Some time back I wrote a post about whether music practice tells us anything about practising language. I enjoyed thinking about it, and especially interviewing musicians to get their take on what was/is going on. There seemed to be a consensus that to be effective, practice (of music, that is) needs to be focused, deliberate, and maybe conducted in short bursts, rather than lengthy sessions.
But music and language aren’t a perfect fit, perhaps, even if there are many crossover points. And so I’ve done talks (and a blog post) etc on drilling and other things to try and tease out what makes language practice good. I got so excited about it (yes, sad, I know) that I proposed the topic of this blog post for a course I am running at the Instituto Cultural Anglo Uruguayo in a few weeks in Montevideo.
I am by no means the first person (or the last) to try and tease out the characteristics of good practise. In her seminal Grammar Practice Activities, Penny Ur suggests validity, quantity, success-orientation, heterogeneity,and interest as the necessary features we need.
Scott Thornbury discussed automaticity (repeating the need for practice to be genuinely communicative, psychologically authentic, focused, formulaic and inherently repetitive from his book How to Teach Grammar – and in his blog post he traces the origins of these characteristics), and the desirability (or otherwise) of imitation in his A-Z of ELT blog. In recent conversation he (Scott) reminded me of the amazing Carolyn Graham and her Jazz Chants – a memorable way of having students repeat things.
Another metaphor which I used in my drilling blogpost (see above) was that of actors learning lines and repeating them night after night – but always slightly differently. Is that what practice should be like?
Is there enough TIME for good practice?
Questions, questions. I know that I’m longing to go to Montevideo to see what an intense three days of working on these questions will provoke in me and the participants. Any help you can give – to broaden out the conversation (!) would be greatly appreciated by me. And them!