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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Listening Boot Camp (Week Two)

This week was the real test of the students' understanding of and investment in the new ideas around putting aside L1 and electronic (bilingual) dictionaries in order to focus more completely on improving listening and speaking skills.

I felt we had spent enough time building the toolbox, but the question remained: would they use those tools? I felt more determined than ever not to let conversation time turn into the same disastrous scene as always--with me running around trying to police the violators of the NO DICTIONARIES and NO L1 rules.

Here are some things I did to ensure a better outcome:

  • Made the text as simple and short as possible given the students' objectives. (It's a multilevel class with some functioning at CLB 2/3 in listening.) 
  • Gave them the text the day before so the dictionary addicts could look up unknown words that night. 
  • Explained to them how it made me feel when they used their first language during conversation time. I compared myself to the coach of a bike race team who has planned a wonderful route through gorgeous hilly countryside for the team to practice for the Tour de France. How do you think the coach feels, I asked them, if one cyclist sneaks off and catches a ride to the finish line in a buddy's car? What's the goal--getting to the finish line first, or practicing cycling? They got it and nodded in agreement. 
  • Offered to let them spend ten minutes with dictionaries, L1 allowed, before the dedicated conversation time, during which the strict rules would come into force. They wanted that prep time. 
  • Reminded them of our tools, pointing to the little coloured posters hanging around the classroom with gambits such as, "How do you say _____ in our language?" and "What does X mean?" 
  • Told them that policing them is not fun for me. They are adults and policing them is not my job. They can police themselves and each other. They agreed. 
And? It worked. For the first time since assuming the role as their instructor, I witnessed not one single instance of a student reaching for the bilingual dictionary or speaking his or her first language. That lasted a good half hour. I don't dare hold my breath and think it will necessarily happen a second time without a repeat of almost all these reminders, but at least I know that problems of this type in the past were caused in great part by my failure to prepare the students to succeed.

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