You’ll probably wonder what an experiment involving a bucket of ice has to do with teaching ESL but bear with me.
In The Power of Moments by Heath & Heath, the authors discuss an interesting psychological experiment in which participants were subjected to two different versions of an unpleasant experience.
The first trial had subjects submerge a hand in 57-degree (14°C) water for 60 seconds.
The second trial had participants submerge the other hand in 57-degree water for 60 seconds yet they then kept their hand underwater for an additional 30 seconds, during which time the temperature raised to 59 degrees (15°C).
Next, participants were asked “Would you rather repeat the first trial or the second?” Amazingly, two-thirds of the participants chose to re-do the second trial, even though they were exposed to uncomfortably cold temperatures for a longer time. Researchers concluded that participants chose the second, longer trial because they preferred the memory of that second trial or disliked it less. In other words, people judge an experience by how the event ends. Psychologists refer to this as the “peak-end rule.”
This can also explain why 2-week vacations are not necessarily remembered more fondly as 1-week ones. What seems to matter is how they end.
Similarly, negative endings can leave us with a bad impression about what had been a pleasurable experience up until then. A common example is a breakup of a relationship as we clearly recall the painful final interaction.
How this applies to teaching ESL.
I’ve started to become more aware of how I finish my classes. For example…
- as I’m cleaning the white board or packing up my papers, I try to still make eye-contact with the students and smile as they leave.
- if, during the class, I had to have a talk with a student who was not performing as expected, (e.g., came to class late, hadn’t finished the assignment, wasn’t paying attention, disturbed others), I made a special point to smiling at him or her and perhaps saying, “See you next time” as she/he was leaving.
- I’ve also tried to avoid handing back graded papers right at the end of class in case some students’ final impression of the class would be how they felt about their low scores.
- I don’t carry a cell phone to class, but if I did, I would be aware of what final “message” I’d be sending to my students if I were to be checking my phone instead of making eye contact with them as they were leaving.
What this research does NOT imply about how we should end our classes.
- Make a final joke. For some teachers, this is easy to do, but unless it comes naturally, no teacher should feel pressure to do it. As listed above, there are other ways to help students leave with a good last impression.
- Have a fun activity at the end. Our first priority is skill-building, and the order of the activities we present should be based on that. Doing some game at the end just for final impressions could be an unnecessary missed opportunity for important skill-building.