Teach Them to Fish

All about teaching an exam course

by | Aug 10, 2019 | Tips

You have probably heard the saying that reads “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This applies everywhere and I guess the small world of an exam class is no exception to it.

Learner autonomy is more than just a technical term. It is a necessity in our classes and we all need to know and act in accordance with it. Most exam students need to be able to learn and practice outside as well as inside their classroom.

Course characteristics

A course in which learner autonomy is promoted needs to meet two major criteria. Firstly,  the course should reflect the learners’ goals in its language, tasks and strategies. This means that students should be aware of ways of identifying goals, specifying objectives and identifying recourses which will help them to make those goals come true. Secondly, the course tasks should be explicitly linked to a simplified model of the language learning process. That is students will not be able to manage their learning unless they know how learning works. Making them aware of the language learning theory will make them capable of adopting learning strategies for themselves.

Teachers and students

The way a teacher of a class sees the learning process can be totally different from that of students. Teachers and students may have different memory, cognitive, compensation, metacognitive, effective and  social strategies. Should they read just for fun or do they have to look for special language forms in the reading? Should they guess the meaning of unknown words or just skip them? Do they need to know their mistakes for future correction? How should they behave when they do well? What should they do when they feel afraid? Is it necessary to ask to be corrected when they are talking to experts? The instructor, therefore, needs to make sure that he and his students are on the same boat before encouraging learners to be autonomous, and will probably need to offer various choices in these learning strategies to meet the needs of different students present in class.

Training learners

There is a variety of techniques to develop autonomy in learners, some of which are listed here:

  • Out-of- class time spent by students on their English learning
  • Reviewing what they learn in each session of the course and preparing notes on what they have questions about
  • Learning and trying to use reference books like dictionaries and grammar resources
  • Looking for a time and place when and where they are least distracted
  • Being organized in paperwork to be able to easily reach what they want, and to track their progress
  • Working on reflective learning, that is monitoring  their own use of language, identifying and correcting their own mistakes
  • Using a well-organized learning diary on which they report their learning on a daily basis
  • Learning to be able to ask for help whenever needed
  • Practicing and using the language as often as they can
  • Learning to deal with the pressure of preparing for an exam by focusing on power points rather than weaknesses
  • Enabling themselves for self testing and interpreting test results

After the course

Should there be a time-gap between the end of the course and the time of the exam, the teacher will need to work on learners autonomy after the course.  We need to talk to our students about SACs (self access center) and we do need to teach learners how to use these centers. The internet is a great example of this. They should be able to use the internet for a wide variety of genres from newspaper reports to blogs, from self assessment tests to online mock tests of the target exam. We can also remind them of the ways they can access English experts on their own, whom they can ask for help if caught in a difficult situation.  The kind of learning that occurs in formal setting may represent only a fraction of the learning experienced by participants. So let them go and explore their own way into success even after the course.

About the Author

About the Author

CEO and Co-founder of Juice Academy

Mehdi Safavi is a Cambridge certified English teacher (CELTA Grade A), IDP-trained IELTS expert, Sussex Downs College TESOL and British Council staff member with 17+ years of teaching & teacher training experience. More about him →

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