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Numer publikacji: 12414
Dział: Języki obce

The role of a learner

In the process of teaching teachers – as people who give the knowledge – as well as learners – who receive this knowledge – are equally important. Both sides are responsible for teaching effects in equal measure. I would like to present a portrait of a student in this chapter.
Harmer (2001) indicates that the type of forms, methods and means that are used by teachers during the process of teaching foreign languages shall be selected individually for a group or even for an individual person depending on the age, abilities or interests and the like.
At the begining I would like to indicate the differences in teaching which are determined by the age of learners. It appears to be obvious that educators deal differently with children, teenagers and adults. Each of these age groups is distinguished by contrasting attitude to classes and the teacher, contrasting intellectual capabilities, motivation and needs.
Younger children require more attention from the teacher who is held up as a model by them. That is why his relations with junior pupils are very important. He fulfils a vital role in the teaching process due to the fact students at this age take their first independent steps. Small children quickly get bored, they are not able to focus their attention on a task for a longer period of time. They enjoy learning by discovering and exercising their imagination at the same time, they are curious and full of enthusiasm. The teacher needs to introduce a great diversity of exercises as well as be able to move smoothly from one task to another. He must observe students and choose their favourite forms and methods of work in order to keep them interested for some time. Pupils enjoy learning by playing, drawing, singing, solving riddles and others. The conditions of conducting classes are also extremely important. The classroom shall be spacious, bright and colourful.
Methodologists claim teenagers are usually thought to be a group of students who are most difficult to work with. Harmer (2001) emphasizes they are characterized by reluctance to schooling and little motivation. Apart from that, they present problems in classes which have a negative effect on the process of teaching. They go through a difficult stage of adolescence when the teacher loses the authority with them. What counts most is the approval of friends as well as appearing at the school arena not necessarily as a good and well-behaved student. On the other hand, if only teenagers become involved in learning, they demonstrate their ability of memorizing, they are active, creative and hard-working. Teaching shall be conducted in an exact manner. A lot of new abstract terms as well as discussions may be introduced. Students should also learn active and conscious listening, reading, speaking or writing. Exercises shall correspond to learners’ interests and enable them to make use of their knowledge and experience they acquire every day. The failure of a teacher in a group of teenagers results from the lack of communication between the sides. However, when he overcomes the problems, the work with such students may give a lot of satisfaction.
Adults constitute an interesting group of learners. They are well acquainted with many abstract terms and they use them easily. The exact way also dominates here among various methods of teaching due to the fact they are more persistent in carrying out tasks as well as they have the ability to focus during longer exercises and they are self–disciplined. They also have wide knowledge and experience in the scope of many fields which gives a wide range of activities to do. They are aware of the process of teaching and the aims they wish to achieve. Adults are also more demanding. Unfortunately, this type of learners may feel reluctance to extend beyond the forms and methods they have learnt and may look at teacher’s work critically. On account of their age, such group might have qualms about not very positive and previous experience in acquiring their knowledge. It happens that their little self-confidence is marked and each failure is excused by their age. A teacher who works with a group of adults should adapt the difficulty of tasks to be within their capabilities as well as become open to suggestions of his charges and encourage them to aspire to their own practical experience.
Harmer (2001) emphasizes the process of teaching proceeds differently because each person is unique. Strictly speaking, there should be as many ways of teaching as the number of students. There are many reasons why some pupils learn faster than others. Learners differ greatly in terms of their aptitude, talent, intelligence and interests. These differences in acquiring the knowledge also result from the level of the foreign language and the like.
As it appears, some students have greater language capabilities than others. However, the author is particularly careful when he divides them into the poor and the good pupils. In his opinion, such division may be demotivating for them. The tests, that are used to classify them, are often unilateral and they do not assess the learner in its entirety.
The author (Harmer, 2001), citing Naiman, Rubin and Thompson as a reference, makes an attempt to determine characteristic features of a good student. According to him, these are: the positive attitude, the will to be a success, ambitions, the need of ego, goal orientation and perseverance. Self–reliance, searching for solutions without the help of a teacher as well as the creativity have an influence on the success in learning. A good student knows how to make the most of every opportunity to practice and expand his knowledge and skills, he asks questions but at the same time he is not afraid of the constructive criticism, he follows the instructions and he does not find ready solutions.
