Well, at first, I thought this was an easy question to answer. Measure it by…well, by… – hold on, this is not an easy question to answer. How should a student measure and quantify their study? For example, is studying alone with a textbook the same as studying in a class with a teacher (a good teacher)? Is watching TV the same as doing a listening exercise specifically targeted at those learning English? Is passive study the same as focused or active study?
If, like me, you think these activities and approaches have different values and weightings then you have come to the right place. In this blog post I want to share with you a model of study I discuss with all of my students during the first one or two lessons I have with them. I call it: Blackjack or Bust!
So I am assuming you all know the game of blackjack – if you don’t then quickly watch the following clip and let Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman show you how it's played.
First, in the game of blackjack the goal is to score as close as you can to 21 (or 21 – but not more than 21) in order for you to have a good chance of beating the dealer and winning some money. In my game, Blackjack or Bust! (Trademark pending), the goal is very similar. Your student/s need to acquire more than the target score of 21 (or any other target you set) during the course of a given week. Of course, the goal of 21 is for students who are studying a language on a part-time basis, where they are only meeting a teacher for a few hours a week. For those students who are in fulltime language classes the goal might be 50 points or even 100 points (which makes keeping track of points a little more difficult).
But how do you score points? Easy – check out the summary below.
3 points are awarded for every hour spent with a native English speaker (or non-native English speaker with advanced language skills) or teacher focusing on teaching or developing one’s language skills.
2 points are awarded for every hour spent studying English (or the target language) alone (or in a group) from materials specifically designed to help people learn (e.g. language learning websites, textbooks, etc.), or by studying any material with the goal of developing one’s language skills.
1 point is awarded for every hour of non-focused, passive study. This means watching TV, listening to English radio, reading a book (for enjoyment), etc.
- Half points are awarded for every 30 minutes of study. Anything less than 30 minutes is not awarded a point, however if a student reviews flashcards or takes every opportunity to study they can award themselves discretionary points (see below).
- Discretionary points (a maximum of two) can be awarded for studying more than three days a week (not just studying everything on one or two days), for exerting effort, studying all four skills, and generally making an effort to improve one’s language skills.
Example 1: Let’s say Johnny, a fulltime office worker has a goal of scoring 21 points. He studies for 3 hours a week with a teacher, studies alone for 1 hour with his textbook (because his textbook is pretty boring), and does 8 hours of passive study (he watches Game of Thrones because everyone watches Game of Thrones, and reads Archie comics because he is old-skool). Johnny thought his effort was pretty good so he awarded himself 1 discretionary point. This means that Johnny has earned - (3 x 3) + (1 x 2) + (8 x 1) + (1 discretionary point) = 20 points (almost reaching his goal of 21).
Example 2: Jane is a student and has plenty of time to study so she and the teacher agree on a goal of 30 points. To get these points Jane attends 5 hours of teacher-led classes a week, studies from her textbook and uses other materials to really focus on learning for about 11.5 hours a week, and watches about 1.5 hours a week of TV. Jane also awarded herself the full two discretionary points as she thought her study was well spaced out during the week, used various activities and materials, and required her to use all of the four major skills (speaking, reading, writing, and listening). This means that Jane has earned – (5 x 3) + (11.5 x 2) + (1.5 x 1) + (2 discretionary points) = 41.5 points.
As you can see, this approach to study:
1. Empowers the student to take control of their own study
2. Allows students to pick and choose what they want to study
3. Makes study fun and challenging (but not competitive with other students – unless the student wants it to be)
4. Affords the teacher a way of designing homework tasks and study plans that match the student's time constraints
5. Encourages good study habits
6. Focuses on the process of learning (the product comes with time)
7. Allows the student to be an equal partner
8. Allows the teacher and student to engage in collaborative feedback (working with the student to offer advice on study habits to make sure all skills are covered during a student's study time etc.)
9. Is easy to quantify
10. Can be tailored to meet each individual student’s needs
One last point before leaving you - this method should not be taken to mean that watching three hours of television has the same value as studying for one hour with a teacher. No, not at all. This method should be used to help guide and show your student(s) that any type of study or engagement with the target language is of value. It should be used as a tool to help the teacher and the student work together to find the ideal mix between focused and passive engagement to best suit your students' personalities, traits, and learning goals.
I hope this approach can help you and your students like it has helped mine. I also hope it encourages your students to view learning as a process that they can be actively engaged in.
Thanks for reading,
Keep English Real!
Search terms: teach English in Korea, Joshesl.com, esljosh, esl blog, how to teach English, English teaching tips, Joshua Wedlock, creative teaching ESL EFL,