Interview 5: "The Tutorial System"

Marianne Raynaud explains her "Tutorial System" in other words how by individualizing her teaching to suit the needs of each student she changed her life as a teacher! She describes the method, the instructions given to the students, the written work associated with the tutorial, the corrections both oral and written that are given and much more.

To read more and get all the files that Marianne refers to go to "QualityTime-ESL - The Digital Resource Book"

Laura Lerner: You said, when we last spoke, that the “tutorial system” together with the core curriculum and the grading system made up the basis of your teaching method. Now that I understand what you mean by Core Curriculum, could you explain what you mean by "tutorial system"?

Marianne Raynaud: Yes, certainly. The "tutorial system" is the one idea that has given me the greatest satisfaction over the years and which has already been adopted by a great number of engineering schools in Grenoble and in other parts of France. Back in 1982 I sent in a project requesting a modern language laboratory for the engineering school ENSERG where I had been appointed head of languages. I had previously worked in several language labs around the world, and I had read up on the ideas of Lado and Fries concerning structuralism. However, it seemed to me a language lab could do much more than just help students practice structural exercises or work on comprehension skills. I do not intend in any way to refute the work of Robert Lado and Charles C. Fries, which in fact inspired me. Nor do I wish to denigrate the marvelous drills published by L. G. Alexander in several collections known worldwide (Developing Skills, Fluency). The same goes for the work of Robert O’Neill, whose books and cassettes in particular Kernel Lessons Plus I have used and recommended to students and teachers alike. For more information see the bibliography indicating the Kernel Collection with titles such as Kernel Lessons Intermediate, Kernel Lessons Plus, American Kernel Lessons all published by Longman).

Laura Lerner: So you wanted to do more than just work on drills and listening comprehension in lab, didn’t you?

Creating a new classroom environment

Marianne Raynaud: Yes, exactly. Already back in the early 80s I believed with a language lab the teacher would be able to go a step beyond the traditional lab “oral practice” room to create a new classroom environment, more like a library filled with students intent on their own independent work whispering quietly to each other or to the teacher. I wanted the language lab to be a place of true communication and not merely a classroom where tape recorders had been installed.

Laura Lerner: Before we go further could you explain how you first came into contact with language labs and what your initial experiences were?

A personal experience in the lab as a student

Marianne Raynaud:
I have often thought back to the time when I was student myself. At High School we didn’t have a language lab, but at Wellesley College we were supposed to do lab exercises in the library in the evening. It was the self-tutoring part of the teaching and a few booths had been set up in the library for this purpose. This could have been excellent, but as I was a physics major with a minor in math and not in modern languages, somehow I convinced myself I just didn’t have enough time to practice the oral work on cassettes. This work was non-compulsory, but strongly recommended especially as I was doing beginners’ French! Whenever I did go and practice, I would spend as little time as possible in the booth. To tell the truth I would do the exercises only once or twice since I often felt bored after only 10 minutes. Later I bitterly regretted my lack of self-discipline, but I also understood how difficult, if not impossible, it is to motivate students to do "non-compulsory" work. It’s part of human nature. We take the easy way out whenever we can!

Laura Lerner: You also studied at l’Ecole des Langues Orientales in Paris. Isn’t that where you continued your Russian when you first came to France?

Marianne Raynaud: Yes, I signed up, because I had already done four years of Russian and could manage the translating quite well. Actually, I wanted to take a French university course to be with authentic French students and not be surrounded by foreigners all day long at the "Cours de Civilisation Française", where practically all non-natives including myself were enrolled. These courses at the Sorbonne were excellent. I learned ever so much, but whenever we students were out of class we inevitably spent half our time speaking English and consequently didn’t get to know many French people.

A traumatizing lab experience!

Laura Lerner: Did you use a language lab as a student in Paris?

