The great thing about yesterday at International House London was that we had a chance to look into two specific aspects of a successful language lesson, how to give instructions and how to clarify meaning.
It was wonderful to grow aware that I still had to learn more even about something which I had presumably been doing just well. I mean I had always thought until yesterday that my students had understood my instructions at all times because I believed I had managed to check that by eliciting the steps of my instructions from different students followed by such a question as “What are we doing now?”
However, it was discussed during the session by Ri Willoughby that elicitation of the instructions from students might not always work. I found out that students might just be repeating the instructions like parrots would, so there was still a lot for the teacher to ensure. It was surprising that I could not come up with an idea as to how we could have students follow the instructions as desired because there was a simpler answer than I imagined.
Today I know that we can make our instructions more effective by giving examples and modeling when checking students’ understanding of what was expected of them. You can always do the first question for them pointing out that you are giving an example as well as the fact that you can pick a student and act the thing out with him. Some might think it would take way too long, but it is the safest for students because there would be no point in doing an activity they are not sure about in terms of what to do.
As Ri also pointed out, learning is all about attaching meaning to what is studied. Teachers have the skill to grant their students the opportunity to do just that, so it is worth spending an extra minute to demonstrate to them explicitly. Clearly it will never be a good idea to make up for time that might be lost during any one activity by stealing time from instructions. They are so crucial for a smoothly flowing lesson that chaos could prevail in the classroom unless instructions are meaningful.
The second thing about which I had a revelation yesterday is about how to clarify meaning. When students ask teachers the meaning of a word or phrase, there is mostly the tendency to just give the related definition and continue without even checking if they really understood that. In fact, the duty of a language teacher is to ensure that students really understand the lexis in question and will be able to use it without difficulty.
The most effective way of doing that is introducing CONCEPT CHECKING QUESTIONS (CCQ). It is really a simple thing to remember to do, and the result is incredible when it is done. Chia Suan Chong gave us the opportunity to experiment with this, and I must say it was not that easy to clarify meaning without the CCQs.
Therefore, I am well aware today that it is always a good idea to ask students such a question as “Do I drink it?” after explaining the meaning of “Milkshake”. There would certainly be no harm in asking “Can you go on a strike alone?” when you are trying to check if a student understands the meaning of “to go on a strike”.
I, for my part, practiced this new technique with my fellow teachers in the classroom, and I felt more confident doing what was right. Also, the fun element was involved for many other words and phrases we worked on. So, I have no doubt in my mind about how well CCQs would serve; I am sure they serve.
In short, I learned yesterday that it would be the biggest mistake ever to presume that you know about something well enough and you can do it efficiently. The reality is that there will always be more to discover. I am more than grateful to Ri Willoughby and Chia Suan Chong for their excellent work that they have enlightened me about that most crucial fact.