Practicing making questions with Past, Present, Future Simple using biographies of famous people

This is a simple activity if you want your students to practice making questions (or other activities that use the same tenses) in Past, Present, and Future tenses. There are 2 notions behind this activity:

  1. Tenses are usually taught separately and in isolation from each other. Inspired by Bloom’s Taxonomy, I was trying to apply an activity where students could make comparison between tenses. In this case because they have learned Present Simple, Past Simple, and Future Simple, thus this activity was created.
  2. After reading about Whole Language approach in language teaching and the importance of using authentic instead of artificial (read: textbook like) materials, I was intrigued to use more authentic materials in my class. The biography used here is an example.

Few notes before you do this activity:

  1. Make sure students have already learned about the 3 tenses and done some other necessary activities to practice them.
  2. Choose biography of a famous person who is still alive, because you need your students to also make predictions about the biographee’s life in the future to practice Future Simple Tense.
  3. You can choose to use biography in form of text, video, or the combination of the 2 where different types of skills are in practice.

Here’s how I did it:

  1. I used Bill Gates’ (mini) biography from Bio.com’s YouTube channel.
  2. Before viewing the video, students were divided into pairs.
  3. Students watched the biography, twice (more if you like).
  4. Each pair was instructed to make 3 questions using Past Simple, basically making questions about Bill Gates’ past.
  5. Before the next task, members of the group were swapped.
  6. Each pair was then instructed to make another 3 questions, this time using Present Simple, asking about Bill Gates’ current life.
  7. Members of the group were again swapped.
  8. Each pair for the last time was instructed to make 3 questions using Future Simple, making predictions about Bill Gates’ future.

At the end of the question making, you can ask students to either correct other groups’ questions or answer them. Here are some questions my students made, with few additions from me:

Past Simple Tense:

  1. Where was Bill Gates born?
  2. When did he found Microsoft?
  3. Did he drop out of school?

Present Simple Tense

  1. What does he do now?
  2. What is the name of his foundation?
  3. Is he a creative person?

Future Simple Tense

  1. What will Bill Gates do in 2014?
  2. Who will replace his position?
  3. Will he go bankrupt?

I hope this is useful for you. Don’t forget: like, share, comment. 🙂

Advertisements

Dear students, this is what your homework really means to you

I was so embarrassed… To have given a speech in front of my class. But it was a speech I had to give.

Last week, a student from my business English class complained about me giving too much homework. I have to say this is a typical issue in adult classes. I understand they have lots on their plates: work, family, spouse (husband/ wife), kids, other stuff in other places, etc. In the past, what I usually did was let them get away with it. I would usually just give in to the idea that they should not be given any homework. But not today. Not again. So, what was the homework actually about?

I asked them to do pair work to present a topic on English tenses. Each group was assigned to prepare and present one tense based on the number they got. I mentioned about this assignment on this blog a little bit here. The presentation did not have to be perfect (probably only according to my point of view). I let them find their own materials and make the presentation outside class, and they did not have to prepare any handout. The supervision was done at the presentation.

When you teach at school, it’s easier to give your students homework. However, when you teach a group of adults, they will have all the reasons not to do it. Usually the higher their position is in the company, the more reasons they have to avoid doing it. To some extent, some adult students also think (probably because they are used to other people do the work for them?), that the success of their learning relies solely on what their teacher can make of them.

For all we know, as an English teacher, this kind of mindset is a bit… misleading. I believe, just like the Chinese proverb, teachers open door but students must enter by themselves. They have to be actively involved in and responsible for their own learning. And so with a smile and a bit of wrinkles on my forehead, I replied:

“English is not a content subject where you can read a book one night and suddenly speak English the next day. One needs to constantly keep in contact with the language. We only have two times 90 minutes a week. Do you really think that your English will improve in just 3 hours a week? I personally think as an English teacher, no, it won’t. That’s why I’m giving you homework. The homework functions as a bridge. The bridge to connect the time you learn in class and outside class. So you will not forget that you are learning English when you’re not here.

This is not the first time I teach adult class, and I’ve seen many classes I taught did not give significant change in my students’ English. And I don’t want that to happen. Again. Especially to this class. I learned my lesson. Do you want this class to be effective? Do you want your learning to be successful? Well, I’m sorry that I have to break the truth: there’s no shortcut to success. You have to do the hard work. If you have a particular goal, I’m pretty certain you will somehow do anything possible to reach that goal. And I hope that’s what you do in this English class.

