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“Education is a kind of continuing dialogue and a dialogue assumes, in the nature of the case, different points of view.”
–Robert Hutchins (1899-1977), former President of University of Chicago and educational philosopher
When it comes to creating a more democratic classroom this semester, it remains essential that there is an ongoing dialogue between teachers and students. With this in mind, ask yourself: Who gets to speak in class? Whose ideas count? Who chooses the assignments? How do students receive feedback? Meanwhile, do students have opportunities to conference with their instructors? Do you want your students to become self-directed – or autotelic – in their studies?
Techniques for a More Democratic English Classroom
Above all, I believe that giving students more opportunities to share their insights leads to a more engaging, dynamic, and valuable classroom experience. As a result, I created the following checklist for a previous CATESOL workshop called “Techniques for a More Democratic English Classroom.” Consider the following:
1. Who do you currently teach? How would you describe the students?
2. What are some of the students’ personal interests?
3. How can student interests be better incorporated into the curriculum?
4. Which assignments do students currently choose? Which seems most successful? Why?
5. What are some benefits of greater student participation?
6. What are some risks of greater student participation?
7. Do you want to increase the number of choices students make?
8. What critical language skills can be taught by tapping into their interests?
9. How can you tweak current material to better individualize instruction?
10. What internet resources can you use to augment the current curriculum?
11. Which exercises or activities do you find most successful in your classroom?
12. What decisions do you keep as your prerogative as the instructor?
13. How can you encourage your students to become self-directed learners?
14. What skills do your English students need to realize that goal?
15. What habits do students need to practice in a democratic classroom?
16. What are some obstacles to a more democratic classroom?
17. How does technology encourage a more democratic classroom?
18. How can you create a more democratic classroom?
From my perspective, a more democratic English classroom provides immigrants and international students with a chance to demonstrate both linguistic skills and personal freedom. However, many immigrants, especially from closed societies, continue to believe that the only good student is the quiet one who listens, memorizes, and repeats back the teacher’s words. Therefore, it behooves ESL teachers working in democratic societies to demonstrate a different definition, where all students share their experiences, contribute their knowledge, and use their expanding English vocabulary to contribute.
Do you agree? Disagree? Why?
Looking for more student-centered activities for your democratic classroom? Check out our reproducible activity book, Creating Compelling Conversations, available now on Amazon ($28.50). Further, visit our recommended teaching tips page for more savvy classroom advice.