Do any teaching course or read any book on how to teach English as a foreign language and at some point you’ll inevitably come across something about how low TTT (teacher talking time) is essential and of upmost importance in helping the students but is it actually true and if it is, then to what extent. Is it really important or just one of those things DOS’s (Director of Studies) go on about to tick a box or two on their paperwork to justify a much larger salary than your average teacher!
The benefits of low TTT is that it can limit the amount of STT and the more the teacher the speaks the less student involvement which can lead to loss of concentration, boredom and reduced learning. Teacher explanations alone are often tedious, full of terminology and difficult to follow and there may be no indication of whether the students have understood so TTT can be eliminated for stuff which the students can find out or read by themselves. Also, if the teacher is always the dominant one its thought that learners take no responsibility for their own learning then autonomous learning is really reduced. Furthermore, a dominant teacher results in the role of the student just being a respondent who only speaks when spoken to thereby harming the development of their speaking skills.
So anyway, back in May when I was feeling very much under the weather I basically re-learned the art of reduced TTT whilst teaching lessons with a surgical mask on. That in itself probably sounds quite strange to those reading this outside Japan but here it really is so normal and part and parcel of everyday life. Anyway, as my voice wasn’t working I had to resort to other methods to get my message across such as pointing, gesturing and using a voice recorder in kids lessons and the same in adult lessons but with additional use of the whiteboard for words, sentences and pictures.
This all worked quite well, particularly with the kids, but I could sense that some of the adults were a bit confused by it all. Of course it was all a bit weird and maybe its because they’re not used to having over 95% talking time. My students had been made aware by the receptionists that I had pretty much no voice but there obviously can come a point when TTT goes too far and could even be considered rude where the students don’t understand what the teacher is doing and instead think he or she just isn’t interested in speaking to them.
I remember years ago when I was in the midst of my TESOL course and practising some teaching techniques with afternoon classes. I tested out how long I could go without speaking and got about 25 minutes in before I spoke my first word. I was pretty pleased with myself but later in the same lesson one lady did say “Can you just be normal next week please?!” Admittedly these afternoon classes are often full of hobby students rather than ones doing it out of necessity and maybe their reasons for coming to an English school are different to others. However, that line she uttered hinted at the evidence that the thinking of students may not actually be the same as what the books or bosses say.
On the aforementioned course one of my fellow participants was so good with his gesturing and limited word-use that he eventually got told to actually increase his TTT a bit for fear of coming across as almost robotic in his presentation and demonstration of the target language. Ultimately, I guess there’s gotta be a good balance between STT and TTT with the more important thing for the teacher being that the bulk of what they say being useful and important talk time.