• Learning modes: Young learners vs. adults

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    he role of a teacher is a vast and varied one and there is a considerable amount of factors that will affect this role. One of the main factors that really effects how and what we decide to teach is the age of the students. For instance you could not walk into a classroom full of eight year old primary school children with the same lesson plan designed for teaching a group of 3rd year degree students. Other then the differences that would occur in academic ability, between these two groups, people of different ages have very different needs, competences and cognitive skills. For example, it is through play that much of children's early learning is achieved. (1) ‘The physical, socio-emotional and intellectual development of children is dependent upon activity’. Where as adults use a greater quantity of abstract thought.  

    When considering how we should teach different age groups we first need to take a look at the differences in the way that these age groups learn. For instance young children learn not just from explanation but also from the other stimulus they receive surrounding the explanation for example what they hear, what they see and even what they touch and interact with. (2) ‘Their own understanding comes through hands and eyes and ears. The physical world is dominant at all times’. Traits you will see among children is enthusiasm to learn, they usually will be willing to ask lots of questions, have a happiness to talk about themselves and will respond well to learning using themselves and their lives as main topics, it is important to consider when teaching children, that most children possess a very short attention and concentration span and can get bored easily. They also need to be shown attention and approval from their teacher throughout the lesson.

    This requires the teacher of young students to be adaptive allowing their students to get their information from a variety of sources. You need to prepare an array of short exercises which keep the children’s interest, such as games, songs, drawing activities and activities that involve movement. (2)’children have an amazing ability to absorb language through play and other activities that they find enjoyable.’ More complex ideas like the structure and function of grammar should be kept to the bare minimum, very few children will be able to cope with the workings of grammar, they will generally learn the rules passively ‘how good they are at foreign languages is not dependent on whether they have learnt the grammar rules or not’.

    On the other end of the spectrum we have adults. Learning language as an adult according to Steven Pinker (3) 'often depends on the conscious exercise of their considerable intellects, unlike children to whom language acquisition naturally happens'. But being an adult means they can rely more on abstract thought. Adults also tend to be more disciplined and can struggle on despite boredom. They have life experiences to draw on which allows teachers to use a wide range of activities. They often will have clear aims and goals of what they want from English and this allows for continued motivation. Although adults can be more inflexible to try new teaching methods, they may have anxieties or be under confident from past experiences learning a language, they also may feel their intellectual power is diminishing. Alan Rogers believes that the intellectual power of adult learners (4) ‘is directly related to how much learning has been going on in adult life before they come to a new learning experience’.

    When teaching adults(5)‘you can involve more indirect methods of learning through reading, listening, communicative speaking and writing’. You can break down to adults the complex grammatical and phonetically structure of the English language and an adult is more likely to understand the rules and use their intellect to learn consciously how the use of English language is applied. As the attention span of an adult is longer we can also prepare activities that last for a considerably longer amount of time, then that of a child. Bad effects of past learning experiences can be diminished by offering activities that are achievable and listening to students concerns modifying what we do to suit learning tastes.

    So from this we can see how important it is to know the needs of your audience before preparing a lesson. Although some things remain constant, for example it is important to form a good relationship with your students to be patient and remain professional at all times to help inspire them to learn.

  • Young Learners vs. Adults

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    The learning style of young learners, although has similarities to Adult Learners, also has many distinct differences.

    Young learners are usually in a learning environment because they are directed to learn by their parents or other adults. They learn as they are told it will benefit them in the future. Young adults usually learn what is presented to them by the teacher, like to be challenged, and are open to new ideas. They see an adult teacher as a role model and depend on them for the material they are to learn.

    It is important to keep classes interesting to keep the students stimulated and excited about what they are learning. If they like what they are being taught they will absorb it quickly. Young learners usually have a fairly short attention span, are curious and are full of energy; therefore, it is important to keep the class active - changing activities often and using interactive fun activities.

    Keeping young learners motivated can also be a challenge. Children are often very demanding, needing the teacher’s attention. They love praise and recognition for their ideas and their good grades. It is important for the teacher to get to know the students and to draw on each student’s ideas, strengths and interests. If the teacher can build on the skills the students have already developed, it will make them feel important and increase their self-confidence.

    If young adults act out, disciplinary action may have to take place. It is important to clearly state that the action is inappropriate; but often students are acting out because their needs are not being met. If the teacher looks for ways to involve the student and to recognize what he/she does well, the unacceptable behavior will usually be replaced with a more positive attitude.

