Worthwhile EFL Geekery

Two rather interesting posts on EFL Geek:

  • Krashen on “English Villages”
  • I Speak No English — The Kids in the Hall have no idea just how realistic this comedy skit is! I keep telling students not to memorize their speeches for classes, and while my Public Speaking class gets it, I keep meeting others who think outright memorization is useful. They often agree it isn’t so useful for becoming more fluent or skilled in using a language in real life, but, you know, it gets them better grades than impromptu speech with errors, so… well, that tells you something about graded conversation courses, doesn’t it?

4 thoughts on “Worthwhile EFL Geekery

  1. Exactly. I try to impress upon my students that perfection is a counterproductive goal. “Good” or “Better” are fine and sensible, but shooting for “Perfection” is way very good way of frustrating oneself into silence and failure.

  2. Yes, how natural is an exam situation anyway?

    Any amount of “naturalness” in an exam conversation will be artificial.

    ‘perfection’, ‘imperfection’, ‘naturalness’… it’s all just a matter of jumping through hoops, is it not? Hopefully our students will learn and use what they know as they jump.

    [this is Myoung by the way]

  3. Yes and no. I think it depends largely on a few factors:

    1. The students: if students are actually motivated to learn something, then they’ve been participating and practicing all along and the exam isn’t a make-or-break demonstration of whether they’ve done anything at all, but merely a summation of what they’ve achieved. This is unlikely to happen in the majority of the classes you’re teaching, Myoung, because it’s a mandatory class. It’s not even likely to be 100% in an elective class, due to the way students are conditioned. But in classes where a large number of students happen to be motivated in this way, it begins to be possible. (Which is something I’m learning here.) Which means that examining might still be “jumping through hoops”, but it doesn’t need to be a “mere” jumping through hoops. Besides which, an effective system takes into account that jumping through a hoop on Day 100 only really means something if one’s learned how to do it over a period of time until it has become a reliable skill. The local form of “performance” as a one-off held together with chewing gum and a prayer is deeply faulty; but another form of performance, in which one simply demonstrates an acquired competence, that’s somewhat less unnatural. (It remains unnatural, though. It just isn’t ridiculous.)

    2. What kinds of goals get set for the class, and what form the demonstration of this takes in the “final exam”. For example, in my last Advanced Sophomore Conversation class during the time we worked together, I had students research a topic of their own choice. The final exam consisted of small groups of them discussing one anothers’ topics. The student introduced the topic, explained why it was interesting enough to research, and presented a little bit; then other students fielded questions, impromptu. Nobody knew which group they’d be in, so spontaneity was inevitable. The vast majority of the students actually did quite well, and I’d say their “naturalness” was fairly non-artificial. They’d all picked such interesting topics, and my role was so unobtrusive, that they basically just got into the conversation. The ones who did badly weren’t the ones who didn’t start out as good speakers; they were the ones who didn’t bother to research anything, didn’t bother to bring their own interests to the classroom. It was a shock to me to see people who struggled with some of the structures we’d studied using them, reasonably well, in forming and answering questions about topics of interest.

    3. When dealing with students who simply don’t give a damn and are forced into your classes, then yes, “perfection”, “imperfection”, and “naturalness” are not worth considering. It’s more about getting through the day with your senses intact and your mind functioning, and *maybe* bringing a few hopeful souls on board, like Mike sometimes talks about. But when working with students who are actually profoundly concerned with their progress, I think the difference between them forming a goal of “perfection” versus “improvement” makes all the difference in the world.

    For me, it’s “grading” that’s insuperably unnatural. It’s artificial and one has to resign oneself to working with that unnatural system to some degree. I have some vague notions about how grading could be superceded by reputation systems or something, but in the short term, it’s the grading that always seems to me to be counter productive… because it attracts so much attention, especially away from what students ought to be learning. They look at assignments handed back, and it’s the grade, not the comments, that gets looked at first. (It was like this for me too, in school, but I read the comments meticulously afterwards, regardless of my grade.)

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