This is the first time in four years that we have asked our readers to choose the theme of an issue and I have to say the results are very positive. You might recall that we used Twitter to run a poll last year to find out which topics would be of most interest, and Classroom Research came first by a long way. I am delighted to say that we received some great articles from all over the world showing that research is at the forefront of a lot of teachers’ minds.
A number of teachers, however, still feel that research is reserved for academics and that we should just get on with teaching. Fortunately, more and more academics are realising that research without an application to teaching and learning is not that useful, so slowly the two worlds are coming together, or at least listening to each other. Talking of two worlds, I have now been in New Zealand for eight months and I have to admit, my teaching has altered considerably. Obviously, I am still teaching groups of multilingual students, but my classes are unlike any I have taught before. Let me explain.
Prior to this year, I taught mainly in France and the UK. The monolingual groups in Paris were very small, rarely more than 40 hours long and usually sponsored by a company. Students within a group had similar aims, and motivation was mixed. In the UK, on the other hand, I taught highly motivated, and usually very bright students who had chosen Oxford as their destination and whose aim was usually to go on and study to a high academic level or do research. Most of these courses were intensive over a limited number of weeks.
Arriving in New Zealand, I discovered that my classes would be a semester long and during the 18 weeks students would do 20 hours with a teacher and around 12 more of guided self-study. Surely with so many hours to play with, progress would be rapid? It has been an amazing first semester and a lot of adjustments have had to be made. Groups are quite large, up to 20 in a class, and motivation is mixed. Some students are recently arrived refugees, others have chosen to emigrate here. Others are international students hoping to join a mainstream vocational course in nursing, engineering, IT or culinary arts. Ages range from 17 to 60, and the time available to dedicate to learning English is equally varied. All of this means that I have had to alter my teaching, not radically but noticeably. More revision has been built in and more time spent on the basics of the language. I have had to be more careful in my assumptions about what topics are suitable and what previous knowledge the class may have.
This has meant a lot of classroom research on my part, working out how to use the time available in the most efficient way, finding out which activities work best in class and which at home, deciding how important pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar are compared with academic requirements such as study skills, contributing at seminars, attending lectures and thinking critically. I have done a lot of reflection on my teaching, trying new things out and comparing the results. It has certainly done me good and hopefully my classes have benefited.
Enjoy the magazine and, if you get inspired, maybe it’s time for you to write something up to share with our readers. The next issue is on Project Based Learning, something I have discovered is very motivating at all ages and in all contexts. I look forward to hearing about projects from all corners of the teaching world.
Editor: Robert McLarty
Robert McLarty has been involved in Business English teaching since 1979. He is a teacher and teacher trainer, and has run a number of RSA Diploma and teacher-training courses. From 1986 to 1997, Robert was the Director of ILC Paris. In 1998 he moved to Oxford to run OISE Oxford and in 2004 he joined Oxford University Press' ELT Division as Publishing Manager, Business English.
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