Are you an English educator, a teacher or a trainer? This is a blog which will point you towards my work, discussions and thoughts among other things that you can read and comment on too.You can look at ways of teaching English. You can share your ideas with us and you can spread our ideas to others. This is the basis of this EFL community
Since it’s the first Monday in June I thought I’d kick off the week with a Blog Challenge about models of English, which is something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot. Obviously, we all use English in different ways, depending on our needs, but is the model we are providing, and, above all, assessing the right one for our learners?
Which Model is right for Italian students?
I teach, as you know, in Italy, and our model tends to be Standard British English. The coursebooks used in state and private schools, and to some extent universities, are mass market globally produced books that come from the UK, on the whole. Even though there are some locally produed books, particularly for the eaching of literature, most of the books are not local, so how relevant are they to our context? Our learners, unless they are language students with a deep rooted interest in language, are motivated to study because they will use English, not to become part of a community where English is the L1 but to communicate in multilingual contexts. This begs the question of what we should teach them. If individuals with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds wish to communicate, of course they will need a model which enables them to understand each other, so, for instance, a local model which includes code switching between English and Italian or “Italian forms in English” will only work among Italian speakers, which rather defeats the purpose!
My take on this has always been to teach the standard British model, as we are in Europe, so it is arguably the closest one to us, and then to encourage creative use, such as adding local sayings, idioms and metaphors (in English) which enrich the language. So far so good. Students learn the basic model to the best of their abilities and then go off into the sunset using it as well as they can. The next problem is assessment.
When it comes to assessment I think we need to be using a different model. In recent years, with the implementation of the CEFR the move has been to recognise what individuals “can do” when they are communicating, with an emphasis on skills rather than the lexico-grammatical system, although of course the two are closely interconnected. This, however, is where beliefs and traditions die hard, and some find it very difficult to be able to change their perspective towards seeing these learners as people who are using the language to commnicate, and recognising what they can do, rather than simply focusing on the errors.
I have a lot of sympathy for examiners. It’s a complex job which involves judgments that combine the application of criteria (if that is the type of examining being done) with beliefs and traditional habits. For teachers, in classrooms, and this, in my experience is true both of NESTs and NNESTs, what we notice first tends to be error. It hits you between the eyes, if you like, and is seen as something “broken” and many see the job of the teacher as “helping learners to avoid error”. Is it realistic, however, to expect learners to achieve high, almost native speaker like, levels of competence and do they need to do this? I believe that assessment means looking at successful expression and teaching means facilitating learners so that they can develop their own voice and expression tools, to the level that is required by the use they will ultimately make of the language.
So, what about the challenge? Here it is: a few questions for you to consider about your context.
What context do you teach in?
What is the dominant model of English taught?
What is the dominant model of English assessed?
Does this meet your learners’ needs?
I’d be really interested to hear people’s thoughts 🙂
Blended Learning: face to face interaction with support from the digital world.
If you look at this image, you will see the essence of what I think of as learning in action. It isn’t a mill drill, it is meaningful discussion going on in the F2F component of a blended learning approach to teaching.
Learners interact with each other and with the teacher who encourages them to find their own paths and is there providing encouragement and direction where needed. I’m not going to cite all the people who advocate learning as a social phenomenon but I’d just like to mention Mike Harrison, who, in a recent blog post, reacted to Sugata Mitra’s vision of children huddled round computers interacting with machines in a wounded but dignified way and said that the social interaction is one of the major aspects of what he thinks of as teaching, and I agree completely with this.
This is not a new idea, it is the essence of constructivist views of learning where knowledge is built socially and in my classrooms, at any rate, learners and the teacher work together to develop the process building a community which acts as a framework within which meaningful communication and learning may, hopefully, take place.
Why was there such an outcry after Mitra’s plenary?
