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From Passive to Active Learning

Almost all of my workshops and seminars promote active learning in the EFL classroom. And the feedback I get is usually positive. Some of the bolder participants will tell me that, even though they enjoyed my seminars, they believe that it won't work in their classes. The bottom line of this belief is that their students are "too passive."

This posting is about what I tell the skeptics of active language learning. Not only does active learning require more work from the students, but it also requires more work from the teacher. The first thing the teacher must do is desire an active class. Once that desire is in place, then the teacher must transform that desire into action.

CAUTION: It is difficult to change a passive classroom into an active classroom in the middle of a course or program. Students have already been "programmed" into passive learning. From my observations and experience, the passive students will resist changing into an active class.

If one wants an active learning environment, the instructor must establish the guidelines and expectations on the first day. The instructor must make it clear to each and every student that they will be evaluated on their active participation in the classroom everyday. The instructor must also provide reasoning behind this evaluation.

Reasons to evaluate students based on their active participation in a language class:
  • Communication is a primary goal of learning a language.
  • Using the language correctly is more important than knowing the language well.
  • Interacting with classmates in English demonstrates one's language ability.
Instructors must ask students why they are in the class. If they want to use the language in real life, then they must practice in class. If they want to pass a test, remind them that many tests score one's ability to express himself or herself in writing and speaking.

The instructor should make it clear to the learners that he or she wants them to be able to communicate and interact very well in the classroom so that they will be able to communicate and interact well in real English-speaking environments and on tests. Most students should agree to that.

Once these objectives and expectations are set on the first day, the instructor and the students must be prepared for lots of communicative activities. Refer to my website for various examples of communicative approaches and activities with many including the theories behind them.

If there are still doubts, many of my Korean and Russian teachers-in-training have successfully transformed their passive learning students into active learning students. It works.

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