The differences in the process of teaching may result from different learning styles. Wright (1987 in Harmer, 2001) distinguishes four styles of learner’s work in a group. The first one is an enthusiast. The pupil concentrates on the teacher and aims that his group has to achieve. Then, oracular, where the lector is also in the cenre of student’s attention, however, he is also focused on achieving personal learning objectives. The third one is a participator for whom the group and its objects are the most important and the last one, a rebel, is concentrated on himself and on fulfilling his objectives.
Willing (1987 in Harmer, 2001) divided students into four groups: convergers, convormists, concrete learners and communicative learners. Convergers work independently and they have high self-esteem and independence. They are active and creative. The second type of the learner is an imitative type who is not very self-reliant. What is more, he needs to have all learning elements organised. A concrete learner is also an imitative type but he enjoys working in groups and learning both by gaining experience and by the contact with other people. The aim of communicative learners is not necessarily the study of the foreign language itself but the contact with individuals who speak the language. They are self-reliant and they revel in responding to challenges.
The dissimilarity of each learner makes learning a complicated issue and it requires lots of flexibility and the ability to observe from the teacher. The diversity of the mentioned types within one group causes the lector should plan his work so that individual features of his students are taken into consideration without neglecting the needs of the whole group.
Harmer (2001) claims that the process of teaching may depend on the level of the pupil. He offers a diagram to list the order.
AdvancedUpper intermediatemid-intermediatelower intermediate/ pre- intermediate elementary real beginner false beginner
FIGURE 1. Representing different student levels. (Harmer, 2001:44)
The progress in learning is faster and more noticeable at elementary than at pre-intermediate level. It may result in appearing the plateau effect in the latter. This is a halt in the process of learning at a certain level and it is caused by the lack of considerable progress in their studies. The role of the teacher is to revive the motivation by achieving the aims by the small steps approach.
The work methodology differs greatly depending on the level of the group. At elementary level, simple and easy tasks are given, for instance, repeating aloud within a group. When the learners are more advanced, the forms of exercises and activities are different, they are adapted for their greater abilities as well as more complicated, i.e. a lot of discussion is introduced.
The language of the teacher is determined by the level of the group. At elementary level, the instructions shall be clear, simple, short and precise. The type of reading, writing or listening activities should not be complicated in order not to discourage the students. On the other hand, the tasks need to be more demending at higher levels. Each teacher must make it a principle that too difficult exercises for a poor student are as demotivating as too easy ones for a good pupil.
The author calls our attention to the right choice of topics during the classes depending on the level the learners are at. He stresses the subjects for elementary students are often tedious and too easy. The more advanced the level is, the more complicated and disputable themes may be discussed. They are allowed to express their opinions, present pros and cons and exchange of views.
The effectiveness of teaching depends on individual predisposition of a learner towards acquiring a foreign language. Harmer (2001) provides two theories which try to explain this phenomenon. In neuro-linguistic programming, senses play the main role in assimilating new things. He names them ‘VAKOG’ and it is a short form of V as visual, such as look and see, A as auditory, like hear and listen, K as kinaesthetic, for instance feel, O as olfactory, i.e. smell and G as gustatory, indicates taste. Each student usually has one dominant sense that is used to develop his skills and this is why each person has different needs towards a manner of learning, for example, some pupils learn by listening, others by reading or writing etc. MI theory claims each human has a few types of intelligence (Gardner, 1983 and Goleman, 1996 in Harmer, 2001). However, it is also indicated that only one type plays an important part in individual which establishes our predisposition to certain fields of science and life. It means that every person requires different methods and techniques of learning. Acquiring specific forms, i.e. grammar, is easy for one learner and difficult for the other. A student whose logical/mathematical intelligence is developed better, prefers accurate teaching of grammatical forms. The other pupil will need inter alia diagrams and posters due to the fact his visual/spatial sphere has strongly evolved.
In order to recognize individual predisposition of learners, a teachers needs to make a diagnosis of them. Each person should be examined seperetely as well as the whole group. The teacher may avail himself of general knowledge tests or questionnaires but also observation is essential. Discovering students’ preferences, by a reliable diagnosis, helps him to organise his classess better and introduce the optimal methods of foreign language teaching for a group which take individual needs and preferences into account.

Harmer, J., 2001, The practice of English language teaching. Pearson Education Limited.

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