Sugata Mitra’s plenary, on Saturday 5th April at the end of the Iatefl conference, seemed to be suggesting that the teacher was an element that was no longer necessary. In his question and answer session that was held yesterday (April 19th) it seemed clearer to me that he was focusing on the learning process and was particularly concerned with areas of the world where teachers are not available, and how to promote learning in these places, rather than saying that teachers were obsolete, although his implication was that in the future the role of teachers must change. He advocates children organising their own learning with challenging question being asked that they can then answer or not, and with “granny figures” who provide support and admiration from afar. A key element, he said, was that the grannies should be amazed by what the children tell them and what they have learned. The teachers, then would become the grannies, as far as I can see, which is not too far removed from the role of “facilitator” which has already been widespread for quite some time.
Although there has been the whole gamut of emotions in the outcry to his presentation the question and answer session yesterday, which should soon be available as a video for all those who missed it, was interesting both for the answers Mitra supplied to the questions we asked him and for the discussion that went on in the chat box, which raised other issues.
I still have a few qualms about all this which I’d like to share with you. I’ve left it until now to publish as I wanted to hear what he had to say in the webinar first 🙂
Watching the Sugata Mitra video and the interview made me think that:
Do Learners need or want direction or not?
Actually, he isn’t an educator and doesn’t claim to be (although he is Professor of Educational Technology…). In the interview he said that the role of teachers was something he was thinking about. However, he compares a SOLE (self organised learning environment) session with a ‘lecture’ and the key word here is lecture, as this seems to be his impression of what teaching is. This may be true in some contexts but not all, and there are many educators who already work with both Internet- webquests and group work.
My thoughts on Non directed Learner Autonomy
In the webinar he said that a SOLE differs from a webquest because a webquest is learners interacting alone with computers to go to specific web sites provided by teachers, but this is quite a narrow view of what a webquest is. Guidance may be provided, but there is no reason why webquests cannot be done in groups and sites provided when asked for but learners do not need to be limited to these sites. I mentioned, in the webinar, my experience with learners who, when left to their own devices, are not necessarily autonomous, and may, in fact, be directed by the materials they find.
They often, for instance, stop at the first online dictionary they find, rather than comparing different ones, and yes, I admit it, they are the ones that I suggest to them. I have quite a lot of experience of online dictionaries and can tell them what I think is good or bad about them, and then leave them to make up their own minds.
It is also, I think, something of a utopian view to think that everyone, when provided with materials, will magically become a successful independent learner. In fact, in the ELT world we have seen after years of experiments with such things as self access centres, that most learners are NOT able to direct their own learning as successfully as Mitra implies. Learners will go into a self access centre and their learning will be determined by the materials, which is a completely different thing from using materials in the guidance of an expert teacher in a supportive classroom, where learners can experiment, ask questions and teachers can adapt the materials, tasks, topics etc. to the needs of their learners.
I realise that this is not what happens in many classrooms, unfortunately, and I feel that my own context in Italy is a long way away from the experiments in India, where there were few, or even no, teachers available, but I simply don’t think that findings from contexts like these can then lead to generalised statements about teaching. What we need to do is to ask ourselves what the components were that “worked” and how these elements can be adapted and combined with successful teaching in ELT contexts, if we are not already doing this, albeit in different ways.
What are the Key Ingredients in Mitra’s SOLEs ?
The key ingredients are directed peer learning, with challenging questions and affect both the fun the learners are having, their motivation and curiosity and the support provided in the admiration that comes from the granny figures. This all seems, dare I say it, fairly standard for the elt world, but is it standard for mainline schools? The emotive comment of “factoring out the teacher” could perhaps, and I say perhaps, because I’m trying to be objective here, mean factoring out traditional top down teaching and the cognitive focus on lower order skills, or dumming down of learners, which has been changing in our field for many years. This is not true, however, of education authorities who insist on, as Mitra says, ignoring the Internet and banning its use from the classroom.
