A persistent question in ELT is teacher talk time. Many teachers worry about talking too much for fear of not giving their students enough time to talk. Some, myself included, fear becoming the archetypal “sage on the stage” who monologues his way through the class. All of that teacher talk precludes any time for letting the students talk. And if they aren't talking, then their speaking skills won't be getting any better. I’ve written about the “sage on the stage” stuff before, but it’s time to approach it from another angle.
The quote below shows a case in point. It comes from Frank McCourt’s excellent memoir Teacher Man, where he writes of his early days as a teacher in New York City and how he often told stories in his classes because they held the students’ attention better than the day’s lesson.
I argue with myself, You’re telling stories and you’re supposed to be teaching.
I am teaching. Storytelling is teaching.
Storytelling is a waste of time.
I can’t help it. I’m not good at lecturing.
You’re a fraud. You’re cheating our children.
They don’t seem to think so.
(P.26. Link to e-text at Google Books here)
Yet as fun as it was to tell stories, I started wondering about whether it was good to do so when my EFL studies turned to TTT, or teacher talk time. Suddenly I'd think, "Hey! Let them talk!" A lingering memory of a speaker at my EPIK Orientation would come to mind. He'd said, “Your job is not to speak English to the students. Your job is to have the students speak English to each other.” Questions mounted in my mind and I'd end up arguing with myself like McCourt:
- How will the students know what to do if they don’t have any examples?
- What if they know what to say, but they lack the vocabulary for it?
- What about speaking itself? Korean and English have different rhythms and timbres. Shouldn’t I be doing some modeling After all, they would need to hear examples of correct pronunciation.
- What does all this matter if the students are enjoying the story? They're getting vocabulary and syntax, right?
*ELT = English Language Teaching. It's quite similar to EFL, or English as a Foreign Language and ESL, or English as a Second Language. Or, if you want to go longer and more detailed, TESOL, which is Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Related: ELT Rants, Reviews, Reflections: Reducing Teacher Talking Time