The breaking of the back was the making of the man.

“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.

Course books are not essential! @AnthonyGaughan hits the nail on the head. #IHBCNELT

Ditch your timetable, work back from results, start with what they can do, ask them what they think. #unpluggedteachertraining#IHBCNELT

Stop writing TP points, don’t ask for lesson plans, devote more time to guidance, stop answering, ask! #unpluggedteachertraining#IHBCNELT

Teach with them, don’t judge, help, 3 good reasons-economy-flexibility-self sufficiency for doing #unpluggedteachertraining #IHBCNELT

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.

School=exams=success. Real education is lost. @LukeMeddings sounds like he is building towards a rallying call. Revolution? #IHBCNELT

.@LukeMeddings: “When it becomes a revolutionary act to just teach instead of prepare students for the test, we’re in trouble.” #IHBCNELT

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.

Dismantle the box we are put in as teachers. Then go on to dismantle the boxes our students are kept in. @LukeMeddings great talk #IHBCNELT

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.

Adam Beale ‏@bealer81  Feb 8

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)

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.

Building steam with a grain of salt

From listening to records                                                                                                         I just knew what to do I mainly taught myself                                                                     And you know I did pretty well                                                                                               Except there were a few mistakes                                                                                     But um that I made uh                                                                                                       That I’ve just recently cleared up                                                                                               And I’d like to just continue                                                                                                   To be able to express myself                                                                                                 As best as I can with this instrument                                                                                     And I feel like I have a lot of work to do                                                                                     Still I’m a student of the drums                                                                                                And I’m also a teacher of the drums too

I came across this sentence last weekend and instantly knew I wanted to base a lesson around it, or even use it as a warmer/conversation starter;

If you had 2 minutes to talk to the whole world, what would you say?

I tried out a few formats with my early morning classes. They were a bit rough around the edges but produced some interesting results. One class produced a mini speech about what they would talk about if they had those two minutes, and the other class became a simple discussion class, after I changed the structure various times to allow the students to produce different answers and therefore different discussion points.

I decided to use it for my project to introduce, revise and work with the 2nd conditional.

I told the class I had found a really interesting question, but I couldn’t remember all of it. I wrote this on the board;

What would you say if you had 2 minutes……….

I passed out some slips of paper and asked the students to complete the question with whatever ending they wanted, and then they should swap the question with their partner and answer each others question. Immediately the class was alive with discussion and questions. I walked around helping with the construction of the sentences and vocabulary. I listened in to the answers and helped with pronunciation and corrected where necessary.

‘What would you say if you had 2 minutes with Obama?’

‘What would you say if you had 2 minutes to talk about your whole life?’

‘What would you say if you had 2 minutes to talk in front of Spain’s prime time TV audience?’

Once the discussion had died down, I changed the initial question and asked the students to do the same as before;

What would you do if you had 2 minutes………

The class erupted into even more noise, they seemed to really be enjoying this activity. The questions became more inventive and random, yet produced even more talking and language.

‘What would you do if you had 2 minutes to spend 10,000 euros?’

‘What would you do if you had 2 minutes to eat 3 pizzas?’

‘What would you do if you had 2 minutes to tell the woman of your life you loved her and you saw her in the street?’

‘What would you do if you had 2 minutes before some really important to you died?’

I went to the board and discussed all the points that had come up. I asked if they knew what grammar we were using in the lesson. Instantly the 2nd conditional was shouted out. We put the construction on the board, talked about swapping the clauses around, the position of the comma and why we use the 2nd conditional.

By now 30 minutes had gone by. It was surprising and satisfying that one simple sentence had produced so much already. I told the class we were going to read a text about a BBC programme, and put the title on the board;

People watchers

I asked them to discuss in their pairs what they thought the programme would be about and what they thought people watchers did. After some feedback and the mixing together of several ideas, we eventually came up with a suggestion. I asked the class to read the article to find out if they were right. They weren’t far off. Next I asked them to complete the five comprehension questions for the text. We did feedback and boarded the answers. We talked about unknown vocabulary and I asked them to pick out the 2nd conditionals. We were running out of time.

