Last week one of the students in my Portuguese class invited everyone around for dinner and not just any dinner, but my favourite Brazilian dish, moqueca de peixe. Unfortunately, I don’t have a great rapport with the other students in my class. This is because they are all a little more advanced than me and we don’t really talk to each other in class as most of our conversations are through the filter of our teacher. However, they seem like nice people and I can never resist that particular recipe. Furthermore, it was a very generous invitation and it would have been churlish of me not to go without a good reason, so I went.
|Moqueca de piexe, courtesy of Carla Arena (@carlaarena).|
Over the course of the evening, we chatted, as you would expect, and I found that, unbeknownst to me, Maria* teaches conversational French, that Sara spent a great month in Manaus in Brazil but didn’t like Rio at all, that Bob had a lovely Christmas in London with his girlfriend, and our host Michelle paints, specialising in pictures of Brazilian life.
The thing is that we have been in the same class now for nearly a year, and it’s taken me that long to find out these things. Putting my teacher hat back on, I can’t help but wonder how the classes might have been different if we had gotten to know each other better.
In Zoltan Dornyei and Kata Czizer’s Ten Commandments for Motivating Language Learners, they state that the following “micro-strategies” are requirements that teachers need to enact in the classroom in order to motivate their students:
Personally, since I first read this list and its accompanying article just after I finished my CELTA, I have found that this has provided me with a fundamental guide for how to set up my classroom. My every act and utterance need to be directed in such a way as to make the learners as motivated as possible, and subsequently I hope my students will have the desire to succeed, however they define it
Looking at numbers two, four, five, seven and eight on Czizer and Dornyei’s list, it seems to me that creating a rapport between students is either fundamental or mighty useful in each case. This sense of rapport enables the students to become more involved in the class as an entity, irrespective of the subject being studied, but with the benefit that their involvement in the class increases and subsequently so does their knowledge of the language.
When you teach adults in EFL as I do, you must not underestimate the social nature of what it is that we do. Language lessons are not the most academic in the world and they are often undertaken as a social activity by people who have two hours of lessons a week and don’t always have time to do their homework.** Don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing wrong with that and there’s nothing to apologise for. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t take our jobs and profession seriously, far from it in fact (I hope this blog is proof of that!).
But my point is this, that on a very basic level, many of our students want to enjoy their classes. They want to progress and reach their own individual goals. Our job as teachers is to help them meet those objectives in a motivating and interesting way.
To do this, we have to recognise that a class is a social construct. It is a group of people, all with different needs, objectives and learning styles. It is necessary for these people, these social animals, to do what comes naturally to us: to interact and create bonds. Essentially, if you don’t allow your students an opportunity to get to know each other, then I think you’re making it much more difficult than it needs to be.
|The Ten Commandments, right by my side.|
*The names have been changed.
**Incidentally, I am aware that there are also learners who are quite different situations, whether they are refugees or people who’ve been told to improve their English or they will lose their job. I don’t think this approach to motivation applies to them any less, it’s just perhaps harder to justify to administrators and the like.