Diary submitted by Lee R., Valencia
“Why it is important to have in-class breaks in a 1 to 1 lesson scenario”
Nowadays, it is repeatedly stated in the media that breaks are an essential part of study and that we need rest to retain information properly. With regards to the classroom context of TEFL, lesson lengths can often vary which, depending on the length, can affect students’ concentration and motivation. This section will cover why it is important to have classroom breaks and the methods I have undertaken to prevent brain fatigue and to improve motivation.
During my time as a teacher, I experienced many types of class length that varied from 40 minutes to 2 hours. At the start, what I often found was that long periods without a break or changing exercises ended up with students struggling to concentrate with more mistakes when drilling grammar. An example of this was a 1 hour and 20-minute class I had with two female adult students who were concentrated for the first 40 minutes, but struggled with the remaining part of the lesson due to the fact that a lot of grammar was being covered intensively. After covering parts of the online TEFL course based on this theme, I decided that they needed to have the lessons broken up into smaller sections to allow for respite (conversation) and for changes of resources (switching from books to images on a laptop). Furthermore, as stated by Smith (2013) in her analysis of scientific research; she mentions that the human brain has areas that synchronise impulses while resting. In addition, she emphasises that “’resting-state networks’ help us process our experience, consolidate memories, reinforce learning”. For this reason, one could state that having classes with breaks and changes are influential factors of concentration and general learning. As a result of my changes to the class structure (by adding only 2 breaks so that the class would not become too disjointed), the students concentrated consistently throughout the grammar periods in the following lesson and also developed their conversational skills where I could then build a rapport with the students as well as gain more knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, they remained focused through the change of resources.
Another aspect as to why it is important to have breaks is the fluctuation of motivation. This may not necessarily concern adults as much as it concerns children but nonetheless this is a factor. Through the online TEFL material and having the opportunity to teach 4 young children, I have discovered how kids’ motivation can be heavily extrinsic because parents commonly force their children to go to language schools. I found that the complexity of the course book at my school frequently meant that they were regularly motivated for very short periods of time. After a few lessons, I broke down the lesson into something that they could relate to more – something that is recommended by Dunn (British Council, n.d.) where she states about young learners that “Activities need to be linked to some interesting everyday activities.” In addition to this, reward systems were used if I felt that the activity was becoming boring for them. An example of this would be the alphabet activity where they must name a word for every letter. If they started to lose motivation or take too long, I would introduce a time limit challenge where, if they won, they could play 5 mini levels of a game on my iPod. This way of utilising a reward system worked well and is generally good for students who need extrinsic motivation, but this should not be used in excess as “[…] extrinsic motivators not only are less effective than intrinsic motivation but actually reduce intrinsic motivation […]” (Ledford, Gerhart and Fang, 2013). This may suggest that the more one utilises these reward systems, the more that students will expect rewards, thus potentially making the learners dependent on them. This can in turn decrease their intrinsic motivation to learn the language.
On a side note, in the context of motivation through building a rapport, it was very hard to construct a relationship with students as they would have different teachers each time. This was commonly because of shift changes. I often found that asking for the same students and organising with students when to come for classes with me helped construct a better work environment as they would know my system of teaching well. Students who I had in succession seemed more motivated, confident and willing speak in comparison to those who I would have every now and then.
In summary, concentration and motivation are very important issues in teaching and I believe that changing lesson structures and using reward systems are very useful, especially in my experience. However, there should be no excess of both breaks and rewards as this can either break the concentration completely or make students become less motivated. Lastly, having students consistently can motivate them as they know what to expect from you.
- Dunn, O. (n.d.). How young children can learn English as another language. Retrieved from https://learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org/en/helping-your-child/how-young-children-learn-english-another-language
- Ledford, G., Gerhart, B., and Fang, M. (2013). WorldatWork: 2nd Quarter 2013. Negative Effects of Extrinsic Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation: More Smoke Than Fire, 22 (2). Retrieved from http://www.formapex.com/telechargementpublic/ledford2013a.pdf?616d13afc6835dd26137b409becc9f87=4d34101224fa8bcc8a53050fda55c277
- Smith, H. (2013, December 13). The Benefits of Downtime: Why Learners’ Brains Need a Break [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.scilearn.com/blog/benefits-of-downtime-why-learners-brains-need-a-break