Tuesday, March 20, 2007

You should be creative but you don't have to entertain

By Jennifer Wallace - Anhui University of Technology, Ma’anshan, Anhui Province

I used to worry a lot about creating lessons my students would like, and that would hold their interest, but my focus has now changed. And it’s changed, I think as a result of training. I taught for several years (starting back in the 1970’s) with no teacher training qualifications - not unusual back then.

To get my present post in China I had to get a teaching qualification, so did a one-month intensive CELTA course. One of the best pieces of advice I had on that course was to work less hard - to do less for my students. One of my supervisors advised me to always keep thinking about how little I could do and how much I could get my students to do.

As un un-trained teacher, replicating many of the teaching habits of my own teachers, I would always tend to try to take full responsibility for all and everything in the lesson. And now I don’t. I try to focus on my aims and objectives for each lesson - the learning and practice opportunities being offered to the students. I try to think through exactly what processes I’m asking them to go through to get to whatever the goal of the moment is. And I expect them to work hard. And usually the lessons are judged successful. Or successful enough.

But if someone’s having a bad day and doesn’t want to participate (and I teach university, not school students), as long as they don’t inhibit others participating, I let them do that. I don’t think it’s my job to be an entertainer, though I know that teaching something in an entertaining way can help. My most entertaining contributions in a lesson always seem to be the unplanned, spontaneous ones.

My blackboard drawings often produce smiles and chuckles. My examples and illustrations tend not to be over-serious. But I don’t think my college students expect entertainment - I think they value far more actually learning and practicing and sensing their own progress. If that can be achieved by pleasurable means, all the better, but they always seem well content to get on with the tasks as long as they understand what’s wanted - and why. And I do explain more and more why we do particular types of activities, what the point of them is, to encourage the development of more self-aware learning.

So, for me the better lessons do often come from trying new things, but not in terms of trying to entertain or hold the interest of the students.

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