From Parrots to Puppet Masters: Fostering Creative and Authentic Language Use with Online Tools
John Milton (2005)
Zeng (1999) points out that people believe the force-fed pedagogy makes teachers and students find themselves trapped (cited in Milton, 2004). Traditionally, students, especially those in China are considered to be ‘parrots’ because of the exam-oriented English language education system. In the class, students are encouraged to repeat teachers’ words for several times. Also, teachers give students rules of knowledge and the students apply them to their studies. As a result, students, particularly those in EFL classes, in China are often thought to be lacked of creativity.
In the article, Milton shows that computer and Internet would seem to be a way to address these problems (p. 243). The incorporation of online elements into a curriculum has been thought to promote instruction and autonomy (Barneet, 1993). Therefore, in the study, Milton developed a course delivery and student management system specifically to manage language learning. In the system, Milton wrote four tools of lanauge learning. Firstly, ‘Targeting Oral Fluency: Asynchronous Voice Messaging was written. It focused on the fluency practice online. Secondly, ‘Online Data-driven Language Learning’ which helped students find out the collocation properties of the language. After it, ‘Providing Feedback on Student Writing’ was written. It contributed to writing accuracy. Finally, ‘Online Role Plays’ which could motivate the creative use of language was included. The system encourages independence and life-long learning skills.
Among these four tools, I am most interested in the last one, ‘online role plays.’ Although role play is often held in class, the setting of the classroom sometimes hinders the outcome of the activity. For example, students have to move to the front of the classroom from their seats. When they stand in the front of many students, they may feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. In consequence, it may probably affect the expected function of role play. On the contrary, online role play can reduce students’ anxiety which they face in classroom. In the Internet, students may feel freer to express themselves and show their creativity. Also, online role play provides students platforms to use the second language outside the classroom because they can seldom speak in L2 in their daily life.
In conclusion, I think that online tools can benefit both language teaching and language learning. It liberates learners from the wooden limitations of traditional pedagogy by cultivating students’ independent learning. Therefore, it is necessary for Chinese teachers to try to adopt new and flexible teaching approaches.