And so about the homework? That’s all for you, not for me.”

Do you think I am doing the right thing? Do you think that some tough love is necessary in teaching? Let me hear your thoughts. 🙂

Finally, my first Prezi!

I am currently teaching a 4 month course of business English at a travel company and have this idea of asking my students to present English tenses and other grammar points in front of the class, instead of having me doing that (a little bit tricky? No. I believe many have done that, and the idea of flipped classroom that has been a hype lately has inspired me in doing this).

But first, before I ask them to prepare their own presentations, I have to make one myself as an example (only as an example – sometimes it’s difficult to ask students [especially Indonesians] to make or create something without an example. So before they ask me to give an example and I come unprepared, I’m making one for them now). Since the topic of their first presentation session is tenses, I will have to start with the first tense: the Present Simple Tense. Here it is the Prezi I made, a very simple presentation and you can make ones that are more complicated.

If you’re having trouble viewing this presentation, you can also view it on Prezi site here The Present Simple Tense.

My impressions on Prezi:

  1. It’s fun.
  2. Very easy to make.
  3. Very visual and attractive – think about increasing your students’ attention span.
  4. Very simple and clean.
  5. Although it needs internet connection, it doesn’t really require large bandwidth to view.
  6. Downloading portable Prezi is not recommendable as it takes years (not literally) – applies in Indonesia with regular modem-based internet access only.

I’m assuming that many people (read: my business English students) haven’t tried Prezi, so there are 2 main tasks that I will have to do. The first would be to guide my students’ presentations on tenses. The second would be to guide them on using Prezi.

If you’re interested in using Prezi and haven’t tried it yet, feel free to sign up here Prezi Sign Up.

“Imagine tourist destination”: applying semi project-based activity in a business English class

After the success of using text message as homework in one of my ESP classes, I was tempted to try on a new project in a business English class that I taught last month. The business English class was set in a tour and travel company in Denpasar, Bali. It was a short course that lasted for only a month focusing on business (email) writing, communication and presentation skills. At first I planned to have the participants – who are mostly accounting staff – to present a tourist destination in Bali. However, after thinking that this might be too easy for them (as their level of English is somewhat above elementary to pre-intermediate), I changed my mind.

Just like the previous post, in this blogpost I will share about the activity – how I did it and what I achieved – and hopefully it will be useful for all of us.

The aims of the activity:

  1. To meet the objectives of the short course.
  2. To increase students’ engagement and participation.
  3. To promote creativity and active learning.

What activities were there:

There were 4 main sub-activities involved in this ‘Imagine tourist destination’ activity. They were:

  1. Students made their own original promotional brochures of an imaginary tourist destination of their choice.
  2. Students presented their imaginary tourist destinations in front of the class (their ‘audience’ – including me).
  3. Students wrote an inquiry and/ or reservation email playing a role to be an interested tourist to a selected presenter (or ‘the tourist destination’s management or reservation agent’).
  4. Students – acting as the company management – replied to an email from the interested tourist for a follow-up.

Skills practiced through the activity:

  1. Business (brochure and email) writing,
  2. Communication and presentation.

For how long it was done:

It took me at least a total of 5 meetings to complete the whole activity (note: a meeting lasted for an hour/ 60 minutes). 1 meeting for introductory activities and introduction to the activity, 2 meetings for presentations (there were a total of 10 students in the class), and 2 meetings for discussing email writing and giving feedback.

What the results were:

Promotional brochures

Some of the promotional brochures the students made

Some of the promotional brochures the students made

Most of the students came up with what I thought amazing ideas on imaginary tourist destinations. Here are some of them:

  1. The Moon Holiday by Spectacular Planets Attract Cosmic Explorer (SPACE)
  2. Magic Mountain Home Stay (on the foot of Mount Everest)
  3. East Bali National Park – Best Safari Journey Experience by Putra East Bali Safari Tour and Travel
  4. The Resto Plane (a dining experience on a plane around Bali)
  5. Waterfall Restaurant – Best Balinese Restaurant (a dining experience at the bottom of a waterfall in Bali)

All brochures were made and prepared well with shapes, images, and information that are enticing. Since the tourist destinations are imaginary, most of the titles successfully raised curiosity.