I told the class we were going to watch two clips from the BBC programme. Their attention immediately picked up. I wrote the question below, on the board. I asked the class to discuss it in pairs.

If you could steal something from a shop without paying for it, would you? 

We did a quick show of hands to see who would and who wouldn’t. Some people were very honest. I asked them to watch a clip of the show to see what the outcome of an experiment was that investigated this question. They had to simply tell me how many people paid for a paper. (4.50mins for the first question and 7mins for the second question)

We did the same for another question;

If a stranger came up to you in the street and asked to use your mobile phone, would you let them?

They watched the related clip and had to tell me whether the man or the woman was successful in getting people to lend them a mobile.

The end of the class was upon us. I asked them to write three 2nd conditional questions for homework and I intend to use them as a review and warm up in the next lesson.

I really enjoyed this lesson. Planning it, teaching it and being able to watch the students enjoy it too. I think this was by far the best lesson we have had together. The amount of talking and language that came out was unbelievable. And it was clear from the students faces that they were having a good time and engaging with the material. I had taken the text from the coursebook that we should be using from the class and also used the same comprehension questions included in the book. The actual planning of the lesson didn’t take long at all, and seemed to come together naturally. The question is, was it Dogme at all? I had planned the lesson and had a clear language point I wanted to cover. I was more than prepared to go off in another direction if necessary. The first half an hour was great, I anticipated maybe 10mins or, at the most, 15 mins for this, but allowed it to flow and continue as the students continued to discuss the questions. The rest of the lesson was straightforward and controlled by me, the teacher, yet highly productive and enjoyable. I could agonize over this, but I’m not going to. The students enjoyed the lesson, participated fully and left the class happy. At the end of the day, Dogme or not, this is what counts.

From watching other teachers                                                                                                 I just knew what to do I mainly taught myself                                                                     And you know I did pretty well                                                                                               Except there were a few mistakes                                                                                     But um that I made uh                                                                                                       That I’ve just recently cleared up                                                                                               And I’d like to just continue                                                                                                   To be able to express myself                                                                                                 As best as I can with teaching                                                                                              And I feel like I have a lot of work to do                                                                                     Still I’m a student of English                                                                                                And I’m also a teacher of English too

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.

 

I cannot find the comfort in this (Dogme) world.

“I cannot stop the thought, running in the dark, coming up a which way sign, all good ‘teachers‘ must decide” (E.Vedder)

I don’t normally write about my lessons until Sunday night, when I have had the weekend to wind down and put my reflection/blogging head on. But tonight I feel the need to blog here and now. There are too many thoughts running around my little brain to sleep. So here goes.

I felt confident about tonight’s lesson. After a weekend of reflection and some positive comments on the blog, I felt ready to go back into class with a new determined vigor and energy. Going back to basics I think was how I put it in the last post.

I opened up with a simple activity. In pairs, I asked the students to talk to each other about their weekends and tell their partner about the best and the worst thing about their weekend. We were off. Some nice conversations started, they were enjoying it, some vocabulary came and went up on the board. A good 5 minutes passed. I asked each student to report back what their partner had said. We listened, I asked a few questions, probed a little deeper. We had a little conversation about sleep, lying in on a Sunday, and then a student revealed that he didn’t like sleeping. He only slept for 5 hours a night because he liked to be active and was simply too busy for it. ‘Teachable moment’ flashed before my eyes, yet I resisted the urge. Very unlike me.

