Everyone at one point in their lives had that teacher. The one who made you think, who turned the way you interacted with the world completely upside-down.
I was lucky enough to have about twenty of those teachers. And the one thing they all had in common was this : not a single one just gave me answers, they asked the right questions. They taught me not what to think, but how.
English is a pattern-based language. Patterns lead to understanding. The question is, can the right examples, coupled with leading questions, be enough for students to not only learn but really understand English, without a teacher? Everything in me said yes.
So I found some guinea pigs and we set to work. Every week I presented the guys with an envelope containing examples on 3x5 cards, plus folded hint cards containing leading questions for when they got stuck. Each week focused on only one topic, be it present perfect, 3 prepositions, 3 prefixes and 3 suffixes, or the future simple. Each common use had exemplars with relative words designed to give clues to underlying reasons for use. What do these sentences have in common? What meaning is conveyed when we use this pattern? Then I sat there, listening actively but for all appearances a kindly idiot, while they figured everything out for themselves. We stumbled a bit, but their feedback helped refine the examples.
3 months in we had a little “test”. With no studying as such (their only homework had been to use in daily life what they'd learned in class, and they'd no warning of the review). Retention rate was roughly 85%. Because they hadn't memorized or been talked at, they'd found their own way to understanding. The best bit, when a question in that 15% arose for one, the others helped without actually giving away the answers. They'd figured out how to 'ask the right questions' too.
And this is useful why?
First and foremost, it's learning how to learn. This method provides students with tools they can apply when trying to learn anything new. All while encouraging creativity and critical thinking.
But also important is its flexibility. Traditional language courses are teacher dependent, time rigid, and often expensive when taken as an adult or otherwise outside of school. Miss one lesson and you're behind. Learn more slowly or more quickly than the average and you're wasting time. And some teachers have been known to talk at, rather than with.
With this model, nearly all card sets within each level can be done in any order, with any number of people, at any time. Pay only when you participate, no commitment required. Or buy a set for your community to share. Don't sit down and be told what to think and how to think it. Figure it out. Find the clues in the patterns, there are always clues. Talk with your neighbor. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, learn how to listen and build upon each other. Work the puzzle out together, cause while a teacher is there to guide, only you can provide the answers. Enjoy the high from curiosity rewarded.
Much more than a club, but not quite a class. . . Guided linguistic hackerspace? Slightly-more-than-minimally invasive education? Whatever you want to call it, it's a 70 year old sitting at a table with a 16 year old and a 32 year old trying to figure out what all these sentences using the words 'have been something-ing' have in common.