I’m really please to be able to invite another “guest” to the blog. Daniel Barber is a teacher, trainer and co-owner of the Active Language Centre in Cádiz, where the two of us are sharing a class at the moment, experimenting with incorporating technology and extending learning beyond the classroom. I’ve written about my experiences with the group in a couple of blog posts recently (Every lesson tells a story … and The story continues). Here are some thoughts from Dan. Thanks Dan!
By the way …
Ceri’s asked me to say a few words about this class we’re sharing. She said I could write about any aspect of the experience, but it was tricky to decide. Do I explain what I’ve learnt about using a laptop, projector and interactive whiteboard for the first time? Do I muse on whether going plugged or unplugged is best?
In fact, what’s impressed me most about the IWB project has little to do with the classroom technology and everything to do with the development of an English-speaking community (and a lot of learning) outside of the classroom. Every day emails shuttle back and forth, and I feel that something very valuable is taking place. I’ve been really taken by Ceri’s responses to student writing (which she describes in detail here in the blog – ‘The Story Continues’) and the students are reciprocating Ceri’s efforts. Characteristics of their emails are:
- great interest in the lesson content
- an awareness that this approach to classes and homework is different and valuable
- an emotional response to the subject matter, whether it be photos, music or special places
- a positive response to Ceri’s gentle persuasion that they take a bigger role in deciding about their learning
- a proactive approach to homework
- clear signs of both formal and incidental learning
To define what I mean by formal and incidental learning: formal learning could be expressed by the words explicit and intentional. It happens in most classroom environments and when a learner sits down at home to study the learning is formal, too.
Incidental learning is the opposite; it’s unintentional or even accidental, and it happens when our thoughts aren’t on the act of learning English but something else entirely. Here is Sandra Kerka’s description: “It occurs often in the workplace and when using computers, in the process of completing tasks… through observation, repetition, social interaction, and problem solving; from implicit meanings in classroom or workplace policies or expectations; by watching or talking to colleagues or experts about tasks; from mistakes, assumptions, beliefs, and attributions; or from being forced to accept or adapt to situations. This “natural” way of learning has characteristics of what is considered most effective in formal learning situations: it is situated, contextual, and social.”
I can think of lots of other examples of incidental learning, such as what happens in bilingual educational settings (CLIL), when we learn songs, or in the class when we listen to the teacher giving instructions in English.
These motivated adults are certainly aware of the learning that goes on when they read each other’s emails and take part in this photo-sharing, music-sharing, emotion-sharing network. It is still conscious learning. But I suspect that, strangely, they are more alert to their English here than they would be in a traditional learning environment despite focussing on something other than English. They are walking more worthwhile roads than English class but learning English by the way.