We wrapped up the activity and talked briefly about the last lesson. I checked that everyone had prepared their ‘family’ presentation and gave them a couple of minutes to check their notes. I split them into two groups and asked them to give their presentations. While they were talking, I wanted the other students to think of questions to ask them at the end. Simple enough and off they went. The presentations were actually quite good. Despite my reservations about the last lesson, the majority of them had taken on board the idea of the presentation having a simple structure and also some of the vocabulary from the last lesson came up too. I sat and listened, making notes to talk about at the end. One group was doing well, asking questions and continuing the conversation. Meanwhile the other group seemed to be struggling with follow-up questions. I resisted the temptation to throw in my own questions, then suddenly one of them blurted out a perfectly well constructed question. Excellent I thought, “anymore questions” I asked. Blank faces and the shaking of heads followed. The next person started to give their presentation, this was followed by another silent period and no questions and then again for the following presentation. One of the students had said she shared the same temper as her father and got angry occasionally. I decided to ask her about it to encourage the students to join in. ( it went something like this)

 ” So you get angry like your father then?” (me)

” angry?” (student)

” yes, you said you have a temper like your father” (me)

” I don’t understand” (student)

” A temper? You said your father gets angry sometimes. What does he do when he gets angry?” ( Me. By this time I have really slowed down my speaking voice and I’m now making gestures to signify anger)

“uhhhh…………..” (student)

“Does he shout, or sometimes bang things loudly?” (Me, know gesturing wildly)

A period of about 30 seconds passed. I was determined to get her to talk about this. 

“Go on you can do it, take your time” (Me. At this point I was doing a gesture as though I was coaxing a cat out of a tree)

She looked left and right, shrugged her shoulders and laughed out loud.

“I don’t know” (student)

I gripped the side of the chair and closed my eyes. A big breath and then I launched into the feedback, highlighting certain things on the board.

  • Struggling with saying dates, such as 1994 etc
  • I have 18 yrs instead of I was/am 18yrs
  • Questions to ask about how long or often things happened in the past
  • The pronunciation of words ending in -ed
  • The excellent use of the word ‘rebellious’ one of the students used to describe his brother.

I moved onto the next activity. I had brought a newspaper and cut out pairs of photos that had a common theme. Unemployment, celebration, work, weather, disaster. I asked the students to walk around in their pairs and choose the pictures they would most like to talk about. Once they had done this I asked them to discuss what they thought the pictures had in common and to write one word on the paper next to the pictures to describe this. Celebration came up straight away,  and with some encouragement so did work and unemployment. Next I asked the students to describe to each other what they could see in the picture. Lots of vocab again. I then supplied the groups with one question about each set of pictures that they had to discuss and give an opinion about. Before doing so I elicited different language we could use to give our opinion.  We had a good list;

  • I think….
  • I believe…..
  • In my opinion…..
  • From my point of view……..
  • As far as I’m concerned……..
  • My view is….

Okay we were off. It started well, some of the expressions were used. A little forced but nonetheless being used. I walked around listening and if the conversation dropped I wrote another question down to try to re-ignite it. It was hard going, to say the least. I encouraged them to talk about the question and discuss why, instead of just giving a short and extremely brief answer. We swapped pictures, the same thing happened, we swapped again. Well you get the picture. Blood out of a stone, springs to mind. The class dwindled to an end.

I asked the class to bring in their own picture for the next lesson. I think we need to try again with this one and maybe their own images will prompt some better discussion.

I felt very low at the end of this lesson, the lowest yet. Tonight was difficult, it taxed my patience and even made me a little angry. (see conversation) I’m becoming a little frustrated and perhaps even a little stressed. Feeling the pressure somewhat, I guess. I have never felt comfortable with this class and never feel relaxed enough to simply enjoy the lesson without worrying about what’s happening next. The complete opposite of what I knew Dogme/ teaching unplugged to be before I started this project. Before, in the unplugged lessons I had done previously, things were much more laid back and easy-going. Because of this the lessons were far more productive, I had more energy and excitement and the students fed of this positiveness. Now I feel as though I am only transmitting negativity and this is perhaps affecting the students. I mentioned earlier about the possible ‘teachable moment’ that came up at the beginning of the lesson. Normally I would have dived head first into it, instead I was more worried about what I had planned. I worry about covering what’s on the ‘can do list’ and student generated syllabus or what the book should be covering at this stage. I know that my DOS, who has been incredibly supportive and encouraging, is watching me closely and will be the first to tell me that it’s just not working and perhaps it’s time to call it a day.

