1. What are the usual cases of student unrest in Russia? What are students disgruntled with?
2. Do you agree that today’s students are less ardent and involved in social life of their colleges?
3. How would you describe a typical Russian student of the 21-st century? Does it differ from his\her foreign counterpart?
4. Are you satisfied with the scholarship you get? How can the problem of low income be alleviated?
5. Do you agree that Russia’s education is backsliding into the education for the elite?
6. What minor holiday is celebrated by students on Jan., the 25? Do you know anything about its history? Do you take part in it?
Part III. School/ College Reforms
Psychology Seeks Out Brain’s Seat of Learning
The emotional and mental state of the learner is paramount, writes Robert Nurden.
The slow measured beat of a Handel largo fills the room while its occupants recline on opulent chairs. The walls are painted in restful pastel shades. Everyone is quiet, apart from one lone voice which hypnotically reads a text with studied intonation.
This is not the scene from some literary salon in 18th-century Europe, all wealth and privilege. Rather, it is a snapshot of an up-to-date 1990s language class in which teaching is based on psychology instead of the traditional chalk-and-talk approach.
For all their strangeness, such methods — and there are countless others — are gaining many followers among European language-teachers, but outside the field of education little is known about them.
The scene above belongs to a technique invented by one of the continent’s leading psychiatrist-educators, the Bulgarian Georgi Lozanov. It is called suggestopedia, or superlearning, and its proponents are as extreme in their praise as its detractors are scathing.
Appraisals veer between “a truly revolutionary teaching strategy: memorisation in learning seems to be accelerated 25 times over that in learning by conventional methods” and “a package of pseudo-scientific gobbledygook”.
Suggestopedia is based on the belief that people learn best when they are relaxed but attentive, and that it is the teacher’s job to produce that state. So in the early stages of a course setting the scene is vital.
A kind of Feng Shui approach is adopted to the geography of the classroom: comfortable chairs set in a circle, with music playing in the background. The regular rhythms of Baroque composers (60 beats a minute in 4/4 time) or classical Indian music are best for producing the right atmosphere; definitely not Wagner, who “produces disastrous learning results”.
Lozanov says that learning takes place best when students rediscover the child in themselves and regard the instructor as a parent. So, in a roundabout way, he advocates a return to authoritarian teaching.
Even more bizarrely, he suggests that it is important to establish a “ritual placebo system” in which guru-style teachers make grandiose statements, some of which may even be false, in order to lull students into a state of passivity and awe.
Unconventional methodologies like this, which borrow the techniques of therapy and hypnosis, are gaining a constituency. After all, some argue, who is to say that all teaching is not a kind of hypnosis?
These approaches can be better understood in the context of the humanistic teaching movement of the 1960s. In this, the needs of the learner became paramount.
On the other hand, these methods do adopt a rather patronising view of the learner, along the lines of: “They may not know what’s best for them, but we do.”
Suggestopedia has two close cousins. Total Physical Response (TPR) bases its teaching, even more strongly than Lozanov on the belief that students should ape the behaviour of children. When adults set about learning a second language, it argues, they should treat it exactly as they did when learning their native language.
So in the early stages the teacher does nothing but give commands in the target language, telling students to perform various functions. “Maria, pick up the box of rice and hand it to Miguel, and ask Miguel to read the price”, might be a typical command.
The theory, devised by James Asher, an American professor of psychology, is that learning takes place initially in the intuitive right-hand side of the brain. Repetitive actions linked to language, such as the following of commands, will establish a blueprint in the learner’s mind. Once that is achieved, more normal learning can take place, and the rational left-hand side of the brain can take over.
The theory holds that language learning is pre-conscious and is best done by co-ordinating bodily actions with speech. In addition, a child will always understand much more language than he or she can reproduce, so passive comprehension is vital before a student starts speaking.
The other relation in the family of psychologically orientated views of language learning goes by the name of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). It is perhaps the strangest of the lot, but like TPR it is gaining a huge number of advocates among teachers in some parts of Europe, particularly Germany and Austria.
NLP is based on the belief that people learn through the senses: they are predominantly visual, auditory or kinesthetic in the way they accumulate knowledge. So a teacher employing NLP techniques would use close observation and experiments to find out which these ways individual students use, and then adapt teaching accordingly.
Visual learners will respond to pictures, video, diagrams and seeing things written down; auditory learners will favour listening to dialogue, song, rhyme and music; and kinesthetic learners will enjoy mime, movement, and dancing.
Suggestopedia, TPR and NLP are baffling, even frightening, concepts in undiluted form. But it can be argued that when married to more familiar teaching techniques they have something valuable to offer.
/The European, November 6, 1996/
I. Say what is meant by the following word combinations:
A chalk-and-talk approach, guru-style teachers, the target language, a visual learner, an auditory learner, a kinesthetic learner
II. Answer the questions:
1. What technique was invented by G. Losanov? What is it based on?
2. What’s the teacher’s job?
3. What are “two close cousins” of suggestopedia? What are they based on?
III. Say if you share the idea that:
1. … people learn best when they are relaxed but attentive.
2. … learning takes place best when students rediscover the child in themselves and regard the instructor as a parent.
3. … language learning is pre-conscious and is best done by co-ordinating bodily actions with speech.