Sunday, December 26, 2010

Teacher? Or Facilitator?

Here is a quote from an article by Thornbury and Meddings that gets me thinking: 
If ... you take the view that language is an emergent phenomenon, and that the learning of it is a jointly constructed and socially motivated process, contingent on the concerns, interests, desires, and needs of the user, then the argument for coursebooks starts to look a bit thin. Moreover, if you take the view that the teacher's role in language learning is to scaffold these emergent processes, and that the teacher's authority derives from her ability to manage and facilitate the social processes out of which – and for which - language develops, then the coursebook looks positively redundant.
The intention of our program is to teach English to adults so they can use it to contribute actively to the American community in which they live.  In Philadelphia, there are neighborhoods where a person can speak Haitian, Mandarin or Russian all day every day and get along OK.  Are these American communities?  How does the ability to speak English help a student who lives in one of these neighborhoods?

The answer lies with the students, of course.  Each student comes into the classroom with a unique and specific need for English.  Ways I can help:

- helping students articulate their need clearly (narrow it down, if necessary)
- offering communication techniques for getting the need met
- helping them identify resources and learn how to use them
- fostering a safe place to practice and build confidence
- sharing an "insider" perspective on idiomatic and cultural questions

I'm happy to teach a grammar point, especially if a student asks for it.  I'll give a definition sometimes, if all else fails.  But more and more, I don't like preparing and presenting "content" of my choice to the students.  For example, I gave a lesson on the topic of stress several months ago.  The lesson was prepared (by someone else) specifically for adult learners of English at a high-beginning or low-intermediate level.  It included activities for reading, writing, speaking and listening; it introduced new vocabulary and there was a relevant grammar point.  The text featured the experience of other adult learners and students seemed to relate to it.  I'm sure some of the information was new to a number of my students and good for them to know.  I taught the lesson to three different groups and it went well each time.  But nobody indicated that they needed help dealing with stress.  Nobody asked for this material.  Worse: a number of my students are well-educated and at least one is a doctor. Who am I to be lecturing to them -- out of the blue -- about ways to reduce stress?

I will be striving to continue in a more focused way toward "facilitation" and away from "teaching".  I have several ideas and a lot of questions!  I hope to capture some of that process here.