About a week ago I wrote about an experiment in silence with a class, and promised to come back with a report on the students’ reactions. It really was quite enlightening. This is what we all learnt.
1. A particular result may not mean what you think it means
Looking back through the many comments on my previous post (which was one of the most commented upon I have posted) it is interesting to see that we, as teachers, slightly misread the whole situation. As professionals, committed to our students, caring about them deeply, we all assumed that the end result (constant discussion in L1) springs from the joy of freedom, the taking up of responsibility and other positive emotions. Actually, according to the students, they were terrified.
“We actually thought that you were angry at us and abandoned us because we use too much Japanese in class.”
“I took it for granted that you were angry and you didn’t want to give our class.”
I don’t know where this leaves Krashen. Despite the cause being the negative emotion of fear, the result was very positive.
“To do task without your help was difficult for me. However, I were able to hear much English. And I could speak more in English than usual!”
“…if we have no teachers, we must think how we should study. However,this situation is very important to us too I think. Actually we try to look for the answer more harder than usual. I spoke in English more ,moreover I heared more opinions of them than usual. Though we had much difficulties, it was very interesting to me.”
Of course, anyone who has met me in real life will find this fear highly amusing. Teaching teenagers we do sometimes need to wield a big stick. However, I don’t want this to be the dominant motivating force in my classroom, which leads us onto our next point.
2. Although mystery can be effective, we must ultimately provide transparency
When the students realised what I was trying to do, they were very happy. This was a vital step in the experiment – revealing the mystery.
“But I read your comment , you tried to see our class from all kinds of directions.”
“After reading this article, I noticed you care about us more than I expected. So I’m happy that you are our teacher!”
“We were so puzzled! Me, K., M.,and M. were discussing about ﾞwhat’s happening!?ﾞ through out the whole class.
K. and I were even talking about it the rest of the day!”
So had I left the class cold, with no feedback or no discussion of what had happened, the positives of confusion may have caused longer-term damage to the rapport we have been building. I kept the next class very light, and the students kept up their good habits from the previous class.
3. Perceived teacher beliefs do not always reflect actual classroom practice
If you had asked me before this class if I believed in learner autonomy and a hands-off teaching approach, I would have given you an emphatic yes. But what I was actually doing in the class belied this. It was only by removing myself completely from the lesson that I could see how students had been relying on me to prompt them, feed them and cajole them into using the language. In the last week, I have given many of my classes similar opportunities and they have all surprised me by speaking fluently in English for as longer than I expected. Had I been unwittingly restricting learner autonomy by doing too much, by jumping in too soon, by shutting down an activity simply because I was ready to go on to the next one?
This is why I think reflective practice has never been done properly in mainstream ELT literature. The questions we are prompted to ask ourselves are always the same, and we end up giving the answers we think we should. What was good and bad about that lesson? Why did that activity succeed or fail? We will never really know unless we break the mirror and try to rearrange the pieces.
An invitation to experiment, then. This weekends homework – choose a class and do something you never usually do. Then report back and tell us how it went and what it revealed.