Marianne Raynaud: Never in French but I went to the language lab for the Russian course at l’Ecole des Langues Orientales. But only once! In three years of study there was only one single hour of lab included in the curriculum! That was the case at least for my class. Our teacher was Professor Tolstoy, the grandnephew of the Great Russian author. Generally we just translated from French into Russian or did grammar exercises. One day he sent us to lab with some other teacher supervising. And to this day I will never forget the traumatizing experience of that one single hour in lab! There were about twenty of us in a tiny room. Each student had his own booth, much smaller than a telephone booth and with no windows. Perhaps one panel was made of glass, but I only remember being in a tiny, closed, dark box sitting on a small uncomfortable stool. I felt I was about to suffocate. As I said previously, at the time I was quite good at translating both from Russian into English or French or from one of these languages into Russian. I knew my Russian grammar inside out. However, as far as oral comprehension was concerned I was hopeless. I had never had any practice. I had never heard Russian spoken except by a teacher reading from a book while the students followed the written text. So there I was in my booth listening to some spoken Russian, which seemed practically incomprehensible to me. The instructions were given in Russian. There was not a word of French (and of course no English). There was no text to revert to in case of difficulties. There was no support system whatsoever! I felt tense, blocked, and incapable of doing what I was asked to do. That was obvious since I hadn’t understood the instructions! After a while though I started enjoying myself by mimicking the speakers and thus feeling slightly relieved at the idea I could do something productive and perhaps gain a bit of confidence. At that point a threatening voice, I don’t know whose, my teacher’s or another teacher’s voice echoed through my headset? It was as if suddenly a harsh voice broke in and explained (no shouted!) through the headset that my pronunciation was “all wrong”, i.e. a complete disaster! The voice said I should pronounce the syllable "X" like "Y" and not like "Z". The voice was stern and critical without a single encouraging word. Then suddenly after a tiny beep the voice went away. I was left all alone feeling even more desperate than before. What if that voice were to come back every 5 minutes? What if I could never ever learn to pronounce the syllable "X" like "Y" and not like "Z"? Would I fail the course? Would I be considered incapable in spite of all those years of Russian? I trembled with fear until the hour was over. Luckily, we never ever returned to the lab during our studies. All other classes were led by the teacher in the classical "teacher asks question, student tries to answer and is corrected by the teacher" style of teaching.

Laura Lerner:
So those were your only "student" experiences. What about your experiences as a teacher as "the voice" so to speak?

A lab with a view over the Caribbean Sea

Marianne Raynaud: (Laughter) Well, for one thing I knew I didn’t want to be "a stern voice" that would frighten my students. I had learned my lesson through that traumatic experience in Paris. When I was appointed head of the language department at the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela in 1969 (my husband was on a French Peace Corps teaching mission as a substitute for military service), I was asked to set up a English Learning Program for the lab to be used by students specializing in English and intending to become High School teachers of English. The lab was really high tech when you think it was in the late 1960s and not far from the Amazon tropical rainforest! The lab room was huge and magnificent, with a big console for the teacher. From my chair I could look straight out of the numerous windows and see the sandy white beaches of the coast and turquoise color of the Caribbean Sea. The sky was a clear blue without a single cloud. The lab was even air-conditioned, which was a pleasant contrast with the 35 degree Centigrade temperate we had outside in the shade. Colleagues in the sciences used to come and chat and I gladly invited them into my “cool paradise” lab.

Laura Lerner: That when you set up your first program?

Marianne Raynaud: For two years I worked diligently to create a language program. I knew the lab work had to be compulsory to be effective (my years at Wellesley had proved that to me), but I didn’t wish to intimidate my students either. Prior to coming to Venezuela I had done a "licence" (the equivalent of a B.A.) in English at the Sorbonne, but we had never touched upon anything concerning actual teaching such as pedagogical techniques or the process of learning.

Books and tapes by Robert Lado and Charles C. Fries

Laura Lerner: So what did you base you program on 30 way back in the 1960s?

Marianne Raynaud: That’s a really good question! I had very little experience at the time, but I purchased the books and tapes by Robert Lado and Charles C. Fries of the University of Michigan, whose teaching materials were very well known at that time and adapted their exercises to my needs. I had decided to teach English as a "sport". The students would be the athletes and I was the instructor or coach. I was obviously influenced by my own (very short) career on the international tennis circuit. I knew how important good training was, and I wouldn’t let this wonderful equipment (the language lab) or the great potential of my young students go to waste. Furthermore, I didn’t want them regretting a lack of effort and self-drive as had been my case when studying beginners’ French at Wellesley College.

