Sunday, July 8, 2007

Are oral classroom presentations necessary?

Eve Ross - Beijing Institute of Machinery, China

When my students exhibited poor audience behavior during their classmates' oral presentations, I lectured them about respect, made the presenter stop until everyone was quiet, gave quizzes on the content of the presentations, wandered silently about the classroom quelling conversations, and then I finally asked myself, "Why am I working so hard to make this work?" The simple answer was to end the oral presentations. I told my students there would be no more oral presentations until I felt they were mature enough to be a polite audience. Which may not happen during my time here as a teacher.

I recognize this drastic response may not be right for everyone. Oral presentations in front of the class have value if your students need public speaking skills. But even then, I'm not sure if it really helps to speak to an audience absorbed in their own conversations. And my students were also very quick to laugh at their classmates' English pronunciation, use of Chinese fillers (nei ge), even speech impediments, making shy students even less confident about their English and their public speaking.

Also, oral presentations are not very effective in giving students chances to speak; only one is speaking while the other 30 or 60 or however many you have are silent (or gabbing in Chinese). Since ending the presentations, I've tried to replace them with more group work, in which as many students are talking at once as there are groups. Even when someone in the group is long-winded or pauses a lot or lisps, the dynamic of smaller groups seems to be much better in terms of courtesy. Just my experience.

In my lecture beginning of the term, I discussed the parallels between babies learning their first language and the best methods for learning a second language. One point was that a family tries its best to get the baby to talk, encouraging her, and being thrilled even by her imperfect attempts. When they do make corrections, they do so kindly and gently. What would happen if the baby were ignored? What would happen if her attempts to speak were mocked? She wouldn't talk much, and she wouldn't learn to speak very quickly. Compare to the classroom. Students need to be each others' family. They need to support each others' efforts to learn English, and they will all learn faster this way than if they ignore or make fun of each other. Several students mentioned to me that they realized they had not been good about this in the past, and promised to change. And I've noticed an improvement... but not enough that I'd be willing to reinstate the oral presentations.

1 comment:

EFL Geek said...

Interesting post. I like your analogy with the family and a baby. After 10 years of teaching it's pretty clear to me that the affective filter is the biggest impediment to language acquisition that most Korean students face.