Can effective monitoring boost language learning?
Here are 7 tips on taking efficient classroom management decisions and offering useful feedback to our learners while we monitor their progress on a specific task.
In his book Learning Teaching, Jim Scrivener (1994:7) stresses the importance of ‘creating the conditions in which learning can take place’ for a successful EFL learning environment. According to Scrivener, ‘creating and managing a successful class’ is the ‘key’ to effective language learning and mainly has to do with the teachers’ attitude and personality, their organizational skills, their techniques and the rapport being built between them and their groups of learners.
Monitoring in particular is an important part of the decisions and the actions teachers need to take during lesson time. It is vital when it comes to assessing the effectiveness and the pace of an activity and our learners’ performance and cooperation during the task. Its effectiveness on language learning and on the success of a lesson will depend on the teacher’s classroom management skills as well as on their ability to quickly recognize the options available to them, to make appropriate decisions and to turn them into efficient actions that will boost the learning process. Below are some key points to consider in order to effectively monitor a classroom activity and take quick and efficient decisions.
- The importance of teacher decisions and actions
Based on the aim of the activity and the overall objective of our lesson, it is important to be able to make fast and effective decisions while monitoring our learners. Keeping in mind the timing of the activity and what we want to achieve out of it will help us decide whether we need to give our learners some extra time or some individualized guidance during the monitoring stage. We always need to check how our students are feeling, whether they seem to be ‘on task’ and what would be the possible outcomes of us ‘doing something’ at that time. Will our actions facilitate learning or will they hinder the learning process?
2. The teacher’s role
During monitoring, although the teachers may seem to be getting off stage, leaving room for the learners to figure things out on their own and to put into practice what they have learned, they are faced with a lot of important decisions regarding the pace of the lesson and the amount of help they need to offer to their students. The following list is from Jim Scrivener’s book Learning Teaching and shows the many different roles teachers have to adopt during the monitoring stage.
3. The importance of effective feedback
Knowing when to interrupt during the monitoring stage is of key importance to the successful outcome of each language task. Some learners may need more thinking time than others and many students do not like to feel checked while they are focusing on a specific task. Others may explicitly ask for the teacher’s guidance and corrections. When we are focusing on individual students during the monitoring stage, it is important to keep in mind the different types of feedback we can give and how these might help our learners.
4. The importance of positive feedback to increase learner motivation
Everybody loves being praised for the work they’ve done. Our students need encouragement, they need to be told when they are doing something well. When we offer feedback during monitoring it is best for them to first hear what we feel they have done well. Acknowledging our students’ efforts and good work gives them an enormous psychological boost and increases their intrinsic motivation. They are more willing to participate, to be actively involved in the learning process and to improve their language skills even further.
Comprehensibility in the tasks is equally important to meaningfulness. We must make sure that we encourage their creativity through authentic and interesting activities but also that our learners have received clear and explicit instructions. To keep them on task we must also regularly check for understanding and encourage clarifying questions from the part of the students.
5. Focus on student talking time (STT)
For effective learning to take place, it is important to encourage interaction between students rather than just between student and teacher. We must give our students the opportunities to ask questions, to give explanations to each other, to learn from their mistakes and pick up new words and phrases from their interaction with their classmates. It is important to give them as many opportunities to use the TL as possible as long as we make sure that the students remain on task, they feel motivated and eager to engage with the activity and that the group work/ pair work tasks are running smoothly. We must check that our students get equal turns, that they are ‘on task’ and take effective actions when discipline issues arise or our learners switch to their L1 during the activity.
By encouraging interaction among the students, STT (student talking time) is increased and our learners gradually begin to develop language fluency. We must give them the freedom to interact in the TL, to try to communicate successfully and appropriately (not necessarily accurately), to get their message across without the fear of errors. Our learners’ interlanguage will constantly evolve through creative mistakes. It’s not just the drilling and the exercises that will boost their linguistic development but the interaction, the constant effort to turn their passive vocabulary into active.
6. Promoting our students’ active involvement
In order for our feedback during monitoring to be constructive and to boost the learning process, we must first of all make sure that our learners notice our comments, understand them and work in order to fix their errors or adjust their spoken and written output in the TL. To do this, we could first of all give them hints instead of directly providing them with corrections. For example, when commenting on a writing task, we could just say ‘check the verb tense’ instead of correcting the verb form for them. Our learners need to be actively involved in this process and to learn to notice and discover for themselves what they need to change and adapt in their TL output.
In addition to focusing on our learners’ active involvement during the lesson, we must also encourage independent thinking. Autonomy needs to take place outside the lesson hours too, during individual study. To boost our students’ successful self-development, we must teach them the strategies they need to use (listening strategies, reading strategies, organization, etc.) to be in charge of their learning and make conscious decisions about it. This depends on our learners’ level and needs.
7. Respecting our students’ different learning styles
Monitoring our learners individually and providing a consistent and personalized feedback to each and every one of them is extremely valuable and crucial for their language development. It is also important to remember that we need to allow our students to listen, to think, to process their answer and then speak. We must give our students some thinking time and some silence without talking over it. Gestures can replace unnecessary talk and can really help in building a healthy and friendly rapport between the teacher and the students. We must encourage a relaxed learning environment in order for useful interaction to take place. Listening carefully to what they say is key to lowering their inhibitions and helping them express themselves more freely in the TL.
When commenting on our students’ work, it is important to consider the feedback preferences of our EFL learners with respect to their personalities and learning styles. Some students may feel embarrassed if we correct them in front of the whole class. Criticism can harm the learning process and demotivate our learners. We therefore need to be careful as to how we approach the students and how we comment on their performance. Our comments on our learners’ work should be constructive in a way that will foster language learning. We must always try to turn all the negative commentary into positive suggestions. It will be extremely beneficial to our learners if we suggest to them what they could have done differently by offering helpful tips and advice that will make them notice their strengths and weaknesses and will encourage them to improve themselves.
Encouraging peer to peer feedback can also prove to be very beneficial for our EFL learners. It is an extremely useful consciousness raising task that will boost active involvement and help them learn from each other.