Extensive Watching

The last few years, I’ve been very focused on the role and possibility of video in the classroom. Especially the ascendancy of video as a learning material, a very malleable learning material. Also, the fact that we do have a new skill of English, a 5th skill – watching.

Download “Using Video In The Classroom: A Teacher’s Handbook“.

The other day, I had an interesting skype discussion with Dan Soriano (@danhummsoriano ) at the BC in Mexico City. He’s thinking of adopting a Flipped Classroom model as an experiment. During our discussion, I returned to a term I’ve used over the years, “Extensive Watching“. I’d like to outline this important concept for language learning here and get your own feedback, opinion, thoughts.

I’m a big fan of extensive reading. It works. If done properly, it allows students to acquire a lot of fluency quickly (so long as equal attention is paid to speaking). However, the rub these days is that many students don’t want to nor like reading. It’s just a fact that I’ve run across time and time again in the classroom. I think it has to do with;

a) Visuality being an ever-present force and medium now – through the internet, TV, film etc…

b) Communication. Youth are so connected, never alone and a book entails the place and discipline to be alone with self. Today’s youth want a shared experience, a social experience. A book is in their head, the images in their head – something is never shared. A film / video has an objective visual reference and is more shared/social.

As I’ve outlined before, the Gutenburg Galaxy is waining. The role of text is taking a backup role to the cool medium that is the visual realm. This entails a change on the part of teachers. We should now update Day and Bamford’s classic and call it “Extensive Watching“. I took down the book from my shelf and revisited it. It can simply be re-written for this new media focus.

Students “watch” at their own level and through this massive watching of video with language in context, can, do, will achieve rapid language acquisition.

I looked at pages 7-8 of the book, “The Characteristics of Extensive Reading” where the authors outline the criteria which establish extensive reading. I think it would be useful to rewrite this to outline the characteristics of extensive watching (and in a future post, I’ll outline the differences, however obvious, with the “extensive listening” approach).

The Characteristics of Extensive Watching

1. Students WATCH as much as possible. (preferably outside of the classroom – following the flipped model of the language classroom)

2. A variety of videos/film is available in a variety of genres and topics so as to encourage watching for different reasons and in different ways. Books with audio and many visuals and short pieces of texts may also be used as part of multi-modal reading.

3. Students select what they want to watch and have the freedom to stop watching when the video fails to interest them.

4. The purposes of watching are related to pleasure, information and general understanding. The purposes are determined by the nature of the videos and the interests of the students.

5. Watching is its own reward. There are few exercises after watching and only for quickly reinforcing the material.

6. The videos are well within the linguistic competence (level) of the student. Video gives context and allows for a “wider” leveling. Dictionaries are used after the viewing and rarely during the watching of the video. Subtitles in the L2 may or may not be used depending on the objectives of the learning.

7. Watching is both shared and individual. Videos if possible, to be discussed and used as scaffolding material into purposeful communication and speaking practice.

8. Watching speed is at the natural rate of the media’s speakers. Whole watching is the recommended practice rather than stopping and reviewing video.

9. Teacher’s orient students to the goals of the program (communicate the rationale), explain the methodology (how to) and track what students watch, and guide students to get the most out of the program.

10. The teacher is a role model and watcher. They participate and watch what students watch. The extensive watching classroom is a place of equality and a decreased power dynamic between teacher and learner.

To wit:  Extensive Watching works and fosters student self learning and monitoring. It also has the added benefit of having pragmatic features of language (body language, postures, gestures etc…) that help the learner immensely (think of how a baby “makes meaning out of sound”).

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