Presentations

A student presenting while the audience read the information from the brochure

A student presenting while the audience read the information from the brochure

I enjoyed the presentations mostly because both presenters and audience seemed to enjoy their roles. Although there were times code-switching happened, for example when a presenter suddenly switched to Indonesian when she could not think the English for some Indonesian words, the flow was smooth and communication was done right on target. Both presenters and audience were active, adding to the Q & A sessions’ dynamic. Some answers could be funny too. In short, it was fun and engaging.

Email writing

An email written by a 'travel agent' (of 'Food and Flower Centre')

An email written by a ‘reservation agent’ (of ‘Fruit and Flower Centre’)

Each student had to write 2 emails: one they wrote as a tourist and one as a reservation agent, replying to a tourist’s inquiry and/ or reservation. This is where the challenge lay. As accounting staff, their company might not ask them to make brochures. However, email writing is pretty much their everyday task. As the example above shows, minor mistakes in grammar were seen in most of the emails they wrote. I had only 2 meetings to discuss these mistakes when in fact I think the explanation and practice on email writing needs more time than that. It will be discussed in my conclusion below.

What I learned from this activity:

What made it work

  1. The activity promoted creativity, active learning, and critical thinking.
  2. It increased students’ engagement and participation.
  3. Students learned English using topics that are familiar to them and their work. This is important, especially in adult English classes.
  4. It helped build students’ confidence and fluency especially in communicating and presenting.

Why it did not work

These are the things I should fix if I wish to use this activity for future classes.

  1. Students needed more time to have grammar lesson, application, and practice. The best option would be discussing only grammar points that are specifically related to (their) email writing or exploring only parts where the mistakes were found the most. I did give introduction to email writing for 1-2 meetings before starting the activity, but it was not enough.
  2. A student felt (through the class questionnaire) that the activity did not have a ‘clear goal’. This was probably because she did not feel like ‘learning’. I need to check on my method in delivering the aims of the activity.
Some students posing with their works after the first presentation session

Some students posing with their works after the first presentation session

As usual, I am open to any input or suggestion. Or if you want to try applying something like this in your class (or something that is even better!), let me know. Until then, see you in another post. 🙂

Reference:

Doehla, Don. (2011, April 21). Using Project-Based Learning to Teach World Languages. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/world-language-project-based-learning-education-curriculum-don-doehla

Using text message (sms) as homework assignment in an ESP class

Maximizing potential with minimum resource.

Around two months ago I had my first meeting for an English for Specific Purpose (ESP) class that was specifically made for cashiers and shop attendants at a supermarket in Kuta, Badung. This surely wasn’t my first ESP class. That’s why I was partly worried that I would make the same mistake I did before with my other classes. I’ve been teaching English for the past five years and ESP has been one of the most frequent types of class I teach. Before deciding in using text message as homework assignment, I’d like to share my initial thoughts on previous mistakes I made:

My ESP students are of course mostly adults with very little (if not zero) exposure to English. Part of the problem why employers send them to an English class is because of this lack of exposure, but at the same time being enrolled in the class does not solve the problem. Why? Because they are engaged with English ONLY when they are in the classroom, in which only three times a week, 90 minutes for each meeting – that, if they’re lucky. Most of the time they prefer working than being in my English class thus making it to the 90 minutes a week can be considered an achievement.

Since I’m a believer (not Belieber, mind you) in the notion that language is acquired, not learned, then if I continued this practice (to have students only learn while they are in the classroom) I would contradict my own belief. I thought I had to find a way where students can at least be aware that unless they take control over their own learning and be actively involved in it, they can achieve the expected outcome. Thus: homework, something that reminds them of the English class they are taking, at home. However, the problem with traditional homework is that oftentimes it is boring and time consuming.

My original plan was: to ‘move’ the class to social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Apparently, after a very short survey, I found out that none of them were active users of both (only one is familiar with Facebook, but not an active user). It was my failure to realize that students’ social and economic background also plays an important role to this condition. Having this fact, I quickly figured out an alternative: text message, since all of them have mobile phones (these days no doubt it is more like a necessity than luxury).