There are, of course, reasons why this is done too, and working s a teacher who has to juggle institutional constraints, aim for good exam results and promote motivated learning as well is no easy task. The criticism, I feel, however, should be aimed more towards the ministerial programmes, the systems that look at learning as a matter of ticking the boxes, and testing systems which are archaic and do not perhaps meet the needs of learners in many parts of the world.
So… I conclude that what he is saying, as many people have protested over the past two weeks, is not particularly new, on the one hand and an emotive response driven by fear for our jobs may well make us throw up our hands in horror, when what we need to do is think about how to organise our own systems and in particular our testing systems as the washback from these inevitably affects our teaching.
Finally, I still think Mitra was speaking more as a researcher, even though he said he was ‘trying to find a way for children to learn where there would not be a teacher’ so he did not give the children in India any help, but we are educators and we can give our learners help. We, as educators can focus on how to direct their learning so that it is fun, constructive and challenging, just like the image at the top of this post, where learners experiment with different ways of learning until they find what suits them best, in a supportive, meaningful community that is created in the classroom…. I think that’s the positive message, and many of us already do this, don’t we?
After all the excitement of Iatefl last week, I hit reality back in the classroom this week, and what with all the to do about Sugata Mitra’s ideas and the need to make up a whole series of lessons I suddenly found myself in a very dark professional place. I am teaching a group of learners, or rather, trying to help them, prepare for the Cambridge Advanced Exam in June this year. However, do we have an academic year to prepare for this? No, we have 7 lessons, and now, due to Easter and various national holidays we are about to have a three week break. This, as is understandable, has caused a certain amount of panic both for the students and for me. Far from following high demand teaching, something I truly believe in, we have been focusing on exam strategies and they have been doing practice tests at home, independently.
Learning or Devouring exercises?
Focusing on exam strategies! Good idea, I hear someone say. Well, yes, that is what I thought too, until I realised that what they are doing is trying to do as many tests as possible, swallowing entire volumes of tests, emptying the library and then coming back for more. They are definitely motivated, but my energy dip and depression came from the realisation that this is all very shallow, and that I really have no idea if they are actually learning anything at all. I had just finished gong painstakingly through two exercises designed to make them aware of the need not just to focus on single words but to focus on words and the other words they collocate with. It was an exercise where they had to look at sentences, which were examples of candidate errors in the Use of English exam, and decide where the preposition errors were. I went over the activity and they got the answers right with very little trouble.
I knew I was in trouble, though, when I saw someone checking “something” could it have been a train timetable? on her phone. This activity was so far away from engaging these learners that they may as well have been on the Moon.
Time to stop and Reflect
So, what did I do? Well, I said, “OK”… and they were already focusing on the next exercise, when I said “No, let’s think about this.” The smartphone was put aside for a minute. I said. “Yes, you can identify the prepositions very well but can you use these expressions? Will you remember any of them five minutes after you have walked out of this door?” This was said humorously and so greeted by nervous laughter but I then took pity on them, smiled, and said “So how can you remember new language?” This was familiar territory and someone, with a rsigned expression said “write sentences” and I replied that yes, they could do that, but today we were going to do something different.
Mechanical study or “Meaningful” study?
Stage 1: Cognitive Study
I then asked them in two groups to take one exercise each and paraphrase the phrasal verbs and expressions( these were things like I congratulated him on getting a new job. Absolutely not memorable for these students or anyone else for that matter) I asked them to think about the context the expressions were being used in, and monitored. It soon became clear that there were several problem areas. What could you set up, for instance? Could you only set up a business or could you set up a committee as well? This led us naturally into dictionary work, and they found out how to use these expressions in a lot more depth. They then mixed the two groups and shared their findings, and by this time the questions were coming thick and fast. The smartphone was being used for the dictionary app and the train timetable was a thing of the past.
Stage Two: personalisation and experimentation: making the language your own
Then I asked them to choose five of the expressions and to make them into questions to interview someone in the other group. This was where the meaningful action came as they asked “real questions” and created content that neither I nor the traditional exercises could have predicted. “to congratulate someone on something” was transformed into “Has anyone ever congratulated you on passing your exams? Much more meaningful for these students as was the reply: “Yes, my parents have… when I deserved it.”
