Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How long should a class or lesson should be?

Question today comes from one of the fellow language teachers, Maria:
Generally classes and lessons are either 50 minute long or 90 minute long. How long do you think is the best for private lessons on line?

Dear Maria,

This is a great question for both students and instructors.

In short, here's what I do:

As you said, 50 or 90 minute per session is general practice. I too keep all my sessions to 45 to 50-minute long. When I make an exception, I usually do not exceed 90 minutes.

At the end of the lesson, I take students' questions. If they have questions, we usually go over their regular time. So it's like a free quick bonus session to them. Still, the entire session is kept under 60 minutes.

Keep each session under 50 minutes, not more than an hour. 

Besides the fact that our biorhythm is synced with the man-made clock system, people cannot focus on one or two topics for more than 30 minutes, barring individual differences.

Even if teachers make their lessons fun and interesting, students are working on a limited number of topics for nearly an hour -- beyond their brain's maximum efficiency. Any lesson beyond their brain capacity makes the lesson boring and uninteresting - and suddenly confusing even though it was easy just 5 minutes ago.

By keeping the session under 50 minutes, we are helping students learn better and more.

Don't feel guilty if you have to finish the session early.

As a teacher, we know where to stop for each lesson. And that stopping point may be reached in less than 50 minutes. Stop your lesson there.

Don't feel that you have to give entire hour to your student. We are here to help them learn the most efficient and effective way possible, Our job is not to sell ourselves by an hour but to help them achieve their utmost goals. Don't feel guilty and try to "fill up" that extra 8 minutes. That "filler" is actually destroying your students' learning experience.

Besides, I know that you usually go over the promised time duration. If you tally up all the time you give to the student, I am quite certain you are giving them far more than they signed up for.

If student complains that you do not give full 50-minute, find a way to gently remind him/her other additional times you give to them. Students usually don't remember, and it's not really their fault; it's human nature.

90-minute lesson = Two 40-minutes sessions + 10-minute break.

Of course some students want to go without a break. If they want to keep on going, then keep on going. But in general, help them have a mental break.

While the lesson is going, students strongly believe that they got everything down. They say it's easy. But you will see immediately that when they come back from a break, they have forgotten quite a number of things that they just learned only 10 minutes ago.

By giving them a break between lessons, you are helping them think about what they just learned and review what they forgot. When they are back from a break, provide them with a very quick quiz and review: it's a first step to a repetition, an important part of learning process, and very efficient way to help them retain what they just learned.

It's not how long. It's how frequently.

I have a few students who want to study 2-3 hours a day, one day week. Then I have many students who want to study 1 session a day, 2-3 times a week.

Can you guess which group is doing better?

In case you chose the former, the answer is the latter. Language acquisition works the best not when you study for a long hours but when you study frequently.

Short Lessons + Long Enough Break. Rinse and Repeat Frequently.

Students need time to take in the information, digest it, and be ready for the next level. Keep your lessons short, and give them a break long enough. Have them meet you as frequently as possible.

Remember, you are the one who knows what's best for your student. When it comes to our own learning style, we really don't know ourselves. Neither do our students.

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