So here’s how I did my text message homework assignment, the good, the bad, and the ugly:

Skills practiced through the assignment:

  1. Writing,
  2. Spelling and grammar/ accuracy,
  3. Vocabulary,
  4. Familiarity with common English expressions.

When it was done:

The homework was given on the second meeting (on Friday), coinciding with the beginning of the end of the week. I thought this would be a good reminder of the English class, at home, during the weekend. Students were free to choose to send the text message either on Saturday or Sunday. The task was checked and discussed in the next meeting, at the beginning of the next week (on Monday).

What the students were asked to do:

They were asked to send a simple text message to me (their teacher), saying “selamat berakhir pekan” (weekend greetings). I did not elicit how to say it in English nor what should they say. I only wrote the Indonesian phrase above on the board. My purpose was to let them initiate their own thoughts. They were free, tho, to ask their friends, relatives, or anyone, or find help in books or on the internet.

What the results were:

Out of total 11 students, 10 did their homework: 7 sent it to me on Saturday, 3 on Sunday. Here are the texts (with no editing):

  1. “happy lastweek mrs mino…. from ngurah”
  2. “Good Afternoon, Miss NENO. Happy last weekend for today. From KADEK SRI PURNAMA”
  3. “good afternoon ms. neno,,, it’s my homework, happy weekend ms. neno. thank’s before. from: sriwasih”
  4. “Happy weekend” [Mrs. Budani]
  5. “Hai,, good evening mrs neno, happy weekend,have a nice holiday for tomorrow.. thanks for teach me, you^re awesome, thanks so much, yulia purnamasari”
  6. “Have a nice weekend,to mrs neno,from suli.See you”
  7.  ”She you weken ms.Neno” [Tri]
  8. “happy weekend miss neno.” [Erna]
  9. “Morning miss neno. . . Happy niCe weekend. . .” [Selvi]
  10. “good morning Ms NENO,this nengah adi,have a nice weekend”

What I did in the next meeting:

The text message assignment was a good instrument to introduce them to these topics:

  1. Greetings,
  2. Titles and how to address people,
  3. How to actually say “selamat berakhir pekan” in English and other related expressions,
  4. Farewell,
  5. The correct spelling and pronunciation of all the above.

These five were the main topics, but I also touched a little on capitalization and punctuation (but didn’t over-emphasize them, since I realized their focus was more on the communicative function of the language). All the above points are useful for their everyday speaking practice at work, with both customers and coworkers. Teaching materials they can relate to is important in an ESP and/ or adult class. Please note that during the discussion of their homework, I wasn’t being judgmental in any way in order to show them they were allowed to make mistakes and obliged to learn from them.

What I learned from this activity:

This is definitely one of my favorite activities that I will continue using and modifying for my future classes. Like any other class activity, it has some advantages and disadvantages. I will start with the disadvantages.

The shortfalls:

  1. Skills practiced were limited to only writing and grammar,
  2. Text message character limit (up to only 160 characters) limited students to do longer task,
  3. Teachers should have lots of ideas for topic (repetition can lead to boredom).

The positive sides:

  1. It was a good tool to measure students’ basic knowledge,
  2. The task could fill the gap between the class and their everyday life – that learning does not take place only in the classroom,
  3. It was a good way to introduce topics that were presented in the next meeting,
  4. The task was time efficient, considerably cheap, and fun.

I could say that this assignment was a part of my experiment in making my class more engaging and effective. I would be very happy to receive any comment or input on any aspect of this experiment from you. Thank you and I hope you can find it useful.

Photo credit: mobighar.com.

NELTAL 2013: Workshop on Authentic Materials

Exploiting Authentic Materials as Alternatives to Textbooks

By F. Johansyah

Since the theme of this year’s NELTAL was ‘Materials and Media in English Language Teaching’, the use of ICT in classrooms and authentic materials were probably the two most popular topics to be delivered in presentations. During the 10.35 – 11.35 session (the parallel workshop session) I attended pak Johan’s workshop on ‘Exploiting Authentic Materials as Alternatives to Textbooks’. It was really useful and interesting. The basic concept is actually simple and that is why I believe the knowledge and skill given in the workshop can be applied by all English teachers despite their teaching concentration, students’ ages, and needs. The only thing I regretted was the time limit. I did not think an hour was enough for such a stimulating workshop.

