Recently there's been a lively discussion on SOLE (Self organized learning environment). I don't want to expand on this because a huge amount of ELT bloggers have already done so. And by no means do I want to pour my heart out and tell the reader which side I'm on regarding Sugata Mitra's predictions about the future of education. But I must admit that my post was initially inspired by what I'd heard and read about this controversial issue.
I'm a practitioner; I like to experiment in the classroom and I enjoy reflecting on my experiments. When reflecting, I don't usually work with any concrete data; I observe and make subjective assumptions about my observations. I think I'm very lucky to have the opportunity to teach across different levels of proficiency. I used to teach adults but since I moved into the state sector, I've been dealing with young learners aged 11-19. What I like about this variety is the fact that the progress and the changes are striking - not just in the language but in the students' behaviour.
Right now I'm halfway through Emma Crawley's presentation and I'm pondering the merits of group work and the implication that kids work efficiently if they are allowed to randomly choose their partners when working on a project. My students love pair and group work but not always and not from the start. Based on my observations, when the eleven-year-olds come to grammar school, they don't have the slightest intention to share their knowledge with their peers. They want to tell ME - the teacher. Whenever I ask a question, they, quite naturally, tend to call out the answer so that I can hear it. I'm the only one who matters to them at that moment. I seem to be the only important listener and judge. I have to admit that I sometimes find their addiction to the teacher a little irritating. Thus I stop them and ask them to talk in pairs for a while before they tell me. I do it for an obvious reason - I want to increase student talking time and prevent the strongest and most confident learners from dominating the activity. But I can see the disappointment in their eyes and I know that they can't wait for the moment of being allowed to speak up - that's the climax, the real sharing, the real proof that they KNOW. And then, when approved by the teacher, their achievement is virtually immortal.
Luckily, this self-centredness and dependence don't last forever. Each time my students come back after the summer holidays, they are different. And they are less surprised when I say: "Ok, tell your neighbour first" or "Get into groups of four and talk about this for a while...." And later, aged 17, they don't want to stop chatting in pairs - they even continue when the lesson has finished.
This gets me thinking... are kids natural team workers or are they a little unsocial at the beginning and they have to be taught to enjoy company of others during school work? Or do they become team players naturally and gradually? Is it the artificial and inauthentic nature of school work that generally discourages young learners from the desire to cooperate?
This post was originally supposed to be about the initial reluctance of young learners to share knowledge with their peers. However, there is going to be a post script; just a couple of hours ago, after I had almost finished writing this, I came across a post What's My Teaching Perspective? by Vedrana Vojkovic, and things took a slightly different course for me. Vedrana inspired me to take the TPI Test, an inventory which helps teachers to identify their perspectives on teaching. This is a graphical display of my results.
To cut a long story short, my scores generally fall into the 30s, which means that my individual perspectives are moderately held. Although my score is highest on the Apprenticeship perspective (the blue zone), my profile looks somewhat flat. No matter how meticulously I tried to keep a single, specific educational context and a single group of learners in mind throughout, sometimes it was difficult to select the right answer. I want to believe that it was because my approach to teaching is holistic, which means it is so hard for me to exclude an option utterly. This reflects how I usually see things - I'm always willing to accept new, multiple ideas, even though they seem opposing to the older ones.
What's the point? Why the post script then? Looking back at what I had written before I took the test, I must smile when I realize how beautifully my ideas presented above sit with the most dominant perspective on my teaching. According to the test results, the Apprenticeship viewpoint means that for me effective teaching is a process of socializing students into new behavioral norms and ways of working. Good teachers know what their learners can do on their own and where they need guidance and direction; they engage learners within their 'zone of development'. As learners mature and become more competent, the teacher's role changes; they offer less direction and give more responsibility as students progress from dependent learners to independent workers.
Some things just seem to fit in ....