good example to illustrate a situation where a language form is being comprised in a lesson sequence is the following. Last year, my group of adults was learning how to make questions with the verb be. They did not know that they were learning about this because the focus was not on the questioning itself, but on the fact that they had to know about each other's information in order to fill out a survey. Their objective was to complete the sentences:
____________ is married.
___________ is single.
_____________ is an architect.
__________ and __________ are from Rio. Etc.
In order to complete the sentences, they had to interview their
classmates. To get the right answers, they were supposed to invert the be sequence and form questions. Although
they were not aware of the syntax rules for question formation,
they could follow a model and apply the logical conclusion to all the
sentences. For example, the model on the board was:
Are you married?
With only that model, they could produce all the other questions,
practice the new structure and grasp the rule by themselves. There was no
deductive explanation and the focus was not on the structure, but on the task.
Every learning process benefits from a
facilitator teacher that creates real opportunities for learning to happen.
Being a facilitator means making appropriate stimuli available forinteraction to take place. It is only by mediating the interaction between the
content and the learner that deep learning takes place. Mediating knowledge is
helping our students go beyond their proficiency stage. Although teachers may
focus on specific structures, the lesson objective must be interaction. It is
the teacher’s role to design effective lessons that build an invisible bridge
between the structure and the students’ communication in class. Juliana Canielo de A. Benedetti
Read more: Jeremy Harmer ( 2007) The Practice of English Language Teaching. James E. Zull (2002) The Art of Changing the Brain. Stephen D. Krashen (1987) Principles and practice in Second Language Acquisition Lev S. Vygotsky (1987) The collected Works