If flexibility is about responsiveness, then the Let’s Talk program offered by the Student Learning Commons (SLC) is a prime example of a flexible approach shaped by and to the needs of its participants.
Donna McGee Thompson, head of SLC, says the program is designed for English as an Additional Language (EAL) students who want to become more comfortable communicating in English, and its structure is deliberately informal. Tim Mossman, EAL coordinator, was the SLC lead responsible for developing the program and training peer facilitators.
“Once per week students come to the group and participate in a series of fun and engaging discussion-based activities led by peer educators to gain confidence and proficiency in spoken English,” says McGee Thompson. “The activities are individualized—students speak about their own experience and then hear from others. It’s not a lecture or workshop format. Instead, the focus is on the individualized conversations to facilitate reflection on personal experience.”
The conversational format in a setting where they are not being evaluated means students relax and share more about their issues, says McGee Thompson. This element is a key pedagogical underpinning of the program.
Let’s Talk actually has three iterations: Let’s Talk Business for Beedie students, Let’s Talk Psychology for first-year psychology students, and the general Let’s Talk program for EAL students from all disciplines. In every case, says McGee Thompson, the secret of success is the program’s use of peer mentors, students who are willing to support their peers in their educational —and cultural— journey.
While general guidelines exist, Let’s Talk has no limitations and is designed for flexibility to ensure the comfort of all who participate. Some students attend regularly for an entire semester; others may drop in once or twice. Participants discuss a new topic each week that incorporates vocabulary development, listening comprehension, pronunciation, and critical thinking—but it’s all malleable, based on what the participants are keen to discuss or need at a given time.
Although the program is not directly related to students’ academic work, its goal is to increase their confidence and comfort level in approaching their TAs and professors with questions, and to participate in group work with other students. It’s also an example of how flexible education extends to the ways in which we establish a supportive environment around learning activities.
Let’s Talk is designed with international and new Canadian students in mind, but the program is open to all SFU students, as well as interested faculty and visiting professors. Any groups interested in exploring a customized EAL communication program for their students are encouraged to contact Tim Mossman to talk further: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information:
Let’s Talk: http://www.lib.sfu.ca/slc/services/eal/english-conversation-group
Let’s Talk Business: http://www.lib.sfu.ca/slc/services/eal/registration-form-lets-talk-business
Let’s Talk Psychology: http://www.lib.sfu.ca/slc/services/eal/registration-form-lets-talk-psychology