Image: Trey Ratcliff
I ran a recent poll on my English Raven Facebook page eliciting responses to the question 'As a teacher of English, what is the one question you find yourself returning to time and time again?'
The most common responses supported the notion of pursuing autonomy/independence in learners and making stuff interesting and 'talkworthy', but there was also a huge range of other questions teachers were asking themselves.
One of them came from Wade Nichols, co-writer of several of the teacher's guides in my Boost! Integrated Skills Series, and he said something along the lines of "Am I seeing this the way my learners might see it?"
I think Wade's question was a very important one. It reminded me of the two very different perspectives you get of the glass pyramid at the Louvre depending on whether you're outside/next to it or inside/under it. It's the exact same structure, of course, but our view of it can be vastly different based on where we stand in relation to it.
As teachers, I think we tend to see the pyramid from the outside. It's glass, which allows us to see in to some extent, but it doesn't mean we get all (or even much) of the learners' perspective(s).
So how do we get in/under the teaching/learning dynamic to get a feel for how things look from the learners' perspective?
Well, we can begin by asking them, of course. I constantly chat with my learners about their feelings and impressions in relation to what is happening not only in my course but also their overall educational experience. I also try to facilitate more detailed and reflective feedback, as with the recent blog post I featured here. Generally speaking, writing topics and journal entry tasks can be a very rich field from which to see life and learning through the learners' eyes.
That's not without its weaknesses, however. Learners, on account of second language limitations, cultural norms or general difficulties with expressing themselves, cannot always get across what they 'see' and feel with the level of clarity we need for it be fully informative.
Another method I've used is to basically position myself physically in the classroom so as to get something close to the same angle the learners receive. I've done this by taking a seat in different parts of the classroom, amongst or alongside the actual learners. I've also video recorded myself (for example, here). I have to admit, this physical positioning has been really informative in terms of seeing the classroom from the in/under perspective.
The most effective technique of all, however, is to take on the learner role for real. If you're teaching a second language, learn another second language. If you are teaching a particular subject, enroll yourself in a different subject.
Of course, your perception here will be overwhelmingly influenced by your age and current situation (which might be very different to your students') but I do think this experience married with the recollections you can dig up of taking classes as a teenager and child can be quite powerful.
The pyramid at the Louvre begins to tip upside down and you find yourself sliding down into it. The teaching/learning dynamic starts to take on a completely different feel based on the reverse perspective.
But there must be other ways as well. Have you tried or can you think of any that you think might work to better inform us of how things look, sound, feel, taste and smell from the learners' perspective?