Learning, Naturally

…or is that Acquiring, Naturally?

I’ve been thinking a lot about language learning lately, as I bring a group of students towards final evaluations in a few weeks’ time. This group is small, though of the 9 students there are 6 different levels I need to evaluate. So, I repeat, I’ve been thinking a lot about language learning lately :)

A few lines from Mr. Krashen:

“Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill.”

” Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language – natural communication – in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.”

” The best methods are therefore those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are ‘ready’, recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production.”

Do I like what he says because this is how I ultimately end up teaching? I can’t stand drills, grammar exercises, worksheet after worksheet of sentences and vocabulary. I can’t. It would bore me to death – all of that paperwork and its organization or, ultimately, disorganization as they all look the same and can easily hide behind each other. All of that subterfuge just gets in between me and the learner and what he or she knows anyways. Besides which, after 16 years of teaching, I know myself well enough that I won’t get around to correcting paperwork in any timely kind of manner.

So maybe it’s my lazy teaching correcting style that keeps my classroom free of worksheets and workbooks. Instead, we talk. I let them talk in English, even. It’s all for the purpose of better understanding French. But they always do some kind of talking and listening in French. At first I was following some kind of instructional format (like, today we will learn about past tense, or today we will learn vocabulary words for sports) but that made everything too…unnatural… and, ultimately, boring. It drove me nuts. So I told them to stop coming up with sentences about sports they used to play and to talk about the things they like to do now or the things they dream about for the future. I let them write it out in English and then they had to translate. We used dictionaries, translators, me, other students, whatever they were comfortable with and by going through that process they began to take more risks in speaking. Since I have all those levels I can’t quite have conversations with all of them at the same time so I’m happy for the tablets we have access to. There’s no waiting for their turn to talk, they practice talk into the tablet. Then they listen, erase, and practice talk some more. I make my rounds and record something as well, so they have my voice to listen to even if I’m not there.

Basically, the classroom is just a spot where we experiment with language. I think it grew out of my lazy correcting practice but just by listening to my students experiment with French, taking risks they would not have taken a few months ago I can say that being a lazy corrector may just have made me a better teacher for this group of learners.

My dirty secrets re: flipping the classroom

I have a dirty little secret to share. Actually, I have a few.

Dirty Secret #1
I don’t think video lessons are all that.

When we talk of flipped classrooms we talk of having video that students can watch out of the classroom to free up clasroom time from the shackles of lecture and allow application to reign in its stead.

Yawn. If I were forced to watch a bunch of video on certain lecturey topics, I think I’d quit school.

Yesterday I was excited to see a link to a recipe on some website for flourless pecan brownies. Mmm. Mmm. How disapointed was I to end up at a video that was going to show me how to make them. All I wanted to do was look at the ingredient list. I didn’t bother to watch the video. Didn’t want to invest the time if I wasn’t sure it was what I needed. Had there been a written recipe, or even just the list of ingredients, I may have watched it.

A number of years ago, I had to review video to add to a list of resources for professional development. I wanted to write little blurbs so teachers would know if they were worth watching. The videos ranged from 5 to about 30 minutes in length. It didn’t matter how short or long they were. I lost focus. With some it was because they were just boring video, with others, though, that was not the case. I needed to be doing something in order to maintain focus. I needed to keep my hands busy, to maintain an optimal level of physical distraction so that my brain wouldn’t search for it elsewhere. So I started to create small posters to hang in my office. Writing and colouring allowed my brain to focus on the video.

Dirty Secret #2
I believe in differentiation but not because of learning styles.

We need to differentiate our curriculum to meet the needs of the learners in our room. Full stop. Learning needs to make sense to those learning and I believe it makes different sense for different learners. NOT because of a perceived personal sense of how one learns but because of a very real sense of why mixed in with solid research-based evidence about how the more ways we can integrate new ideas and concepts into our systems, the better the learning will take hold and actually change how we think – after all, isn’t that why we learn?

How many students have I met who have experienced years, decades (I now work in Adult Education) of failure, of thinking themselves inadequate because they were unable to grasp a concept or get an idea after years of being taught it in the same way (think Math lecture, History textbooks, first language inquiry processes…). Who, when they are delivered the same idea in ways that include reading, watching, listening, talking, and doing finally get it. When I think of these students I feel a deep sense of sadness.

So how do we differentiate in this way? Offer content in a variety of ways – available in the classroom and outside of it (flipping in and out). Sure. Offer your video but add to it text, graphics, out of class or back-end (chats that may happen in class but behind the scenes) conversation, anything that can a) present the material using as many different modalities of learning and b) allow for students to choose the one that they need at a particular moment in their learning. Maybe at first, they’ll watch the video but when they come down to applying the concept, they may just need to scan through a text or look at a chart to get to a specific point. Or maybe the video watching will happen at the end of the student’s data gathering process, to ensure understanding.

The main focus of differentiation for me has to do with loving my students. That and the fact that, as an educator, the action of lecturing content bores me to no end. I enjoy talking in front of people, presenting ideas that excite me. I think that does have a place in our classroom as well. Students need to see excitement. It’s a matter of communicating it authentically.