Even 311 know better. If teachers were entertainers, they had got to come original.

The idea of the workshop as written in pak Johan’s abstract was to “give ideas for teachers to use some authentic materials to suit students’ need and to design really engaging and communicative activities for students to practice their language skills in real situations.” One aspect that he pointed out was how textbooks sometimes fail to provide materials that match students’ needs and class situations. As he put it, (the lessons then can become) “highly superficial”. This is due to the generic nature of textbooks, in which the writer made the books based on only one basic assumption or point of view (of his or hers) of what is important and interesting. This is true and I agree with the notion. During my early years of teaching I used textbooks most of the time, but as I gained experience I see how they can be irrelevant and outdated.

The focus of this workshop was the use of photograph as the source for authentic materials. Although I believe we can use many kinds of media, such as text, recording, video, etc. to do so (again, the time constraint…). In deciding what to do with the media we need to decide the activity that we are going to do. In presenting a model activity, pak Johan showed us a sample photo (slide 5) and began scaffolding the floating ideas with these questions (slide 6):

  1. What photo is it?
  2. Where/ when was it?
  3. Are you in the photo?
  4. If not, where were you?

Voila! An activity was finally created. Participants (or ‘students’) were then asked to ask these questions to a partner (someone sitting next to them). This simple speaking practice was then followed by another speaking activity with different instruction (slide 7). In creating your own activity using a photograph (an emphasis was on the originality of the photo – you can even use your own, or ask students to bring theirs), according to pak Johan, one must follow these criteria:

  1. General interest of the topic
  2. Grammar and vocabulary practiced
  3. Skills practiced
  4. Potential for task

Let me show you how it is done… My team (consisting of a lecturer from State University of Malang (UM), an English teacher from an agricultural vocational school in Jember, and myself) had to create an activity using the photograph below (slide 21):

Authentic photograph.

After some discussions, we finally came up with these findings:

1 General interest of the topic 1. Transaction at the plant market2. Describing plants/ flowers3. Instructions on how to take care of plants/ flowers
2 Grammar and vocabulary practiced 1. Vocabulary related to transaction2. Questions and answers3. Money, numbers, currency4. Types of plant/ flower5. Adjectives describing plants/ flowers’ physical characteristics

6. Prepositions

7. Comparative

8. Verbs/ imperatives for instructions

3 Skills practiced 1. Speaking2. Listening
4 Potential for task 1. Students are asked to create stories about what might have happened at the moment before the photograph and what might happen after (speaking/ listening)2. Students are asked to bring plants to be described/ presented in front of the class in the next meeting (speaking/ listening)3. Students are asked to write a composition about the photo and swap the writing with other students to be reviewed/ commented (writing/ reading)

It seems that there are an endless possibility in answering the 4 criteria above. I believe by the time you are reading this, you must have come up with your own ideas on what to do with the photograph above (I believe all teachers are creative!).

What I learned from this workshop is that how simple it is to actually use authentic materials in classrooms. I used to rely on photos, cards, recordings, and videos that I got from other sources, say for an example downloaded from the internet. Meanwhile authentic means you can use your own collection of photos, videos, etc. In the era where people collect memories wherever they go (with camera, smartphone, etc.) it is more likely that more teachers will use more authentic materials in their teaching practices.

Besides easy to find, authentic materials can also help teachers increase students’ retention. Imagine you give students a photo that does not connect to them in any way. I am sure they will find difficulties in remembering what being given. Then compare it to when you give a photograph of their friend, school, town, or maybe teacher. Same thing happened with the sample photo pak Johan showed us (slide 5). It was taken at the lobby of the hall the conference was held during the morning coffee break. The workshop’s participants were quite familiar with the photo and found it amusing.

Authentic materials help increase students’ retention, especially in adult learners. 

Since I mostly teach English for Specific Purposes (ESP), now I have better understanding on how to prepare my classes. No more confusion on finding the right materials. Use authentic materials! 😀

Here is the full presentation of pak Johan.

