My students are an observant lot. Certainly, they know when  I’ve had a particularly poor night of sleep despite my best efforts to conceal the fact with inordinate quantities of Nescafe Azera. We are in each other’s company a lot so I suppose noticing subtle nuances of look or behaviour is to be expected. But one particular individual, possessed of Sherlock Holmes-like powers of observation, managed to point out the other day that I wasn’t wearing my usual pair of shoes. Unremarkable, if the pairs had been of an obviously different colour or style, but these two pairs are SO similar, near identical in fact, but for some irregularity in the patterns of scuffing!

FCE Use of English part 3 (you know the one, changing the form of given words to fit gaps in sentences) has been a bit of a sticking point for my exam preparation group of late. In a recent lesson, a can of worms was inadvertently spilled when a question about the rules relating to the use of a particular prefix lead to my attempting, in as clear a way as possible, to map them out on the board. What we ended up with was very colourful (I used different colours for the various rules) but so convoluted and obscure that it seemed to single-handedly trounce the former enthusiasm for learning the very rules it was intended to elaborate.

Enter the inductive learning method. For those not acquainted, inductive learning places the prerogative for understanding new rules (e.g. of grammar) upon the learner themselves by the performance of tasks through which they are able to ‘notice’ the rule that underlies them. It contrasts with the more commonly seen situation, that of deductive learning, whereby rules are learnt (from a teacher) before the practice takes place. Apart form providing common grounds for discussion with a ‘puzzle’ for students to solve collaboratively, inductive learning, it is supposed, also aids retention, as the students recollect the process by which they arrived at their conclusion as to the nature of the rule as well as the result.

As with any other approach, the facilitation of inductive learning is not meant to be exclusive in the classroom but rather used in combination with other approaches. In the case of Use of English part 3, I can see real potential in   having students work together to try to ‘notice’ the rules of word mutations through very specifically arranged tasks presented, not as part of the exam, but as puzzles.  It’s something I’m intending now on trying out in the coming week, in a bid to harness the proclivity existent in the class for noticing the little things…

What experience do you have of inductive learning? Are there particular aspects of language learning (or particular tasks, as above) for which you can attest to the effectiveness of the inductive method? Write in and let us know!

Tristan Francis
Director of Studies

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