    Adult learners on the other hand are more self-directed and will take learning seriously, as they are investing in their own education. Adults usually have a purpose in learning and need to see the personal value or reward in taking the classes. Attendance problems are not usually a problem with adults as they are usually there because they want to be. Learning is their Choice.

    Adults like to be in control of their lives and feel responsible for themselves; therefore it is important to listen to their needs and ideas and to integrate them into your lesson plans. Although adults learn slower than young learners, they bring many years of life experiences to classes. These experiences and the knowledge they bring can be drawn on to make classes very interesting and interactive. Adults love to share their experiences and can gain in confidence by being listened to and given recognition.

    Contrary to young learners, adults can learn through lectures, but they also require a lot of interaction and group activities to keep their attention.

    Keeping adults motivated is crucial in their learning process. Giving them recognition for their ideas, and giving them praise for their accomplishments can accomplish this. Some adults have not been to school for many years and are lacking in confidence, it is important to keep them interested and motivated to help them raise their confidence and self esteem.

    Other challenges, a teacher may have with an adult class is factors of aging, such as hearing loss, vision problems, mobility and memory. Depending on the demographics, the teacher will have to make concessions.

    We can see that there are quite a number of differences in teaching young learners and adults, but there are also similarities. Both groups will require clear instructions from their teachers, and will learn more when being challenged and given praise for what they do well. All people need a climate of Respect, Trust, Support and Fun to be successful in learning. The teacher is there to guide the learning through well-planned and appropriate lessons and to set a comfortable learning environment for the growth of the students.

    Kathy Hookham

  • Young Learners vs. Adults

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    When examining the many facets of education, it would seem initially that the methods or modes of teaching two such diverse age categories would be as clear as the difference between a 12-year-old schoolgirl and a 56-year-old road sweeper. Certainly there are many varied differences in how both age groups should be taught, but this article, while highlighting these supposed differences, will concentrate on the similarities. After all, education is education, both involve teaching and learning, whoever or whatever the individual behind the desk may be.

    The most obvious similarity between the methods that should be used for both of learners, is that whatever the lesson, it should be a well-structured and well-planned affair. If it is taken that our young learners as those under 15 and our adults as those over 21, both youngsters and adults require a clear defined pattern of structure for their learning.

    While it is perhaps an obvious statement that children require structure and planning, adults are no different, especially when they are a paying customer. They will expect no less than a professional individual with a level of professionalism that they will have in their own career (1).

    While structure and planning are high on the list of factors concerning a successful learning environment for all ages of learners, there is another main aspect of teaching that is similar for both our subject groups- simply that of enjoyment. One could argue that one can only enjoy a lesson if there is structure and planning and much rests on the shoulders of the teacher to provide an environment where both adults and children are comfortable and confident to express themselves fully.

    If you're positive and walk in smiling, 99% of the time you'll get a similar response. The more enthusiastic you are the more they get involved." (2)

    However both young learners and adults require activities that are enjoyable. In the context of teaching, fun activities are those where the learning seems almost accidental and both subject categories can be seen interacting with high levels of student talk time. Games are a perfect example of this and are a key teaching tool for both children and adults, enabling the learning of not only new material but also the ability to speak English in a relaxed and friendly. Children, especially those with a short attention span, enjoy a colourfully decorated classroom and short and varied fun activities including songs, stories and role-playing. Yet they are not alone in enjoying this type of activity. Adults, especially those in Thailand, seem to enjoy role playing and games just as much as their young counterparts and the majority of them seem to have no complexes about potential embarrassment.

    Learning will be more efficient in activities or games when the students find them interesting” (3)

    While these factors mentioned are but two reasons why teaching adults and children are similar, what of any differences? Certainly the issue of motivation and why a student is attending classes is most likely the key difference. One can presume that those of school age are ‘being made’ to attend by eager parents while those who long ago left school are now aware of how an improved level of English assists their career earning prospects. Certainly this factor has an influence on one’s teaching as if one has to contend with disciplinary problems then the amount of time spent on teaching and therefore learning will be significantly decreased.

    However to conclude this point, and significantly the issue of adults and children in the classroom, it is down to the ability, professionalism and character of the teacher to create a positive learning environment. If this can be created through well-structured, well-planned and fun, enjoyable activities then the issue is not about differences between our two subject areas, but creating an environment when all of us, students and teachers work towards the common goal of enjoying English taught as a foreign language.

    Adam Gibson