Monday, November 28, 2005


This coming Wednesday will be the last day of ASE 2, the course that has essentially been my apprenticeship as an instructor in the Academic Spoken English program. I've been reflecting on it over the past few days, especially on how it's shaped my understanding of good teaching.

ASE 2 is a very interactive class, and is in some senses devoid of content. That is to say, its goal is to nurture a skill or set of skills, rather than to impart information. Whether the class does or does not cover any given topic is relatively unimportant: what matters is that the students get consistent feedback on their spoken English and communication skills, and that they have a forum where they can discuss issues with us and with their peers. Our job is to guide and to fill in the gaps. This said, even our "lectures" more closely resemble teacher-guided discussion than they do the one-way imparting of information.

This semester I've come to really value that interactive aspect of teaching; what you might call guiding a student towards self-discovery. The teacher is, in a sense, more like an enthusiastic coach, pushing the students towards their goals, making sure they practice, teaching them skills as the need arises, but not imparting information in a formal way. This is the method we've been modeling for the students who are themselves teachers.

And in a teacher-training course it's probably the best model. You really only learn this sort of thing through practice, so the teacher's job is to multiply the opportunities for practice and to guide the practice.

But other classes have different goals. Even ASE 1 and ASE 3 will be different. There is a right and a wrong way to pronounce certain segments, and learning correct pronunciation does not involve negotiation. To make a "th," you put your tongue between your teeth. No exceptions. And in the sciences, especially introductory level, it will be similar. The students need to know how to take measurements correctly. They need to know how to correctly analyze data. There are clear-cut situations in which a room has one expert and many novices, and it's the expert's job to impart knowledge to the novices.

And this is something I haven't practiced or concentrated on much (at all!) this semester. Maybe that's OK. Academic Spoken English certainly involves far more coaching than it does lecturing, and it's probably safe to say that most ITA's are pretty good at being authorities in their field; their weaknesses relate to interactive communication, so this is the area that needs to be developed. Fair enough. But it's not all there is.


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