A letter to the teachers of English: 61Maximize learning opportunities in English classes [Archives:2004/776/Education]

September 27 2004

Dr..M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb

Dear Fellow teachers,
It's long since the focus of attention in English classes has moved from the teacher to the learners. There was a time when the teacher was the most important factor in English classes and he was solely responsible for the classroom activities in English classes. The materials were decided only by him or her and the methodology used in the classes was his or her own decision. Recent thinking in ELT does not favour this view of teacher dominance in English classes. In fact, several experts are not happy with the acronym 'ELT', as it stresses only the teaching aspect, and prefer to use the acronym 'ELL' (English Language Learning) or 'ELTL' (English Language Teaching/Learning). In other words, the limelight in the English classrooms is now on the learners, though teachers are not out of focus.
Recent ELT books suggest that the main duty of a teacher is to create learning opportunities in the class; the term 'teaching' is taken to mean 'creating opportunities for the learners to learn'. This thinking is supported by an old saying that 'you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink'. So, no teacher can confidently say that what he/she taught in the class has been learnt by his/her learners. There are several factors that affect the learning of the learners, the most important of which is the learner differences, which I wrote about in one of my early letters (please see my letter no.15).
Why is creating learning opportunities important? Learning, according to psychologists, is an activity that is hardly helped by mere repetitive practice but by willing attention and involvement in what someone is learning. Involving the learner and gaining his/her willing attention is easily possible, if we create learning opportunities in the classes. As pointed out earlier, it is like taking the horse to water, and it is up to the horse to drink the water or not. Similarly, we create learning opportunities in the class and it is up to the learner to learn English making use of the opportunities or not; motivated and interested learners learn and others don't.
What are learning opportunities? Any situation which will help the learners to learn English is a learning opportunity; it can be a story you tell the learners or a game you play in the class with your learners or a puzzle you give your learners to tease their brain or problem you pose to them to solve. Any activity which uses English and challenges them to use their brain. The most important aspects of the activity are that it is interesting; that it provides a challenge to them and that it has something to do with their life.
How de we create learning opportunities in the classes? Two classroom activities that will have a huge impact on the generation of learning opportunities are meaningful learner involvement and teacher questioning. One way to make sure of learner involvement in class is to listen when a learner speaks and build on what he/she says, whenever possible. Some of us are not careful in this regard; we hardly listen to the learners, and even if we do so, we often fail to make use of what they say. It is possible that our learners come up with useful pieces of information while answering questions and we should build our classroom interaction on them, instead of brushing them aside or missing them. Another source of creating learning opportunities is to ask the right type of questions in the classes that will trigger meaningful interaction. I have written about asking questions in the last letter. Try creating learning opportunities for your learners. Good luck.

Yours fraternally,