Monthly Archives: March 2012

A Matter of Confidence

"Don't think you can do it, know you can do it." Morpheus, The Matrix.

Time for a ponderous post, I feel. I’m pinging around Spain this year giving workshops on the importance (of the utter sort) of confidence in the teen classroom and, although I don’t usually do this, I’ve decided to write the theoretical part down (up?), as teachers’ reactions to the sessions and the ensuing discussions suggest to me that this is an area well worth taking a contemplative stroll through.

Teen motivation has been My Thing for years now – in some ways probably ever since I was a demotivated teen and certainly since I realised that that experience could be put to good use in my own classroom – but this more recent focus on confidence and self-belief has given me food for thought. It’s the Obama Approach – ‘We can‘ and therefore ‘We do‘. It’s the 2010 World Cup Technique. Spain’s performance in the 2010 World Cup was backed up by a ‘Podemos‘ campaign, the nation and its TV jingles singing ‘We can‘ at their heroes, who then went on to prove that indeed we could. Of course, it’s not simply a case of believing you can – effort and a guiding hand (a discreet but totally efficient coach) also have their place. And if your students still aren’t convinced, send them home to watch Invictus – or Kung Fu Panda.

Confidence certainly crosses over into the same realms as my teen motivation pyramid, but it also deserves a spotlight of its own. The time has come.

The Chicken and the Egg

Images from eltpics by Victoria Boobyer and Scott Thornbury.

Where does a learner’s confidence come from? The role of (pre-conceived) expectations and how they subconsciously affect the way we teach is well-known and I’m not going to go into that area here, but there’s more to it than that anyway. Teens are incredibly vulnerable creatures and self-esteem is up there with eggshells on the fragility scale, but even assuming total social integration, high teacher expectations and a safe environment, if learners don’t learn, they don’t feel confident. (If footballers don’t win matches…..) But of course, they also need to feel confident to learn.

So. Where can we find clues to help with how they learn ‘easily’? I found the answer to that in an odd place, perhaps, reading an article on songs that get stuck on the brain (“earworms”). As I read, two words jumped out at me – personal and emotional. And then that Brazilian song I can’t stand popped into my head and that was it.

Do you know that song? Every time I’ve done the workshop recently, I’ve asked if anyone in the room is familiar with Ay se eu te pego, and invariably some of the audience start to sing it and one or two do the gestures. I then ask if anyone speaks Portuguese, and the answer so far has been No. But they can all sing it. Other songs come to mind. Obladi-oblada. Ging gang goolie. The wonderful Minnie the Moocher. My sons singing along to Je veux qu’on danse. These songs and their unfamiliar lyrics are learnt without attaching meaning to them, for the most part, but as a starting point for thinking about confident language production in terms of ‘sound-shape’, earworms seemed like a good base to build on.

Common sense, singing, experience as a language learner and reflection tell me that these extended language chunks are not only internalised thanks to personalising and emotional response: repetition and ‘complete learning’ (my term; I’ll explain it in detail below) are also key. Obviously. How many times have you heard Ay se eu te pego (or an equivalent)? How many times has it clanged around inside your head as you wash the dishes? Or any song that gets stuck. Or that you sing in the shower? Consider which songs you learn, deliberately or inadvertently, and why.

What will follow is a series of four short posts, maybe five, on these factors in learning and implications for teen classrooms and then hopefully some sort of ‘ideas’ post to draw it all together. The initial posts will be headed Personalising, Emotional Response, Repetition, and Complete Learning. And I’ll try to avoid annoying tunes. Try. No promises, though.

1 Personalising or ‘Got to get you into my life’. (coming soon…..)

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