Scholarly article on topic 'Tell it Like it is!'

Tell it Like it is! Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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{"Foreign language teaching" / "adult education" / "qualitative research" / "classroom-based research" / "explicit teaching"}

Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Kimberly Anne Brooks-Lewis

Abstract Teaching methods in the foreign language classrooms at institutions for adult education the world over replicate those used for children, with their focus on simple ‘exposure’ to the language, dependence on ‘activities’, and expectation of the learner's ‘discovery’ of what is not taught. I realized this when as a mature adult I returned to the foreign language classroom, where the shock of hearing only the target language, playing embarrassing games, and discovering only frustration almost made me gave up. I moved to Mexico to learn the language on my own, and in beginning to teach English as a foreign language (EFL) there I found that the same type of methods was expected to be employed. I had ideas for changing the system, and wrote an introductory course for the learners I was working with. I then took the course into the classroom as the ‘medium’ for qualitative research. My purpose was to learn about the learner-participant's perceptions of their experiences of the course in context. The learner's perceptions I will discuss here are regarding the factor of explicit teaching the course was based on – no speaking in a language the learners could not understand, no games or hinting rather than teaching. Learner-participant's responses to this were overwhelmingly positive, and insightful on many levels. The positive results suggest that the process of the course could be adapted for teaching adults coming to EFL from other languages and for teaching other foreign languages.

Academic research paper on topic "Tell it Like it is!"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 116 (2014) 2607 - 2610

5th World Conference on Educational Sciences - WCES 2013

Tell it like it is!

Kimberly Anne Brooks-Lewis *

Fatih University, Buyukcekeces, Istanbul, 34500, Turkey

Abstract

Teaching methods in the foreign language classrooms at institutions for adult education the world over replicate those used for children, with their focus on simple 'exposure' to the language, dependence on 'activities', and expectation of the learners' 'discovery' of what is not taught. I realized this when as a mature adult I returned to the foreign language classroom, where the shock of hearing only the target language, playing embarrassing games, and discovering only frustration almost made me gave up. I moved to Mexico to learn the language on my own, and in beginning to teach English as a foreign language (EFL) there I found that the same type of methods was expected to be employed. I had ideas for changing the system, and wrote an introductory course for the learners I was working with. I then took the course into the classroom as the 'medium' for qualitative research. My purpose was to learn about the learner-participants' perceptions of their experiences of the course in context. The learners' perceptions I will discuss here are regarding the factor of explicit teaching the course was based on - no speaking in a language the learners could not understand, no games or hinting rather than teaching. Learner-participants' responses to this were overwhelmingly positive, and insightful on many levels. The positive results suggest that the process of the course could be adapted for teaching adults coming to EFL from other languages and for teaching other foreign languages.

© 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Academic World Education and Research Center.

Keywords: Foreign language teaching, adult education, qualitative research, classroom-based research, explicit teaching

1. Introduction

How many foreign language teachers have, as adults, and especially as teachers, gone back to the classroom to learn another language? If you haven't, you should - it's an enlightening experience. For one, it takes you out of your accustomed experience, and gives you the perspective of the student instead of the one you are used to as a teacher. This putting yourself in the shoes of the other is always good practice in communication, and when the person, or people you are communicating with are your students, and I think it is imperative. A teacher should try to understand his or her students' perspective, not only of the subject being taught but of the teaching methods and materials. However, I have seen that this is not usually done and in fact is ignored, especially at the university level and overall in adult education. Most importantly, the students' maturity must be recognized and the taken into account, and they should be treated and taught accordingly. A primary response to this is the need for explicit teaching.

* Corresponding author: Kimberly Anne Brooks-Lewis. Tel.: +0-212-866-3300 E-mail address: kblewis@fatih.edu.tr

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Academic World Education and Research Center. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.01.620

2. Overview

Teachers who wish to improve their practice in working with adults often become taken up in the latest teaching methods and materials, which sound wonderful and upbeat. But how many teachers try to look at them through the eyes of a student? In the whirlwind of hype, few teachers notice that the methods and materials are invariably styled for children, and have "... eschewed explicit instruction and instead relied on an idealistic and romantic view...of the natural evolution of the child.", as Pennycook (2001:95) said. Even fewer teachers stop long enough to think critically about the methods and materials or to put themselves in the place of the students are working with to see what they might think or feel - it is simply expecting that students will accept, understand, and enjoy anything that is set out in front of them. For example, today's established teaching method is the 'communicative approach', the principal aspect of which is that students will learn through 'exposure' and 'discovery'. However, Kramsh (1993:6) long ago noted that: "Rather than worry about how much speaking, how much listening students should do, we might want to explore the various ways in which learners learn to learn." If we take no note of how learners learn, how are we teaching?

3. My experience and resulting research

I became aware that Kramsh's suggestion has not been taken seriously in adults language education when I, as a mature adult, returned to the university classroom to learn Spanish as a foreign language. The experience was shocking, frightful, and overall, discouraging. We started right off with the teachers speaking only the language we were there to learn, and they somehow expected us to not only understand but to respond in that language! At first it

was just "My name's_, what's yours?", but even so, I wondered how that could possibly be considered a teaching

method. Then we came to what seemed to be the serious stuff - playing games! I found this excruciatingly embarrassing, which is certainly not a conducive attitude for learning. Then we would do a lot of work in pairs or groups, where no one knew much more than anyone else, making it a fruitless exercise. As we read the text we listened to snippets of recorded conversations, in spite of the fact that listening to and trying to understand what a disembodied voice is saying is one of the most difficult of listening comprehension tasks. The materials were colorful, but the drawings that took up most of the space were often absolutely ridiculous, and the actual content was sparse and disassociated.

