Using of Supply Decision Rules to Improve English Classes
Some of the benefits of studying economics
There were many things about the studies of economics that I thought I could never apply to my daily life unless I became an economist. Understanding the rules of supply and demand, graphing a demand curve, learning how price can affect demand and influence suppliers to produce either more or less were topics that I believed could never be effectively applied in managing an English conversation class. For example, my concept about economics was that this was a topic to be used by those who work in the stock exchange: business people that need to constantly read the signs of the economy in order to increase their companies’ revenue or to help their corporation avoid serious financial trouble amidst an economic crisis. Language instructors, I thought, could never really benefit from understanding the complexities of the economy around us.
Studying economics has helped me realize the opposite of what I just stated above. Upon studying economics, I finally came to realize that the economy is like a living organism. It is part of everyday life and not simply a system that involves the graphing of data and some out-of-reach number analysis. In fact, just by studying the basics of such, I enjoy my shopping “dates” with my wife a lot more than I used too because now, like Neo could see the “coding” taking place behind the “virtual matter” on the movie The Matrix, I can perceive the amount of labor placed behind bringing a dress into a store, understand how the supplier feels by placing only 10 units of that dress at that specific place in the store and I can even somewhat understand why the manager of that store decides to have only 5 sales representatives working on the main floor of that store instead of 6: all of these decisions are supply decisions related to the rule of capacity—rule which pin-points the constraints our (labor) capital place on a store’s potential output. Before studying economics, I would have never been able to look at a clothing store from an angle as analytical and academic as this. All this wonderful information would have passed me by without me even notice it.
Thanks to such study, I can now spend over 5 hours of window shopping with the wifie without suffering any brain-spasms from the boredom (she will kill me if she reads this!) of just looking at different clothes sets: understanding how supply and demand work makes me think of the entire process involved in bringing a certain item at a particular price to the store—and that, my friends, is where the true fun in shopping for (most) males begins.
This same shopping advent I was able to experience with my wife led me to think: would it be possible to use the economic principles of supply and demand in order for me to provide my students with better English courses at our school? Recently, I was glad to find out that the answer to this question is: “yes.”
How did Economics help me improve classroom management
First, I decided to research a little bit more about utility* so that I could draw the pattern behind the kind of utility my students get from classes. My classes are fully discussion based, which means that students spend more time talking about themselves and their own ideas (in English), rather than listening to me teaching them about English grammar. I noticed that students get a tremendous amount of total utility from discussion based, rather than lecture-based classes: but also, that marginal utility will tend to go down quite fast if the discussion is maintained between the same small group (without allowing the students to constantly shift groups within the same class).
How can I help marginal utility stay positive for longer within that 1hour and 30minutes period I am with my students per week? It was when asking myself this question, while I read a book about economics, called Principles of Microeconomics, that an idea stroke me: “If I am able to allow the students to share some of the same ideas they have with as many different people as possible, I might be able to maintain their marginal utility positive for much longer than I currently could.” Before making any changes to my classroom organization, I used to have the students sitting in small groups of 4-7 people and they would be given a theme of discussion that they could use in order to share their thoughts about how the topic personally related to them. I usually have different questions on a PowerPoint slideshow to help them formulate conversation about the topic in a more fluent manner. Students would then talk for a good 30-40 minutes about the issue; which is followed by a game that helps select a few individuals to share their ideas with the whole class, which is sometimes followed by a mini-grammar lesson, with some written activities and a listening/video activity. This is then topped by some more discussion—which is supposed to be held all the way until the end of the lesson.
Since the groups, in this situation, would stay static, the amount of ideas students could discuss would be somewhat limited. Some students would start the activities really energetic but after 20 minutes in, they would start yawning. Though my course evaluations would stay always very high (an indication that total utility acquired through my class was high), I felt that marginal utility within my class time was falling too fast. Principles of Microeconomics briefly mentions that diminishing the amount of a good, or service offered will have some effect on how many “servings” of it somebody can have (Rittenberg and Trigarthen 2009). Thus, I decided to help my students diminish the rate of decrease they got in their marginal utility by making the group activities I used less of a group effort: now students would stay seated in pairs and every 5 minutes or so they would be shuffled around (meaning they would get a new pair) and would have to talk as much as possible about the (same lengthy) topic(s) within the limited amount of time they now had (of 5 minutes—which compared to the previous 30 minutes they had before is a huge difference).
Making these tweaks in classroom management has greatly improved the dynamics of my class. Right now, I am able to see my students smiling and excitingly talking with each other for a much larger time span (the yawning problem has definitely been solved)! It seems that this principle of marginal utility has greatly helped me in better preparing my students for their English communication endeavors. It has also caused an improvement in the overall utility they are deriving from my course. This much classroom movement, however, has brought to me another issue that I think economic theories can also help me solve but that will be my next challenge from now on: moving students around in this frantic manner works great if you have between 20-30 students: I am having the hardest time doing that in classes that have more than 50 students because of space constraints I have within each classroom. My next mission is to find a way to deal with capacity issues within the supply line of my English class.
In conclusion, understanding economics has given me an entirely new point of view when observing how economics actually affect me in one of my areas of expertise, that being TESOL. I encourage all educators out there to do the same and try to “fuse” different kinds of knowledge bases with their ESOL curriculum. It will not only help you become a more versatile educator, but it will also assist you in finding out ways to stay innovative in an industry where monotony is simply cannot be present. Let me know how ideas like this could help you, ESOL instructors, in developing your academic content.
Extras for those interested
Here is a short documentary about my classes. It is up on my YouTube channel. Feel free to check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33b_bEQ63qM&t=224s (this documentary is in Japanese but translation for it will be up soon.
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*find out more about utility at https://www.investopedia.com/terms/u/utility.asp
Rittenberg and Tregarthen. Principles of Microeconomics, Flat World Knowledge, 2009 (find it @ http://a.co/4CrHBzL