We are fortunate here at our school to have volunteers who come regularly to our classes one or two hours a week to have conversation with our students. They are ordinary people from a variety of backgrounds. They speak like Kiwis, not teachers. Some have been coming for up to nine years.
Most of our students have learned English at school with an emphasis on grammar. They write (words in gaps), read (and underline paragraphs with red, green and blue pens to identify subject, verb and predicate), they may hear (a teacher with an accent, or a tape), but they will never ever have the chance to speak.
This is why it is so valuable for them to have a chance to take part in natural conversation.
This term I have combined two classes so that a pool of up to 8 conversation assistants is available to every student. I have asked students to form small groups by themselves, including students from both classes and more than one language.
Each week each student chooses a different assistant. Each week the student receives a sheet on which the assistant may make comments about pronunciation and manner or speaking. By the end of the term each student will have a collection of valuable feedback.
However, it isn't always easy. People are shy to form groups. Students with less English than others are embarrassed to speak in front of those with more. Conversation assistants sometimes get impatient or frustrated.
I have a few ideas for changes next week.
Another change is that our school will locate onto another campus. There we will need to put in place other changes, if we are to remain/become financially viable.
We live in interesting times - which is originally a Chinese expression, I believe!