Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
The more I observe and interact with students in a classroom environment the more I am struck by this revelation:
They’re not only students, they’re people.
And as such, this means they bring all the character flaws, communicative failings and lack of social skills that many people bring to their everyday lives. All too often TEFL assumes that students are somehow inherently able to hold conversation, listen to each others’ views, expand on ideas, are imaginative and are able to formulate opinions and observations on a wide range of often spurious topics along with a whole host of other skills that make for great communication.
This morning I was supposed to be monitoring two discussions going on simultaneously between a pair of females and a group of three with two males and one female. But I was really sitting there marvelling at the way this one male always dominates a conversation and bores on and on and wondering what I can do about it.
It’s an Advanced class so when someone is a bore they can display this trait for even longer and more eloquently than lower level students so the problem is one that increases as the student’s ability rises to the level of their obliviousness to social niceities.
In whole class discussions, he never lets anyone get a word in and the topic dies a death because he says everything there is to say. And he has a tendency towards long, convoluted sentences which makes not sticking pins in your eyes to stay awake even harder. A lot of what he says is interesting but that’s not quite the point. He’s not sharing the conversation.
So when I put them in groups, I was hoping to make it easier for the others to get their share. The two women nattered away, easily taking turns and interacting with each other. The group of three were immediately taken over by Robomouth. The other guy, who is a good turn taker, waited and waited and finally saw his chance to interject.
The girl was staring off into space, knowing full well she was last in the queue because she isn’t the type to elbow her way into a conversation. She’d have been fine in the other group where both members were talking in a non excluding way. You could see it from the little devices they used like “Mmmm, yes” and echoing. Things they did naturally and, I would bet my pitiful hourly rate, do in their own language.
The second guy did the right thing and, after he’d said his bit, asked her opinion. I am sure he did that because he’d picked up on the dynamic of the conversation and knew that if he hadn’t the other guy would have launched straight back in. It turned out she agreed with most of what the first guy had said and was able to talk about it. But what we had was three monologues, not a discussion, and that was solely down to the way that one member of the group behaves.
The other students like the first guy, so do I. But even I don’t manage to turn his monologues into class discussions and I just wait for a gap that I can use to move on to something else. My only option is to have a quiet word with him but that’s all very easy to advise, do you tell the office bore they need to listen more and let others talk?
Artificial set ups like having him be some kind of linguistic referee in a conversation don’t seem right to me. It wouldn’t teach him anything; it wouldn’t reflect real life. And the type of lesson where you teach them phrases to interject…it’s not that they don’t know how to do it…it’s that this situation is one that’s annoying in real life and not easily solved with some textbook phrase like “If I can interrupt you there…”
Maybe an article like this one on conversational narcissism to start a discussion that hopefully leads to self reflection? But, students, much the same as real people, probably don’t see their own flaws from reading a magazine. They think “Oh, yes, I know someone just like that!” Plus once I’ve used that kind of article, I definitely can’t speak to him about it otherwise he’ll feel picked on.
Any ideas? How have you dealt with that?
Incidentally, there is a girl in my social circle who is an even worse example of Bore-ness so I’m going to try out the techniques in class and then turn the most effective onto her!