The iELT Blog

News and views from iELT and friends
1
May

The Conversation Experience

Jędrzej Stępień will be doing a demo lesson with real students at #iELT18, where attendees will get a better understanding of what are good, educative questions, as well as what is innovation of the content in education, and that it does not require technology. He’ll be speaking at 12:10 – 13:10 at Room 9. Read more on this session here.

I have always been fascinated by the potential of second language classes for adults. It is one of the rare chances for grown-ups of various trades, experiences and insights to meet and talk about anything. Being a freelance teacher, I have been exploiting this opportunity a lot, and gradually I have worked out a mode of teaching that is minimalistic, yet delightful. The resulting minimalism is the by-product of centering classes on conversations and gradual limiting of materials, as all affordances are generated by questions. It has been my observation from both ends of the classroom that what the majority of adult learners seem to enjoy the most are the final few minutes of a lesson when coursebooks are closed, and there is time for talking. These late-class conversations seem to owe their appeal to being unscripted and input-free. All answers seem to already be there, it is only a matter of verbalizing them. What freedom this is in comparison with conversations based on recalling or searching for the answer in handouts! Going material light is therefore the preliminary step towards improving the overall experience of conversations, but not yet a guarantee of delight. The later derives, more than anything, from the quality of questions. It is by means of them that the teacher can control the mood and the flow of the class. Unfortunately, the current state of questions in foreign language teaching is surprisingly underdeveloped, resulting in just two basic moods of L2 conversations: either banality or controversy. Both are no doubt well intentioned: comprehensibility and stimulation facilitate oral production, but as they verge on superficiality and sensitivity respectively, they bar the experience from being anywhere near delightful. Well developed educational questions, on the other side, can not only introduce more nuanced moods into the classroom, but they can also boost learners’ agency, leaving an altogether excellent aftertaste. I hope my short demo lesson at this year’s InnovateELT conference will highlight more than I can say here. The stake behind the improvement of L2 conversation experience is obviously higher than mere achievement of delight; it is an endeavour to reconnect second language classes with the spirit of genuine education. See you in Barcelona!

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