Saturday, March 30, 2013

Secret Lives of Learners

Long time, no see!

Last time, I noted that I was expecting a new bunch of learners at the beginning of February.  Over a dozen potential learners showed up on the specified day and more came by over the next few lessons.  As always, some candidates' levels were too high, some were too low and some were just right but decided that the class was not for them and disappeared after a couple of lessons.  Ten were eventually enrolled.  Since then four have already left. One had to leave suddenly for Cyprus (hmmm ...) and another also left to return to her home country.  Two others have schedule changes and want help transferring to classes at a better time, if possible.

The group is now mostly younger people (age below 30).  They hit it off and quickly exchanged electronic contact information, started going out for coffee after class, and have been meeting for weekend activities.  Although there are several Spanish speakers, there are enough other languages mixed in that they have to use English for socializing.  That's great!  It's a new experience for me, though, to so clearly see evidence of the secret life of this group.
From the secret life of my garden.
When I say "secret life", I'm referring to a chapter of the same title in George Lakey's book Facilitating Group Learning.  He notes that all groups have interactions besides the ones in our lesson plans and that these can facilitate learning or detract from it.  I love it when I see learners going to each other for help or asking each other for advice. (I've even overhead learners advising each other of other English classes they've discovered.)  On the other hand, what if two learners decide to date and then break it off.  One might stop coming to class or there could be a strain that everyone knows about except me!

I've been aware of the idea of a secret life after reading the book, but with this group it's really obvious.  There's some flirting, with a bit of competition between some of the women for the attention of one of the men.  And on more than one occasion, I've said something seemingly quite innocuous (like, "I need to end class a few minutes early today.") only to see several pairs of eyes immediately lock on each other with great meaning ... which I can only speculate about!

Lakey notes that the secret life is generally a good thing because a teacher or facilitator can't possibly help each learner work through every issue in every lesson.  He says it can be a relief to know "that it's not all on us to make sure the learning is happening -- we are indeed engaged in co-creation and the participants are mainly responsible for what they learn, using the assistance of us and the group." (p. 45, italics are mine)  However, he also states that we need to build bridges between the secret and public layers of the learning group so that if problems develop that could be a hindrance, we may be aware enough to perhaps lend a hand.  He suggests something as simple as hanging out with the group during break time.  I think the idea is to be alert and available as we interact informally.

I truly appreciate having this opportunity to become more sensitized to the private life that a class develops.  When it comes to bridges, I put out hot water and keep supplies for tea handy and students regularly bring in snacks to share.  I've got everyone on edmodo  too, but this group isn't using it as much as earlier groups (they're surely already texting each other and using Facebook).  I think I need to push edmodo more, giving assignments to be completed there. I don't care if they communicate elsewhere, but I'd like them to communicate about our lessons at edmodo, especially since there are several students who aren't a part of the social group that has developed.

Well, this wasn't what I intended to write about!  I meant to describe some learning I've had with regard to vocabulary-teaching ... and some further learning I expect to have over the next 6 months or so.  Looks like another post or two will be coming soon.

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