Laura Lerner: And how did you organize the lab teaching in your Caribbean paradise?

Marianne Raynaud: During the first 30 minutes the students would do all the drills they had practiced the previous time, and which they had also practiced at home with their textbooks. The tape would run in the continuous mode (the students couldn’t stop it or rewind). While they were performing the structural exercises without their textbooks I would listen in on them one at a time and evaluate their work. It was amazing how diligent they were. They were so eager. They really wanted to learn. They generally got good marks, which encouraged them to work even harder. During the next 30 minutes they would work on exercises, which I would broadcast onto their tapes. They could rewind, repeat, consult their textbooks or ask me questions through their microphones. I intervened as often as possible during this last part of the lab session mainly to encourage them. I really believed at the time in structural exercises and drills since one of the conditions of my contract was that I had to learn Spanish in 6 weeks! I was lent a book written for the US military department, and I did all the drills and translation exercises in this 250-page book three times in a row until I actually managed to "speak" basic Spanish. I was only 26 and had many more neurons than today! That is why I keep saying we mustn’t underestimate the potential of our students. And above all I still believe very strongly in structural exercises and drills. It is amazing how effective they are if you do them diligently of course!

My very positive, demanding approach was much appreciated!

Laura Lerner: How did your students react to your lab course?

Marianne Raynaud: Very positively I believe. We also had classroom hours during which they gave talks or asked me questions on topics I had proposed ahead of time. I felt my very positive, though demanding, approach was appreciated; especially as on my last day of teaching before returning to France they gave me a surprise party with a beautiful gift, and they had their guitars and sang traditional songs. It was a very moving moment for me.

Laura Lerner:
What you do when you returned to France?

Very specific instructions concerning the lab

Marianne Raynaud: As I only had a "licence", I started working as a "vacataire" paid by the hour with no social benefits. Fortunately for me, I was hired at an IUT where I was trained to use a lab by a very competent teacher. The lab had about 16 booths and a console, and furthermore the entire left wall was filled with the 16 tape recorders with the very big reels of magnetic tape we used at the time. I was given very specific instructions concerning the lab. First I was supposed to position the master tape at the beginning of the comprehension exercise or drill I intended to record onto the students’ tapes. Secondly, I was supposed to explain the exercise to the students by using examples. Thirdly, I would record the exercise (drill) on to their tapes. Finally, I would ask them to work on the drill two or three times until they could do it perfectly. While they were practicing, I was supposed to position the next drill as well as plan some way of evaluating their skills before going on to a new structure to be practiced with a different drill.

Laura Lerner: That’s sounds like a very "active" way of teaching "structural drills" and that was thirty years ago!

Marianne Raynaud: It definitely was dynamic, especially compared to some of the extremely uninteresting and laid-back teaching I observed much later on.

Laura Lerner: Can you give me an example of this "non-dynamic" teaching you met with later on?

Less dynamic lab techniques I observed later on

Marianne Raynaud:
For instance during my first year as a tenured teacher at the university I saw quite often my colleagues would just put on a tape, I mean copy a recording on to the students’ tapes; and then ask the students to spend 20 to 25 minutes taking down the text or writing a summary. This was certainly a good activity for the students, but in the meantime the teacher would occasionally take out a stack of uncorrected assignments or much more frequently pick up a newspaper and spend his time reading by the window. Sometimes the teacher would even leave the lab and return to the premises only after 30 or 45 minutes! Furthermore, the students told me they hardly ever spoke English in class.

Laura Lerner: I can understand such a conscientious teacher as you felt this was very unprofessional, even lax on the part of those teachers. Didn’t you ask them about their repeated "absences" and unprofessional teaching? I believe you had been appointed head of the English department.

Marianne Raynaud: Of course not! I simply couldn’t! They had the highest teaching degree in France called the "Agrégation" and consequently were beyond any reproach. I was perhaps "head" as far as tedious non-teaching chores were concerned; but that first year I was in no position to criticize these "high-titled" specimens of French university professors.

