Making Students Speak (1) – some general observations
There’s much to talk about teaching speaking, so I’ve decided to write three separate entries on the topic (hope I won’t bore you to death by putting some experience-based theoretical divagations first). The second part will provide some simple and hopefully effective solutions to selected (and generally very basic) problems with teaching adults/adolescents to communicate, while in the last entry in the series I’ll present some of my favourite speaking tasks aimed at making my Students more willing to talk in a foreign language.
I know I’m asking many questions today (read on), but if you’d really like to change ANYTHING about your attitude to teaching speaking or improve your skills in the field, try to answer them yourself – only then you’ll get the most of reading this entry. I’d like to promote individuality and creativity in teaching, so instead of looking for “universally applicable” solutions here, try to develop them yourself – for your Students and in your particular teaching situation. What I’ll do below is just share some of my thoughts on the problem discussed.
1. Are Students to blame for their failures?
Haven’t you heard some of your colleagues say: “My Students don’t speak English during classes, because they don’t want to,” or: “It’s impossible to make my Students express their opinions,” or: “My Students have nothing to say about anything,” or: “I got to talk to fill the silence. My Students are numb and unwilling to communicate,” etc.?
Have you ever said such things yourself?
What if these negative comments do not reflect our Students’ true unwillingness to talk in a foreign language, but reveal our problems with teaching speaking that lead to our Students’ inability to communicate?
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Does your talking time exceed your STT or take up a significant percentage of your lesson time? Why/Why not? What can you do to make your Students talk more than you do, or to make yourself speak less?
- Do your Students talk during classes – but in their native language? Why/Why not? How does it influence the quality of your teaching and your Students’ attitude to the subject?
- Are you able to make your Students speak their mind? Why/Why not? How?
- Do your Students have limited possibilities of speaking during lessons because of the coursebook / curriculum? Why/Why not? What can you do about it?
- Have you found any effective ways to make your Students willing to speak? Why/Why not? What are they?
1. What is ‘making’ Students speak all about?
Is it enough to give our Students instructions to accomplish a “speaking task” and wait for them to start talking? Should we, probably, add something like “Go on, you’ll manage” or “It’s good for you” to make the process “more effective”? Could a promise of good grades motivate our Students to communicate? What if they don’t want to do what we’ve asked them to do, anyway?
Sometimes we might feel that simply ENCOURAGING our Students to talk in a foreign language is not enough. Naturally, encouragement and positive reinforcement are extremely important, also for adult learners. But what if we, for example, happen to teach introverted individuals with highly developed intrapersonal skills or people who have been made unwilling to speak because of their previous problems with communication in English (bad grades, intimidation/criticism/discouragement on the part of the previous teacher, failed oral exams, unsuccessful attempts to communicate with foreigners, etc.)? In such situations, we might also have to FORCE our Students to talk.
Another scenario is an extremely demanding curriculum which does not leave much space for teaching speaking. In such a case, we may have to make effort to PERMIT our Students to talk more than we / our course designers have planned within a particular educational programme (if the Students really want and need to talk more, which is often the case).
Next, I suggest that making our Students speak is also about LETTING them speak their mind. Unfortunately, there are Teachers who literally criticize their Students own views on different aspects of life. I believe that our task is on the contrary – to create as many opportunities as possible for our Students to freely exchange their opinions and learn to respect other people’s views and beliefs.
Last, but not least – sometimes we also ought to be able to FORBID our Students to talk in order to make teaching speaking more effective. This relates to situations in which our Students talk too much about trivial things, unimportant from the perspective of their language needs, for example to avoid doing other, more demanding tasks (even though they do it in English), or simply speak their native language during lessons.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- How do you encourage your Students to speak? Do you appeal to their extrinsic or intrinsic motivation? Do they feel that talking in a foreign language in the classroom will really improve their language skills or the quality of their lives?
- How do you “force” silent Students to talk? Or maybe you just “let them exist” in your classroom, believing that they’ll never become good communicators?
- Are you able to provide your Students with more opportunities to talk, even though your curriculum is very tight and you need to rush with the course material? How much can you change to make it possible? Do you limit teaching speaking to your Students’ to what can be found in the coursebook or what should be covered before they take their final exams, or are you able to find some time for extracurricular activities?
- Do you accept all your Students’ opinions on different topics and problems? Do you think they should consider what you think about the issues that you discuss? How do you inspire your Students to exchange their views? Do you teach them to respect each other’s opinions?
- How do you discipline your Students when it comes to their uncontrolled talking either in their native or foreign language? Are you consequent and demanding in this respect? Can you channel their “communicative energy” for the purpose of making them better speakers?
In the next entry, I’ll try to answer the questions for myself. By doing so, I’ll present my own, tried-out solutions to the problems presented above. Before we meet again, please try the same thing for yourselves. Only then we can expect to, if it can be put this way, cooperate in our efforts to become better Teachers.
To be continued…