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Private Lessons: Some Negative Aspects
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Private lessons of course have many benefits. For example, students are able to ask specific questions and spend a lot of time on the details, which proves especially suitable for analytical learners or shy students unwilling to speak up in class, just to name a few cases. Students can also ask question after question after question without monopolizing, and therefore detracting, from the cooperative learning environment of a good group lesson. Students can work on specific weaknesses and focus on specific skills, such as grammar, fluency, or even presentation skills.

Students generally don't consider the above points. They instead favor private lessons because they have more chances to speak, can better understand grammar, can ask many questions, etc. In fact, students are often willing to pay double or triple the price of a group lesson for these opportunities. Unfortunately, not enough time to speak stems from the teacher practicing poor techniques to manage talk time. Students often don't understand and apply new grammar because the teacher didn't adequately explain and drill it. In both a private and a group class, students should have equal chances to speak, feel comfortable with the new language, and be able to ask questions.

In fact, a private lesson has a lot of negatives. Unless the student needs to focus on a specific skill, such as to improve his presentation skills, build grammar awareness and test-taking strategies for the TOEIC test, or write an essay as part of a graduate program's application, for example, small classes offer benefits that many times trump private lessons. In general, only the positives have been considered, while the negatives have been wholly ignored. This article will thus list a few negative aspects associated with private lessons.

The teacher should remove himself as much as possible from the learning environment. That's not to say he is absent, but rather that he gives the students the tools necessary to succeed in the activity, lesson, and ultimately the real world. He gives support and guidance during the class, incorporating explanations and opportunities to practice along the way. And even with a lower-level class, where there may be more responsibility placed on the teacher to keep the class moving forward, he still strives to remove himself as much as possible.

In such a group lesson, students can more readily take responsibility for their learning. For example, they may check dictionaries or ask peers about unknown words rather than immediately ask the teacher. They may ask a peer to clarify instructions, language, etc. rather than wait for the teacher to provide an explanation. They may move beyond the scope of the activity, as is especially the case with stronger students who want to continue the conversation, add more to a scripted dialogue, and generally challenge their abilities. These are all key skills that students need to succeed in the real world: dictionary use; asking for and providing clarification, explanations, and instructions in extended discourse; and be motivated enough for self-learning and discovery.

However, in a private lesson, the teacher remains a fundamental, irremovable component. He must act as a partner for the student to practice any speaking activity. In fact, he cannot remove himself from any interactive task, and so the student almost always defers to his authority and experience. The student rarely moves beyond the parameters set by the teacher. In short, the very nature of a cooperative learning environment in a student-centered class becomes impossible. And although the teacher can prompt the student to check a dictionary, provide further explanations, and so on, the private student less often takes responsibility for her learning but rather direction from the teacher.

To further compound the problem, the teacher controls the interactive activities. In a private lesson, he actively calculates, for example, "I want the student to improve his fluency, so I'm not going to worry so much about mistakes." Or, "I generally understood what she has said. Because the language is above her ability level, I won't bother to recast it." Or, "At this stage of the lesson, I want the student to get the target language right, so I'm only going to focus on these mistakes." As a result, language doesn't unfold naturally.

What do I mean by language that unfolds naturally? One example happens when students practice answering questions, adding information, and asking follow-up questions. There's initiating and closing communicative tasks, as well as working on speaking strategies. There's active listening too. Although the teacher can simulate some of these points, he is often determining the direction of the conversation. Especially with lower-level students, he is one or two questions ahead of the conversation. The student more often reacts rather than participates.

Another example of how language unfolds occurs when students discover the need and skills to repair communication breakdowns. They ask for clarification, or even offer it unprompted, and without the ulterior motives that a teacher might have. They repeat information and adjust their language for another person.

In a private lesson, the student rarely asks a teacher to repeat information, in part because the teacher gets good at adjusting his language to the level of the learner. The teacher is also able to identify what the student does and doesn't understand, and so avoids communication breakdowns by adjusting and recasting explanations. In other words, the teacher often preempts any communication problems.

As a result, a private student doesn't have much chance to resolve breakdowns in communication. This essential ability remains stunted. In fact, their idea of fixing the problem comes down to repeating the exact information again, with the same words, and with the same mistakes, which is a technique that rarely works. What's more, consider the fact that many native English speakers simply speak more loudly and slowly to a non-native speaker when a communication problem occurs, and it's easy to realize the necessity of building this skill.

In conclusion, a classroom should empower students to succeed in the real world. After all, a teacher won't be there to help the student work through problems. And although there are many positives to a private lesson, namely that the student can focus on a specific need, a private lesson also forces the student to rely too much on the teacher. Despite the teacher's best intentions, many important skills remain underdeveloped.