As I have said in Previous posts, ´to learn a language you need to enjoy it, to have an interest in using it´, in other words you have to want to learn it. I reckon as a species, humans want to enjoy their lives, regardless of age or background. When we learn, it is far easier to take things in if we enjoy the learning process, for this reason it is essential to create an interest in what we are trying to get across to our students. Not all teachers are blessed with the ability to hold the attention of their students through natural charisma, but we can learn the necessary techniques to create dynamic and participative classes that get students involved in the teaching-learning process. As said Albert Einstein “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge”. Good teachers make students want to learn and encourage curiosity so that students take responsibility for thier own learning and collaborate in the process. What teachers must do, more than teach, is provide the necessary conditions so the students wish to learn more.
There are many benefits to creating a collaborative learning environment, such as behaviour, participation and the enjoyment of both the student and the teacher. If students are willing to put in effort through the pursuit of their own interests, teachers can be far more flexible in their classes and can create innovative and entertaining activities, knowing that their students will collaborate. The best way to create interest is through example, if the teacher shows an interest in what they are teaching and is truly passionate about their students, this rubs off on everyone. Students feel supported and cared about, and therefore will normally care more about their studies.
As I said earlier, the best way to create a collaborative working environment is to lead by example, it is very important for you to model what type of conduct you wish to see from them, learners will develop learning habits according to what they see from you and their colleagues. It is important to say that to succeed in forming a collaborative classroom takes a lot of time, patience and effort on the teacher’s part as well as the student´s, and needs to be structured or layered, if you prefer, so that students feel that they are in good hands (with you as the teacher) and supported by their classmates. It is really important to focus attention and invest time in the development of this class dynamic and needs to be constantly reinforced. It takes time but is well worth it in the end as these structures will save you time in the long run. Not only is it important to demostrate how to conduct oneself in class, but it is also essential to create a stimulating workspace that learners enjoy being in. Try to make it colourful, welcoming and informative. This shows that you are organised and prepared well to guide them towards achieving their goals.
People enjoy being part of something. We have seen it throughout history, when we feel that we work collectively as one it gives us impulse to progress. We need to make sure that we consult our students in the decision making process and when I say that, I mean the dynamic of the class and the direction in which you guide them as the teacher. With reference to behaviour, I said in a previous post (10. Behaviour Management in ESL Teaching) that if students agree to expectations they are more likely to follow them. This is also true of participation. Students will have a greater interest in conent if they agree to what they are doing. The class should work as a unit in which everyone´s opinion is valued. What should be valued more than individual success is the collaboration between students, this will create a fun and open group dynamic and ensure that noone gets left behind. I like to set up support networks between my students and use buddy systems so that stronger students can work with weaker ones to enhance everyone´s progression. These partners change throughout the year to ensure that there is good communication between everyone in the class. I also encourage my students to make suggestions about group projects as it informs me of their interests and the type of activities that they will enjoy doing, choice is a great motivational tool, it is easy to create a fun and flexible curriculum within learning topics.
It is important to teach students the necessary skills that they will need in class, such as: how to question, negotiate, do group work and paired activities. This will give them the confidence to express themselves and really put in the effort that is needed to learn a language. A key issue to address is how people learn languages. Learners need to understand that everyone is capable of learning a language, it is a natural or should I say innate process. The key is usage, through using a language enough we will naturally understand how it works and gain more confidence when using it. As usage is the key to learning, evidently it is not enough to just turn up to class and hope for the best. The best chance that students have is to find what they enjoy doing in their free time and doing it in the target language (see SPEAKING ENGLISH: Incorporating English into our daily routine). If we can get our students interested in a language, they will be far more likely to study it or use it in their free time. I in fact set up this website so that my students would seek opportunities to study in their free time and have access to the necessary resources to practice with. By encouaging my students to use English outside of the classroom, I have noticed a far greater level of participation within class time and generally students are more inclined to be creative and experiment with language, which is as we all know an integral part of the learning process.
So what I want you to take away from this post is:
- create a fun, open and dynamic workspace
- encourage team work and participation
- show an interest in your student´s interests and opinions
- provide a varied and creative curriculum
Suggested further reading