Before long we were involved in a discussion about Starbucks and why the concept probably wouldn’t work in Italy. This was communication and, I think, it was definitely demand high teaching.
At the end I asked them why we had spent 30 minutes of our precious lesson on two exercises. They answered that it had helped them to really understand this language. At that point I felt that the energy dip had passed and I was back on track. I agreed with them and warned against mechanical exam practice without going into the language in depth and sent them of with a series of things to do over the three week holiday including the idea that they should “Make the exercises they do really work for them”.
I’m quite excited to see what they bring back with them 🙂
I’ve recently been thinking quite a lot about digital literacy and not only because we are studying the concept at the moment on my MA course but what it means to my learners too. So I thought I’d share my conclusions with you. This is a bit more academic than usual but I hope you’ll bear with me.
What digital literacy means to me
I was initially very impressed with Bax’s notions of normalisation, when I heard them in 2010 at the Iatefl conference in Harrogate, and I think this tied in with what Scott Thornbury was saying at the same event where he concentrated on ‘the need to ensure that the technological tail does not wag the pedagogical dog’. What this means to me is that digital literacy is: being able to use online spaces and digital tools to communicate, work, learn and create in a ‘normal’ way so that the tools and competences required are part of everyday life. This, of course, includes all the various key elements of digital literacy that are mentioned in the literature, such as knowing how to use technology to create content which is appropriate for the target online (or otherwise) context, with an awareness of copyright and plagiarism notions and knowing how to publish or share that content safely. It means knowing how to search for and find information, involving filtering skills and critical thinking, and knowing when to switch off and go for a walk instead. Finally, it also means network literacy, including cultural understanding of what sort of environment you are in and what is appropriate behaviour, as well as the implications of what you publish and the digital imprint you are creating for yourself. This is a broad summary of some of the ideas explored in (Hockly, H.( 2012), Dudeney, G. (2012), Poore, M (2013), Payton, S. & Hague, C. (2010)
Implications for Teachers and The Learning Process
(Click on the image to access the Facebook Page)
To come back to the idea of normalisation and Thornbury’s metaphorical technology dog, it is inevitable to some extent that the ‘wow factor’ has a negative impact when teachers (or learners) use technology simply because it is a novelty but without sound pedagogical principles behind that use, and although this does happen, it is also true that there are many teachers who integrate technological tools systemically into their teaching.
Introducing social media, for example, in a principled way is one highly effective way of doing certain things such as using the class Facebook Page to extend a discussion, which was started in class, but there was not enough time to take any further, or to work on language, to encourage learners to read and watch videos by providing sites and tasks and to provide them with an informal space to post their own content and share ideas.
Here is one example of a discussion which university students began in class on the subject of what success means to them. This was then continued outside class on their Facebook page
The initial post:
This morning we discussed “success” in the C1 lesson. What does it mean to you? Money and fame, or…?
The fact that there were only four comments is, in my opinion, not particularly significant, as what is much more important here is the fact that 202 people saw the post and thoughts about it. Lurking, in fact, is a choice, and the fact that someone does not comments does not necessarily mean that they are not learning something from the page. The discussion has effectively been extended beyond the classroom to become a part of our ‘normal’ digital world on Facebook.
There are, however, various issues that my learners need to come to terms with which go beyond the issues of functional digital literacy (using blogs, social media to create content among other things). (Poore 2013). They need to become more aware of what it means to be part of a network and what they are actually publishing. Many learners are not aware of issues of safety and privacy. They do not know what it means to publish their photos on social media, and what rights they are giving the owners of the space by doing so. On the other hand we are living in what is increasingly becoming a ‘remix’ world, where the boundaries between what is real and what is a spoof, are getting more and more blurred every day, so learners need to know what is real and what isn’t. This however, may go beyond the remit of the ELT class. What is essential in my context of the university world, however, is the notion of plagiarism and copyright, which learners are not often aware of particularly when it comes to publishing photos they have found online. All these are areas that need to be explored.
