Aspects of Suggestopedia in Online Teaching

Suggestopedia is a method of language teaching that proposes the creation of a psychological state, using a variety of passive techniques, that facilitates learning. Developed in the 1970s by Bulgarian psychotherapist, Georgi Lozanov, the method built on a growing shift away from the contemporary and highly evolved audio-lingual method, towards a more humanistic approach.

The suggestopedia method explicitly demanded a change in the way the traditional classroom was arranged and adorned, even going so far as to specifying the style and pace of the classical music that, as part of the method’s means of establishing optimum learning conditions, provided the necessary backdrop to the class. Furthermore, the approach called for the learners to be seated in comfortable chairs that were conducive to relaxation and for the classroom to be decorated in such a way as to promote a feeling of cosiness, with colourful flowers among other recommended props purposed to achieving this.

The psychological state demanded by suggestopedia practitioners was one primarily of relaxation. Lozanov’s approach was that learning was best facilitated by a positive outlook on the part of the student with respect to their potential achievement of the task, coupled with freedom from anxiety, which Lozanov believed to be counterproductive to learning.

Unlike some other contemporary humanistic methods, Suggestopedia was teacher-led, though the role of the teacher was defined as a partner (even parent) to the learners, participating alongside them in the class and acting more as exemplifier than director. The teacher may make some explicit statements about the ease of the activity to follow in order to further reduce any anxiety in the classroom. The teacher would then lead the class through a procedure consisting of three basic stages:

a. Deciphering

In this stage, the teacher outlines what is to be covered in the class. This may take the form of pointing out new vocabulary using the board or verbally communicating the target structures of the phases to follow.

b. Concert Session (passive & active)

The concert session takes place accompanied by the classical music. The teacher reads aloud a text that covers the subject matter. This may, for example, take the form of an extended narrative, rich with the target vocabulary. It is read with accentuated rhythm and intonation and is often accompanied by mime. This is the passive phase of the concert session.

The active phase of the concert session is a rereading of the text with the same environmental conditions, but this time with the students and teacher reading together from the same script, which the teacher would distribute at the beginning of the active phase. The students may be encouraged to accompany the reading with mimes similar to those acted out by the teacher in the passive phase.

c. Elaboration

This final stage of the procedure involves the learners’ using the language they have learnt in games, drama and dialogues, effectively extracting the language from the situation in which it was presented and attempting to apply it to broader contexts with some guidance from the teacher or instructor.

Suggestopedia offers some supposedly novel ideas, many of which may be considered truisms in today’s teaching world, such as the assertion that anxiety is an inhibitor in learning, and that positive outcomes are best achieved when learning is approached with a positive expectation of success. It is difficult to place these in a historical context and to truly understand how revolutionary such claims were at the time of suggestopedia’s inception. However, modern approaches to teaching continue to promote positivity towards learning and educators continue to use their demeanour, classroom arrangement and other appropriate tools that encourage comfort and relaxation and reduce learner anxiety or what Stephen Krashner has since called the “affective fliter”.

Whilst it can certainly be argued that the procedural aspect of Suggestopedia closely mirrors the PPP version of Audiolingualism with “Deciphering, “Concert Session” and “Evaluation” practically synonymous with “presentation”, “practice” and “production”, it is certainly the method’s focus on reducing the affective filter which most influences today’s teaching practices.

In the online teaching that I am currently involved in, the affective filter is greatly reduced as my clients receive classes in familiar spaces such as their own homes. Understanding that this reduction of affect is a primary advantage of online learning, I seek to exploit it further by encouraging students to take their classes in the most comfortable rooms in their houses, to prioritise the comfort of their seating position over the received protocol of video communication (i.e. sitting at a desk facing the computer) and to use background music that is both familiar and relaxing to them.

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