In my foreign language classroom experience at the university there was no introduction to the course, no explanation of what to expect, what the goals were or how to go about reaching them. I thought the teachers must have known what they were doing, so thought my lack of understanding of what the point was of the things we did was due to something being wrong with me. I managed to make excellent grades, but that was because I became adapt at filling in blanks and selecting the correct multiple-choice answer. I never felt I was learning the language.

I was determined to learn Spanish, so I moved to Mexico to learn on my own. While there I began teaching EFL in order to learn a living, and was discouraged to find that the same type of teaching methods and materials I had suffered with were to be used. I rebelled, and in the end wrote an introductory course specifically for the learners I was working with. I put the course into action in qualitative, classroom-based research in order to learn about what learners thought of my ideas after their experience of them. I asked the learners to keep learning diaries, and at the end of the course to write an essay based upon them, and also applied a questionnaire. These were the data I collected.

4. About the course

On the first day of the course I explained what we would be doing, with many details that space here does not allow me to divulge. (For a more detailed description of the course see Brooks-Lewis 2007.) The point of this paper is explicit teaching - telling it like it is - so what is important here is that I pointed out that while we would not be playing any games or working in pairs or groups, I expected the learners to participate, not only in the class but in their own learning.

I also will not be able to detail the entire course, but in general, the first part was a discussion of language learning, along with the importance of culture in relation to language. I then briefly overviewed the history of the English language, including how it got to the United States. A short history of the US followed, and then discussions of the 'core concepts' of American culture were taken up. We then talked in detail about the 'four skills' necessary to using a language, and I offered 'tips' for understanding, learning, and practicing each one. Only then did we begin to talk about grammar, starting with in-depth explanation and discussion of the major parts of the language, talking about the 'job' of each of these, how it was used, and how it related to and interacted with the other parts. We then took each one separately, doing practice exercises individually and then discussing them together.

5. Learners' responses

The learners' responses quoted and discussed below all come from the data collected in the research, which is referenced under Brooks-Lewis, 2007. Each quotation is followed by a letter (D, E, or Q,) to indicate the type of data and a data number.

One of the features of the course participants reported on was their appreciation for being treated like adults, such as in the response that: "I get bored when I start reading a bunch of nonsense lessons that the only thing they do is to talk about funny situations. Sometimes I think those English methods were made for kids and that they should only use them for kids." (E40) Someone else added: "I like the strategies used and that the people were treated like adults." (Q65) Another participant said that: "I started to study English at [another school]. The classes were fun because all students used to play different games, [but] I began to disagree with this because I felt that. I was not learning English, I only was learning games." (E33) In other words, the point of the exercise was lost in the flurry of trying to make learning 'fun'.

I insisted that three books were essential for their personal libraries: a recent edition of an American English dictionary, a Roget's Thesaurus, and for emergencies, a Spanish/English dictionary. One learner, who had been in EFL classrooms since secondary school, noted that: "Few professors tell us so clearly what books we need in our library, and with reference to languages, this is the first time I have been told." (D51) Reference books are important for learning, so one wonders why this 'detail' is not mentioned in beginning language courses.

Outstanding in the data were comments about the 'learning to learn' aspect of the course. For instance, one participant noted that she or he had learned that there are different ways of learning: "I learned that there is a great difference between learning and memorizing." (Q140) My interpretation is that this student had not previously realized or been conscious of her or his own learning processes. One learner reported having achieved a new vision of language learning: "I liked learning about learning because it gave us a wider panorama of learning the language." (Q139) Another said: "I liked the part about learning to learn because most teachers just concentrate on teaching grammar and what we have seen facilitates learning and gives us more tools to learn better." (Q126) I think this is a great definition of teaching - offering the tools to learn. Someone else said: ".all along the course the teacher. gave us advice to learn English. These are important things that I had never learned in other classes." (E33) It seems to me impossible that teachers do not offer advice for learning, but apparently this is common. Another unexpected remark was: "I understand now that learning to learn means that the student must be more active and reflective and must take charge of his or her own learning and it is a great proposal!" (Q129) This makes one wonder how this student got through to university studies! It also shows that a teacher must not take students' prior knowledge for granted. Also clearly indicated from all of these commentaries is that explicit teaching is indispensable at the university level.

While responses to the course were overwhelmingly positive, not everyone liked or enjoyed the experience. One of those explained that: "We are not accustomed to thinking for so much time, working only with the mind." (D55) What has today's education come to? This person had evidently been exposed only to the 'activities' method of teaching, where the students expect, and are expected, to use something other than their minds to learn. Thinking may make some students uncomfortable, but learning is hard work! These comments show that explicit teaching can promote thinking, which I think should be the end goal of education.

6. Conclusion

Offer your adult students the tools to learn, and help them learn to think and to think critically! The 'exposure' or 'discovery' teaching method may work for children, but adults need the real thing. They need to know 'why', they are usually impatient with silliness, and they do not like to be put in embarrassing situations. So why make them unnecessarily uncomfortable? Why not work at building their confidence with meaningful learning? Why not get to the point and explain things in an explicit, overt manner? In other words, tell it like it is!

References

Brooks-Lewis, Kimberly, A. (2007). The significance of culture in language learning: Working with adult EFL learners in Mexico. Unpublished doctoral thesis: University of Kent at Canterbury.

Kramsh, C.. (1993). Context and culture in language teaching. New York: Oxford University Press. Pennycook, A. (2001). Critical applied linguistics. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.