Saturday, May 26, 2007

When Being Flexible is Bad

Recently one of my oldest students told me that she's going to take three more lessons with me (which finishes off her contract with the referral agency) and then take a break for at least a month and consider how she's going to continue with her English studies. Since she recently changed her job and is now actually required to study English rather hard and improve her ability, this would seem to be a curious choice.

When my student changed her job, she told me she needed to change the style and content of her English lessons and I set her to doing homework and a business English course according to her wishes. Previously, she had been doing lessons which were mainly free conversation or guided conversation. The book I gave her included a CD for listening practice, essay-writing, reading practice, grammar exercises, useful phrases, vocabulary building and idioms. In the class itself, we would do role plays and practice English used in business situations to reinforce what she was studying in the book. In short, it was an excellent book for someone who wanted a structured course for learning advanced business communication. I know how good this book is for business people because I helped write it for my former company's correspondence lessons. She didn't even have to pay for the book or CD as I loaned them to her.

The plan was to alternate these business lessons with lessons on the Internet and web advertising since that was the focal point of her new job. This would allow her to build her overall skills as well as get help with topics that would apply specifically to her work. All she had to do was do the homework each week from the business book so she'd have a foundation to work from in the class.

Unfortunately, she didn't do the homework. In fact, she didn't do much of anything with the book at all. Weeks went by and we could only do one kind of lesson because she failed to do any self-study at all and her level is sufficiently high that she isn't going to improve from one hour of conversation each week alone. I could have started to do the book's contents with her in the lessons but the truth is that it would have been too tedious for her without preparation and it would have put me in the position of "lecturing" her rather than allowing her to do much speaking and what she really wants is to practice.

Since she's not obliged to do anything in particular, I couldn't force her to do any preparation or study on her own though I did encourage her and gently attempt to "push" her but it didn't work. In the end, I could only teach her what I could when she was with me and I did my best. In fact, I'm certain her understanding of web advertising advanced because of the lessons we had but her overall English ability wasn't really lifted.

I believe the reason I will probably lose her as a student is simply that I'm not in a position to push her too hard and she knows it. She doesn't have the discipline to self-study and I don't have the authority to make her nor is there an incentive built into the arrangement she has with the referral agency. It's simply not part of the contract. I also believe that the fact that she takes man-to-man lessons is a part of the problem. She can proceed at her own leisurely pace and doesn't have to worry about keeping up with anyone else.

My guess is that my student is ultimately going to throw more money at her problem in order to shake her out of her procrastination. If she goes off to some school and buys a series of lessons with a set duration and the teachers follow a course that will proceed without her if she doesn't keep up, she'll be forced to study or to lose her money. This is actually a fairly common tendency among students who lack discipline. It's almost nearly as common that they end up wasting a decent portion of their money since they rarely change their habits after the initial burst of devotion. They tend to attend about 60-70% of the classes and prepare well for the first 30% or so then stop coming at the end once they've rationalized giving up the remainder of the classes when they can convince themselves that they're not wasting that much money.

It's possible that I'm misreading her situation and that she actually has wanted me to be more of a taskmaster but, given her behavior in lessons (she rarely accepts or repeats corrections and doesn't write down new words or phrases), I don't think so. I'm not broken-hearted about losing her as a student since she's relatively reactive and not interactive in the lessons which makes her a drain on my energy to teach. I guess time will tell if she comes back after a break or never returns for my lessons.

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