This was the question from all of my advanced students almost from Day 1. Teenagers are persistent and after three months I was eventually worn down to saying ‘yes’ a couple of weeks ago.
And what a revelation! In the hour and a half (the length of a class) I probably got more English out of them and more of their stories than I had in the last month of classes. Comfort really is the key (affective filters and all that) but it also helped – not hindered – that the conversations were switching from L1 to L2 depending on which part of the table I was in conversation with. I placed myself strategically at the middle of the table so as to be accessible to all and then I simply let the conversation happen.
So now I have a conundrum – where does and should L1 fit into a conversation class for a homo-linguistic group of B2/C1 English speakers? Everyone, including the teacher it must be said, enjoyed this forum of communication far more than the classroom. Instead of me actively monitoring them, they were checking themselves and asking me for clarification or correction. If I wasn’t part of one end of the table’s conversation then it would slip back to L1 (as we would naturally expect) but this meant that the conversation continued and nobody got bored and, most importantly, the periods of English conversation during that dinner probably had more value and were of more interest to the learners than a great majority of discussion we’ve had in class.
So this brings about an interesting point for dogmeists – environment and space. Working around emergent language and a conversation-driven syllabus is great and can be rewarding and sometimes very successful, but how easy is it for our learners (and the teacher for that matter) to handle this approach, a departure from traditional methodology, while still surrounded by the four traditional walls of the classroom. Here I am considering the hidden curriculum of space and a thought-provoking post that Willy Cardoso wrote a few months ago.
Can I move every class to the pizza parlour? No – I don’t think my school would cover the cost of all that food! Would it be a good idea to do this regularly? Yes. Would it be a good idea to do it frequently? Probably not – I feel you get less out of special occasions when they are not special. Can this ‘success’ be moved back into the classroom without the pizza? I don’t know.
Thoughts, suggestions, ideas?