Saturday, January 22, 2011

Negotiated Content: Opportunities and Pitfalls

Negotiated Content: Opportunities and Pitfalls

The negative reaction given to negotiating course content implies that the teacher is unprepared and unprofessional. Other possible negative reactions? For example, “we’re paying these people money to teach us and they don’t know what they want to teach us?” or “I chose this school because I thought they knew what they are doing and they’re asking me what to do?” Or positively,” Finally someone is treating me like an adult instead of a child and I get to be taught what I actually want to learn about.” Or “ No one has ever asked me what I want to learn before.” This last one could trigger fight or flight mechanism among some learners from some nations where a teacher is and only is the absolute authority in assessing a learner’s needs.

Here in Korea customer orientation in terms of product and service marketing has definitely improved over the years and I’m sure private language schools are becoming more student centred. However I have it on good authority that many stay at home moms are upgrading their learning to include courses in childhood education and or being fully qualified as elementary teachers in their spare time to increase their child's advantages in an academically cut-throat competitive nation. Then many of these ajumahs (“aunties”) are using this knowledge to further influence and direct the language learning being conducted by inexperienced foreign language teachers in various cram school “hagwons.”

In my own case I continue to upgrade my skills not only to inform my lessons but to fortify my knowledge and authority in the topic should someone barge in to my classes and attempt to direct my lesson plans. So far I have been given much freedom and I use it to try to give some freedom of choice to the students. However this culture has a highly regarded respect for teachers and teacher fronted lessons. At the same time my communicative efforts in classroom management (fluid student seating and alternating partners for pair work presentations and small group meetings) are often challenged by students nearly half my age but seemingly a lot like intransigent residents of a nursing home. There is the double indemnity of being a foreigner in this culture. One may not be as respectable as a local in their own skins while I may also be able to extract more learners focused communicative activities because of it.

I agree some learner inclusion is necessary and beneficial and use general and sporadic learner feedback to adjust my expectations. For example, students complained I gave too much homework in one of my first semesters of ESP: International Trade Correspondence. In hindsight they were right however at the time I felt they were under-performing intentionally. I have adjusted my expectations and reduced their homework load visibly to improved results. Students suggested I provide more homework demonstration and by doing so improve their performance of it. Students suggested last semester reducing outside class meetings from ten to eight hours a semester and I’m going to implement that. I have often read that Korean students frequently self-study topics of interest outside of their major courses of study due to perhaps not having chosen themselves but having their parents selecting their universities and courses of study for them. By giving them a freer choice in presentation topics of mid-term and final exams I feel I’m giving them the chance to activate their personal interests in international trade which is a hugely broad topic. Thereby I'm providing them an opportunity to learn more deeply of a self-selected topic sometimes more than anyone else does including myself.

No comments: