Creating an atmosphere of mutual support & discovery
Most of us are familiar with the old maxim, ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime;’ an essential goal, I would say, for effective frontline work. However, the journey from dependence to independence can be a long one and there is no set formula when you are working with individuals and their often complex needs.
Recently, I have been considering how important that principle is within language teaching. So, If one lesson is a simple mackerel, tasty but short-lived; supporting students with the necessary life-skills for them to take control of their own learning and make the most of all the opportunities afforded to them outside the classroom, is handing them a rod. To take the metaphor one step further, a culture of peer support both inside and outside the classroom can be the means of building a strongly woven fishing net.
Sounds like a great ideal, but how can we put this into practice?
Now, both I and my eager-beaver students have mastered the rudiments of zoom lessons, I am beginning to look afresh at two of our centre’s aims of building ‘capacity’ and ‘community’. We are using ‘breakout rooms’ more in lessons and students often tell me I bring them back to the ‘main room’ too soon. They love to talk! The next step is a possible WhatsApp English Conversation group, with me well out of the way, encouraging them to explore language together. Classwork and homework are becoming less prescriptive and more inductive, developing students’ self-confidence and giving them an opportunity to see that, yes – they can do it!
Old habits die hard, and as I have taught some of them from beginner level and some had little schooling in their home countries, they have grown a little too used to being handed a fish on a plate. But, as I have been discovering in a new way recently, it’s never too late to learn.
Jenny Hazelden – ESOL Coordinator