A lot of lessons on teacher-training courses focus on discrete language points – and yet we know that students don’t learn just what teachers teach.
On CELTA, the lesson formats are easily “trainable”, and they are a good place to start for people who are new to language analysis. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to fit these formats with what we know about second language acquisition (SLA) research, which points to the fact that languages are mainly learned incidentally through exposure, and where meaning is usually implicit.
So are we trying to force square pegs into round holes here?
Partially, yes. But let’s not forget that half of the course is devoted to skills lessons where students delve into texts. Trainees aim to maximise students’ participation in class, and create opportunities for real language use wherever possible – all opportunities for incidental learning. They gradually learn not to expect students to have mastered any particular structure after one short lesson, but to see this lesson as just one episode in a chain of encounters with language.
Clarification stages are ideally kept concise, and focus on some useful pedagogical “rules”; students are additionally given the opportunity to discuss the reasons why certain structures are used. This is all in line with Mike Long’s conclusion about teaching, namely that “instruction is successful which recruits temporary episodes of explicit learning as an aid to subsequent implicit processing.”
Some training in clarification of language points is obviously essential for a language teacher; such clarification can be very helpful when done judiciously. Still, learning not to overvalue explicit teaching can be a tough lesson.