Laura Lerner: You changed all that after a few years didn’t you? How did you manage?

The idea of tutorials in lab is born

Marianne Raynaud: Well, now we come to the moment, which really changed my life as a teacher. Back in 1982 I thought up the idea of "tutorials" in other words "one to one" sessions with the teacher during regular teaching hours and without any extra expense for the university. The only thing I needed was a modern language laboratory. The one I had never functioned properly and you couldn’t do any interactive work with it. So I sent in a project requesting a Tandberg language laboratory for ENSERG, the engineering school where I had been appointed head of the English department. I explained in detail the objectives I had in mind. I truly believed with a reliable language lab, with the "tutorial system" and with an effective core curriculum the teacher(s) would be able to take a giant step ahead towards creating a new teaching environment in which the teacher/student relationship would be improved and the linguistic skills of the latter greatly enhanced.

Getting funding for a new lab

Laura Lerner: How soon thereafter did they agree to your project of getting a new lab?

Marianne Raynaud: First there was no reply at all. So I had another idea. I started offering free English classes for members of the personnel and I stipulated the classes would be held in the language lab. About a dozen professors in the sciences–electronics, physics, math and so on signed up.

Laura Lerner: That was extra work for you, wasn’t it?

Marianne Raynaud: Yes, it was extra work; but I was young then - only 36—yes, very young; and moreover I was convinced these people, to whom I offered free classes, would support my project. No one in the entire school except for the English teachers realized what bad shape the language lab was in. When these colleagues, who as I said before were professors in electricity, electronics, radar etc. came to my classes and saw I had to rewind each booth manually before starting, they - with all their scientific knowledge and know-how immediately- declared the lab completely unusable! I taught these colleagues English for a couple of weeks, and they supported me from then on. It was well worth the effort. During this short course with my distinguished colleagues in the sciences I never failed to mention all the things I would be able to do, if I had a proper lab, like the labs I had seen at other universities.

Laura Lerner: That was a good point. No university likes to think it is under equipped compared to other universities!

Marianne Raynaud: Exactly. After a few months not only were the necessary funds allotted for the project, but I was "allowed" to say goodbye to the lax teachers doing extra hours and I was encouraged to set up my own team!

Laura Lerner: So that is when it all started!

Marianne Raynaud: Yes, when the dazzling new lab with the small audiocassettes, which we have today arrived, I knew I would be able to set up a "tutorial" system. I was on my way to a new type of teaching speaking skills.

The idea of tutorials blossomed`

Laura Lerner: Since we are on the topic of "tutorials", can you tell me how this idea blossomed in your mind?

Marianne Raynaud: It seems like a very simple idea when you explain it, but it takes a lot of doing and planning to make it work properly. At the beginning I had an antiquated lab, which barely functioned. The students could listen and call the teacher, but as I mentioned before, most of the booths didn’t rewind or were completely out of order. Furthermore, I felt very frustrated sitting at the console and just listening in on the students, who would be repeating some dialogs. I wanted to "speak" to them. But I did not really want to talk about the recording on the tape, which I already knew by heart and which wasn’t very interesting either. Incidentally, there were hardly any interesting tapes at all in the cupboard of the "agrégés" who had been working at my engineering school for over 12 years. There was nothing by Lado, Fries, Alexandre or O’Neil either.

The first private discussions

Laura Lerner: And how did you go about conducting these private discussions?

Marianne Raynaud: First I started speaking "individually" with the students asking them about their interests, hobbies, likes, dislikes, opinions about their future careers or about current events.

Laura Lerner: That must have been far more interesting and asking questions on a text!

Marianne Raynaud: Absolutely! And I soon discovered the students hardly ever listened to the news or read a newspaper. They were science students, mad about advanced electronics, which doesn’t make for a very conversational topic if you are a non-specialist like myself. So when I had "interviewed" everyone of them about three times each over a two month period, I realized the "tutorial system" had to be something much more elaborate than a simple spontaneous conversation. Above all I knew I would be dependent on a reliable language laboratory. Fortunately, my project had been accepted and the new lab even ordered. I asked my students either privately or in class what sort of teaching materials they would like to have.