Dirty Secret #3
Yeah, I still don’t believe in learning styles.

Theories of Social and Behaviour Change – Passing on resources

I just received these resources from Rosemary, a professor of mine from when I studied Human Systems Intervention at Concordia University in Montreal (a program definitely worth checking out!) and thought what better way to a) save them and b) share them, than to do so by posting them here. So here they are with a thanks to Rosemary :)

1. Bandura’s Theory of Social Learning, which states that people learn
through observation, imitation, and modeling. Self-efficacy influences
behaviour in that people are more likely to engage in certain behaviours
when they believe they are capable of successfully modeling the behaviour.

* For an example of a programme drawing upon Bandura’s theory, see:
Neighbors Radio Drama

* For a 10-minute YouTube video on Bandura’s theory, see:

2. Lewin’s Theory of Change, which “adds the role of emotion, dialogue and
debate to an understanding of how behaviour change takes place: behaviour
(often resistant to change) is lifted up for scrutiny (sometimes through
an ’emotional stir-up’) and reconfigured through a process of discursive
elaboration (dialogue and debate) of new and preferable alternatives.”

* For more on Lewin’s Theory of Change (with an accompanying video), see:

3. Paulo Freire’s concept of critical consciousness, which emphasises
awareness-raising and the exposure of social, economic, and political
contradictions, together with taking action (individually and/or
collectively) against “the oppressive elements of society”. The notion of
learning-through-action-and-reflection underlies Soul City’s
community-based work. “As in the case of individual behaviour, collective
efficacy is important in that communities are more likely to take action
if they believe their action will make a difference.”

* For more on Freire’s theory, see:
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire – An Analysis

* For an example of an initiative drawing on Freire’s theory, see:
Applying Freirian Model for Development and Evaluation of Community-based
Rehabilitation Programmes

4. Social Identity Theory, which presents an explanatory account of the
importance of social norms in determining behaviour. “Social
identification with a reference group is a key component of identity.”
“Social identity” refers to the individual’s knowledge that he or she
belongs to certain social groups and that this group membership has
emotional significance and value. “Positive social identity keeps groups
together and at the same time regulates individual behaviour.”

* For more on this theory, see Identity Theory and Social Identity Theory,
by Jan E. Stets and Peter J. Burke, Social Psychology Quarterly 2000, Vol.
63, No. 3, 224-237:

5. Cialdini’s Focus Theory of Normative Conduct, which elaborates on the
role of norms in determining behaviour. The theory distinguishes between
descriptive and injunctive norms. “How a person responds to a descriptive
or injunctive norm when they contradict each other is determined by which
kind of norm is salient (or in focus) at the time. The saliency of the
norm is influenced by situational factors such as: the social group around
the person; the importance of the action; and the circumstances which
accompany the situation.”

* See, for example, this summary of an article by Robert B. Cialdini on
The Soul Beat Africa site: New Ways to Promote Proenvironmental Behavior:
The Application of Persuasion Theory to the Development Of Effective
Proenvironmental Public Service Announcements

6. Information-Motivation-Behaviour-Skills model, which is a
learning-based model that acknowledges the role of social norms and peer
modeling, and highlights knowledge, attitudes, generic self efficacy, and
instrumental behavioural skills in bringing about behaviour change.

* Please see this summary of a thesis that explores this and other
theories might be of interest:
Evaluating Mass Media Health Communication: The Use of Evaluation Data to
Improve Theory

7. Theory of Interpersonal Behaviour, which states that the 3 most
important factors determining the probability of behaviour are habit,
intention, and facilitating conditions. The theory further explains the
role of beliefs, anticipated outcomes, norms, roles, self-concept,
emotions, and attitudes in determining behaviour.

* A thesis which is focused on this theory includes: Triandis’ Theory of
Interpersonal Behaviour in Understanding Software Piracy Behaviour in the
South African Context
, by Julie Robinson, August 10 2010

8. Gibbons and Gerard’s Prototype/Willingness Model, which introduces the
concepts of “risk images” and “social comparison” and has been used to
understand the process whereby young people in particular move from
initial risky behaviours (based on “behavioural willingness”) to
established risky behaviours (based on “behavioural intention”).

* For more on this model, see the following summary:
Do High- and Low-active Adolescents Have Different Prototypes of
Physically Active Peers?

9. A Complexity Thinking Approach, whereby behaviour is seen as the
product of interactions between components of a whole system. The concept
is that these interactions create effects (often unforeseen) which the
components could not have generated singly (i.e. the whole is more than
the sum of its parts). “Informed by an understanding of Complexity Theory,
Soul City’s interventions aim to facilitate a process whereby options and
solutions peculiar to a particular context can emerge. Thus through
advocacy, social mobilization and media, Soul City facilitates the
capacity to learn and models the direction of change whilst addressing
many of the barriers to change.”

* For more on complexity thinking, see:
Evaluating Social Change and Communication For Social Change: New