As I’m preparing myself for a Diploma level TEFL course, one of my areas of teaching to work on is trying to maximise “emerging learning” as it happens in my classrooms.
I included this in my CAM Action Plan written at the start of the course. So far I’ve become more aware of instances where I’ve been developing this learning as things come up in lessons. I’ve been reassured that it was sometimes happening. However, I’m also now more aware of these opportunities and actively thinking “here’s some learning or language that could be exploited” and jumping the on chance. Or at least trying to.
And then last week I had a lesson where I feel like I nailed it.
I was teaching a motivated and mature intermediate-level Lower Secondary class and actually I was teaching the reading lesson my colleague and I had prepared for our CAM Module 5 Assignment.
Emerging learning #1: Pronunciation
The students in this class have been with me for a while and as such are quite aware of the schwa, /ə/.
Somehow the word perfume was mentioned, which sounds similar in their native language with an ‘a’ kind of sound where the English /ɜː/ appears. As I highlighted the sound of the English word perfume, a student piped up “it’s /ə/ again”!
Time to introduce a new phoneme! We listened to the difference between /ə/ and /ɜː/ and elicited a few words that contained the latter sound before drilling perfume again and carrying on with the lesson.
Emerging learning #2: Vocabulary
Do you board new vocabulary during your lessons? Whether that’s target language of just random vocabulary that comes up in the lesson?
I’ve done this at times, particularly when I was teaching Academic English. Even more so when I was in one of the classrooms with a 4m long whiteboard (I think it was longer but let’s be conservative in our estimate).
If I’m perfectly honest, it never quite made it to habit status. And since moving to a centre with IWBs and precious little non-interactive whiteboard space, I’ve not been doing it of late.
However, I’m turning over a new leaf and trying to remember to do this with my Intermediate classes. To take it a step further I’m going to try my best to leave a little time at the end of my lessons for a recap. (For some reason though I started doing this with adults last summer, I never integrated it into YL classes. What an oversight!
Emerging learning #3: use of they
The final instance where the lesson plan was paused was when the students kept on calling the writer ‘he’. It was irritating on a personal level, and then I started to wonder why the students were using that pronoun and were they even aware of it.
Trying to be as impartial as I could, I asked students if they knew the writer was male. To my surprise, they not only checked the page we were on, but decided to look for the gender of the course book authors. Even then, one student pointed out they might not have written it.
From there I was able to introduce the idea of they as a neutral singular pronoun. I think this is fairly standard, while it may not be universal (yet), and is what I use, and have used in class, probably without students being aware. I also added a personal anecdote that some of my IH CAM materials have used “she” to refer to the teacher, which I personally find more unnatural than they.
The students seemed to follow the logic but found it a bit strange to try and use it. And try they did, but he kept slipping out. Perhaps this is also in part because their native language is gendered (ie. all nouns have genders). But English isn’t, and the language is becoming more and more neutral, even in the US.
While my students may continue to use he (or she) in these situations, at least they’re more aware. And I’m still going to call them out on it.
I’m pleased with how the learning in this lesson went, and I walked away with a great feeling. However I’m aware that it’s a work in progress and this was just one lesson. With time and effort I’ll get better at recognising and seizing these opportunities and hopefully get this feeling more often.
At the same time I’m aware that the things that come up might sometimes be better noted down and worked on in a subsequent lesson. I do have some very chatty classes that could easily end up going off on a tangent which hijacks the lesson.
Over to you: Do you address these things as they come up? Do you make a note of them and come back to them in another lesson? Alternatively, what went really well in one of your lessons last week? Share a success!