If you are a teacher like me, you probably have a certain structure to your lessons. Depending on the student’s goals, you probably make sure they have ample opportunity to speak and write, and to work on their listening and reading skills. You may keep a portfolio of the student’s work, or something similar, to track their progress. You may also spend time each lesson reviewing what he/she has done in the past to make sure they don’t forget it. But in the end, we have to remember that whatever structure we may have is simply a means to an end - the end being to make the student comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone and trying new things.
Why is this so important?
We all know how critical homework is for learning, especially when the student only has one lesson a week, and doesn’t otherwise use the language. A student who is confident stretching himself/herself has fun with the language, and because of this, he/she is much more willing to engage with the language outside of class. A writing or listening assignment that you assign to them tends to be viewed as a fun challenge, rather than “ordinary homework”. If the student is confident enough, they may be even willing to use the language with acquaintances or strangers who speak it. Either way, students using the language outside of the class builds on the momentum that started on italki.
For these reasons, the confident student tends to learn much more quickly. Not only will the students experiment with the language outside of class, but they will also test out new vocabulary and grammar online with you as well. One of the fastest learners I have ever had was one who came to me at an A2 level. Although students at the level are typically quiet(er), I couldn’t get her to shut up (in a wonderful way, of course!). She experimented, experimented, and experimented; every time she got feedback from me which helped her improve.
If you care about the bigger picture, you could consider the fact that the confidence the students builds with you on italki will spread into other areas of their lives. And if you want to look at an even bigger picture, you could probably safely assume that every confident person you send back out there will make the world a more peaceful place (I told you it was the big picture!).
How do we instill confidence in our students?
So how do we embolden our students to step outside of their comfort zone? One thing that we should absolutely avoid doing is overwhelming students with corrections. Even with the best of intentions, you could correct a student too much, and discourage them from taking chances. Pick a few things you want to work on every lesson, and focus on those.
I am still experimenting with this, but I organize my class and collect all the work my students have done in a learning management system. I use Haiku, but there are a lot of systems out there. Although it helps with a lot of things, the main purpose I use it for is to build a portfolio of the work the students have turned in, so that we can always look back and admire what they have done.
Now I would like to take the time to ask you guys out there (teachers and students) about building confidence on the platform.
Teachers, what methods do you use to embolden the students to play with the language?
Students, what do teachers do to give you the confidence to try out the language in the real world?
In a sense, being confident using a new language is really the only goal that most students have, whether they explicitly say that or not. Being comfortable enough to do something a little bit scary for the sake of language improvement is key to getting there.