Laura Lerner: So you were ready to set up a course based on their wishes.

What the students wanted to learn

Marianne Raynaud: Not entirely of course! But I soon realized my students wanted everyday English that could help them converse with foreigners. They wanted to "speak" as much as possible so they were in favor of the tutorial system, particularly when I explained it would be a private conversation with no one else listening in. Another important point was the fact that they didn’t want to be limited to science subjects. They explained to me they spent 8 hours or more a day studying sciences, so they wanted something different. No, they didn’t want just "scientific English" and contrary to the expectations of my colleagues teaching the sciences the students did not want to work on English in the new computer room. A PC or personal computer was a new invention for most people, but my students were already learning how to design PCs!

Laura Lerner: Yet they didn’t want computer based English classes…

Marianne Raynaud: No, they didn’t want to type on a keyboard. They wanted to learn how to speak and wanted to enjoy a two-hour English session communicating both with the teacher and the students amongst themselves. That is what they said. So that was to become my objective in an effort to meet their demands.

Laura Lerner: You felt you had the support of your students when you submitted the project concerning a new language lab?

Marianne Raynaud: Absolutely! It was my second year at ENSERG. The students all asked to have class with me, the new female English teacher (the other teachers were all males), which was of course flattering. I had about half of the students, and I must admit in the classroom they gave most amusing talks on a wide range of non-scientific subjects. There was much laughing, and naturally much more actual "speaking" than with their previous teachers, the men from the humanities department.

Laura Lerner: So in your third year you started working with a brand new user-friendly lab.

Marianne Raynaud: Yes, and that is when I started the tutorials.

The first formal tutorials

Laura Lerner: What exactly was a tutorial back in 1982-83?

Marianne Raynaud: It was just the beginning. I simply asked my students to come and speak from a simple outline about a topic of their choice. I had given them a few guidelines I had laboriously typed out on stencils in order to have the pages printed for each student. Photocopying machines had not yet arrived on the scene!

Laura Lerner: What kind of topics did they choose?

Marianne Raynaud: The choice was surprisingly varied. And from the very beginning I realized how wonderful it was to be a teacher who could learn something from her students instead of just standing up in front of the blackboard asking questions to which I knew the answers. Yes, they became the experts. I was the interested journalist asking pertinent authentic questions. At the same time I was a sort of filter blocking the information flow when I didn’t understand what was being said. I used to tell the students, and I still do, that if I couldn’t grasp what they were saying in spite of my knowledge of French and the written documents they provided me with, then how on earth could they imagine that a foreigner not knowing a single word of French would be able to follow their explanations.

Correcting grammar and pronunciation mistakes

Laura Lerner: Yes, that is definitely sound reasoning. But what about the mistakes in grammar like tense mistakes or errors in pronunciation? Did you correct those too?

Marianne Raynaud: The first year I wasn’t all that strict. I was waiting to see how the students would react. Then I realized the tutorial was such a privileged moment, which I really had to make the most of it. I would tell the students I would correct every single mistake as though I were a machine. Above all I wanted them to know they shouldn’t take it badly, my correcting that is, since I was simply doing my job as a teacher. On the other hand, I let them know I expected them to repeat the corrections immediately proving to me they had understood them.

Laura Lerner: Some of them must have been surprised or bothered by these interruptions?

Marianne Raynaud: Oh yes, and particularly those who had thought in the beginning they were so superior to other students that they deserved to be in a special group. First, after hearing a correction, they would just say "sorry", and I would retort, "No, don’t say sorry, don’t apologize; just repeat the sentence correctly!” Funnily enough these students would go on making these same mistakes for a minute or two, for instance using the past perfect when the simple past was needed or repeatedly forgetting the "s" on the 3rd person singular; but then suddenly they would start correcting themselves! And with a smile to me on top of it!

To read more and get all the files that Marianne refers to go to "QualityTime-ESL - The Digital Resource Book"

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