Originally posted on ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections:
“To make yourself, it is also necessary to destroy yourself.” (Patrick White, Voss, 1957)
I remember reading the above quote while I was travelling around New Zealand in 2009. I felt an immediate connection with the character in the book, a doomed pioneer who is determined to explore the Australian outback at all costs. I had in effect done exactly what he was talking about. I had called off my wedding, quit my well paid job just as the crisis kicked in, moved out of my flat by the sea and took all the money I had and went travelling to New Zealand and South America. It was the best thing I ever did, I’m sorry to sound heartless but it was. It was this reevaluation of life that led me to where I am today. Stripping everything back, deciding what it was I actually wanted to do and then choosing the path that led me to becoming an ELT teacher.
Now lets fast forward to the present day. I was lucky enough to attend the brilliant IH Barcelona annual conference last weekend. The line up of speakers was impressive and I was excited to see some old faces. There was no real theme to the conference as now seems to be the fashion, but throughout the conference and especially after a period of deep reflection the theme was evidently clear to me.
The conference began on the Friday evening with two excellent plenaries. The first was from Jessica Mackay (@JessBCN) My tweets from the session:
Jessica Mackay currently encouraging us to do research #IHBCNELT
Teachers are probably better at being able to explain their research to other teachers. It can help TD, be empowering & inspiring. #IHBCNELT
Research can help to refresh our teaching and make us rethink what we do in the classroom. #IHBCNELT
Sts benefit from a teacher who does research. That teacher is engaged, interested and cares about the class. Everyone wins. #IHBCNELT
A desperate need for research written by teachers for teachers. #IHBCNELT
It was a very inspiring start to the conference and had me sitting up, paying attention and immediately pondering what research I could do. The last comment above, was for me, a very powerful statement and something that I think is desperately missing from ELT. I don’t think research in a sense has to be about writing huge dissertations for your masters degree or papers and books laden with toilsome terminology. To be relevant and immediately useful for teachers on the ground it needs to be done in real-time, action research coupled with documentation through blogging. Easily accessible and open to comment and debate among other teachers.
Next up was Anthony Gaughan (@anthonygauhan), who was asking us, “Where are all the unplugged teacher trainers?” Anthony hit the ground running, wanting to know why Dogme/unplugged teaching was only being paid ”lip service (at best)” when it came to teacher training. Why wasn’t it given more time, more attention? Why weren’t trainees being encouraged to teach without the coursebook and work directly with what their students brought to the classroom? His argument was compelling and backed up with his own experiences of unplugging his CELTA courses. He then laid out an unofficial mandate for how teacher trainers and future trainers could set about unplugging their own courses.
I’m not a teacher trainer and far from being one, but this had me on the edge of my seat. I certainly hope I wasn’t the only one and I really hope that the teacher trainers who attended were paying attention. If we want to make a difference to teaching it has to be at the very root of the profession. Trainees need to be made aware that course books and materials are not the be all and end all of a successful lesson. Anthony talked about teachers walking unaided, with out the crutches of the coursebook to support them. If anything the bottle feeding of coursebooks to trainees is quite possibly what prevents them from walking unaided in the first place. The trainee needs to be trusted, encouraged, nurtured just like we do with our students, they must be made aware of the bigger picture and that picture can’t be found in a course book.
Luke Meddings kicked of proceedings on Saturday morning with his talk ‘Dogme, detour and drift:Learning from the situationists. He didn’t let us down. Taking us on a journey around the world, back in time and a trip to his mum’s loft.
His message was simple and hard-hitting.
Education is becoming obsessed with results, statistics and exams. Teaching is now akin to feeding information into empty heads. Spoon feeding language and discrete grammar. Luke was willing to provide us with an answer to counter this tide of standardization and testing. Dogme!
