Reflections on authenticity in teaching and learning
Looking through my notes, I see a quote from my Hindi teacher Meena during my second lesson: “Tell someone what you’ve learnt”.
I’ve often paused during a lesson to give my students a bit of breathing time, time to digest and reflect on an activity that we’ve just done. “Take 5 minutes and have a chat with your neighbour about what we’ve just done.” It gives students time to process and internalise before moving on and it’s always really interesting to see what they talk about. They check their understanding with their peers, ask their peers questions and (ask them to) explain the point again or elaborate on a point they didn’t quite get. I find this is very valuable time and importantly, it is time that is not teacher-led. It works well because, in a relaxed, interactive way, they sort many things out themselves thus making them a bit more independent. Then after 5 minutes or so, if they have a few outstanding items that they need me, the teacher, to clarify, explain or give further examples of, I open the activity up to plenary discussion and questions. They often realise they can figure a lot out themselves rather than immediately and instinctively deferring to the teacher. It helps them become self-sufficient learners; less reliant on the teacher and it improves the confidence in their own ability. What remains after the 5 minutes are the questions they really need me to help them with.
All well and good. However, Meena asked this question at the beginning of the lesson.
I have mentioned in a previous post the value of having 10 minutes at the beginning of the lesson to orient yourself and get yourself into ‘the (learning) zone’; to refresh your memory on what you did last lesson and get your mind/brain ready for the next stage of learning. Telling your partner what you’ve been doing since the last lesson was really useful. People shared what they had worked on at home; and this wasn’t just about set homework. It was really interesting to see what people had taken their own initiative to learn and work on. I had practised my writing, trying to transcribe some Hindi words written in English into script, a few others had tried to write a passage about what they had done on Diwali, some had been trying to remember vocabulary using the flashcards. It gave me, as a teacher, food for thought.
I’d like to ask my students what they have been doing with/noticing about English outside the classroom that is unrelated to actual set homework. For example, when I was learning Arabic, I was really pleased that when sitting in traffic one day I looked at the restaurant at the side of the road and tried to practise reading the script. It said حلال. I broke it down into its individual letters and got ha-la-l… A moment of realisation…a wonderful moment in language learning as these little epiphanies are often the ones I remember! Oh, so that’s what that says on many signs I’ve seen! The ability to connect my learning with the world outside the classroom motivated me and made me feel that my learning was paying off. In terms of Hindi, I have a bag that I bought years ago in Japan that had been imported from India. It has Hindi writing on it. I am now able to read it and although I had to check the meaning in a dictionary, I felt really pleased that my learning is having an impact on what I see around me. My language learning is filtering out of the classroom/coursebook and into real life. This is extremely motivating for me and adds an aspect of authenticity to the language learning experience. I love the moments when some things just click into place!
In a class earlier this week, at the beginning of the lesson, one of my students asked, “I get really confused when I read nonetheless and nevertheless, can you explain it please?” We talked about it, I gave some examples, then elicited a few more and that student had a ‘click’ moment. This led to other students asking about those niggling points, lexis, grammar structures that they struggle with, that they’d seen and not understood. Forty minutes or so passed and I knew at the end that that had been time well spent and we hadn’t even begun the ‘official’ lesson. I asked them jot down anything else that they come across between now and the next lesson and we’ll spend some time discussing them next lesson. I think I will do this more with my classes, keeping a notebook for language learning outside the classroom; not only things they have questions about, but thanks to Meena, things they’ve noticed, connections they’ve made, those special ‘click’ moments.
Watch this space…!
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