For teachers only: One to one

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In a workshop that I’ve given for Cornelsen (and will be giving again on Friday) to promote a book on one-to-one teaching, I invite English teachers to formulate questions. Teachers at MELTA asked these questions last Saturday, and I’ve sorted them into three groups:

1. My role as the teacher vis a vis the student

  • Are one to ones really more effective than groups?
  • Why do things take longer?
  • How do I minimize my speaking time?
  • How do I help a student relax in my “headlights”?
  • How to motivate a learner – without being too bossy?

2. Building a repertoire of methods and an effective suite of activities

  • How does the teacher identify what areas to address next?
  • How does a teacher effectively transition from one concept to the next?
  • How to vary the methologies one uses as a teacher?
  • How do I break out of a “tried and tested” formula?
  • How can I reduce learning steps to make them bite-sized?
  • Should I use a book y/n? or articles … to encourage discussion?
  • (About the book in question:) What’s on page 23? … because it’s a mystical number 😉

3. Keeping a learner focussed on the learning process

  • What to do with someone who has NO time to practice English ouitside the lesson?
  • How do I increase the effects of my one to one lessons when my student is so busy & only has an hour free every two weeks?
  • How do you make/ keep English learning a top priority? (re busy lives)

Here are my answers in a nutshell:

1. My role as the teacher vis a vis the student

Let me recommend Peter Wilberg, “One to One. A Teacher’s Handbook” (many thanks to Jo Westcombe for lending it to me). Wilberg says so many things that ring true. He talks about the unique opportunity a one to one setting gives us to be utterly authentic as teachers. He also explains how difficult being fair and avoiding what he calls one-upmanship can be in our relationship with our students. We need to be very aware of any type of power play. Reducing our talking time, he says, is not really the issue. Instead, we should be creating space for the student to learn, and that will take many forms. Most importantly, he says, we should not teach any content. Instead, we should provide formats (his word for tasks) to the student to output his/her contents and communication needs, which we then feedback, allowing the student to reformulate. Wilberg confirms practically all of my beliefs about teaching one to one, so I warmly recommend reading this impressive and comprehensive – and  classic, pioneering –  book! About relaxing: I’m an advocate of alternative teaching methods, including relaxation and anything that allows for imagination to come into play. Also: Move the student’s interests to center stage to take pressure off the two of you.

2. Building a repertoire of methods and an effective suite of activities

In Up to Speed, Louise Kennedy and Carole Eilertson have created a one-to-one teaching model that is very useable and accessible — even if you decide you don’t want to use their book. They have created suites of learning cycles. The basic concepts they employ are:

  • Define goals at the outset, work towards them, revisit them, base evaluation on them.
    The student won’t know where you are going unless you define your goals first. Don’t expect to reach a goal that you didn’t target in the first place.
  • Test, then teach.
    Don’t waste your student’s time by teaching anything he/she already knows.
  • Output, input, output.
    Always start a learning cycle with a productive student task, and only then provide content and tasks that will build further knowledge and skills. Finish the cycle with another productive activity that integrates the new content.
  • Repeat the output-input-output cycle.
    Allow many short, tightly managed learning cycles for knowledge to build, going from simple to complex. The more often your student can repeat, and the more varied formats you provide (using as many skills as possible), the better.
  • Push yourself and your student out of both of your comfort zones by using role play.
    Don’t talk about communicative situations, act them out. Be fair to your student by playing the game on par, and really thinking yourself into the situations your student needs to master. Challenge your student linguistically, and yourself in terms of the roles you play.

3. Keeping a learner focussed on the learning process

There is only one point where I tend not to agree with Wilberg, and that has to do with sharing responsiblility for your student’s progress. Wilberg says you can’t promise anything. However, we teachers are accountable to our clients, who after all are investing in the training, so we do need to make sure the learning goes well. Of course we know that lessons are a small part of the learning process, not much more than an impulse, and that our students will forget anything they don’t use. What our students do after class is out of our hands, sure. But the key to continuing the process is motivation boosted by a good self-image based on the positive experience of actually making progress. I’m convinced that by staying focussed using the methods outlined above in 2. you create a positive dynamic and flow that will keep the student focussed, turning the curriculum and extra curricular activities (including the things you point out on the Internet) into an integrated project.

Dear readers, I’d love to hear your comments!

PS: It was so very nice having Karenne Sylvester of Kalingo English and Shelly Terrell of Teacher Rebootcamp at this workshop.  An honor!


4 Responses

  1. Anne,
    It was great attending your workshop! Thank you for posting some answers for the great questions that came up! I also think you bring up great points on conducting roleplay. I wonder why roleplay is more accepted with kids tham with adults?

  2. Dear Shelly,
    You know, I really wonder about roleplay, as I have had many students who simply refuse to do it. Perhaps a way in with adult learners is to use techniques from improvisation theater. Less seems to be more. By contrast, all those complicated instructions relating to who you are supposed to portray seem to block adult learners. So more “on the spot” stuff might work better.

  3. I’ve never had problems with adult students wanting to involve themselves in a role play situation. However, I think I might be doing the impromptu techniques you are suggesting. I usually define role play as any type of role students take on in a pretend scenario. I ask the students first what their experiences are in their current situation and we come up with role plays from there. The students decide which areas they need to practice their English and love the fun! We do not use scripts so it is impromptu but the setting has been developed. I belonged to a mime/pantomime group for several years in high school. This training has been used in my classes several times. Do you think most teachers who feel an aversion to role play just feel strongly against using scripts? I can see this, because the scripts may not relate to the situation. However, impromptu role play without a script I think would prepare students to speak English in situations they will encounter, especially when these students do not live in a country where English is the primary language. My adult students ask for these situations because they cannot practice the English otherwise for a big meeting, traveling abroad, speaking to a client on the phone, and so forth.

  4. It’s good when they ask for them, isn’t it? I definitely think doing it “on the spot” is one of the things that makes your approach successful. The idea of simulations – doing what you would do in a given situation – also frees a a lot of students up. So it seems to be good to start with card/board games to practice parts of dialogues, then to move on to simple simulations, and then to add more detail, such as “hidden agendas”.

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