By Retno Sofyaniek (Neno)

Ms Neno has been an English teacher for 5 years and is currently teaching in Denpasar, Bali, for an English in-house training and tutoring provider she founded two years ago. She mostly teaches adults Hospitality English and English for Specific Purposes (ESP). Her love of sharing knowledge made her found @EnglishTips4U, a Twitter based English learning portal that is popular among young Indonesians. In seeing the need for English teachers to connect and collaborate, she founded Indonesian English Teachers’ Club on Facebook last year. She can be contacted at retnosofyaniek@yahoo.com. Visit her blog: Ms Neno’s Blog.

Photo credits:

1. SoundStageDirect.com.

2. Pak Johan’s collection.

3. Ms Neno’s collection.

“You’re never too old to learn”

“You’re never too old to learn.” -English proverb

Ada pepatah lama dalam bahasa Inggris yang berbunyi “You’re never too old to learn“, yang artinya “Kamu tidak pernah terlalu tua untuk belajar”. Banyak orang mungkin mengatakannya karena kalimat ini terdengar bijaksana dan keren, tapi profesi saya sebagai seorang guru membuat saya (secara tidak sengaja) membuktikannya sendiri. Dan ternyata memang benar. Umur tidak membatasi kemampuan belajar seseorang, selagi pikiran mereka masih bisa bekerja dengan baik.

Sebagai guru lepas (freelance), banyak orang bertanya siapa saja murid saya, berapa umur mereka, berapa umur termuda murid yang saya ajar, dan berapa umur tertua murid yang saya ajar, dan hal-hal lain dengan tema yang sama. Umur termuda murid yang pernah saya ajar (sekarang tidak lagi) sekitar lima tahun, tepatnya anak-anak yang duduk di bangku taman kanak-kanak. Well, sebenarnya tugas saya tidak benar-benar menjadi guru, tapi asisten guru yang mengajar mereka, sewaktu saya bekerja di sebuah lembaga pendidikan bahasa Inggris. Kelebihan mengajar anak-anak adalah persiapannya yang bisa dibilang tidak lama. Tapi… bekerja dengan anak-anak sama dengan menandatangani kontrak untuk mengajar sambil berolahraga dan berusaha bertingkah laku seperti mereka!

Selain persiapan yang minim (anak-anak tentu tidak harus belajar tentang Future Perfect Continuous Tense kan?), anak-anak begitu mudah untuk dipengaruhi karena… ya karena mereka anak-anak. Segala hal bagi mereka adalah baru dan menyenangkan. Hal sederhana seperti main kereta-keretaan bisa membuat mereka tertawa dan puas. Tapi karena mereka anak-anak, apa berarti kemampuan mereka lebih sedikit dari orang yang lebih tua? Oh, jangan salah. Benar jika ada yang berpendapat otak anak-anak itu seperti sponge (spons). Ajarkan mereka sesering mungkin bahasa Inggris di sekolah dan di rumah, penuhi hari-hari mereka dengan segala hal yang kebarat-baratan, dan para orangtua dijamin akan dengan segera membesarkan anak-anak Indonesia “bak bule”, berbahasa Inggris fasih dan bertingkah laku seperti orang barat.

Sementara itu, murid tertua saya? Well, saya tidak tahu pasti berapa umur bapak ini, tapi seorang staf pernah mengatakan pada saat saya mengajarnya, ia berumur kurang lebih 60 tahun dan sebentar lagi akan pensiun (usia pensiun pegawai swasta 65 tahun bukan?). Sebut saja nama bapak ini N. Kami bertemu waktu saya mengajar di sebuah villa di Canggu. Saya juga mengajar English for Hotel di Active English, walaupun sebelumnya saya juga punya pengalaman mengajar staf hotel selama setahun. N adalah seorang security officer atau satpam. Bersama dengan anggota security department yang lain, ia mengikuti kursus bahasa Inggris yang diadakan oleh pihak villa. Waktu itu saya sempat ragu dengan kemampuan dan keinginan belajarnya, mengingat usianya yang sudah cukup senja.

