Skip to main content

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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Horror! A Listening Curriculum for English Language Learning

I've been inspired by Clare Maas' blog post, which was inspired by Dr. John Field's TEASIG/CRELLA talks, to share my shock at the listening curriculum of an intensive English program where I previously worked. To be fair, this listening curriculum was designed twenty years prior and my job was to lead faculty efforts to revise it. Unfortunately, the program went through financial difficulties and leadership changes, resulting in the "non-renewal" of most of the curriculum committee members.
Upper-Level (EAP) Listening (B2-C1) Listening was relatively equally integrated with speaking and reading skills in one course set apart from another course that focused much more on writing. This was the case for the two highest levels for students who intended to matriculate into the university as undergraduates. The highest level was not dependent on any one coursebook, so all of the listening material had to be collected by the instructors. When I was the curriculum coordi…

Research in the ELT Profession & Industry

My career has taken me to the uncomfortable and sometimes exciting spot in English language teaching or education in general: middle management, a term I dislike. As an advocate of teachers, I find my direction and passion by supporting teachers, helping them make their jobs more meaningful. Unfortunately, I have had to work with supervisors that didn't understand or share this vision. I'm not sure if they saw me as someone to "manage" teachers, but it often felt like it. If you don't know what middle management jobs are, and there are a lot of them, they go by many different names. Match any of the words in the left column with the words in the right column to create a job title that can describe the same job.


It seems that most of these job descriptions do not include research, which I believe is essential in developing curriculum and professional learning. It also seems obvious to me that a background in pedagogical research (and for ELT, research in applied …

Media in the Learning: Reflecting on a "New" Media Paradigm

The 21st century has been around for nearly two decades and media has always been used for teaching and learning. I'm trying to think of language teaching without any media, which can be defined as communication tools for storing and delivering information, and I cannot. When we talk about 21st Century Skills and New Media, I think most people don't know what they're specifically referring to. I traced the term "21st Century Skills" to the Framework for 21st Century Learning designed by P21: Partnership for 21st Century Learning. It's a brand that has already grown old with ideas that are even older. However, these skills are often overlooked for mostly political reasons. I believe most teachers would like to focus on these skills more, but that's not what usually counts in most standardized exams.

The other term, new media, is a teacher-centered term because the media is "new" for the teachers who did not grow up with computer-mediated technol…