October 20, 2005

Learner training

I'm now experimenting with learner-training (that phrase still makes me cringe! it sounds so Pavlovian). My colleague and I first began collaborating on autonomy in a sophomore class, but, as we spoke about here, we realized that developing autonomy was a longer term project than we had imagined, so we began collaborating on a freshman class as well. We created our own textbook which contains a lot of dialogues, all of which are on CDs and MDs. Our first few classes this semester (with a new bunch of students) were devoted to demonstrating how to use this material. One of our objectives is to wean them away from relying on the written text and to spend more time listening and repeating after the CD, then trying to reconstruct the dialogue with as little help from the written text as possible, except (of course) when they really can't remember or want to check or confirm something. Their reliance on the written text prevents them from developing their ear for English (they read and understand but don't really hear how it is pronounced exactly). It also makes them feel like the purpose of the exercise is to simply remember the lines, rather than actually be able to say them or understand them when they hear them, or be able to use those expressions in spoken utterances of their own.

At this conference, I attended a presentation (look for Mark Chapman), given on Language testing, motivation and learning styles. The presenter pointed out that:
  • Japan has a high-stakes testing system

  • according to the research literature, high-stakes testing systems have a negative impact on learning and motivation

  • students are test-motivated, not learning motivated

I was reminded of this, when I heard a student in my class say to another, So, we've got to learn these lines, right?. No! No! No, no, no! You're not learning these lines for a (written) test. The idea is to practice (or practise) these lines until you can say them smoothly and with confidence and with reasonably understandable pronunciation.

Today, I spent the class going from group to group reminding them of this, and encouraging them to use the audio for input rather than the textbook. See, this puts the emphasis on learning to use the language, rather than memorizing for a test. At least, that's what I hope they got. Old habits die hard, though, and I'll probably be spending the rest of the semester "reminding" them of this.

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