When I begin a course, I like to ask the students what motivates them to learn and what they hope to take away from the learning experience. Sometimes, these questions seem to surprise people. Some tell me “Isn’t it obvious? I am taking a German course to learn … German!” Others say something like “I must learn German (as quickly as possible), because …”. As the conversation continues, people share their motivations and expectations, which are rooted in their individual biography.
A course is a formal learning context, limited in time. Therefore, it helps students to clarify what they can expect to be able to do by the end of the course, provided they fully participate. The end of the course can be a good moment for a student to look back and remember what they were able to do at the beginning, and to compare it to what they can do now. In school, grades are a quantitative tool to tell students how well they did in achieving the course goals. However, grades are not necessarily providing a detailed description of someone’s skills, because they are designed to compare and quantify task performance of a group of students. A better way to approach evaluation is to give students a roadmap of the learning terrain and to tell them how far they are expected to advance during the course. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR) is an example of such a roadmap. This roadmap takes the form of description of communication skills, which include linguistic competences as well as sociolinguistic and pragmatic competences. Students need to know which competences they can develop when they participate in the course activities.
As a teacher, I am interested in how students integrate language learning into their daily activities. Sometimes the only place where they are engaging in learning is the classroom and while doing homework. But I encourage students to take the time to explore the language they are learning. What can they use it for? What can they discover about it? With whom can they interact after class? I have noticed that students who use German on their own terms while they are participating in a course are motivated to participate in the class activities. In addition, using a language while studying it provides opportunities to practice aspects related to the course. The internet provides a wide range of possibilities to do just that. This, in turn, more often than not helps students in the texts and exams.
From my perspective, every learner is a language user from the moment he decides to learn a language. Using a language means that people are engage in activities that serve their needs and interests. My task as a teacher is to invite them to reflect on these activities and to encourage them to acknowledge themselves for their achievement. Learning is an ongoing process that never ends. Achievements are the stepping stones of future successes.