Tapi ternyata saya salah. Saya tidak bisa mengatakan bahwa N berbakat dalam bahasa Inggris, karena banyak orang yang lebih berbakat daripada dia. Tapi satu hal yang bisa saya ingat dari setiap pertemuan kami adalah… Bagaimanapun sulit bahasa Inggris baginya, ia terus berusaha dan tidak menyerah. Dari segi kerajinan ia biasa saja. Ia juga bukan murid yang menonjol, tapi saya tidak pernah melihat dia mengabaikan kelas atau materi yang saya berikan. Perilaku (attitude) yang cukup baik yang bisa mendukungnya untuk memaksimalkan hasil belajar. Yang membuat saya cemas justru bukan N, tapi salah satu murid yang berumur jauh lebih muda dari dia, tapi karena motivasi dan perilaku yang lemah, membuatnya menjadi yang terburuk di kelas. Katakanlah nama bapak ini A.

Umur A sekitar 40 tahun. Ia memang bukan yang terbaik di kelas, tapi yang membuatnya sulit untuk maju adalah pola pikir dan perilakunya. Suatu waktu ketika kelas berakhir, ia pernah berkeluh kesah pada saya bahwa sebenarnya ia tidak butuh belajar bahasa Inggris. Alasannya? Pertama, tempat ia bekerja seharusnya tidak perlu repot-repot mengeluarkan banyak uang untuk mengadakan kursus bahasa Inggris, karena seharusnya mereka lebih fokus pada menaikkan gaji karyawan. Ke dua, letak rumahnya yang cukup jauh dari tempat kerja memaksanya untuk bolak-balik rumah-tempat kerja untuk menghadiri kursus. Ke tiga, banyak saudaranya yang bekerja di hotel prestis (hotel bintang lima) dengan bahasa Inggris yang baik (yang artinya ada yang mengajarkan dia di rumah?).

Pada awalnya saya terkejut dengan segala yang ia ungkapkan. Saya berpikir, “Apakah saya salah telah mengajarkannya bahasa Inggris?” Lama-kelamaan saya sadar, semua yang dia katakan hari itu sesungguhnya hanyalah “topeng” yang ia kenakan untuk menutup-nutupi ketidakmampuannya. Mungkin kepercayaan dirinya sedikit terguncang. Tapi uniknya, N yang hampir sepuh tidak pernah melakukan ini. Tiap ada permainan atau tugas bersama, N akan berusaha untuk ikut berpartisipasi, entah itu dengan bertanya ke temannya yang lain atau meminjam catatan. A tidak pernah melakukan ini. Mungkin dia terlalu malu (atau angkuh?) untuk bertanya pada temannya. Ketika saya bertanya di depan kelas, N akan berusaha menjawab dengan nada lantang, sementara A akan berusaha menghindar untuk tidak menjawabnya.

Di akhir kursus, bisa ditebak, N mendapatkan nilai lebih baik daripada A (tentu nilai yang mereka kumpulkan bukan semata-mata berdasarkan hasil ujian, tapi lebih dari kumpulan hasil belajar sehari-hari). Walaupun begitu, saya cukup lega, karena setelah A menumpahkan curahan hatinya itu pada saya, dikit demi sedikit ada perubahan dalam perilakunya di kelas. Walaupun dia tidak sepenuhnya mengerti apa yang terjadi di dalam kelas, ia berusaha mengikutinya walaupun hanya dengan ikut tertawa jika yang lainnya tertawa (oh ya, kelas itu memang penuh dengan canda dan tawa). Saya masih ingat saya mengatakan ini di akhir curhatan dia, “Oh, apa bapak gak pengen kayak saudara bapak yang bahasa Inggrisnya bagus dan bisa kerja di tempat yang lebih bagus juga?”

Saya tahu cuma sedikit yang bisa saya lakukan untuk memotivasi dia untuk setidaknya lebih peduli pada kelas yang dia ikuti (atau kelas yang atasannya ingin dia ikuti dan ambil manfaatnya, demi kepentingan pekerjaan dan atasannya juga). Mungkin dengan menghubung-hubungkannya dengan sesuatu yang sudah ia kenal (yaitu saudaranya yang pintar bahasa Inggris dan bekerja di tempat yang lebih baik) bisa membuatnya berpikir bahwa kelas ini sebenarnya diadakan untuk kepentingannya juga. Di situ akhirnya saya bisa mengambil kesimpulan, bukan umur (muda) yang menentukan prestasi belajar kita, tapi motivasi dan perilaku kita tentang proses belajar itu sendiri. Jika kita menginginkannya, saya yakin tidak ada yang tidak mungkin. Jadi, jangan pernah berhenti belajar, berapapun usia Anda sekarang.