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Teaching 121- Some Considerations

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    This article is based on work originally prepared for our Delta Module One course, and focuses on one-to-one teaching. For an article on Content and Methodology for 121 courses, click on the link. Here we look at:

    a) the advantages and disadvantages of teaching 121

    b) how the disadvantages can be overcome

    Section a : Advantages

    1. Adv : Whatever the specific needs of the learners
    are, these can be dealt with without risking that the lesson becomes irrelevant
    for other learners. The syllabus/lesson content can be negotiated with or even
    specified by the learner.
     A typical
    example would be a BE learner who has an important meeting coming up. The L can
    be helped to prepare for the meeting in the lesson, planning what they want to
    say and how to say it, anticipating other participants likely reactions and
    planning how they will deal with them etc. However, even GP learners may have
    specific needs which can be focused on more easily in a 121 situation. For
    example, I once taught an elderly woman at A2 level whose daughter had married
    an American, and whose recently born grandchild was being brought up in the
    States speaking English. His (A2 level) grandmother wanted to learn English so
    that she could play with him, read to him etc. The course therefore focused on
    the language and subskills needed to play children’s games, and to read stories
    The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Where’s Spot?.

    2. Adv : Learners who are studying in an English
    speaking environment, or eg Business English learners who are using English
    between lessons,
     will be encountering a
    lot of ungraded language outside the classroom, which may confuse or puzzle
    them and which they may want to ask about. Time can be left for this in lessons
    (or the planned lesson can even be abandoned to deal with it), making the
    course even more relevant to their immediate needs.

    3. Adv : The learner is involved 100% of the time and
    has the T’s full attention. There is therefore no possibility that eg confusion
    over specific points, or important errors may go unnoticed.

    4. Adv : Some shyer learners may lack confidence in a
    class situation and learn more effectively in 121 courses because they feel
    less anxious. One learner I initially had in a group situation was so nervous
    that her stutter became so bad that she would refuse to participate in either
    PW/GW or in full class format, which obviously blocked her from making any
    progress. When she switched to 121, she gradually relaxed, and started learning
    and speaking more confidently and without stuttering.

    5. Adv : Very strong and very weak learners may
    benefit from 121 as the lesson/course can progress at their own pace. Stronger
    Ls do not feel “held back” and therefore frustrated, while weaker learners can
    be given the extra time to assimilate each new item, the extra practice and
    recycling that they need. In a course that proceeded at “average” pace, these
    learners would be liable to get left behind and possibly drop out.


    Section b : Disadvantages and Related Solutions

    The lack of other
    learners can mean that:

    6. Disadv : Notwithstanding point 4 above, for some Ls,
    121 can be too intensive and therefore stressful.

    7. Solution : The T. has to be sensitive to the L’s
    ability to concentrate and plan the lesson so that there is sufficient variety
    of activity and pace, breaks at regular intervals etc. This will differ from
    learner to learner.

    8. Disadv : The L cannot compare themselves with others
    and see that others find new concepts as hard to understand as they do, make as
    many mistakes as they do, etc etc. This may lead to demotivation and to the L.
    feeling that they “can’t learn English”.

    9. Solution : If the course is geared to the L’s learning
    needs as suggested in point 5 above, this problem may be avoided. However, regular
    discussion of the L’s progress and reassurance from the T is also essential.

    10. Disadv : The learner has no chance to learn from
    other learners and may come to be “teacher dependent”, seeing T-input and
    direction as the only way to learn.

    11. Solution : Techniques which emphasise autonomy
    (inference strategies, guided discovery of grammatical areas etc) need to be
    emphasised so that the L realises they can “do it themself” without becoming
    over-reliant on the T.

    12. Disadv: The T has, necessarily to be the “other
    person” in all discussion activities. Focusing on participating may mean that
    they do not have the opportunity to take notes of what is going on, and
    important learning affordances may be missed.

    13. Solution : The conversations can be recorded (preferably
    on the L’s phone
      for privacy reasons and
    also so that they have a record of it to take away). The recording can then be
    replayed and learning affordances exploited. For example : i) mistakes and
    errors can be focused on and corrected; ii) correct utterances can be
    “upgraded”; iii) the T can focus on language that they themselves used – eg
    figurative expressions, turn taking strategies etc and work on them with the

    14. Disadv : If the L is shy or not particularly
    confident, they may leave longer silences before responding than the teacher is
    comfortable with. The T may therefore “jump in” to fill the silence, which will
    mean there is a tendency for teacher talking time to increase and the lesson to
    become too teacher-centred.

    15. Solution
    : The T must accept that
    silence may be a valid learning strategy, and allow the L time to plan what
    they want to say rather than immediately intervening to “help” at the first
    sign of hesitation.

    16. Disadv : 121 courses depend very much on T/L rapport,
    which can be threatened if the learners are “difficult” -

    a) the L has very different social/political attitudes to the T.

    b) the L is (as often happens) a high-ranking individual in an
    organisation, used to being the leader and having their every decision
    accepted. This may lead to them imposing methodologies which the T does not
    agree with. 

    c) if this high-ranking L is used to being simply a decision maker whose
    assistants do the real work, they may consider that the teach can “learn
    English for them” without their needing to make extra effort – eg completing
    homework tasks. (See here.)

    17. Solutions
    for Disadvantages 16 a-c


    a) Even more than in a group course, the T needs to avoid PARSNIPS topics,
    and avoid following up on any comments which they strongly disagree with.

    b) Negotiate the methodology. This was the case with a L who I taught
    whose company (who were paying) had requested a presentation skills course. On
    the first day the learner said he did not want to follow the course I had
    prepared but “just wanted to chat”. I resolved the problem by asking him to
    follow my programme for two days after which we would follow his idea for
    another two days. At the end he could decide which approach he had learnt more
    from. He agreed and we completed my two days. One the afternoon of “his” first
    day he asked to return to my course, agreeing that it was more effective. (See here.)

    c) Firstly, discuss this with the learner paralleling it with something
    else they have learnt – eg learning to drive – and the role of the T/L in that
    situation. Secondly, find out whether the “homework avoidance” is genuinely due
    to lack of time or just lack of motivation. Whichever is the case, negotiate
    the situation and decide with the L how much homework will be done – which may
    range from nothing to a more substantial amount. However, ensure that the L
    understands that i) the less h/w set will mean more to be done in class – which
    will delay the achievement of the objectives set, and ii)  if the h/w agreed on  is not done it must again be done in the next
    lesson – again delaying  the achievement
    of the objectives set. It is useful if the L signs a “learning contract” with
    these conditions stated, and the T should keep a record. 

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