In the last four posts, I discussed the issue of memorising answers as a strategy for the IELTS Speaking Test, and gave the very obvious (isn’t it?) opinion that it is a bad approach. So, let’s finish examining the …

‘Just memorise this’ syndrome.

… by examining what happens in my classes (and what should happen in every class). This will be a more positive finish to this series. But first, I must immediately mention my credentials again. Please click on Teacher Andrew’s Credentials, and especially note that I am a Cambridge-accredited teacher trainer. Thus, I have the authority to give some rules here. These are some of the rules which simply describe the modern 'soft' version of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). If your class does NOT follow these rules, think carefully about whether you are really learning.

Rule No.1 = There should be (almost) no Chinese in the classroom.

The teacher who falls back on using Chinese, or uses it regularly in the classroom, is doing it all wrong. You, by accepting this approach, are severely disadvantaged. This is simply what the research has proven. Okay, there can be a bit of Chinese, but not much. Here’s a quote from ‘Learning Teaching’ (Scrivener, p.19), which was the coursebook used when I was training teachers at Monash University.

Explanations about how language works, while of some value, seem to be most useful in fairly brief hints, guidelines, and corrections; language learners do not generally seem to be able to make use of complex or detailed information from lengthy ‘lectures’. ….. Ability to use a language seems to be more of a skill you learn by trying to do it (similar to playing football or riding a bicycle).

The analogy I always use is learning to drive a car. You could ‘study’ a ‘how to drive a car’ book forever (in Chinese), and by taught forever by a teacher in Chinese about how to do it, but you will never learn until you start driving. And yes, you really drive in my classes.

Rule No.2 = There should be lots of communication.

In my class, I raise students’ talking time, lower the teacher’s talking time, and put an emphasis on ‘doing’ rather than ‘explaining’. Remember, you’ll never learn until you start driving (= speaking)[which means NEVER memorising]. I can link this Rule 2 to those who ignore it by the very bad ‘You only talk to the teacher’ claim – a claim that, perversely, some teachers and schools use to attract students!!!! Wow, the very opposite to what all the research behind modern TEFL methodology says!

Rule No.3 = Meaningful use of language.

This means real speaking (which means NEVER memorising). It means placing communication in a situation, using personalisation – that is, talking about yourself (which means NEVER memorising). It means real pronunciation (with sentence stress, weak forms, use of phonemics (which means NEVER memorising).

Rule No. 4 = Student-centredness.

The 'traditional' class is the very opposite: teacher-centred. Yes, you know what it's like, with the teacher up front, talking endlessly while students sit 'listening'. But are they listening? Let's imagine 10 students 'looking' at the teacher as he or she talks on and on (possibly in Chinese). The teacher is 'teaching' and the students are 'learning', right? A beautiful photograph of a 'perfect' class? What if that picture could show what those students are actually thinking, and showed .....

St.A: I haven't said anything for hours.

St.B: I'd rather do something different.

St.C: I'm tired of sitting in this chair.

St.D: I wonder if Jenny got my text message.

St. E: I don't understand.

St. F: This is boring.

St. G: What movie will I watch tonight?

St. H: I'll just look at the teacher, and pretend I understand.

Do you get it? That perfect class - the traditional class - could be very bad! No one is actually learning much. It just looks nice - but only to those who don't know about modern TEFL methodology. What does that methodology say? 

It says that in order to learn best in a language class, you have to turn everything the other way around. The only way students are actually on-the-task, and learning, is when they are involved with the lesson. Thus, I get all my students involved. You will remember what happens in my classes not by what I, the teacher do, but by what you, the students, do.

Student-centredness means you are the centre of everything (which means NEVER memorising). It means that I make you tell me the language and vocabulary, and make you think about the grammar, and you tell me the answers. It means I constantly ask you questions, present gapfills, sentence comparisons, and situations via my carefully created PowerPoint Programs, and ask you to compare what you think with the student next to you. It means that I create group work and interactive activities (again with the PowerPoint). At the end of the class, you think, ‘Wow, we did this, and this, and this, and this ….’ And it might surprise you when you remember that I was in the room, skillfully making you do it all.

Rule No.5 = Reducing emotional filters.

This means making the teaching enjoyable for all; reducing stress; using theatrics and humour, and making sure everyone has a good time.


Winding Up

The conclusion is that the memorisation approach breaks every one of these rules. Don't fall for that trick, okay?

If you want to know some more details about ... 

- my philosophy about learning (and what should be YOUR philosophy, too), click: Teacher Andrew's Philosophy.

- general approach and teaching method, click: Teacher Andrew’s Teaching Method.

- how I use PowerPoint in the classroom, click: Teacher Andrew's PowerPoint Teaching Slides.

- what is covered in each individual classes, click: Teacher Andrew’s IELTS Course Design.


Find the meaning of the underlined words, also repeated below.

  • credentials (n)
  • quote (n)
  • analogy (n)
  • perverse (adj)
  • theatrics (n)




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