You can’t hear learning taking place, can you? You can’t hear the cogs in students’ brains turning as they try to get their heads round a new language concept, can you? You can’t hear the humming of a learner’s’ brain as they internalize a new word, can you? Well, I think you can. The best classes I’ve ever observed and taught all had this sound in abundance. You’ve heard this sound before. You know what it sounds like.
What’s the sound?
The problem is it sounds exactly the same as the “sound of boredom” and the “sound of confusion”. So we’re scared it of it. But we shouldn’t be.
What do the researchers think? They reckon that students (especially those at low levels) need “wait time” to translate from their first language to English in their heads (called “code switching”). Longer wait times lead to more language production for students. On average teachers don’t wait long enough (often less than two seconds) before answering their own questions. Some other ESL researchers think you should wait up to 30 seconds before giving an answer.
But, that’s not what the students want, is it? Well, again, I beg to disagree. I recently did an activity with a group of new teachers. I asked them to brainstorm adjectives to describe “good teachers” and then asked them to interview students about what “good teachers” are like. Which adjective came up most? “Patient”. What do patient people do? They wait.
So, next time you’re in class, listen. And if you can’t hear anything at all, then that might just mean your students are learning.