Am I expecting to much, planning too hard, pushing too hard or simply not good enough?

“I wish I was a neutron bomb, for once I could go off!” (E.Vedder)

 

 

Black hole sun

With the relative success of the previous lesson I wanted to try to continue with the same topic of family and introduce the other two skills we hadn’t really concentrated on, listening and writing.

The start of the lesson was based around discussing the relationships with our families, whether they had a big family or not and would they like to have a family in the future. Not much came up in the discussion and it proved to be hard work to get the students to open up. I moved on and told the class that I was going to tell them about my own family and I wanted them to answer some questions after I had finished. I did the live listening with an initial gist question and then repeated it again with the same information, but this time with four questions looking for specific information. This all went smoothly enough and the students asked me some questions about my family and home town.

Next I explained that I wanted the students to give their own short presentation about their family. Before doing this, I split the class into three groups and asked them to brainstorm as much vocabulary related to families. I monitored the groups. At first it was simply names for different members of the family, so I talked with the groups about how they could describe people in their family. A list of adjectives started to grow but apart from that nothing else seemed to come up. Noticing that the groups were struggling I talked about how I had staged the listening. First some general background information to set the scene, a chronological order of how the family was formed. (where and when my mum and dad met, the years my brother and I were born etc) Some specific information about similar characteristics and family traits and then a general summary to finish. The students looked a little lost at this point. I boarded the different stages and asked them to start making notes for their presentation.

The atmosphere of the lesson seemed to take a massive dive at this point. I tried my hardest to circulate between the students and offer some support. I had to reiterate several times that they were writing notes and not a script to read from. There were some blank faces, and empty pages. One of the students started to speak in Spanish across the room, then another then another. The lesson was becoming something of a ‘black hole’ as my D.O.S kindly put it. I could feel the black cloud of doubt drifting in. The class came to an end and I was thankful, yet disappointed and left pondering where and why it had gone wrong.

I had a long chat with my D.O.S the next day about what had happened. The feedback was immensely helpful and helped me to really analyse the lesson. Below is my post-mortem.

I think the main problem was the topic. The previous lesson about family had gone well, but only after some pushing from me and a lucky break. In reality I should have moved onto something else and moved in another direction. There had been a general reluctance to discuss any off the open class questions at the beginning of the lesson and I should have noted this and taken it on board.

Secondly, I wasn’t comfortable about doing the live listening. I don’t quite know why, I’ve done it before, I just think I could have found an authentic recording or video to use. I would have liked to have a written record of it to give to the students to help with the structuring of their own presentation. Something to refer back to and to also see the staging clearly.

The group brainstorming partially worked. Some new vocabulary came up but I think it could have been far more useful and interactive. I could have created a class mind map on the board, a culmination of the groups and really built upon what they already knew, eliciting and probing for new words and language. Opportunity missed.

Finally asking the students to take notes in class really should have been done for homework. What better place to get information about your family than in your family home. Stupid really. If I had done that we could have perhaps moved onto some vocabulary recycling activities and perhaps picked up the tempo of the lesson. Rookie mistake.

A lot didn’t go right and it was by far my most disappointing teaching experience with the project so far. The best thing about the lesson was the feedback the next day and writing this blog. The perfect way to take a step back and really reflect on what happened in the lesson. To late to save the lesson but I have learnt a lot just from this one reflection.

My D.O.S asked me if this experience had discouraged me from carrying on. I instantly replied, no. I was disappointed with the lesson, angry even, that I had let the students down and delivered a below par lesson. But I would say I am more determined than discouraged. I think that at times I am trying to control the lesson too much and over plan. Going against the unplugged principles and taking away the emphasis from the students. I think that knowing I have to try to deliver what is on the course syllabus is dictating how I approach the lesson. Rather than a natural emergence, it’s more like forcing something out that I know needs to be covered.

So for the next lessons I think it’s time to go back to basics. Don’t think, just do. Keep it simple and allow the language to emerge. Build it and they will come!