I want to begin this article by discussing a class I used to teach at my last school in France. I believe it was a great example of the ideas that is blog is all about. When I started this blog, the basic premise was to look at ways in which the teacher can go beyond simply passing information to the students. In my first article, I argued that in the modern world - with its prevalence of electronic resources - in order to continue to be relevant and to continue to offer value to students, teachers need to differentiate themselves from the huge array of online help that is now available to students. A good teacher will do more than just parrot information. When I started the class that I want to discuss here, it was not designed to be an example of doing something more. However, it quickly evolved into just that and taught me some valuable lessons that I would like to share here.
The class was a Q&A session called AskPaul. The reason I chose to focus on AskPaul is simple: originally it was a class designed simply to pass information to my students. There was nothing more to it than that - I was aiming to market myself as a grammar spouting robot! The idea was that the students would come for an hour and ask any grammar and vocabulary questions that they might have. I would answer them, obviously. My initial objectives were, if I am being frightfully honest, rather modest. I simply wanted to answer a few questions and wanted my students to feel that I was available to them if they had queries or concerns. At first, it started out just like that, but after a while things began to change.
If I continue with the motif of complete honesty, the first couple of classes were a tad underwhelming. The class served its function with the students getting the grammar clarification they sought, but I would not feel comfortable employing the adjective 'inspiring' in association with my first few efforts. I was doing little more than a robot teacher or an internet site with detailed grammar information. The students asked questions; I answered them. That was it. My boardwork was impeccable and my explanations 100% accurate, but there was a gap in the heart of the class.
At this point, I began thinking back to a previous job I had held working for a company that provided Business English and soft skills training to major companies operating in China. After just a few weeks at the company I noticed that some of the teachers were far more popular than others. Those that the students grew to love all had one thing in common: they used stories and anecdotes to help them explain the points they were trying to make. In order to succeed, it was something I also needed to do. Therefore, as I planned the classes and seminars I delivered, I constantly sought ways to include real-life stories and anecdotes. This worked well in China and it worked well again in France when I began to do the same thing for AskPaul. Suddenly, the students began to buy in a lot more to what I was saying, attendance in the class started to rise and the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive.
If I were to end this article here, it would make a valid point: that stories, examples and anecdotes add colour to any class. However, that would make for a rather simplistic and one-dimensional piece of writing. Even though I have made a valid point, I feel the need to go a little further. I want to pose the question, why does using examples and anecdotes make our classes better? Why do students engage with the material more and why is the impact of our academic performance heightened?
I want to look at two major points here. The first is the easiest to describe and is also the most practical. Basically, by using real-life examples, the teacher bridges the divide between theory and practice. Students get to see the language they are practicing applied in real life situations and used in such ways it is easier to see both its purpose and the usage. This, though, is the least important if the two aspects. In the introduction to this blog, I talked about separating teachers from electronic resources. I talked about doing more. Examples and anecdotes are a fantastic example of this. When I use anecdotes I always try to use things that have happened to me and stories from my past. This allows me to bond with the students and allows them to get to know me not just as a teacher but as a person. It creates an emotional link between teacher and student. This will most certainly help the students to remember what they hear. They might not remember a cold and calculated grammar example - no matter how accurate it is - but they just may keep a fun anecdote in their mind just that little bit longer.
The advice in this blog is not earth shattering or ground-breaking. However, it is a great first example of the simple things a teacher needs to go to operate in the twenty-first century.