Where do you want your Materials to take you?

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Hi there everyone, I’m glad you boarded the flying carpet and are ready for take off with me.

As I said in the last jounal post, I hope this is going to be an adventure and since the first module we are doing is “Materials Development”, the adventure is to find out how to make your materials transform youe learners experience on the classroom. The question i was mulling over this evening is one we are discussing on the course and it is simply this: what do you want materials to do? What do you want them to provide?

Well, continuing with the flying carpet metaphor, I actually consider the materials are the vehicle for learning, so they don’t actually “do” or “provide” anything. It is the teacher and the learners who do things with them and who unlock the potential that is in them. You can fly your carpet to different destinations for different passengers, in fact. What I mean is that the same text or image can be used in a million different ways at different levels, in different context and with different learning aims in mind.

Teaching Philosophies

How we use materials depends largely on a combination of our teaching philosophy, our learners’ expectations and needs and the constraints of the environment we are working in. I sometimes have a course book assigned to a course I’m teaching and other times I’m lucky enough to be able to pick and choose. In any case I, like many of my colleagues am an asvocate of learner centred teaching, seeing learning as a process that individuals have to engage in and work through, and the teacher’s job is to provide a framework or scaffolding, in the Vygotskian sense, to help them along their own paths of discovery. To illustrate the role of the materials and what I want to do with them on this journey I’m going to focus today, on my own materials rather than commercially produced ones, although the same principles of use apply.

Making materials relevant, engaging and fun:
Personal Low and High points

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If our adventure is going to be meaningful we need to be involved, otherwise we’ll be getting off at the first stop the carpet makes and heading back for home! Motivation is key in the learning process so three elements to foster this are fun, relevance and challenge, so that learners are engaged, and I agree with Jeremy Harmer’s system: engage, study and activate, outlined in How to Teach English (longman 1998). To explain what I’m thinking here is an example. (See the image above) I quite often start off the new academic year with an activity called “high and low points from the summer”, so I suppose the first point here is that the materials being used need to be relevant both to the learners and to the stage of the course. Getting to know you comes at the beginning of courses, on the whole, and if we are at the end of summer it is relevant to look back on what people have been doing. The fun element comes in the ‘guessing element’ of matching experiences to images that are personalised, and the challenge is in the task which needs to make the learners think, to be not too easy, but not too difficult, with a dollop of krashen’s roughly tuned input thrown in for good measure in the lexical analysis. At this level lexis is something they generally need to work on quite a lot, so to start sensitizing them to it right at the start of the course in a fun getting to know you activity makes sense. In this way, you can see that another of my beliefs is that materials, tools and tasks all have to fit into the process of learning as systematically as possible. Of course i might decide at times to do a one off lesson on a song or a debate that has come up in the news, ut on the whole I am firmly convinced that our journey should have a clear destination point, even though we may stop off at different places on the way.

Speaking the languages your Learners do

In a course I did this summer, my learners, young university students said that when they were at school, what made the best teachers was the ability to listen to them and “actually talk to them”, and these days this means using the same materials our learners use to communicate with habitually. I have learners ranging in age from teens to their seventies and I may choose to use blended learning with some but not with others. This is where Dogme, i feel, really comes into its own. It doesn’t mean rejecting everything that has gone before so. Much as respecting the learners and their needs, putting them truly at the centre, so in a conversation class with a group of pensioners who would prefer to be out in the woods mushroom picking than surfing the net, of course it makes more sense to work in a more traditinal way with kinesthetic activities in the classroom (after all ltheynlove roaming throughthe woods, so they’re used to moving around a lot!). With my university students, on the other hand, it makes more sense to work in digital environments such as blogs, wikis and social media networks, or with tools that will help them for their futures such as doing presentations on powerpoint, yes, but also on Prezi. You get the picture, and I know this is largely common sense but it leads in to the next point.

Extending learning , materials, tasks and tools beyond the Classroom.

Many of my classes are large. This tends to happen in italian universities, and i have discovered that blended learning actually brings me closer to some (I know it isn’t true for everyone) of my learners. That is why I put the materials we are working with on my wiki with instructions for the next stage of the activity for them to do outside the classroom on a Linoit noticeboard. If you go to this page and look at activity 6) you will see how this works.

The work done outside the classroom can then be brought back into the next lesson so that the materials, tools and tasks being used can really break down the barriers of the classroom walls. So in the first image at the top of this article you can see the digital world in the background, on the screen ready to be accessed at any moment. This, in my opinion, is the magic of the experience which comes out of the collaboration of teacher and learners using inspiring materials and tools.

So, to answer the initial question, I want to be able to take my learners to new places and the matrrials are part of the journey, and i want to provide then with a reassuring framework for experimentation and growth both inside the classroom and online. The materials, tasks and tools we use are all part of the gorgeous pattern woven into our flying carpet.

Hope you are enjoying the ride šŸ™‚

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