Showing posts with label adult learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adult learning. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

How to Help Adult Learners Deal with the Stress of Speaking

Have you ever had a student in your class struggling to survive until the class is over? Or having a blank when speaking even when they volunteered to participate?  How would you deal with it? This situation can be quite uncomfortable for everyone in class and can be a good reason for a student to definitely quit a project of learning a foreign language.

Having difficulties speaking in class or exposing your ideas in another language to others is not uncommon, but suffering almost the whole class period can hamper the learning process and influence the atmosphere of even a light and productive class.  It´s not easy, if not impossible, to measure the degree of stress one is going through, but there are some steps you can take to help students deal with this stress and feel more comfortable in class.

First, the problem has to be spotted.  Many times, what seems to be an ordinary difficulty is, in fact, a freezing sensation that blocks a student´s thoughts and exposes them to their peers. This happened by chance in one of my groups this semester.  A student of mine confessed at the end of a class that she had been suffering the whole class because she was afraid of speaking and that it was always a relief to see that the class was over. I was really surprised. I had noticed she had some difficulties expressing herself, but not that it was so painful. Helping her find the words that escaped from her mind while she was speaking wasn´t always enough to enable her to express her whole message, and adding comments to her broken speech to call the groups` attention to me and ”save” her from her long pauses and embarrassment wasn´t a solution to this problem either.  So, this situation became a challenge to me.

The next step is to approach the student and find out what is causing all the anxiety. This way, the student can not only become aware of the real sources of the problem and face it, but also see the teacher as a support they can count on. Most frequently, the fear of speaking to a group, being on the spot and being negatively evaluated are the causes for anxiety and stress.  The brain´s capacity to process ideas is affected and the situation gets even worse when the required oral production is in another language.  The result is long pauses, stuttering and difficulty in formulating a coherent speech. My student´s case was specifically related to speaking in English, for she had the preconceived idea that she wouldn´t be understood and that her pronunciation and vocabulary were worse than that of her colleagues. 

Finally, show the student concrete techniques to develop their speaking abilities so that they can become more confident and lower their anxiety of speaking.  One way is through improving their listening skills by doing exercises from specific sites, such as Breaking News English, BBC or English Central, watching movies and listening to songs.  Not being able to understand what is being said at normal speed or being afraid of mispronouncing words are barriers to effective communication and also food for failure and nervousness.  Ten to fifteen minutes of listening practice a day will certainly help improve speaking. Also, taking every opportunity in class to practice in pairs and in small groups before speaking to the whole class and changing partners frequently will help the student get used to different accents and speed, and to gain fluency and   confidence as well.  Another helpful tip is to control the speed of speech

When someone is on the spot, their breathing gets faster, they start perspiring, becoming nervous and speaking faster.  Speaking more slowly will provide better breathing and a chance to organize thoughts, hence lowering nervousness. The teacher´s role is crucial to set a light, sympathetic and supportive atmosphere in class, showing interest in and respect for each student´s challenges.  In the case involving my class, although my student was a bit of a perfectionist and took her performance very seriously, she ended up learning to laugh at her mistakes, becoming more relaxed and motivated.

These relatively minor attitudes can make a big difference in the learning process and should be addressed to the whole class in the beginning of the course and reinforced through the whole semester.  

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Interaction and Learning: A reflection between the mediator teacher, the students and the knowledge

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 example. 

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 creating knowledge. 

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 this situation?

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 for interaction 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

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Thinking about assessment... again!

If you are a teacher, like me, then you have certainly spent countless coffee breaks discussing assessment: either criticizing or praising it, maybe questioning it, or even plain “cursing” it… no matter who we are, what or where we teach: assessment is close to our hearts… in oh so many ways! 

I have personally been working with and looking into this matter for many years, be it as a course supervisor, designing, writing and revising tests, probing into the process; be it as an examiner, participating in the final assessment of someone else’s handiwork, with cold analytical eyes, scrutinizing the final product; or even as a curious mind who wonders what it is that we do: Do we test to teach? Do we teach to test? And moreover, what it is that we should be doing? 

Anyway, back in January, when Isabela Villas Boas shared a blog post by Nick Provenzano with us, I dared ask her if we could dare… Only to discover that she was the one daring us… In his post, Nick recounts how he spent a semester without his traditional testing system, and how he witnessed high levels of commitment, as well of strong evidence of his students’ skills and knowledge through the use of alternative assignments, essays, projects, and different assessment opportunities. 

The discussion was not new to us. We had already been questioning the unquestionable… the effectiveness of our traditional system with our adult students… Why were we able to find students reaching the higher levels – passing test after test, and still not able to use the language? Why were some of our adult students discouraged? How come teachers were feeling frustrated? We decided to turn these difficulties into opportunities for development. The theoretical project had been ready – on paper – for a few months, as Isabella had taken an online program on assessment with Oregon University. All we had to do was “take the leap” and bring it to life. Right now, there are two groups – one Thomas flex 1, and one Prime 1 – being piloted with an alternative assessment system. 

This series of posts is an attempt to share what we are trying to do, inviting you into this experience-experiment, summoning your thoughts and encouraging your input. 

The THOMAS FLEX 1 Experiment: 

In week 3 (of 10), having already worked with most of Unit 1, we wanted to ascertain that the students were able to interact using the following exponents:

  • What’s your name? My name is… 
  • How are you? I’m…, and you? 
  • What’s your telephone number? It’s (numbers 0-9) 
  • Nice to meet you/Nice to meet you too. 

The lesson was designed to build on student’s recently acquired abilities, consolidate them, and finally, invite linguistic output that could be assessed. The procedure was the following: 

  1. Each pair of students received a dialogue cut up into slips. They were asked to put the slips in a logical sequence to make the dialogue. 
  2. With the correct sequence, students were asked to personalize the dialogue, by substituting names and other elements with their own personal information. 
  3. Then, the slips were collected and the teacher elicited the dialogue on the board – leaving blanks in which they would complete with their own names, etc. 
  4. After that, the students were asked to stand up and cocktail, talking to at least three different classmates, using the dialogue on the board as a model. T observed and monitored the exchanges, cleaning the board when most of the students had performed the dialogue at least once. 
  5. Finally, the T called on pairs of students and asked them to perform the dialogue out loud – no model available. As they did so, the teacher filled in an assessment sheet with the following criteria:

  • Correct greeting / response to greeting - Yes (2pts.) - Partially (1pt.) - No (0 pt.)
  • Asks name correctly - Yes (2pts.) - Partially (1pt.) - No (0 pt.)
  • Responds to question about name correctly - Yes (2pts.) - Partially (1pt.) - No (0 pt.)
  • Says and responds to “nice to meet you”  - Yes (2pts.) - Partially (1pt.) - No (0 pt.)
  • Asks and/or answers about phone number - Yes (2pts.) - Partially (1pt.) - No (0 pt.)

This was the end of their first “Oral Assessment Opportunity”. The plan is to have one of these every week, focusing on different skills-areas such as speaking, writing – in which grammar would be either intrinsically embedded, or clearly stated, and also listening and reading – for we see that one of these students’ main difficulty is understanding input, so that they can formulate their own output. 

Anyway, we are using the media with one sole purpose: hearing your thoughts. Do you have any ideas we can use in this pilot project? Are there any feelings or thoughts you would like to share? Is there anything in your experience that can add to this experiment? Let’s get this chat started… The ball in on your court!