Some Views on Teaching and Learning

Anyone Who Speaks Can Teach?

Anyone who speaks well and has some grammar books can teach the language. This was a discussion in a group of speakers. Before I go further, let's consider the baking of a cake. If a cake takes half an hour's cooking time, say at 350 degrees, by doubling the temperature two cakes can be prepared. The end result-a burnt cake. Akin to life's journey, Language learning happens in stages:just as a child learns to focus, smile, recognize, hold, crawl, walk, babble, talk.......language learning takes place in stages with the scaffolding steps -observation, guided practice and independent practice.

A good speaker may not be a good teacher, but a good teacher has got to be a good speaker, patient listener, also fairly decent actor/dancer to be able to 'teach.' Taking it further, anyone who speaks the language can talk of anything under the sun, yet, may not appeal to a heterogenous group. Contrarily, a 'trained' teacher is well equipped with the necessary teacher tools to 'motivate' learners with the use of right 'body language', to instill 'confidence' in learners by giving hem the 'freedom' to learn at their pace, encourage curiosity/exploration to bring out the 'aha' (as they say in haiku) moment for every learner -aka sweet spot! In other words, i + 1 (according to Stephen Krashner, ESL theorist), where information provided is just above the correct comprehension level, not too much or too little. (One can recall Goldilocks remarking, 'this soup is just right, not too hot, not too cold!)

Going to the question at hand again, if anyone who speaks the language well can teach what about the politicians who make fiery speeches? In fact, several of them were good academicians prior to entering politics. True, they are good actors too, for, they exhibit emotions and use body language well while delivering speeches; nevertheless, acting in the learning arena involves emotional engagement, simple vocabulary, common cultural references...engaging in meaningful,recursive activities. Finally, speaking alone does not suffice, for effective teaching, other skills such as listening, reading and writing are necessary. A teacher listens empathetically, speaks with the right tone and intonation (using body language), reads her students' minds (in addition to reading for knowledge), writes in the student's progress card (footprint in his life!). All of these, a good speaker may not be able to communicate (teach).


Parrot Talk: Is It Learning?

This phenomenon receives its name from the premise of a pet "talking" parrot who is suddenly silent when guests are invited to see it "talk." "I swear!," says the owner, "He says all kinds of stuff! Our title-What is taught is what is learned! One would end up a 'talking parrot!' Learning, in dictionary parlance, implies gaining or acquiring knowledge/skill by study, experience, or being taught, while, Teaching implies showing or explaining to someone how to do something.

Learning is analogous to a 'zoom lens and wide angle lens of the camera', where, the wide angle conveys the overall picture (meaning), without the grammar et al; on the other hand, the zoom lens helps to focus on a selective area (pronunciation, vocabulary). Each picture distinctly brings out a specific detail. Prof. Barbara Oakley specifies two modes of learning-focussed and diffused, wherein, the diffused mode lets the mind wander, without paying attention to mistakes or specifics in contrast to the focussed mode, that examines something specific. Every individual does not posses the ability to comprehend and recall everything that is given, contrarily, every learner has the potential and motivation to apply the principles in the real world. Moreover, if everything that is taught is learned, all around would be robots, not humans with critical thinking.

Critical thinking involves objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement, hence, a lot of learning takes place by exposure and experience, rather than mere instruction. Engaging in practice is more important than rule based learning, for the spaced repetition allows the brain to process information by spacing out learning.

As the adage goes, Practice makes perfect, not parroting.

Stephen Krashen
Barbara Oakley

More By  :  Hema Ravi

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