We are not yet arrived at the nuts and bolts of classroom management in our summer examination of what the term actually means and how we can master it in our classroom in the fall. More reflection on what we want to see from our students in our classrooms is needed before we go to the specifics.
I’ve posted the article below many times since its first appearance here in 2008 and I apologize for not posting it more. I think that any discussion of classroom management actually is is incomplete without this information.
We have said so far that the foundation for our new “classroom management house” is made up of student engagement, of students feeling that they want to be part of a community that is enjoying a human conversation with the people around them.
In fact, we have strongly implied so far in this book that if the terms that are in italics above are not visible and vibrant aspects of what our language classrooms look like, then we cannot hope to have a well-managed classroom.
The reader is asked to honestly reflect if they can identify what is described below as something that is happening in their own language classrooms. It is what the French call the “Art of Conversation”.
Leave it to the French to label conversation as an art form. The following passage is taken from http://www.cafe.edu/genres/n-conver.html#3:
“La conversation s’oppose aux autres formes d’interaction (entretien, débat, colloque, pourparlers, conciliabule, etc.) par son caractère familier, improvisé et gratuit: aucune de ses composantes n’est fixée à l’avance et elle n’a pas d’autre finalité que sa propre pratique, elle est coupée de tout but instrumental. Sa principale motivation est le plaisir.”
“Conversation differs from other forms of interaction (interview, debate, symposium, negotiation, consultation) by its familiar nature, improvised and free: not one of the things that make it up is decided in advance and it has no other permanence than its own practice, it is divorced from any planned outcome. Its principle motivating force is pleasure.”
“La conversation constitue un tissu langagier grâce auquel les membres d’une communauté non seulement communiquent quotidiennement, mais encore assurent leur appartenance au groupe. Par la conversation, l’individu construit sa face sociale…..”
“Conversation is made up of a linguistic tissue thanks to which the members of a community not only communicate on a daily basis, but also guarantee their membership in the group. Through conversation, the individual constructs his social place in the group…..”
In my view, the passages say that conversation:
1. has a familiar nature (i.e. people who converse are familiar with each other)
2. is improvised (i.e. not forced – made up as it goes along)
3. is free (i.e. not limited in scope to any predetermined idea or scripted text)
4. has pleasure as its goal (i.e. we enjoy the conversation first and foremost) as per this quote from Stephen Krashen: “The path of pleasure is the only path. The path of pain does not work for language acquisition.”
5. is made up of linguistic tissue (i.e. the target language for us)
6. guarantees a person’s membership in the group (i.e. personalization is the key to what we do)
I understand the above to mean that we cannot force conversations with our students. Indeed, if a good conversation is, as it says below, “divorced from any planned outcome”, then why are we so intent on targeting and analyzing and working with semantic sets, targets, etc. in this work? The acquisition of a language is an unconscious process in which the unconscious mind is the sole determinant of what is kept from that day’s input and what is jettisoned.
The passages carry immense importance to me personally, because, having read them, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually been in a conversation in the way it is described above. Do we even speak that way with each other as adults? How do we learn to communicate meaningfully with others? How do we learn to put our students into a real and actual conversation?
As Marianne Williamson has said, “We’re not educated in our country. We don’t know how to talk to each other.”
If we can just relax and talk to our students using interesting and meaningful, relaxed, agenda-less, and personalized L2, we will see something.