Archive | April, 2012

Receptive or Expressive?

23 Apr

Learning a new language is always both fascinating and frustrating at the same time. Fascinating because a whole new world opens up, and new connections are made. Frustrating because even though I am soon starting to understand some sentences in the new language, I am still far away from speaking fluency, and I know from experience that it will take a looong time before I get there.

It occurred to me that learning always seems to follow the same pattern, no matter what we are learning, language or something else. First you gain some basic ideas about the topic (or language), and try to wrap your mind around it. Then you try to produce something  from you newly learned knowledge. In language learning we call these receptive and expressive language skills. And language teachers have long time known how important it is to get students started with speaking on the target language from the day one, to keep the expressive threshold low for them.

Already in elementary school we are introducing several new “languages” to students: math has a large vocabulary, so does science…not to talk about linguistics, and learning all the names of different features in language. If these “new vocabulary requirements” are not discussed openly with students, they will remain as parts of the hidden expectations. Encouraging students to learn these new vocabularies and use them in everyday speech is a single teaching strategy that will carry for years and years in the future.

Language teachers also know how important students’ talking in the class is,  when we want to help them get fluent.  It is equally important for students to externalize their thoughts and individual understanding about other school subjects to gain the necessary depth of learning. This is easily done by providing every student an opportunity to verbalize their understanding – and because we have limited time in the classroom, it must be done in short pair or group discussions. Every day. In every subject.

Why do we still seem to think teachers’ talking being more important than students’ talking? When the teacher is talking  students are building  only their receptive skills.  Of course, this is the same truth as in learning being more important than teaching.

Only when your expressive skills are adequate  (i.e. you know what you are talking about) you can master the subject.

What is your expectation for your students? Do you wish them to become “fluent” enough with your subject, or are you happy if they have limited receptive understanding about it?

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Lifelong learning

3 Apr

Information superhighway ‘bypassing adult learners’ — new study

Does it really surprise any education professionals to read how online technology has not helped people to become lifelong learners? And how the childhood experiences about learning and education are the  most significant predictors for the future interest in learning?

“Learning in later life appears to be primarily linked to positive attitudes to education that are usually formed during compulsory schooling. This means that young people who experienced early educational failure or felt alienated by the school system are very unlikely to participate in education as adults regardless of the opportunities available or potential benefits.” says Dr. Patrick White.

Don’t get me wrong. I like (learning) technology, and am hopelessly hooked to my computer, smartphone and even kindle. What worries me, though, is how different gadgets or software programs are presented as the ultimate answer for fixing education and mending the problem of falling grades and detached students. Technology is just a tool – how we use it makes all the difference.

Providing meaningful learning experiences for students takes the power struggle away from classrooms. This can be done with or without the technology. While working as an Academic Coordinator I used to say how teachers are my most important teaching tools, and I still think that being the reality of teaching and learning. It doesn’t help to have a fancy building with all the latest gadgets in every classroom if I don’t have teachers. But having my teachers willing to make learning a meaningful experience for students my school would be operational even without classrooms or any equipment. Teaching IS a contact sport.

If we wish to foster lifelong learning our students must be involved with worthwhile activities so that they can find learning interesting and rewarding. The negative attitude is the biggest challenge for lifelong learning. Empowering students to use their thinking skills (with or without technology) caters for positive approaches to learning. This is already a recognized and valid practice in Early Childhood Education where play is an important way for making learning an adventure student wants to repeat.

What could you do to foster lifelong learning?