Wednesday, August 08, 2012

affect gauge

One day I gave the students something to do, like talking to each other, and observed that at least one was still wearing a winter jacket, even though the classroom itself was quite hot. I was always one to fix such disparities; for example, I'd open the door, if necessary, when it got too hot, but I couldn't simply take off this student's jacket, wouldn't dream of it, and that's when it occurred to me. Such things are psychological. A jacket is protection against a hostile world.

Now here's the tricky thing. Such things as electronic dictionaries, leading the student back to native language, are the same. Cell phones, they are the same too. A familiar world, native language, one's can you resist?

Toward the end of my teaching days I was in 75-minute classes and, since I tend to talk a lot sometimes, I noticed that the student-to-phone ratio was going up. In my early days I would have responded by saying, these students need to be busier. They need to be so busy using English that they don't have time or even the ability to turn to their phone. And I would have done it. Put them in groups, give them a reading exercise, have them write something - anything to keep the wheels turning in English somehow.

I never prohibited phones or electronic dictionaries for a simple reason. Although they are a terrible distraction, they take students' minds off of what is at hand, and, as a diversion away from learning their total effect is negative, they were of use to me. I could always tell when students were bored, and I could always do something about it. I used them as a gauge. I allowed them freely, then addressed the affect nature of what I saw.

At one point I remember saying this, and I'm not exactly proud of it. You wouldn't' take a blanket or a pacifier from a baby, because they would cry, and because simply removing it does not remove the insecurity that caused them to need it. The reason I'm not proud of this is because any blatant comparison of students to babies is embarrassing and brings up a host of justified complaints. They're not babies. They're not even kids. They were, for me at least, fully grown adults. But still, they had their insecurities, as do I, and I'm 58, this ain't my first rodeo, so to speak. What I'm saying is this. If you watch people closely, you can see that they wear their feelings about a situation, and you can address those feelings, make them more comfortable, make it easier for them to simply produce English or do things that will help their overall progress. This is true for people of all ages.

Now here's another interesting thing to consider. Somebody mentioned, perhaps in Funny Times, that it was only a matter of time before you could literally call up websites in front of your eyes, without even the benefit of a laptop or tablet, simply have the web with you as you go, and use it at will. And this obviously will not be good for navigating sidewalks and roads, look what texting does to traffic now...but it will provide an interesting way to measure what people do and how they feel. How many are checking the weather? How many would do Facebook and walk at the same time? How many like to be at a good site, say Facebook, when times get rough wherever they are? How many simply like to appear to be connected when they walk around, because that appearance alone gives them a sense of security?

Presumably computers can measure this stuff. Then, next step, build into Rosetta Stone, or whatever program you are using to promote language learning, an affect-responding device. When their jacket is on, start with this easy, mellow, friendly, non-threatening piece of English. Until they take off their coat, of their own accord, because they are so busy, and having so much fun, that they just feel like they don't need it anymore.

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