The Three Most Critical Factors in ELT
by Neil McBeath
So What Do We Do for the Learners?
We harness the power of affect. More exactly, we do not allow the affective filter to come down and prevent learning.
In the case of the boy from Ras al Khaimah, this would be easy. Giving him graded readers about the Holy Prophet and the four Rightly Guided Caliphs would immediately start to undermine his belief that the medium is the message.
The same approach might work with the Saudi father, although in this instance we should remember that his son has not been allowed to express an opinion. Possibly the boy is motivated, but he has mediocre materials and poor teachers. In his case, a short-term instrumental approach would pay dividends.
The Canadian Hutterite girls could be helped if the colony schoolhouse were opened to the whole community. Providing library facilities need be no more than a cupboard of books, but given their lifestyle – no radio, no TV, no cinema, no internet – it could be a welcome facility. The provision of devotional books, farming and homecraft manuals would give the library credibility in the eyes of the community elders, and sanction its use for people like the two girls who wanted to “come back”.
This is a simple, but workable, approach. In Oman my self-appointed younger brother Yahya is in his final year at school. I supplement his school texts with graded readers and in-flight magazines. The latter have short articles, but they appear in English and Arabic. They allow him to read for the gist, and check his comprehension, but no pressure is put on him.
The pressure could be similarly relaxed for the RSAF cadets. They are physically incapable of long-term concentration, so reduce the cognitive load.
In Dammam, I plastered the walls of my classroom with posters. Every time an article of safety equipment was mentioned, we referred to the appropriate poster, described the item, and explained its use. When teaching tools, a toy plastic shadow-board was used to identify screwdrivers, wood saws, etc. Aircraft parts were taught using an aluminium model of an F-15 Fighter, and cadets could see the different aircraft parts. Those who did not understand the first time, or the second time, might be awake at the tenth repetition.
I also played to the cadets’ expectations. Ellali and Chaffin’s (2006/2007) research demonstrates that Emirati students believe that teachers are responsible for ensuring that students pass their exams. (P. 313). Assuming that the Saudi cadets probably felt the same way, I gave them what they wanted.
The classes did multiple-choice tests where I ensured that every man was referred to by name. Despite their fatigue, this practice ensured that they stopped indicating TWO correct answers for a single item, and nobody ever left answers blank. Even this basic tuition in exam technique paid dividends in the final exams.
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