06 Aug Can We Keep a Human(istic) Touch in a Digitalised Teaching Environment? Resorting to an Inspiring Old School
“Language teachers are especially well-poised to make a real difference in the lives of our students, and that is why we are but we are also not just teachers.” (Richard S. Pinner)
Author: Ilinca Stroe, International House Bucharest
It’s mid-2020 and with the covid-19 pandemic still in full swing most language schools teach online, rather than face-to-face (with mask-wearing students) classes. Our jobs are being digitised, spells out a general concern recently raised by Harvard Business Review, and, irrespective of our field or area, we are experiencing a “digital transformation” which risks making us “less human”. In the area of language teaching, it’s consequently time we asked ourselves, “is online teaching ‘dehumanising’ our classes?” Are Zoom whiteboards and breakout rooms, are those animations from e-textbooks, those electronic worksheets and all those screens sucking empathy, connection and emotion out of our language classes?
With such doubts in mind, this might be the best timing to invoke a grand trend in language teaching: the humanistic approach. Proposed by Gertrude Moskowitz in 1978 in her seminal work, Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class, the approach generated learning methods such as the Silent Way, Total Physical Response (TBL) and Community Language Learning (CLL), and inspired to some extent highly influential teaching philosophies like Dogme.
Its core tenets?
- Personal growth, including realising one’s full potential, is one of the primary goals of education.
- The development of human values is another.
- Effective teaching and learning engages the whole person – “head, heart and hands”.
- For learning to be significant, feelings must be recognised and put to use.
- The learner should be engaged affectively (i.e. emotionally) as well as intellectually.
- Learning more about oneself is a motivating factor in learning.
- Counselling and co-counselling are integral to learning-teaching.
The learner as a “person-in context” is central to humanistic teaching. And the notion of “person” is actually key to the approach. With their emotions, learners enable meaningful connection in the classroom between teacher and students, and turn learning/teaching into an identity construction process for both teacher and students, while their personal experience generates class content which motivates and engages. Teachers are therefore encouraged to personalise their theaching harnessing the students’ emotional make-up, so learning is enhanced because rooted in their “different attitudes, beliefs, passions and anxieties”.
How can we actually personalise teaching? A few handy ways include: connecting the content with the students’ life, drawing on their personal experiences to introduce, for instance, new grammar or vocabulary; using the students’ responses in the lesson to process class activities and ask questions which build on their shared similarities and differences; use the students’ own ideas to develop tasks and materials.
One example of a class activity which engages learners at a personal level and boosts emotional value and engagement in language production is described at page 80 in Ms Moskowitz’s book: “The students are told that there are many positive qualities about others that we are aware of but often do not take the time to express. Tell students that today they will have the opportunity to let each other know what some of these positive thoughts and feelings are. Instruct the students to tell the partner they are facing some positive things they like or feel about each other. After about a minute, have the students move to a new partner and continue the process until each student speaks with a number of different students.”
Can we do something like that online? Absolutely. Humanistic teaching does not necessarily require a face-to-face physical setting, but a face-to-face approach. And we can easily apply that to online teaching as long as we remember to rely not just on digital tools to teach, but also on our own persons as resources for the learning/teaching procedures, tasks and dynamics.
International House Bucharest runs regular CELTA and DELTA courses for teachers of English at its Teacher Training Centre, as well as training events online, onsite or at partner locations. To sign up for a course or event, contact [email protected].
Pinner, S. Richard. Humanising Language Teaching. Why I Am and Am Not Just a Teacher: A Reflection on Teacher Identity and Classroom Emotion in Language Learning.