Keeping an eye on the Big Picture but don’t let it terrify you!

From Microsoft Clipart

Keeping an eye on the Big Picture but don’t let it terrify you!

I’ve noticed recently how a lot of us want to learn everything straight away, and my students, despite the fact they are all intelligent young people become very despondent when they don’t see results immediately. I sympathise because I’m exactly the same: if I start learning a new language, or to play a musical instrument, for instance, I want to be able to use it to communicate articulately after just a few days!! This is a tall order indeed. Of course, we need to keep an eye on the big picture, which is to become the latest virtusos guitar player, but it is also important to focus on the small steps we are taking to reach that goal. so it made me think when I was reading an article on Learning, as we are fond of saying, is a journey and each journey consists of thousands of small steps, each one just as valuable as the next.

Goal Setting and Rewards

This is why setting goals and rewarding yourself as you go is so important. The thinking behind portfolios reflects this practice and it is widely used in all sorts of areas. To give you an example which is not related to language learning, I know that the only time I lose weight is when I am motivated enough to set  daily goals and give myself weekly rewards if I reach them (not a bar of chocolate, or course 🙂 ) Of course, I need to think that I want to lose 5 kilos overall, but that does not mean I can’t celebrate losing half a kilo or even 200 grammes along the way.

Exams are important but so is learning

For many of my learners this is a difficult practice to get into. Universities tend to stress the importance of the exams and the results without highlighting the process along the way. This puts all of us under a lot of pressure to perform well, and leads both teachers and students into focusing on the exams and exam strategies, rather than on learning the language, but most of these language students did not actually choose to study languages because they want to “pass exams”. They want to be able to travel, and work with the languages they are studying or some of them have a love of language itself or literature ( a few). All this tends to “get lost along the way” if life is overclouded by “exams”. After all, an exam should simply be a measure of your level, and not something that exists in its own right, but, of course, we have gone far beyond that and exams can mean the difference between getting a job or not… It’s hard to ignore this. And yet, I firmly believe that the way to success is made up of small steps, and that if you reward yourslef for each of these small steps then the final goal will appear on the horizon in next to no time, because you will be too busy learning the language, and improving your own competence, to be worried about that destination which seems to be so far away from you. So, if your learners listened to a podcast and understood the main ideas this week, when they couldn’t do that a month ago, this is what they should be celebrating. If they have learned some lovely new collocations then they should have fun using them and celebrate the new language they are learning now, at this moment.

Well, that was my thought for today, and now I’m off to celebrate the fact that I learned how to group the icons on my iphone screen. Another small step on the journey towards mastery. 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Keeping an eye on the Big Picture but don’t let it terrify you!

  1. What a great post to read the day before the national finals!
    I hope they do well tomorrow -at least I’ve tried to make them feel good along the way.
    Of course, being a special-ed teacher, there is a problem with everything. Sigh, Some of my really weak high-school students do not have ” a good grasp of reality”. After me congratulating them on the fact that they now read full sentences for the first time, they then think they are ready for the upcoming national finals, which of course they are a LONG way from. That requires reading articles, not sentences! How does one celebrate success while keeping an eye on where you are in relation to the big picture? But these kids don’t see it in any area of their lives, so this is a problem beyond language teaching…
    Naomi

  2. What a great post to read the day before the national finals!
    I hope they do well tomorrow -at least I’ve tried to make them feel good along the way.
    Of course, being a special-ed teacher, there is a problem with everything. Sigh, Some of my
    really weak high-school students do not have ” a good grasp of reality”. After me congratulating them on the fact that they now read full sentences for the first time, they then think they are ready for the upcoming national finals, which of course they are a LONG way from. That requires reading articles, not sentences! How does one celebrate success while keeping an eye on where you are in relation to the big picture? But these kids don’t see it in any area of their lives, so this is a problem beyond language teaching…
    Naomi

    1. It’s so difficult, isn’t it? Not to ovrrpraise, as it might give a false sense of what they can do, but at the same time to make them aware of the fact that they are making progress and should be proud of their achievements. I think learners also have to understand the whole process, and reward themselves along the way, as well as setting their own goals.

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