‘Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius’. Edward Gibbon
I think we can see quite clearly into Mr Gibbon’s learning style from his quote. He likes to learn socially, i.e. by talking through new ideas with others, but then also likes some time of reflection to make those ideas concrete in his mind. Many of us are similar, and even if we lean to one end or the other of the spectrum, an overall learning experience that incorporates both can cater to many different learning preferences. Luckily, blended learning can offer our learners all this and more!
Obviously, when we as language learners refer to conversation, we are talking about developing speaking skills. In the classroom, this is quite easy to envisage. We can set up a debate or an exchange of anecdotes, a role play or a more complex task. We can maximise the Student Talk Time by getting them to do some preparation at home before class so they are conversing as much as possible and getting lots of constructive feedback on their performance.
With Touchstone Blended Learning, students can do a lot of the prior language work by engaging with the online course to learn the structures and vocabulary they need to get the most out of doing the task. Don’t forget that a quick vocabulary game at the start of a lesson can help you to set up the context for the speaking task (they will always need a warmer!) But this isn’t the only way that students can prepare for the speaking task. If you take a look back to the post on voice tools, you’ll remember that learners can also practice their speaking at home. They can do this both in solitude and in conversation.
There is a great deal of safety in being able to practice presenting arguments in private, with the added advantage of being able to record themselves to check pronunciation and see whether or not they sound convincing, without having to expose any potential mistakes to others so students can feel free to experiment a bit before they have to do this ‘for real’. Many exams such as the Cambridge Upper Main Suite and IELTS, require students to give a ‘long turn’. After class, when students have debated the points of their arguments and had feedback on their performance, you could ask them to reflect on the lesson and then record and share a 1-2 minute talk on the same topic. Students can then listen to each other and comment as appropriate. This is a nice way to prepare for one of the most daunting parts of the speaking tests in these exams.
Many cultures don’t like to take risks, particularly if that risk means you could end up looking foolish in front of your peers. That’s why there is built in safety in the Touchstone online course in the form of voice recording that cannot be shared and the more risky but still relatively safe activity of recording yourself and then sharing it with others when you are happy with your work. Coming to class then becomes a comparatively risky business. Students cannot erase ‘stupid’ things they say because everyone has heard them so it’s important that you have created an environment where students trust each other and feel comfortable enough to potentially make mistakes in front of others and engage in real learning conversation.
What have you done recently to ensure that your classroom is a Safety Zone? Do you have any top tips to share about making your students feel comfortable enough to take risks in class? The teacher’s manner is always important. What about feedback, using students’ names, how the class is laid out etc? And how do you think it works in online conversation? What do you think the main similarities/differences are? And what are the implications for us as teachers?