In this edition of TEACHERS TALK, my guest is Mark Bartholomew, an education consultant at BRAC University, Bangladesh. He also creates the wonderful stories on http://www.readlistenlearn.net.
Hi Mark , your teaching career has taken you to many places around the world. What is the most valuable teaching tip that you have learned so far?
I suppose that the most important tip I can offer is that a teacher's main role is not the passing on of information about the target language to students but providing the inspiration for them to learn more both inside and out of the classroom. Only when they are truly motivated to learn do they make great strides.
Nowadays there are various ways for students to learn- in the classroom, online or self-study, to name but a few. How can we teach independent learners to become responsible for their own learning?
I am not sure that this is something that we can teach. However, all the research suggests that modelling behaviour is the most important prerequisite for teachers to inspire students. We often complain that our students don't read enough, for instance, but then we justify our own reluctance to read by saying that we just don't have time. If we model reading to our students, then some will take up the habit - not all, of course, maybe not even most, but some will. All we need to do is to talk about what we are reading once in a while and ask them what they are reading too. It's about providing them with the motivation to take responsibility for their own learning again.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your teaching career?
I suppose my first classes in Saudi Arabia were among the most challenging because I went there with a preconception about 'right ways to learn and teach' and did not take my students' habits and priorities into account. I was altogether too arrogant and thought that I knew what they had to do to learn without taking their own daily routines and previous experience of learning into account. When I went back a decade and a half later, I was rather more experienced and I loved teaching young Saudi men - they really are so much fun!
It’s thought that Listening as a skill has been neglected in the classroom. How can we draw our students’ attention to it?
Teaching listening is a thorny issue. Traditionally, we played cassettes to introduce students to language but this is inevitably a rather synthetic exercise. There is a debate about whether listening to the same thing over and over is more useful than hearing different takes on the same situation, say by listening to Al Jazeera, the BBC and CNN reports on a news item. And then, of course, there are films which we can download and watch and listen to. Subtitles may not always be accurate representations of what actors say but they are there for us to get the gist of something if we are really stuck. So, I guess what I am trying to say is that we need to get students listening to a wide variety of English, not just us talking at the front of the class. Again, it's a question of motivation.
You have created a wonderful website, called http://www.readlistenlearn.net/. I often use it with my students and they find the texts really fascinating. How did you come up with this idea?
I was back working in Saudi Arabia teaching university students who had no English at all. Of course within a few weeks they were able to read at a very basic level. The problem was that there were many restrictions on what was considered acceptable material and, perhaps more importantly, most stuff was written with very young learners in mind. My students were all around twenty years old, however, and were not interested in Aladdin or Snow White though. So, I started to write on football and extreme sports, the Bedouin and the camel. From there, it was only a short step to enabling them to read on their phones or a laptop screen. I was lucky enough to meet Simon Dalton who has provided the technological support needed for them to do that.
Thank you, Mark!
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From Russie with love,