Thanks for your question Jennifer. In my experience I would argue that high risk equals high gain whenever environmental conditions are such that allow for students to deliver in a 'risk-free' arena. Contradictory as it may sound I believe that defining 'risk' would help dissolve the contradiction. A 'risk-free arena' I would define as a composite of different factors: an atmosphere characterised by positive rapport between the stake holders, a supportive network of peers who understand they are all on the same boat, and a productive language activity (as the articles have all pointed out at the fact that it is speaking (and listening) but also writing the areas of language study which cause the most strain on the students) which takes into account the students' language level at the time of the activity, the language required by the student to successfully execute the activity and a facilitator (a teacher in this role rather than their teacher role) who can respond to the emergent needs of the students during the activity. Now, I am fully aware that this last requirement is one of the most difficult skills to develop as a teacher as it is one of the most often seen as lacking even at DELTA level.
I would like to illustrate with a real life example what I mean by 'awareness of the language required by the student to successfully execute the activity and a facilitator '. Let's imagine a teacher who wants to their elementary students at the end of a lesson focused on vocabulary (food and drink) to practice the target language (TL) via a role play where students are at a restaurant and are required to order the foods they studied. One would say that it is a totally acceptable example. However, the task requires the students not only to use the TL they studied in the lesson but also functional language (that of ordering food) which they do not have at this level or studied in this lesson or before. My question here is then: How high is the risk and what is the potential gain in this situation?
As far as strategies is concerned and as a firm believer in strategy training I would argue that my goal through training would be that of ensuring that awareness of those strategies (conscious application of a technique) become in the long run a skill (unconscious application of it - Oxford 2011:12). In this light some of the awareness raising strategies I use are:
* Ensuring students understand the aims of the activity and that the benefits are.
* Stressing the importance of process rather than product.
* Guaranteeing a stress and face-value neutral (however possible that may be) atmosphere via the building of close and strong rapport ties, allowing the students to see me as one of them in the interactions and not just as the evaluator (by participating in the activities as often and in as many groups as possible). I often do this by also assigning myself a role e.g. waiter, customer, restaurant manager, etc. in the activities.
* Leading self reflection (before feedback) post activity quick sessions in their groups and individually. Unfortunately, self reflection is a power tool which is rarely used in the language classroom.
Finally, I would also say that technology plays an enhancing role as it may add colour to their experience in different ways e.g. allowing self reflection comments and feedback to be posted in a Padlet or Linoit or like-tool. Using the audio and/or video recording options of their mobiles (and if not available of the school's tablets) to record their experiences post a rehearsal stage or using their air drop or Apple TV or anything along the lines to let them display their work in class or with the school to support their confidence and sense of affiliation, agency and autonomy (Allan McLean).
Oxford, R. L., 2011. Teaching and Researching Language Learning Strategies. Applied Linguistics in Action Series. Eds. C.N. Candlin and D.R. Hall. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
McLean, A. Journey to Excellence - The Three As of Motivation. [online]. Last accessed on 16 November 2014 available at: http://www.journeytoexcellence.org.uk/videos/expertspeakers/the3asofmotivationalanmclean.asp