Providing space for the learners’ voice means
accepting that the learners’
are valid content in the language learning classroom.
In the answers to this challenge we have heard the voices of two teachers having a conversation , one teacher singing and we have talked and discussed thoroughly about the need to let our students take control of their learning, and the importance of listen to their voices and adapt our classes to cater for their interests, likes and dislikes. However, what should we do when our learners are reluctant to have such an active role in our classroom? What do we do with shy students? Shall we push them to take part or let them be?Apparently, as David R Hall says, students know what their own needs and interests are. So, if what they want is to have a passive role in our classes, why not let them?. I don’t have the answers to these questions, the only thing I can share with you are two examples of this situation that I have in my classes.
I have one student, who speaks very little in her every day life. In the past, she didn’t use to speak at all (obviously she has some kind of psychological problem). However, what really surprises me about her, is that even though you may think that she is not at all present in class ( one hardly ever gets to hear her voice), she does all the written activities perfectly well. She succeds at writing letters, doing grammar exercises, passing the written tests, etc. I sometimes wonder if she is happy in her silent world. Shall I leave her like that or shall I try to make her talk? I sometimes even feel sad, because I consider that I’m excluding her in some way, since I don’t ask her questions as I do with the rest of my students, because I believe she will feel unconfortable. Is it right? Or should I have continued addressing her till the moment she decides to interact with me and the rest of the class? Don’t really know.
This is the girl that has refused to take part in the activity I have discussed in my post “The importance of reflection” This is a totally different case from the previous one. She is an excellent student, very good at speaking, very fluent. However, she always place safe. She just answer whatever she is asked, but never enlarge on the topic. She wants to be as unpercievable as possible. For example, once the class had to be divided in different groups and for that reason, we were making a kind of raffle with their names to make the groups. Each student at a time had to take a piece of paper and read the name on it. When her turn came, she refused to take a paper. It was really unbeliavable, as she would not be compromised in any way by choosing one piece of paper. Her classmates tried to convince her, but she didn’t change her mind. If she refuses to “become active” even in the less demanding activities, how can I expect her to express her ideas and interests in front of the class? Or is it that she is being an autonomous learner and expressing the way in she wants to learn (with a more traditional approach, in which she is not required to take such an active role)? Difficult question to answer.
Well, as you can see I have too many questions and no answers at all. So I decided to conduct some research and stumbled upon a piece of advice that @thornburyscott was giving to an EFL teacher on the issue at Onestopenglish. Scott gave some practical tips and finally concluded that:
If all else fails, you can take heart from a piece of classroom research conducted by Dick Allwright several years ago, in which he observed a class for a term and noted that, despite the highly interactive nature of the lessons, there was one student who hardly ever participated in group or class speaking activities. However, at the end of the course she scored as highly, if not more highly, than her peers on several measures of proficiency, including speaking! Allwright concluded that “for some students at least, learning a second language is a spectator sport”.
What do you think? I’m not totally convinced, but who knows… maybe those unheard voices are claiming us to let them be.