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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Motivating teenage exam classes: an autonomous approach

A few months ago I wrote an article about learner autonomy, which, for those of you who subscribe to MET magazine, appears in the July issue. One of the practical ideas I spoke about for encouraging learner autonomy is a take on "peer teaching".
Peer teaching means that the students are the teachers for a period of time. This could be ten minutes at the beginning or end of a lesson up to a whole lesson. The idea is that the learners choose the lesson focus, possibly from a list that you give them, and find a way to present and practise this content.

With teens, who may be going through a difficult period of self consciousness, this type of approach has to be considered carefully. It really depends on the learners themselves: How shy or outgoing are they? What kind of relationship do they have with one another? Are there any particularly reserved members of the class?

As the typical answers to these questions would generally make it difficult for students to get up in front of the class and present a lesson or activity, the best way of going about peer teaching with this age group is to put students into groups. Ideally the groups should have a healthy mix of different types of learners such as boys and girls, stronger and weaker students, shy and more outgoing people, students with different interests and learning styles. Having variety in a group helps the dynamics and creativity of the results.

I am going to present the following idea to my group of FCE teenagers tomorrow in their first lesson of the new school year.

Each group of students is going to be responsible for one lesson per term.
Each group will choose a different subject as the basis for their lesson. It could be based on a grammar point, a vocabulary topic, or a specific exam skill (e.g. Use of English Part 2).
Each group will spend some time in class to prepare their lesson.
Each member of the group will have a role to fulfil and an area to work on.
Each group will receive a valuation for how they have worked both as a group and individually, as well as a mark from the other learners.

The idea is that including the students in the design process of their course will highly motivate them. They will feel great when there classmates have understood something they didn't before thanks to their presentation or explanation. They will become more involved in decision making and take responsibility for their own and their classmates' learning. They will also improve cognitive skills such as evaluating, decision making, explaining, planning and summarizing.

Would anybody like to try this out as a parallel experience with me and discuss how they get on?
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