Shake Things Up and Enjoy the Silence


Silence is a friend who never betrays
Confucius

We all follow a basic routine throughout the week. We make our lesson plans, interact with our colleagues, teach our lessons and so on and so forth. This may become really tiring and boring. Nothing demotivates so much as when you do the same thing over and over again. But honestly, we sometimes forget that our students often feel the same way. So not only do we need to step out of our routine from time to time in order to get inspiration, but we also need to shake things up for our students. Not just because we can’t stand bored faces in our lessons but also because keeping our students unmotivated will probably limit the range of possibilities in their future lives. How can we trigger their creativity if they feel bored to death? How can we possibly inspire them for their future adventures if there are none at school? I simply love inventing new tasks and activities. I enjoy being innovative in every possible way because I love to watch the happy faces and glowing eyes of my students whenever I come up with something new, unexpected. However, I’m not going to describe an activity or provide a lesson plan as usual. I’m going to shake things up a bit.

Have you ever experienced the feeling of powerlessness when something vital for the lesson breaks down or fails? As I wrote in one of my previous posts, I always have a few items in my teacher’s survival kit in case something goes wrong. But what if you lose something that can’t be replaced at all? I’ve been teaching for almost twenty years now but this has never happened to me before – I’ve completely lost my voice for the first time in my career. It’s been an interesting experience, though and it’s literally shaken things up because I dared it and decided to teach the lessons as usual.

First of all, I realized I talk too much. It actually sounds ironic to me because I believe my students generally get plenty of opportunities to express themselves in the lessons; I often let them provide each other with various kinds of feedback and they can ask and answer each other’s questions freely. Surprisingly, they behaved differently when I (involuntarily) remained silent. They listened more carefully to my occasional whispering but also to each other. They didn’t interrupt or disturb their peers. In other words, they concentrated on their tasks like never before. Interesting enough, I noticed things I had never noticed before because I listened more closely. As I couldn’t correct their pronunciation, I had to leave the students to their own devices. When I spotted an error, I only made a gesture and encouraged somebody to correct it. All I did was eliciting answers. I had to make my instructions as simple as possible, using my facial expressions, hands and fingers to point, indicate, show, encourage, and stop. I virtually felt like an orchestra conductor; I didn’t play myself but I was there, responsible for the students’ well-being, making sure that learning occurred. Luckily, I had technology at my disposal, so I could play the recordings, show images, words, texts, etc., and the students got plenty of input to build on.

I’ve recently heard an intriguing interview with Sugata Mitra on Steve Wheeler’s blog. And it’s no exaggeration to say that Sugata Mitra shakes things up. To cut it short, Mitra maintains that we don’t need education system any more because it’s simply outdated. He’s an advocate of auto-didacticism, i.e. when children are in small groups, left to their own devices, they will teach themselves an extraordinary amount of new skills and knowledge. In other words, Mitra argues that kids can easily do without teachers.

Mitra’s ideas and my vocal cords infection made me ask myself a few burning questions. Don’t I interfere too much when teaching? Could I do more to satisfy the students’ need for autonomy? How do my students actually feel when being left to their own devices? Well, let’s remain silent for a while and ponder …

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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