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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Queuing in the Supermarket!

Which queue do you choose when you only have a few items in your basket? The "Ten items or fewer" or the standard checkout? In the former there are at least eight people each with their basket of nine or ten items, each of whom has to put all their shopping onto the conveyor belt, pay (probably by card) and put it all away. In the latter there are three customers with their trolleys brimming with goods. Which queue is the quickest? What a dilemma!

This is a blog about teaching and it may be useful to explain that yesterday, whilst deciding which queue to join, I realised that I could make an analogy between this situation and a learning situation. You are probably wondering what on earth I am going on about and I may seem a bit mad (especially since I was thinking about ELT in the supermarket!). Well, here goes:

The two queues in question represent two different types of language course. The "ten items or fewer" is the typical intensive course where learners spend time every day in the classroom. The "normal" queue is the traditional 3 hour per week course imparted in most private language institutions in Europe.

The former means that learners have more exposure to the language in a shorter amount of time. They are focused, motivated and can easily see their progression. The latter does not have the advantages of the short intensive course, but it has something else that I think is important: time to reflect and internalise the language.
As I often tell my teenage students, last minute studying is not the best way to go about your exams. Information studied over a short period of time is quickly forgotten. Could the same be true of intensive learning? Will a student who has spent two months having English lessons for fifteen hours a week have learnt more than one who has had three hours a week for nine months? Or will this student have forgotten what they have learnt within a few months? I have not read any research on this (of which I am sure there is plenty) but it is something that I would like to hear your views on.

So which queue would you choose?

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