This #ELTchat was created to review the knowledge gained from ‘good learner studies’ in the 80’s. From the word go, all the participants expressed objections as to the use of the term ‘good’ and suggested we use ‘effective’ – for the purposes of this summary, I shall leave the original title in place.
This summary was contributed by one of the participants, @ELTC_TD
It is posted on our blog with their permission.
We all recognise a good student but what makes them different to other students and can these things be taught or do they just come naturally?
This was the topic of the #ELTchat on Wednesday 23rdMay, with @SueAnnan,@angelos_bollas, @ELTC_TD, @fionaljp, @ELTJayney, @e_d_driscoll, @elkdell, @Shujaat_English, @tesolmatthew and @Marisa_C.
The right characteristics
These are the things that are probably hardest to teach if learners aren’t naturally this way. Self-motivation and some sort of linguistic talent were mentioned several times plus, as @e_d_driscoll suggested, an ability to wonder about a language and constantly hypothesise, which is probably a natural disposition rather than something you can train learners to do.
The importance of a goal was also mentioned. This could be professional (I want to improve my English because I want to do an MA) or personal (I want to learn English because I really like a boy who speaks English). This seems to be particularly important when students reach a plateau in their learning, at which point those without a goal might start to lose enthusiasm if they can’t continue to see improvements.
@ELTC_TD added that patience also helps and students should understand that they won’t become fluent in a couple of weeks or even a couple of months. @angelos_bollas pointed out that although this is true, some language schools advertise courses that will get students to certain levels in unrealistic periods of time (from beginner to FCE in two months etc.) and this can have a negative effect on intrinsic motivation levels if students don’t see results.
A final point was an acceptance of the fact that learning can’t always be fun and sometimes you have to sit down and do the hard work, which also came up in an article provided by @fionaljp called The Seven Characteristics of Good Learners.
Most people agreed that autonomy played a large part. @angelos_bollas said that learners need to be in charge of their learning and @SueAnnan and @e_d_driscoll added that this means choosing to do homework and seeking out opportunities to communicate where possible. Depending on where learners are based, this idea of practising English outside of class time might prove harder for some than others. Learners based in English-speaking countries obviously have more opportunity to find native speakers to talk to, although if students have access to the internet then they also have access to plenty of online resources (@ELTC_TD) and this means they can build up useful Personal Learning Networks (@ELTJayney).
You can have the best learners in the world but it was generally agreed that a learner’s attitude to their studies can be greatly affected by what the teacher does or doesn’t do. Providing a friendly, supportive environment (in which students feel comfortable asking questions) is hugely important (@angelos_bollas) and this should be the setting for delivering interesting lessons. Incidentally, many teachers think interesting needs to mean fun, but that’s not really the case: “high levels of engagement” might be a better way of looking at it.
Feedback is also important (though there was some debate as to whether this should be through continuous assessment or not) as well as helping the learners think about what they have learnt and what they can feel proud about (@angelos_bollas).
It was also agreed that learner autonomy can be developed if the teacher can get learners to see the importance of it and knows enough about the interests of the learners to provide solid examples of homework activities that they’ll personally find enjoyable (@ELTC_TD), instead of just expecting students to be motivated by the idea of doing gap-fill exercises (@ELTJayney).