Lessons without pens: a communicative approach

While thinking of ways to reduce our environmental impact, as part of a scholarship opportunity which I’m sad to say alas for me wasn’t successful, I started to think about rethinking my whole approach to teaching to take the paperless classroom to the next level. While my idea went no further in the competition, I still think it’s a jolly good idea which I’m not ready to bury yet so in an attempt to let it live on I thought I’d write about it here, where I’m well aware it will be shot down, ripped apart or told it probably already exists.

Paperless classrooms herald numerous benefits when it comes to addressing the huge amount of paper that the ELT industry is responsible for wasting.  I for one am guilty of being over-zealous with that little green button on the photocopier, despite making a conscious effort to always think how I can save paper in my lesson delivery, to read about some other ways to make your classroom more environmentally friendly, check out my post here.  However, I feel that when thinking of a paperless approach, we are always looking at it from the point of view of the teacher; what activities can we introduce? Which image can prompt discussion? Can we use a certain app or technology to replace the need for textbooks? And, in many teaching contexts, decking a whole class out with iPads is simply impossible.

What I would like to try to develop is to put the onus on the learner, trying to make them more autonomous and responsible for their learning whilst also focussing on a communicative approach.  Imagine a classroom where learners were unable to write anything down. Scary? Unimaginable? Imagine if all lexis and grammar was presented orally or through technology but then the students would follow an audio-linguistic approach of drilling everything and personalising it in a context that was memorable for them in order to learn that target language. Could it work?

I’d like to see a classroom where lessons were focused on the production of language but not in a flipped classroom method where the students study autonomously beforehand but where the teacher still plays an active part in delivering the concepts but students have no paper to be distracted by and instead immediately put that target language in their mouths.  Teachers would have to totally rethink their lesson plans, how could you deliver a listening without allowing the students to write things down? Would mini white-boards or collaborative listening techniques be the answer?

If the teacher could present on a board but the students were unable to write things down would this stop paper-shuffling and instead hold students’ attention and keep them engaged? Or would it be overwhelming and exhausting? I’m not sure of the answer, but it’s certainly something that I am keen to experiment with this year to see what effects it has on my students.

Of course, it would be too difficult for students to possibly remember everything they encounter; indeed, part of writing things and taking notes is part of the process of committing it to memory.  What could instead happen, however, is that lessons could be recorded, either in the form of audio files, or video files (for those who aren’t camera shy), shared on a digital platform after the lesson with the accompanying notes, further grammar exercises, paperless homework ideas.  Learners would then be encouraged to revisit the lesson, giving them further listening practice, to make notes, consolidate their understanding and take their language to the next level.

What excites me about this approach is the impact it would have on pronunciation.  Certainly, STT would increase allowing more opportunities to really focus on accurate pron and then after the lessons students would have the audio file to provide further practice of correct pronunciation.  This increase in drilling, perfect pron models, plus numerous speaking opportunities, all supported by access to notes and further exercises online could, in my opinion, really transform language learning.

What do you think? Terrible idea? Unrealistic? Monotonous? Idealistic? Already tried, tested and thrown on the scrap heap? I’d love to hear your insights? Let me know in the comments below (but please be kind!) Why not try it, or if not have a look at some other ideas you can try in your lessons to see how your teaching can grow.

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