the sla conundrum

I am by no means an experienced or learned individual when it comes to discussing matters of ELT. I can’t quote studies or rattle off the theories of various famous academics.

I exist to learn and adapt. My professional world is encapsulated by the classroom. Let me not lead you astray, I do regularly reflect upon my self, my classes and my lessons. I participate in an active and vibrant community of learning with fellow professionals.

I see the merit of (and this summer I will be attending) graduate school and learning the terminology behind my thoughts. I want to acquire the knowledge to justify my theories and hold my own in conversation at the adult table.

One thing that keeps coming to mind, however, when I hear the desire for concrete numbers to back up a belief RE second language learning is that we can’t easily (if at all) create a proper control group with which compare student learning.

Language learning happens differently in every mind. That process is affected by the learner, the environment, the teacher, the class, the frequency of instruction, learner motivation and desire, necessity, etc etc etc.

Language learning happens at different speeds. It proceeds rapidly and regresses without warning.  Different languages demand different strategies from people of different backgrounds and cultures.

Language is malleable. It’s flexible. We change it dependent upon our audience, and it changes the way we think and view the world around us depending on how we use it.

I’m not saying there isn’t a place for the science of learning, or that as teachers we should not be learning from our fore-bearers and constantly pushing the envelope in the hopes of finding a “better way” for our learners. In fact, I’m saying we MUST do exactly those things.

However, not every teacher is afforded the time and/or opportunity to measure each student’s speaking word rate per minute and compare it with others who’ve taken the same course, at the same time of day, with the same background, in the same weather. Does that mean we can’t KNOW that our students have learned from us?

In depth statistical gathering is not something we all can do, and I honestly don’t believe it’s necessary for all of us to do so.

If I have a class and we make class and individual goals. If we work every day to meet those goals and my learners and I walk away feeling enriched and satisfied with the days work, then I adjudge learning to have taken place. I don’t have the statistics to back it up or any special methodology with which to convince myself or anyone else. But everything worthwhile that happens within a classroom can be judged with numbers. Indeed, I do not believe ELT as a whole is solely about teaching English (as mentioned in my previous post).

Every one of us can reflect upon the choices we make in our classrooms. We can learn about our learners and discover what drives them. We can attempt to tailor our teaching as best we can to meet the needs and desires of the students who entrust their time, money and effort to us.

Certainly, as teachers we should set the example for our students and be active learners. Teachers of all ilk should be life-long learners (not to say all humans, for, if we are not learning, what are we here for?)

I guess I just wanted to say, for all of you who are starting out teaching ESL (or those who are well on their way but still questioning), I don’t believe that quoting scripture from the gods of ELT makes one a better teacher, nor necessarily more informed.

A good teacher continually seeks to better-know themselves, their learners, the environment that surrounds us all and the complex connections that make up the world as we know it. When you have a chance, read from the scriptures of ELT. But most importantly, learn to critically reflect upon your teaching, yourself and your students.




5 thoughts on “the sla conundrum

      • So we both love hitting the truth sentences. You have produced quite a few, the blogger you kindly link to might have produced one or two (which is not a fact, in fact).
        At this exact moment I relate to “every one of us can reflect upon the choices we make in our classrooms” in particular.

      • Thank you for highlighting that statement. As a young teacher it was one of my concerns when entering the RP world. I am not a special teacher, how can I reflect. Nothing could be further from the truth. It isn’t UNTIL we begin to reflect that we actually begin to see what is happening in our classrooms. It isn’t UNTIL we reflect that we truly grow as teachers, and people. And everyone, of every level of experience and from every background has unique and helpful insights to help us do so. We need only be brave enough to seek them out.

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