Tuesday, November 18, 2008

TEFL Assignment 1-Teacher Talking Time

So, I'm taking a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. The essays are the culminating assignments for each module. Each essay requires a 700 word answer to a prompt which, if the first module serves as model, is composed of a couple of questions. I'm very interested to find myself struggling to answer the questions. I have really strong feelings about most of the concepts presented in the module, and yet I feel as if I might serve myself better toning down the harshness of my responses. Here's the second one.

Why is TTT (Teacher Talking Time) noted first among the potential problems to look out for in the list in section 1.2C, along with "Complicated and unclear instructions," "Failure to check comprehension of instructions," and "Fear of genuine feedback?"

What are some ways you plan to avoid excessive TTT in your classroom when you are a ESL/EFL teacher? Provide specific strategies and examples.

Having been a teacher, I have come to recognize and appreciate the openness that each assignment, inquiry session, or discussion can introduce into a day in the classroom with engaged, active, and invested students. This uncertainty can be the cause of stress when one is unprepared. However, it also offers the teacher a wonderful opportunity to allow the students, in chorus with and under guidance of the instructor, to guide their own learning towards their ends and somewhat by their means.

In reflecting on such situations that I have encountered, I have seen the natural reaction of many teachers. The instant we feel that we’re straying from plans, or maybe spending more time than allotted for any specific task, we do our best to get back on track, according to expectations. Many times, this comes in the form of an unnatural, undemocratic, teacher-dominated situation. I see this as an explanation for the prevalence of the problem of excessive teacher talking.

In addition to this, I have also been faced with the somewhat blank stares of a classroom full of students at my having asked a tricky question. One of the hardest things for new teachers is being able to insert moments of thought on the part of students. I know from experience that many teachers don’t allow their pupils sufficient time to answer even the simplest of questions, much less those of a more complex nature. The added difficulty of translating and retranslating is one that we must recognize. The cost of not doing so is a teacher-dominated classroom; one full of TTT.

As far as the problem itself, I think the answer is clear. We’ve added countless complexities and facets to the idea posited by John Dewey nearly a century ago, that one must do in order to learn. Dewey made this the foundation upon which he built his pedagogy, and this ideology saw its implementation in his Laboratory School at the University of Chicago. While there might be discussion as to the validity of Dewey’s thought in respect to the learning of abstract concepts, such as quantum physics, most cannot deny that to speak a new language is to learn said language. Without allowing our students countless opportunities to practice what they’re learning, we’re not only limiting their exposure, but we’re also devaluing the process of risk-taking, which is essential in second language acquisition.

As is clear to anyone with experience on either side of the educational paradigm, excessive teacher talking is a detriment to the learning of all the students in a second language classroom. But, how do we reduce the problem?

There is a paradox that I believe fits the situation quite well – expect the unexpected. When we, as teachers, realize and embrace the fact that things will not go exactly as planned, we are more willing to turn over more control to the students. When students are engaged, excited, and having fun learning, they require less and less structuring from the instructor. Allowing the classroom to take on a dynamic and democratic approach, we can avoid a great deal of excessive teacher talk. The fact is, these students want to be here to learn, and they know that it will take their participation to get there. By giving up some of the control with regard to curricular direction with a certain group of students, the teacher can better serve as a guide who can make students’ passions relevant to the required or suggested curriculum.

Beyond allowing for self-regulation and self-guidance on the part of the students, the instructor ensures minimal teacher talking time. Additionally, it is imperative that the teacher be familiar with the materials and the curriculum tied to the particular course. It is quite clear when a teacher commands a strong understanding of the concepts of the curriculum, both in regards to specific lessons, as well as the scope of the lessons over time. When there is a lack of familiarity or command with materials, lessons, activities, or curricular scope, the teacher is in danger of relying too much on given materials. This reliance inevitably results in a classroom which has one clear, dominating voice – that of the teacher.

Hi Cameron,
Another good one!
Your response reflects a very thorough, thoughtful analysis of the negative effects of excessive TTT. Furthermore, your approaches to curtailing this common tendency seem creative and practical. As you point out so well, as modern language teachers, we want to focus on creating scenarios, simulations, activities, tasks, projects, debates, discussion, and (appropriate) games that convey the lesson points and objectives by having students interacting with one another individually and in groups, using English in as authentic, natural and meaningful ways as possible given the inherent limitations of the classroom environment. No easy task! However, if the students are busy interacting and speaking in English, the teacher cannot talk, and that´s good!
Good job!

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