Editorial on ELTNEWS.com
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I’m in the process of organizing a one-day conference to be held at Nagano Seisen University in February 2011 with the theme of Inviting student voice, a topic on the forefront of SLA research, where the trend appears to be to make classroom content relevant to students and allow space for students to set their own learning objectives and goals.

As a general rule, based on my experience as a student, this kind of openness to students pursuing topics of interest to them has considerable potential. I recall one autumn, after having visited Muir Woods during my summer vacation, preparing a project for a biology class on redwood trees (the assignment was to write about a species of our choosing, and I was the only student who didn’t choose a mammal). But I’ve had trouble transferring similar success to my classrooms, with mixed results from some of the open-ended projects I’ve assigned. For example, a recent assignment for my Nagano Kosen 5th year students taking my travel English course was to produce a mid-term project detailing travel to a destination of their choosing, using a technology of their choice (blog, video, combination of both, or something else). One group really impressed me with the video they produced regarding travel to Spain, while a blog shows effort on the part of a different group but also blatant use of online translation tools to complete the project...“Though I was going to enter it with the opening of 9:00, it has taken 30 minutes to enter it in a terrible crowd”?

A story I love to tell from my own classroom experience, but one I haven’t fully rectified how to address is from a oral communication class I taught last year. We were using a prescribed textbook which I could stretch to about 75 minutes of the 90 minute lesson. I decided to ask my students how they would like to use the extra time we had at the end of class—whether they would like to; a) practice recording some of their conversation and transcribing it, in order to improve their understanding of the language they were using; b) use some additional supplementary material to stretch the conversation out to fill the time; c) change groups and ask and answer the same questions with different students; or d) another activity of their choosing, which they were free to suggest, such as a language learning game. Out of the 32 students in the class, eight wrote on the feedback cards they would like to, “go home.”

That’s why I’m looking forward to the upcoming MASH JALT event on inviting student voice. I have a lot to learn, particularly regarding ensuring the student voices that are invited into the classroom are relevant and help to serve educational ends.

All the best,
Theron Muller

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