Term starts like an avalanche, and it can be a fight not to be buried: new colleagues; new students; new groups; new challenges; maybe even a new workplace and city (ciao from the Eternal City, where I’ll be starting a new role at IH Rome shortly).
So set against this roaring background noise, what are the things we really need to hear from our students at the start of term? Here are three key questions (I’ll be brief – there’s plenty of things to be busy with at this time of year!):
1. Why here, not elsewhere?
“WHY?” is the most important question when we’re setting out, and is important in the next two questions too. Why are you here and not studying digitally? As I wrote in an article for IH Journal: ‘although there are several cheaper and more time-efficient alternatives to physically attending a classroom to learn English, offering learners what they can’t get elsewhere is paramount to the survival of traditional classroom teaching’. Listening to and understanding this ‘why?’ can help to inform lesson content.
2. What do you want to DO with the language?
Most students have previous experiences studying English, but what are they looking for that they don’t already possess? Once you understand this, you can help students achieve these aims.
Goal setting is important, as is setting up daily micro-habits to work towards them, making regular check-ups and adjusting targets accordingly. I presented on SMART goal setting at the beginning of the year; for further details and free downloadable worksheets for classroom use, click here.
3. Who do you want to BE with the language?
L2 identity is a relatively new one for me, since Gianni Licata‘s excellent talk at the IH Italy Dare to Differ conference in February. Like the variation between Gianni’s Italian-speaking and English-speaking personas, the language we’re operating in conditions our character and how we interact with the world.
So the key question for students is who their model L2 speaker is: Queen Elizabeth II or Beyonce? Crocodile Dundee or Bill Clinton? Their hopes, expectations and fears as a person and a learner should be analysed, and the teacher should help them become who they want to be by offering vocabulary and suggestions on how they can fulfill their ambition, checking up with regular reflections on progress.