Dogme could be the key. Focus on dialogue, no focus on discrete grammar points. learn a language thru spking Giving people a voice #IHBCNELT
I couldn’t help but agree. Luke, as well as Anthony, was bringing Dogme back to the forefront of ELT. It is a viable alternative in a world where very few people are willing to break away from the pack and do something different. And to get it started we need to breakdown a few barriers.
The conference moved on and so did I. Moving around the conference hall to see as many people as possible. Some great talks, combined with useful ideas and further food for thought.
At 15.30 I found myself at a loose end, so I drifted into the main hall to watch Phillip Kerr talk about “The adaptivity of adaptive learning”. It blew my mind!
Coursebooks are on the move and this is bad news for teachers. The big publishing houses and many other newly formed businesses are currently investing huge amounts of money into adaptive learning. Coursebook content is moving online, likely to become cheaper and more easily accessible, making the need for real face to face teaching less and less. Teachers will be relegated and learning will be about learners consuming grammar and lexical mcnuggets. You would think that to spend billions of pounds on adaptive learning, you would need good old-fashioned research to support its credibility as a learning method. Well think again. The method is fueled purely by what is called, ‘Big Data’. Big companies collecting personal information and recording internet habits and trends to tailor personalised learning courses.
Big data is something we need to know about. we need to be aware of the effect it has on us We need to talk about it! Phillip Kerr #IHBCNELT
Money talks and it talks louder than all the teachers in the world put together. But Phillip gave us some hope, eloquently pointing out the big problems adaptive learning is likely to face in the future.
Language is socially constructed. Always has been & always will be. Phillip Kerr speaking about problems adaptive learning faces #IHBCNELT
Unfortunately he did end on a more negative note when he warned;
“Algorithm written coursebooks are coming … Good luck.” a chilling end to Phillip Kerr’s dose of dystopia at #IHBCNELT I’m scared anyway.
I’m not sue if I did Phillip’s excellent talk any justice, so I would highly recommend reading his blog, which you can find here - http://adaptivelearninginelt.wordpress.com/
So what about this theme?
All of the talks I have written about here struck a major chord with me. Almost like a wake up call, my own personal watershed moment. The theme was one of returning to basics, with the teacher becoming the most important learning tool in the classroom. Teachers researching their profession, teachers showing other teachers what is possible, teachers giving students a voice and freeing them from the ever-present pressure of exams and finally, teachers providing learners with the one true way of learning a language, face to face through dialogue construction.
This has inspired me to completely rethink my current teaching. As I hand back the most recent of the exams I have been teaching towards, I feel an uneasy guilt that I have become part of the system. A teacher that simply spoon feeds his way through the school year. I need a phase of stripping everything back again, destroying what I have become to then remake myself. Dogme, I believe, is key to this. It doesn’t mean a total disregard for coursebooks or materials in general. This is not a war or a rant against coursebooks, but a search for a viable alternative that utilises the teacher and creates a more meaningful way of teaching. I would like to prove that there is another way and bring this to the attention of as many people who are willing to listen. Like the doomed character at the beginning of the post I may well be wandering into my own personal desert, but at least I gave it a shot.
This air conditioned life has left me gasping for some real conversation. (Frank Turner)
Originally posted on The Secret DOS:
A bit of a polemic today, to mark the fact that I have woken up at some sort of ridiculous hour and now need to keep my brain occupied while waiting for the rest of the family to stir. The backstory: I am currently teaching a class that ranges from complete beginner to…well…to what exactly? I couldn’t possibly begin to tell you and I have been doing this job for over twenty years. Some of the students at the higher end of the ability scale are capable of talking, of joking, of communicating, but cannot spell, write, read or understand spoken English with any degree of accuracy. What placement test will ever be able to label them with certitude? At least one of the students in my class says absolutely nothing. When she is asked a question, she folds in on herself and tries to do that sort of physical corporeal origami that will see her disappear from this plane of existence. She has been in the UK for two weeks and has one week left before she goes home and rues the waste of money. How on earth am I supposed to teach this class?
