Is there such a thing as ‘over-planning’ a lesson? Can we get so caught up with Learning Objectives and the CEFR as teachers that it has a knock-on effect in regards to discovery learning?
Andrea Goldman shares her thoughts with us in this week’s guest post. Please contribute to the discussion in the comments box below.
My students walk into my classroom and this is on the whiteboard:
Before I even tell them what we are doing, they are talking:
“They all contain ‘o-u-g-h’.”
“Oh! They are different ways to pronounce ‘o-u-g-h’”
“How do you pronounce ‘thorough’?”
“I don’t know! What does it mean?”
“Andrea: how do you pronounce that word?”
And finally after much talking and looking up of dictionaries, translators and Google, and quizzing me, they have worked out that there are at least nine ways of pronouncing ‘o-u-g-h’. And through a combination of listening to each other, online dictionaries, pronunciation apps, referring to the phonemic chart on the wall and even me, they know how to pronounce the words on the board and have come with more examples.
Another example: I project this *letter on the whiteboard:
*This letter is modified from a letter of complaint from Unit 5 p.81 New English File Upper Intermediate Clive Oxenden and Christina Latham-Koenig OUP
Again there’s chatter:
“It’s a letter of complaint.”
“But it seems very informal, look: contractions!”
“It should start ‘Dear Sir or Madam.”
“Lots of seems very informal.”
I want the students to work out that it’s a formal letter but that the register is too informal. Then I will get them to work in pairs to rewrite the letter using more formal constructions and vocabulary.
These are some examples of classes which use discovery learning techniques to engage students in their own learning. Discovery learning methods require information gaps, surprise, and mystery. Part of this teaching method is encouraging students to notice, and to work out for themselves what they are learning. In the first example students have to come to the realization themselves that there different ways to pronounce ‘o-u-g-h’ in English. In the second they recognize inappropriate register in a formal letter.
However imagine this: on the class noticeboard is a syllabus and learning objectives for the week:
- By the end of the week you should be able to correctly pronounce words containing the combination ‘o-u-g-h’ (ɔ:, ɒf, ʌf, əʊ, U:, aʊ, ə, ɒk, ʌp)
- Students will read a formal letter of complaint and modify it to make the register more formal.
“It defeats the purpose of discovery learning if you tell learners what you want them to discover.”
There is a fundamental conflict between laying out the syllabus and learning objectives in glorious techn
i-colour, and engaging students in their own learning through discovery learning techniques.
I think most teachers agree that we need a plan and we need in some way to invite our learners into our plan so that they know where we are going together, and what our goals for their learning are. The language learning industry is very much in favour of setting out very clear learning objectives within a very clear syllabus within a very clear curriculum. The learning objectives have become eminently practical and functional. The CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) ‘can do’ statements, which are used as the model of language learning Europe-wide, are very good examples of this. These are used as both statement of fact:
‘I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.’ (CEFR A2)
And modified into teacher goals: ‘At the end of this week you should be able to use simple phrases and sentences to describe where you live and people you know.’
However I fear that if we give our learners learning objectives and syllabuses that are too precise and concrete, we remove a lot of the surprise, mystery and engagement of discovery learning. In addition the teaching and learning can become self-referential. Both student and teacher imagine that something has been learnt because that is what the syllabus and the learning objectives say. Tick.
But has it? Has it really?
It is vital that we strike a balance between telling our learners what they will learn on the one hand, and on the other keeping the anticipation and surprise that makes each lesson interesting and engaging and not merely a set of objectives to be ticked off a pre-ordained list of learning outcomes.
By Andrea Goldman
What are your thoughts on Andrea’s post? Is it possible to strike a balance between discover and making your students aware of the learning objectives? Does referring to learning objectives take the surprise and mystery from a task and in turn reduce learner engagement in a task?