Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I teach English as a foreign language for a private company in Shanghai, China. I'm in a unique situation in my classes. I don't have the luxury of a semester with my students. In fact, I may have one class with them and never see them again.

Considering our system against the Seven Principles, it seems we fall way short on the majority of them.

1. Frequent student-teacher contact
In each class session, we practice speaking English in a different real-life situation. The lessons are self-contained so that students can come and go as it suits them. We have hundreds of teachers and hundreds of thousands of students, so building a lasting rapport between teacher and student is not likely.

2. Cooperation among students
We offer online conversation classes in which students  interact with each other on a given topic for 45 minutes at a time. It works well for people who have an erratic schedule, busy executives who can attend only infrequently, and college students who have a lot of time on their hands. However, there is no lasting collaboration among the students.

3. Active learning
Though we do try to encourage active participation in the lessons, students spend a lot of passive time in the classrooms, waiting for their turn to speak. In the online classroom, we are limited by the software, so only one student can talk at a time, making group work and discovery learning impossible.

4. Prompt feedback
Student receive feedback on grammar mistakes or vocabulary words during the 45-minute classes, but after the class is finished, they have no opportunity to delve deeper into the issues with a teacher. That makes for a more autonomous learner!

5. Time on task
Since each class is self-contained and the students are free to come and go at will, teachers have no control over how much time a students spends practicing. Our website monitors how much time students spend there, but teachers are unaware of the details.

6. High expectations
There is no "performance" element to our classes. We discuss a topic, but there is no encouragement to publish thoughts or reactions to a blog or other public medium. Students have nothing to show for their 45-minute effort.

7. Respect diverse talents
Although our students come into a classroom from all over the world, the lessons are presented in a fixed style, each similar to the last. If the student doesn't learn that way, they just don't come to class.

Looks like we need to do some major rethinking about our online and face to face classes!

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