Originally posted on Doing some thinking:
Language is quite a complex system – one which we try to organise according rules and norms. One of the common ways for us to think about such organisation is prescriptively, the way many of us were taught a second or a foreign language. If we look at what David Crystal says about prescriptivism, we will see that it “is the view that one variety of the language has an inherently higher value than others, and this ought to be imposed on the whole of the speech community. The view is related especially in relation to grammar and vocabulary, and frequently with reference to pronunciation.” And here we have the three pillars of what we learn when we study a language. If we don’t learn vocabulary, we won’t be able to get our message across as other speakers of the target language won’t know what we’re saying. However, if we only know the vocabulary of a language and lack any understanding of what glues the pieces together, a.k.a. grammar, we’re likely to be unable to convey more complex thoughts and communicate something that may require further, more complex thinking. Finally, there is pronunciation, which is not the same as accent. Pronunciation is needed should you want to speak to other user of the language you’re learning. But why teach a language prescriptively? In a nutshell, it is much easier to teach something that has a fixed structure, and to a certain extent, there seems to be some logic in saying that it is easier to learn something that has a rigid structure.
Perhaps we mistake learning a language for learning any repetitive process, which leads to the belief that a structural sequence will make things easier. Yet, memorising processes and formulas is actually more difficult than really thinking about them. But we don’t follow this pattern simply because we don’t want to uncover a more effective way – we constantly repeat the processes we’ve gone through in life simply because, well, it’s worked for us. How can we claim that something that has worked for (many of) us won’t work for students when we ourselves are living proof of the success of the current system? But let’s not forget that most people who managed to succeed did so because they were so interested in the subject that they’ve actually chosen it as a career. This is not true for most language students, who may not be motivated enough to go beyond the basic rules that prescriptive grammar teaches. Thus, they are unable to grasp the subtleties of everything they’ve learned and how it overlaps with new content instead of simply add to it; they have a hard time thinking about language more abstractly. I believe that motivation has a major role in learning per se. As Jeremy Harmer said, “one of the main tasks for teachers is to provoke interest and involvement in the subject even when students are not initially interested in it.” However, Harmer reminds us that motivation comes from within, and we can only hope that our actions and words will lead students to start prioritising the subject we’re trying to teach them.
This is a lesson idea that I put together for a group of proficiency students, who are taking part in a public speaking and communication course which I am currently teaching.
The main aim of the lesson is to draw students attention to the use of repetition, restatement and the power of 3 in speeches, to give emphasis.
I used the recent interview between comedian, Russell Brand and the well-known BBC broadcaster, Jeremy Paxman to illustrate my aims. The interview is fantastic and sees Russell Brand at his best, both compelling and eloquently spoken, with Jeremy Paxman playing the perfect devils advocate.
Here is the full video -
I also found the transcript of the video which can be found here -
I produced a very simple worksheet with some lead in questions and general discussion questions about the video itself. It is a word document so feel free to edit it as you see fit.
I have also put the transcript into a word document. The first is unedited. In the second I have highlighted repetition, restatement and the use of the threes.
I hope you find this lesson useful. I would like to have written a more detailed lesson plan but with currently being in the middle of my DELTA, this is the best I could do for now.
Please leave any comments or suggestions for improvements and I will do my best to get back to you.
Originally posted on iLoveTEFL by Christina Rebuffet-Broadus:
As you may have noticed from a few previous posts (The Big Picture: Teaching Grammar Holistically and Visually, Holistic Grammar with Cuisinaire Rods, and Teaching Past Simple vs. Present Perfect with Cuisenaire Rods), I’m a bit of a fan of finding fun ways of using Cuisenaire rods in ELT. Of course they’re amusing, colorful, and surprising for learners using them for the first time, but that’s just scratching the surface. They also have valid pedagogical qualities such being able to help learners notice patterns, bring the additional senses of touch and sight into language learning, and add an element of play to an otherwise cognitively taxing process (translation: they’re fun).