The title of this post highlights an issue we and our teacher trainees face. To trainers and experienced teachers, the question is a no-brainer. Of course SLA theory plays a role in the EFL classroom. SLA theory is the rationale for all decisions an informed teacher makes before and during their classes. How much should the teacher talk? What kinds of questions should the teacher ask? How should the students interact with each other? Should they interact with each other? Why should students talk to each other? Why should they talk to me? What should students do in my class? In what order should they do it? The list goes on… Whether or not SLA plays a role in the EFL classroom is not the issue. The issue is making the relationship between theory and pedagogy tangible for new and/or beginning teachers. I’ve written about how we can do this before in a post on academic reading circles and here I will describe our final attempt to bridge theory and pedagogy.
Logistically, it is impossible to ask our trainees to observe English language classrooms. Our program is an intensive program and trainees are busy. They have to manage coursework, jobs, and family obligations. On top of that, setting up observations would be difficult for a number of other reasons that I won’t get into. So, while English academies seem to line every city block, they are inaccessible. English teachers, on the other hand, are accessible, and there are roughly 12,000 in the country (native speaking teachers). As a result, instead of observing English classes, our students interview English teachers.
The ‘teacher interview’ helps our students connect theory and pedagogy in several ways. The first thing each class has to do is to create a list of questions. By the end of our course, we’ve covered six concepts/theories related to language learning. They are Krashen’s Monitor Model, Swain’s Output Hypothesis, Memory, Information Processing, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and the Interaction Hypothesis. To find out if these theories play a role real classrooms, trainees first have to collaboratively create a list of questions to ask their interviewee. Students have to find out two things from their teacher: how does SLA play a role in planning (before class) their lessons and how does SLA theory play a role teaching (during class) their lesson. Creating questions to elicit that information forces trainees to consider the practical applications of all aspects of each theory and is a very valuable task in itself. They also have to make suggestions based on what they learn about the class. Trainees do this as a group using google docs. Here is an example:
Once the class has created their questions, the next step is to do the actual interview and record it. Trainees meet their interviewee, talk through the questions, summarize what they’ve found by answering the two questions and giving suggestions. All of this is put into an interview report form and a powerpoint presentation. Here is an example ppt:
In this presentation, the trainees show their classmates how SLA theory is applied in a real classroom. As students work in groups of three or four, and each class has 14-18 students, each class gets to see how five real teachers apply SLA theory.
At this point, we feel we’ve done a fair job of helping our trainees connect theory and practice. Students demonstrate their understanding of theory and practice in a final essay that asks them to explain how at least three SLA theories play a role in a lesson plan they’ve developed for another course.
A few years ago, students said, “Bill, this is some of the most interesting stuff I’ve learned in a long time, but I don’t know how it applies to my class or how it makes me a better teacher.” Now, answering that question is a course requirement.