A while ago I wrote a post about 5 good teaching habits that all teachers should strive to get into if they want to be effective at what they do. Given that learning and teaching is a two-way street and it takes two to tango, I think it is now time to look at what makes for some good learning habits inside the language classroom from the learner’s perspective.
Each person has their own way of learning. This means that it is difficult to specify universal approaches which would work for everyone. The one-size-fits-all model simply doesn’t work in education, as it is a highly personalized sphere.
However, there are some behaviours which can generally help learners to develop a positive mindset and approach to the Learning Process. While each one might not work for everyone, they are generally good habits to develop in the classroom and the vast majority of learners will see benefits from them.
(1) ASK QUESTIONS
Learning is no mean feat. It would be an understatement to say that learning is not a spectator sport. This is particularly true for Language Learning which requires you to not only acquire new words and grammar but also to be able to apply this knowledge in rapid speech and quickly understand it when listening and reading.
The learning process is greatly enhanced when you are engaged in it. This means not just listening and doing your work but also questioning and querying the tasks you have been given by your teacher.
At any point in a given lesson, for sure you will have plenty of questions buzzing around your head about the topic of the lesson. Just put your hand up and ask. Get into the habit of asking and you will see that your understanding of the language will become deeper and deeper.
One of the great things about questions is that even if a question is initially fairly simple, it often leads to other related questions, which help open up the topic to discussion and thus deeper understanding.
(2) USE EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO PRACTISE
While it might sound cheesy to say it, the old adage of practice makes perfect has never been truer, especially in the case of language learning.
As language is all about communication, becoming an effective communicator, be it in written or spoken form, requires you to be harness and develop that skill.
Effective communication doesn’t develop itself: it comes with plenty of regular practice. Starting and participating in conversations in a foreign language is not initially easy, but if you take every opportunity to practise, then this will become second nature to you.
Opportunities could mean going out and finding someone to practise with, such as in a tandem exchange, but they can also mean simply making the most of the pair and group work activities your teacher sets you in class. The reason why teachers ask you to work in pairs is so that you have the opportunity to practise communicating at every stage of the lesson.
(3) FOCUS ON THE LESSON, NOT THE NOTES
Too many learners spend a huge portion of their time on writing out excellent notes which are both neatly legible and exhaustive of every word spoken in the lesson. However, this sort of level of note-taking requires a significant amount of energy and focus. In order to do this, you will have to sacrifice a huge part of your lesson time on this activity.
Don’t do this. Language learning is a neurological process requiring plenty of exposure and ample practice. What’s more, real-life communication isn’t conducted on the basis of well-stored notes and vocabulary banks: it’s all about spontaneous reactions and quick-thinking responses.
This means that you should put your efforts in lessons into making only the most essential notes and maximising as much time as possible to activities which help your brain to acquire the language you’re learning, which includes but is not limited to notes, exercises, asking questions and getting plenty of practice.
(4) HANDWRITTEN NOTES ONLY
Recall is a very important factor in learning something, as it’s all about your ability to bring to the front of your mind information and knowledge which is perhaps buried somewhere in the back. That is why revision sessions focus so carefully on how effectively and precisely you recall information from previous lessons.
However, unlike most things in education, recall is not always amplified by technology. In fact, as reported in Scientific America, learners who write notes out by hand outperform those who type their notes on computer, laptops and tablets by a significant margin in exams.
While notes are important, I would recommend trying to get into the habit of making only the most important notes during a lesson and then come back to those notes after the lesson has finished and see if you can use your memory to expand on them and develop them further. This will encourage recall, understanding and application of knowledge.
(5) REVISE, REVISE, REVISE
While a lesson can function as a stand-alone unit on a given topic, learning, recall and applying knowledge does not and cannot work in single unit isolation. Attending a lesson on the Present Perfect most certainly won’t mean you will be able to correctly and effectively both use and understand the Present Perfect tense after one lesson.
That is why it is so important to go back over lessons afterwards. I strongly recommend going over a lesson at least 24 hours after it finished, then once again in the week, and then again in the month.