Unplugging the Spanish classroom.

Now that the term is well under way, and I have settled into a nice routine, I feel as though I can concentrate on other things. I have decided to start Spanish lessons again, beginning on Monday. Nothing earth shattering I know, but after getting published in the Guardian, did I mention that by the way http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/education/2011/oct/11/class-report-native-speaker-woes, the Spanish teacher at my school started asking questions about teaching unplugged and has taken it upon herself to try to read ‘teaching unplugged’. (Thornbury&meddings, 2009)

A couple of days later, I asked if she would like to practice teaching unplugged with me. Two, hour lessons a week, no more photocopies, adapting activities from the book and generally making it up as we go. She seem’s very excited about the venture, as do I. A great chance for me to be on the other side of things, more importantly, I’m helping another teacher to try something new and develop, as well as perhaps helping to spread the unplugged gospel, in the Spanish teaching world.

I was wondering if perhaps I was being a bit too hasty in asking my Spanish teacher to go unplugged, until I read this blog from Ben Naismith, http://eltstew.wordpress.com/2011/11/04/random-spanish-vocab-at-its-finest/ He talks about learners learning what they want to and not what is prescribed by the teacher, emergent language and the dullness of set material. I know that I hate being handed a stack full of photocopies, filling in endless gap fills and listening to conversations between Pedro and Jose in a cafe. I know, that if I went back to Spanish lessons such as these, like Steve, I would probably lose interest and drop out. Therefore subjecting my girlfriend to listen to my painfully bad Spanish for another 6 months, before deciding to try again. I suppose it must sound a little selfish too. Expecting my teacher to learn and deliver a brand new way of teaching after only just learning about it. But, I think we are both aware of the possibilities and difficulties that we face and I see it as more of a partnership than a normal teacher, student relationship.

So on Monday a new chapter to my unplugged adventures starts. I would love to know if anyone else has tried a foreign language in this way. I would hate to think I was the first and only. I will post some feedback as the weeks go by and hopefully get some comments from my teacher too.



8 thoughts on “Unplugging the Spanish classroom.

  1. Hi Scott,

    I don’t know an awful lot about Dogme, but the situation you’re describing reminds me of ‘language exchanges’ or ‘intercambios’ as my Spanish teacher called them. They’re something very common when you’re studying a foreign language at university and involve meeting up with a native speaker of the language you want to practise, probably over a coffee. Basically, you just chat and your speaking partner helps you find the vocabulary you’re missing (and correct your pronunciation and grammar errors if you want them to). After, say half an hour, you switch language and help your partner to practise their English in the same way.

    I suppose the main difference between this and teaching unplugged is that your speaking partner isn’t a trained teacher in the language exchange and can’t explain ‘why’ something is the case. e.g. ‘But why can’t I say I’ve done it yesterday?’ – ‘ I don’t know – you just can’t!’.

    • Hi Maria,
      Thanks for reading and commenting.
      I would say that ‘Dogme’ is a lot more than a simple intercambio, yet at times if the lesson is delivered correctly, it can feel like a natural conversation. I know intercambios well. I met my girlfriend through a language exchange, so I appreciate there value in more ways than one 😉
      With ‘Dogme’ you have a lot more structure, although this might not seem apparent at times to the student. The teacher is analyzing the language that emerges and deciding what needs work and perhaps where the lesson needs to be steered in order for that language to be refined, practised and consolidated.
      If you would like to know more, read ‘Teaching Unplugged’ by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings. The foundation on which ‘Dogme’ is built.

      Scott, errr, I mean Adam.

      • Yeah, I think I will have to read that book soon. Every day I learn a little more about Dogme but still don’t know very much. Thanks for the recommendation and sorry about the name error – I must have had Scott on my mind hehe. ¡Y suerte con tu proyecto español!


  2. You know, Adam, I once had a Spanish teacher… this was way before Scott & Luke published their book… well, she was teaching unplugged most of the time. Was she doing it consciously? I’ll never know the answer. However, from my point of view at that time, I wasn’t learning much from her class. She had a problem – the class was of an extremely mixed level, ranging from someone like me, who couldn’t string together an error-free sentence, to students who had been in the country for 20 odd years. Her major error, and that had so much influence on me as a teacher, was that she allowed a few students to monopolise the conversations. People like me became quieter and quieter, too embarrassed to even utter a word, but was pleased when it was coursebook or grammar time!

    The other point against her was that, as far as I can remember, she didn’t analyse or scaffold emergent language; perhaps she might have directed us to some words or expressions that the conversationalist needed, but any ‘structured’ vocabulary or grammar work was always done from the book.

    Hope you’re learning well from your teacher – we always learn something, if we open our minds, as I did with my unplugged teacher! 😉

    • Thanks for commenting Chiew.

      I had my first lesson today. It rocked! I was a little blown away by how well she had adapted to the material and the general idea behind the teaching. It was non stop talking for a full hour, with a nice little error correction slot at the end. I must confess that at the moment it is a one to one class, so I don´t have the problems that you mentioned in your comment above. It was great and weird to be on the other side, especially when we did some of the activities that I had already tried with some of my own classes. I´m certain that because I knew what my teacher was trying to do, the lesson flowed so much better, so perhaps in a way I am giving her a false sense of security. Still, it´s only the first lesson. Time will tell, I guess.


  3. Hello Adam,

    I hope you’re OK. I am currently teaching Spanish one to one and one of my friends who is teaching English just introduced me to the teaching unplugged world. It sounds very interesting to me. I have generated some ideas and lesson plans but tomorrow is my first unplugged lesson and i am feeling a little bit nervous, I was wondering if you can ask to your Spanish teacher if she is interested in exchanging ideas with me and perhaps could give me a some tips? If she agrees she can contact me by email: lebaque@hotmail.com, my name is Daniela Becerra.

    Thanks and enjoy the day.


    • Hi Daniela,

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I will certainly pass on your details to my Spanish teacher. I think it will be good for her to talk to somebody else who is doing the same thing. Good luck with your first unplugged lesson. It would be nice to know how it goes. Feel free to write about it here if you like.

      All the best


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s