Bax recently wrote, in 2011, however, an article revisiting his view of normalisation, which he defined in 2003 as ‘the stage at which a technology is used in language education without our being consciously aware of its role as a technology, as an effective element in the language learning process (Bax, 2003)’ and in the 2011 article he examines some of the fears and expensive mistakes that are made when institutions, for instance, introduce technology because of the ‘wow’ factor, interactive whiteboards, being a blatant example of this if not support and training is also provided or only occasional access to the tool is allowed. He argues for a constructivist approach to the implementation of technology, and I would agree with this although I can remember a few years ago trying to motivate learners to use Skype to organise “spoken practice” session with a partner who lived in another town. The idea was that they should do a set task together using Skype. This was very unsuccessful, and with hindsight, it was another example of encroachment perhaps, of them not really using Skype for education, but rather for chatting to their friends. Recently, however, a group of my learners were preparing collaborative presentations using Prezi, and when I asked them to give feedback on how they had set about this, they said that they had skyped. To skype, then has become a verb, and is a normalised means of communication for these students who simply used it as the most convenient way to communicate with each other in order to do the task they needed to. The difference is that the technology is not a novelty to them, any more than a pen would be. It is simply a means to an end, and what is perceived as important is the task they are involved in.
Final Thoughts: the magical experience
As a final comment on digital literacy, however, I would like to add that I think true ‘digital citizens’ are in fact fascinated by technology and are curious about exploring the potential various tools can provide, precisely because they are amazed, not by the technology or the devices themselves, but by what they can enable us to do. Too much normalisation can lead to us losing the sense of wonder or the miraculous that is what makes people react to the novelty or the ‘wow factor’ of the tools in the first place. The use of the car, for instance, has been completely normalised in my socioeconomic context of Northern Italy, but sometimes to simply sit in your car and realise how powerful it is and what a wonderful thing it is to be able to travel such distances so easily, or to realise what it means to press a button and find a whole orchestra inside a little box we call a stereo, is a salutary experience. I remember the delight I first felt when I shared a photo of my day out to the seaside on Facebook, and people immediately responded to it. These tools are wonderful things precisely because they extend communication in new ways, and they are part of the miracle of life.
Bax, S. (2003) CALL – past, present and future. System 31 (1) March pp. 13-28
Bax, S. (2011) Normalisation Revisited: The Effective Use of Technology in Language Education. International Journal of Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Teaching 1 (2), April-June. pp. 1-15.
Different teachers have different views on this question, sometimes based on well thought out theories, or observation of learning in practice, and sometimes… Well, sometimes not.
Being corrected: how does it feel?
The thinking goes that learners, being delicate hothouse plants will wither if corrected, and no longer be able to bloom. Well, actually, in fact it is true that most of us have mixed feelings about being corrected. Nobody likes to think that they have made a mistake… after all, some of us grew up with parents and teachers etc. whopenalised errors at every turn, so of course, we react badly when “we make a mistake”: it is an irrational emotional reaction to something that we learned was “bad” at a very deep level. On the other hand, most of us want to be able to improve whatever it is we are learning and to become more effective so in language learning this means knowing what those errors are and learning how the language works so that we can express ourselves as well as possible. These are all reasons why the usual approach for teachers is to correct “sensitively” as generations of teacher trainees have been told, and yet this often translates, particularly for new teachers who are unsure about so many areas of teaching (after all they are learning too 🙂 ) into not correcting at all, with the justification of not “hurting students’ feelings”.
How can we get away from the idea that “errors” are BAD; BAD; BAD?
