Can we Judge Ourselves Fairly or be our Executioners?

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All along these weeks, we have presented some of the five hypotheses that are part of Krashen’s Monitor Theory regarding Second Language Acquisition.

This week we are elaborating on the Monitor Hyphothesis: “…conscious learning can only be used as a monitor or as an editor” (Krashen and Terrel, 1983). Not surprisingly this editor may be very thorough when it comes to analyzing our own performance. How many times have we been frozen when the teacher asked for volunteers and our heart told us: “You know the answer,” but our head replied: “Wait! Not that fast. What if you missed one word or you make a mistake of any kind when you are answering the question? It is better to wait and see if another student gives it a try; you will see if you were right or wrong, why do you have to open your mouth now?” In doing so, students miss valuable chances to learn. Our classroom must be our safety net: we should encourage students to try and make mistakes. The pursue of perfection should not prevent students from trying out their own hypotheses, which in turn means that teachers should promote participation and should see error correction as one of the most effective ways to learn from our own mistakes.

The Monitor hypothesis explains the relationship between acquisition and learning and allows to see how dominant one is over the other.

We are used to monitor our performance in terms of learned grammar. Even when we emphasize that our approach is communicative it is revealing to analyze students’ answers when you asked in class: “What have we learned today?” and the answer is mostly a grammar point. True, but the grammar point is needed to express a function. The students’ beliefs are very much structured, and it is quite hard to show them a myriad of options that grammar structures can be used to form.

According to Krashen, the monitor (or the editor) plays a role in planning, editing and correcting. To activate our monitor, we should focus on form or prioritize correctness; we should know the rule (or think we do) and to have time to evaluate what we say.

The most common kinds of monitors are two:  over users (almost a merciless executioner) and under users. Over users can not always deviate from any single rule; under users may not have learned the structures or prefer to neglect it.

Does it mean that there is no escape? Not at all, there are also optimal users who are capable to use the monitor appropriately. Our personality does have a say in which group we fit: if we are extroverts, we tend to be under users; if we are introverts and perfectionists, we will become over users. Another important factor is lack of confidence.

Is it possible to become a fair judge and be optimal users? Indeed, but teachers should play a vital part in the teaching and learning process, inviting their students to make mistakes making sure that these are not going to be penalized or no points are going to be taken off.

A few days ago, I asked a student: What is going on? Why don’t you participate despite having a high level? He told me: “we prefer to participate in an anonymous way.” I could not help asking for clarification. He told me: “It is simple: we write on the board and the teacher corrects the sentences.”  Crystal clear. If we, teachers, do not change the misconception about making mistakes, we will get little impact on our students’ second language learning process.

What about you? Have you faced similar circumstances in your classes? What did you do to enhance participation and promote becoming optimal users of our inner judge?

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