Meaningful Learning


I haven’t posted in so long. I told myself I’d be updating this much more regularly, but I have a good excuse. When you think about grammar, composition, and TESOL theories all day at school, the last thing anyone wants to do when they finally get home at night is to write blog entries about it.

Recently, as the instructor for the class I’m TAing for was going through a workbook exercise on parallelism, one of the problems really caught my attention. This is a page from the textbook for an advanced grammar class for ESL students. The class is focused on teaching them to apply the grammar they learn in terms of proofreading and editing their own academic essays. I’m a TA for this class.

As I’m going through the graduate program in TESOL, one theory we’ve learning about is the principle of meaningful learning. Basically, it’s the idea that students learn and retain the material better when it is presented in a way that they can relate to or in a way that means something to them. If the material is meaningful to the student’s everyday life, the student can make associations between prior knowledge already stored in the mind and new knowledge he/she is trying to obtain. In theory, those meaningful associations help students learn better. The page above (and this textbook as a whole) applies meaningful learning rigorously.

I like the idea and application of meaningful learning. The exercise above is based on a traditional Japanese story about marriage, parental expectations, and family obligations, topics most of us can relate to. Throughout this textbook, the author actively uses stories and examples that ESL students in particular may find meaningful.

I’m not exactly sure how meaningful the students found this text. For me, this exercise in particular really touched on the thoughts racing through my head about my relationship with my parents. Particularly, the last line:

8. Is it an irreconcilable conflict when the wishes of our parents and our wishes are different?

I’m not sure how much more helpful having meaningful content is for students learning grammar and editing skills (in this case, parallelism). This last sentence in particular really touches on a personal topic. I’m sure most of the students read through these sentences without a second thought as to how they can relate with the issues. However, there is no doubt that even for a native English speaker such as me, there is a point of intersection between the knowledge we acquire from textbooks and the experiences we reflect upon in everyday life, and that point can serve to be an effective way to make the commonplace stand out.


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