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What... no materials?

Hi everyone, I regularly receive questions about my PROOF language coaching methodology from English teachers in training to become language coaches or attending my talks at ELT conferences. So I’ve decided to start posting more regular tips and insights from the method… here is the first:

At a talk on language coaching at an international conference recently I was asked about my suggestion not to use materials in sessions with learners. The English teacher who asked the question was concerned that entering the classroom without any materials left them unnecessarily exposed.

In reply, I first noted that over almost 30 years of observing language teachers, I have found that materials very often get in the way of learning rather than doing what they're supposed to do. My learners provide all the materials for our sessions simply through their need to communicate in English. Role-playing the different communicative contexts they will find themselves in provides all the content we need.

This doesn’t mean we can’t use materials, it simply shows that if we take our learners’ communicative context as a starting point, we will have all the content we need. In other words, “Let’s work out what you need to say to whom and how you need to say it” is your lesson plan. Depending on their level and experience, learners can then have as much or as little involvement as you or they like in actually producing the script for the role-play i.e. either you or they can write the script, depending on aims, time available, level, age, ability, etc. You can even dictate it for more capable learners.

What you will always do is negotiate with them what they want to say in any communicative context you address. The point is, you can take the question “What do you need to say and to whom?” as a starting point, and build a relevant script around that for any session. This will of course necessarily lead to work on all facets of the English language, and your decision-making ability will constantly be tested with regard to what to include and what not to, again depending on various considerations. Never a dull moment!

Some teachers might ask if this procedure doesn’t get boring, since it is the same every session… but one thing that motivates learners is successfully learning to communicate in English, so if that’s what your sessions are achieving, boredom does not enter into it.

By the way, how much time would it save you if you didn't have to spend hours poring over materials deciding the content of your classes? What if you could spend that time giving your learners detailed feedback on their performance? Would that not be a more effective and efficient use of your time?

I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions on my methodology, PROOF being an acronym for Performance, Rehearsal, Observation, Organization and Feedback, the five basic elements of the method. So feel free to comment…



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