The Linguist

The Linguist 53,4

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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Vol/53 No/4 2014 AUGUST/SEPTEMBER The Linguist 19 FEATURES another sitting, which I avoid by sitting or squatting down next to students. I try to be aware of how my students are feeling, and keep the room warm and yet breathable in winter, and cool and aired in summer. Although the physical classroom environment is largely imposed on us, there are changes and variations we can make in the lighting, heating, layout, and in the visual and auditory stimuli around the room. Depending on the task, I lower the lights or shut the blinds. For writing and reading a brighter room is necessary; for speaking or listening lower lighting may be appropriate. The desks are not fixed to the floor, and it only takes a minute at the beginning or end of a lesson to move them around, or completely out of the way – yet I rarely do this. Sketching my movements on the seating plan (left) has made me realise that I should allow students to move around more. Walls are often covered with posters to cover their poor state of repair, but it takes a few hours at the end of the year to repaint them. Displays can be interactive (physically or technologically), and students can contribute to their design and content. The classroom can be as quiet or as loud as we decide with our students, although limits should be put on levels of noise and light in order to avoid long-term damage to eyes and ears. I like a relatively noisy classroom, where students are interacting (preferably as much as possible in the target language), but I set my limit at 70 decibels. I use an app on a tablet to measure this, and to show students when they have hit an unacceptable noise level. I find that this works very well and students respond quickly to the visual prompt of the needle going into the red. I occasionally allow pupils to listen to music when they are working as I find this more effective than playing music in the background. The condition is that they do not constantly change track or play on their phones. A year ago I would not have allowed this for various reasons, including use of phones in class and scientific studies on multi-tasking. I have found, however, that I have started working to music at home when I need to concentrate, as I have three children and can usually hear what one of them is doing. So I can understand the desire to isolate oneself through music in order to concentrate better. The proof has been in how much work is produced during these periods of quiet writing. I do believe in providing students with occasional experiences of silence, if only to get them used to what happens in exams. There does appear to be a mentality that students should endure the physical conditions of the school and the classroom and that this will teach them something in itself. I do not subscribe to this way of thinking. The physical environment of my students is important to me, and I try to use my own experience to inform what I would want for them. If I find it uncomfortable to be seated in a hard chair for an hour, then they surely will too. If I find the neon lighting hurts my eyes, it will hurt theirs too. If I must remain seated for an hour and cannot stretch my legs, I start fidgeting and understand that some students will too. I understand that, for many of my students, learning a foreign language is intimidating and difficult; many are shy about speaking aloud or volunteering an answer. It is vital to put learners at their ease in a language classroom, to remove the fear of making mistakes, and to make learning both comfortable and fun. Changing rooms The more I reflect on this question of the physical environment of my classroom, the more I realise that there is a disconnect between what happens and what I would like to happen. Much of what happens is dictated by the physical space, the resources available and by school policies, but there is also a great deal I can change. Although I am in a secondary school, and perhaps 200 students a fortnight pass through my classroom, I could easily speak to some of them about what changes they would like to make to the classroom environment. The Stoics were reputed for putting up with a lot, but even they acknowledged that, while some things are outside our control and must be endured, others are within our control and we should try to change them. I like a noisy classroom where students are interacting in the target language, but I set my limit at 70 decibels MOVING ABOUT: Rory's Year 10 French class at Thomas Hardye School in Dorchester

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