Boy scout plan

This is how I felt after my three lessons today;

Okay, nearly 4 weeks in and I had a bad day. I shouldn’t complain really, but I had prepared, I had planned, I had made notes, yet for all three lessons I seemed to be scrambling to keep my head above water, for one reason or another.

I was wondering whether it was how I had planned. Did I give myself enough time? Did I think about their needs? Did I write my lesson plan out in such a way that I could easy snatch a glance and see exactly what was coming next? Should I be more explicit with my timing? The questions are endless. I know more or less what went wrong and what I need to do and I’m sure that some of it comes down to how I plan, but the idea of how we plan and how much time we spend planning has been something I have been thinking about for a while. So, I’m going to throw the question out there; How do you plan? Is there a special place you go to? Is there a set amount of time? Is there a specific set of procedures you work through?

All thoughts welcome.

Consider me an object and put me in a coursebook shaped vacuum

My shelf. Image by me.

So, a new school, a new start and a new teaching year. Also, a new topic to write about this year. Coursebooks. After a year of teaching without one, it seems like the obvious choice, right?

Well, my new school has issued me with coursebooks for all levels, pacing schedules and exam deadlines. There feels like very little freedom and space for experimentation. I don’t particularly want to rock the boat, well not just yet, so I am going to tow the line and confine my ramblings on the blog for my experience with the coursebooks.

I hope you will find it of interest.

I was a rabbit in your headlights.

(image taken from google images)

It’s been nearly 2 and a half months since my unplugged project came to an end. I would like to say I have been on a long, sun drenched, relaxing holiday and completely disconnected my overworked brain, but instead I threw myself into summer work and have only just come up for air.

Throughout that time, my reflection of the last teaching year has been on slow burn and after a recent conversation about what ’emergent language’ was, I felt it time to bring an end to this chapter of my teaching life.

For those of you who have followed this blog from the beginning, skip to the next paragraph. For those that are new, a very quick recap of the project. One intermediate class, one fairly inexperienced teacher, a blog to record everything that happened in the class and the chance to teach in the unplugged approach for an entire academic year. There were ups and downs, crisis’ of confidence, euphoria, breakthroughs and blogging block.

All that’s left to do now is summarise my thoughts on the whole thing. Which is easier said than done.

I will start with the good news. The four students that took the PET exam and were part of the project group from the beginning, all passed. You wouldn’t believe how happy this made me. The class was never really exam orientated, although with the exam fast approaching toward the end of the year I did base lessons around the PET exam and the final classes were devoted to exam technique and making sure the students were aware of the format.

Looking back at the year, I realise how incredibly lucky I was to carry out such a project. This couldn’t have been done without the support of my D.o.S, Emily Bell (@emilyvbell), my fellow teachers at IH Santander and my ever-expanding and awesome PLN. The magnitude of what I was actually attempting didn’t hit me until people like Anthony Gaughn, Jemma Gardner, Chiew Pang, Mike Harrison and Scott Thornbury, and many others, began to take an interest in what I was trying to do. In all honesty, it was completely bonkers. A second year teacher, with a hare-brained idea of teaching without a coursebook, with minimum materials and then taking on the added pressure of blogging about it and then presenting at two conferences. Madness. But you know what, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I took a journey that many people would never even have imagined, a journey that many other teachers would have shied away from, teachers with years of experience that have continued to follow the same well trodden path and never ventured from their comfort zone. I proved to myself that I could teach and that I was making a difference and I hope that people who have followed this blog, have been inspired or provoked to look at their own teaching and what happens in their classroom.

I also feel honored to have championed teaching unplugged as a legitimate teaching practice. While I am well aware that there needs to be a lot more research and debate rages as to whether it is ‘just good teaching’. I genuinely feel that it is an authentic way of teaching and can help a teacher to strip down everything around them and get back to basics.

I feel like a more rounded teacher, a more confident teacher and more importantly I am unafraid to experiment in my classes and push the boundaries. I’m convinced that this can only benefit my students and help to push English language teaching into the 21st century. Even if I don’t get it right the first time,  the amount of reflection and learning that happens is unprecedented, which I think project unplugged demonstrates.

To finish, I just want to add my thoughts on emergent language. Which I think is the cause of much debate and is quite hard to define and even harder to extract and then work with. I think emergent language exists. It is an indicator that the students are pushing themselves to experiment and produce an utterance that they are not quite sure of or perhaps haven’t studied properly but is appropriate to say at that moment. The slightly garbled and mixed up second conditional, which is then pounced upon by the teacher, exploited, clarified, practised and reinforced so that it become a part of that students language armory.

Just as important as emergent language is the language gaps our students have. The things they aren’t saying. The structures they aren’t using, when in fact the situation is screaming out for it. Some people might argue that the coursebook caters for this. Ploughing through from unit 1 to unit 12 will cover all the bases and fill those gaps, but unless we actually listen to our students and allow ourselves the opportunity to notice these gaps through conversation driven activities, we may just end up papering over those gaps and not filling them correctly.

Output (emergent language) + Input (filling the gaps) =   Results

On that note, I will draw a line under my unplugged experience. It’s been emotional and my Dogme days are not over. I have ideas and motivation for future projects but they will have to wait.