Courtesy of Public Speaking for Kids
Two dialogues from classrooms with very different learning environments. Can you guess which one allows for more learner autonomy, emergent language, and student participation?
S: Ehm, how old is your father?
L: My father is forty years old. And how old is your father?
S: Fifteen years old. How old is your mother?
L: My mother is thirty-nine years old.
S: How old are you?
L: I’m twelve. How old are you?
S: I’m eleven. What are your foreign languages?
L: My foreign languages are Sport, Textil. What are your foreign languages?
S: My foreign languages are Biologie, Textil and German.
S: Oh, ah how ah how ne, what is the name or your father?
L: The name of my fater is Felix. And what is the name of your father?
S: Ehm, the name of my father is ah Bernd, ah.
L: What’s the name of your mother?
S: Ehm, ah, my mother’s name is Maria. And your mother’s name?
(Legenhausen, 1999: 166-167)
L: What should we talk about, Claus?
C: I don’t know, we could talk about our music group ‘Big Engine’.
L: Yeah, that’s a good idea.
C: I think it’s fun. Now we have to play, ah , record our tape.
L: Yeah, the first time.
C: Yeah, it’s very exciting. I have made a cover to our tape at home.
L: That one you showed me?
L: The only thing it’s beautiful.
C: It’s lovely. (Laughing)
L: I think it’s good, too.
(Legenhausen, 1999: 167)
In the above two dialogues, the students were put into pairs and given the very basic task of simply talking to each other in English for a few minutes. The dialogues are from two classrooms of the same level and age but different countries with different learning environments. Which one do you think comes from a classroom where children are given their own voice?
The first dialogue is from a German classroom where children learn from a textbook and follow a fairly prescriptive progression of learning targets. The second dialogue is from a Danish classroom where learner autonomy is encouraged, the voice of the learners is listened to, and choice is an integral part of the learning process. In the words of Legenhausen,the researcher who conducted the study, the Danish learners “do not construe a contrast between authentic and didactic tasks” (Legenhausen, 1999: 181).
This was a post I’ve been yearning to write for a while and Dave Dodgson’s recent post told me the time had come. Dave reflects on why, after years of English language instruction, learners still have poor communicative ability. As Dave hints at, I think the key lies in the contrast we see above. Text book type teaching and prescriptive curriculums simply don’t engage learners. Further more, the English language becomes only something used in the classroom; it’s not seen as a part of who they are or connected to their life. For language to be truly internalized, it has to become part of a learner’s identity, not something done to them at school. What do you think?