Thursday, 10 January 2013

Driving Mr David - First Lessons

We sat in the classroom waiting. Apart from a few muttered ‘good evenings’ as people came in, nobody was talking much. We were all there for the same purpose, learning to drive, but we were all very different - young university students, older retired ladies, bikers looking to get the ‘B’ licence for automobiles… and me, a 34 year-old foreigner with no idea what to expect.

The room itself was fairly small with about 15 chairs, a small whiteboard and a somewhat obtrusive overhead projector in the middle of the floor. There was writing on the board detailing the programme over the next three weeks of the course (one week of trafik, one week of first aid, and one week of mötor) and the written exam date with a message reading ‘write this down’ next to it all. Some of us started to write as soon as we sat down, others chose not to.

souped-up-vintage

Looks good but it’s still old school & traditional - Image by @sandymillin via eltpics

At 6 o’clock on the dot, the teacher came in. He was an older man of about 50 and his entrance to the room had an air of authority about it. He then introduced himself, revealing that he was a former school teacher who had retrained as a driving instructor after retiring. The TEFL part of me then anticipated him asking us to introduce ourselves in some way so I started to formulate what I would say in my head, not wanting my second language to come stumbling over my tongue.

Ah, but of course, this was not a TEFL classroom, was it? Following his introduction, our teacher launched into his first topic, ‘What is traffic?’ Before long, we were onto the next topic, definitions of various kinds of vehicles and transport. As I listened, I couldn’t help but look around the room and wonder who the other people were, the people I would share a classroom space with every evening for the next three weeks. Over the years, I have become accustomed to the language learning environment, which is (or at least should be) a communicative social space. I guess driving, by contrast, is a much more anti-social activity (any observation of the way different drivers interact with each other is more than enough to confirm that!)

Also, by this point, the exam had already been mentioned several times with references to ‘this topic regularly comes up on the test’ and ‘you might be asked a question like this’. Much as my experiences in getting all the paperwork together taught me, this whole ‘learning experience’ is to a great extent about going through the motions and getting things done just to show that they have been done.

Having said all that, it wasn’t all bad. I was surprised at the ease with which I was able to follow the lesson with only a few words coming up that I didn’t previously know and was unable to work out from context (applying some of those strategies I try to train my students in definitely helped). The teacher in me couldn’t help but make some observations about my own teacher though and I shall wrap up this post with those:

Things I would do differently

  • Introductions - ok, this is not a language course and getting to know each other does not help with passing the exam in anyway but I still feel that it would have helped establish a more relaxed atmosphere in the class.
  • More interaction - most of the lessons so far have been lecture format but there have been a few questions thrown our way. Nobody seems particularly keen to answer, however. Again, this comes back to the above point. Had we talked a little at the start of the first class, we may have felt more at ease in answering and asking questions later on. Likewise, had we been asked more frequently, we might have been more responsive rather than being caught off guard.
  • Coloured board markers - that may sound like nit-picking but I think red and green are pretty important colours to use in a traffic lesson and blue could be useful for some signs too. As it was, everything was in black with the teacher commenting on what colour it should be.
  • Better equipment - ok, so this one has little to do with the teacher and more to do with the school but the use of an OHP was problematic as the projected image was too large for the board and, in our small room, much of the information was obscured anyway by the projector itself. A computer and a ceiling or table mounted projector would be much less obtrusive.

Things I would keep the same

  • Reviewing and previewing - the teacher has started each lesson so far by summarising the previous day’s topics and explaining the objectives for the current class. I have found this incredibly useful, especially in my situation as a non-native speaker of Turkish.
  • Explanations - again, this has been very helpful for me but the teacher explains a lot of the vocabulary that comes up. He does this because we need to know the exact definitions of, for example, various types of transport and different kinds of road in case such a question comes up in the exam. For the other students, it may seem like he is stating the obvious but this has been invaluable to me.
  • Concept checking - the majority of questions he asks (though rarely so) are designed to ensure we have understood correctly. Again, this on the spot review has helped me even if I haven’t provided a response myself.

Next time - a few reflections on what I have noticed about myself so far both as a learner and a teacher.

3 comments:

  1. A thought provoking post. It's always useful for us to poke our noses into other kinds of classroom, isn't it?

    I'm especially interested, cos I'm working up the courage to video my own class. Gulp.

    Sounds like you have a good working command of Turkish - what would you say your level was?

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  2. Videoing a whole class? Sounds like fun - any plans to share the recording? ;)

    I'm not sure where to rank myTurkish. My comprehension and communicative skills are advanced but writing and comprehension of extended readingpassages is more of a struggle!

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  3. Nice post Dave, your Communication skills are really good, it's hard to leave the post unread. Learning new things is never bad and it's kind of funny when being a teacher we sat in different class to learn things like students. I don't remember when I last sat in the class with students. Being a teacher is better, when you have the power to teach people, make them worth doing thing on their own. Driving is not that much of interesting topic but still it's something new to learn.

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