I would go slightly further than saying that we need to correct sensitively and say that we need a shift in perspective, where errors are seen as an interesting side effect of the language learning process. Once they are robbed of their explosive emotional charge, we can start to look at why they occur, and how they differ from the standard usage. If, for instance, a student chooses the word “side”, saying or writing “on the one side” when what they want to say is “on the one hand” it is interesting for that learner to be able to see how the target language differs from their L1, and by analysis and further experimentation using the “correct form” they will be able to integrate it into their own personal English lexicon. This is just one example of how error analysis can be of great value to learners, once the idea of the “terrible mistake” has been banished from the equation.
The question of when and how to correct of course is also important and there are various considerations for all of us as teachers to bear in mind: here are three of the fundamental ones, in my view:
1) What is the aim of the task the learners are doing?
2) What and How do you intend to correct?
3) Where will the learner go next?
So let’s look at each if these questions in turn:
1) What is the aim of the task the learners are doing?
This is the first thing to think of, in my view, because if your task focuses on fluency or is a warmer at the beginning of a lesson, then it may not be so appropriate to correct learners directly or even at all, and this is true whether we are thinking about written or oral production. We all know what happens when students are in the middle of a discussion and the teacher intervenes and says: “Go?.. In the past?” trying to elicit “went” or any of the other correction techniques we all use: the students, obviously, stop thinking about the ideas they were discussing and focus on accuracy. The underlying message here is that what is important is getting it right not exchanging or communicating your ideas. Of course, there is a time for accuracy. I’d be the first person to say this, but not when we are focusing on fluency.
This is why we have the idea of indirect correction too. You might choose to make a note of language points during a discussion, for later use in an accuracy slot, or you might simply choose to have a space for expression and not correct at all. My own personal example of informal expression space for my learners is our learners’ Facebook page, where we often extend discussions that we have started in class, and it is an informal space where people post their ideas and “talk to each other”. This is made clear at the start of term, and the learners are happy because they can experiment there and they know at correction will be taken care of in other places. However, even here, if I see something of particular interest, or if I have noticed interesting language points in student homework or in class that I want to underline, I will post these points on the Facebook page with explanations, comments and space for experimentation. This is once again , with the idea of analysing language, drawing attention to things and building on their knowledge, rather than penalising them for something that is “wrong”. It is also helpful to point out good language use as well, things that you find particularly expressive from learners’ work as we can never have too much praise as long as it is genuine. What is also nice is that learners have naturally started asking for help in their Facebook posts too, for vocabulary etc. in a very natural way without feeling that they will be judged negatively for not knowing something.
I am very much in favour of accuracy slots in lessons, to deal with language areas that need work, and these, like everything else need to become part of the learning system. This leads us on to the second question.
2) What do you intend to correct?
When I first started teaching I was very enthusiastic and I intervened directly correcting pronunciation grammar, vocabulary choice etc.when clarifying models, and particularly when trying to provide learners with clear models to use. When my learners were doing group work I made copious notes of all their errors and then had accuracy slots where I wrote up their errors for them to correct, and did the occasional grammar auction as well as other activities. All of this, I am sure, was very helpful for my students, but looking back I think I did not really focus systematically on what I was correcting so I just wrote down the errors I heard. All this, I now think, may well have been too much input for my learners so I now try to focus on various themes. I may choose a particular pronunciation point that I hear repeated, or focus on collocations for vocabulary, or one or two particular grammar areas, such as misuse of the definite article for general plural nouns, etc. and then focus on this. I also try to find effective usage of the same points for learners to see as well. I tend to add an experimentation phase these days, after the cognitive work involved in correcting the errors too, as I am convinced that the more learners “use the language” the more they make it their own, and noticing an error, correcting it and then using the correct form is a step towards greater mastery.
How important is Language Awareness?
Of course, language awareness is only one of the skills that a teacher needs, but let’s face it we are teaching a language, and if we are not aware of how that language works it will be extremely difficult for us to help our learners to use it. If your driving instructor did not know what the mirrors were for you wouldn’t put a lot of faith in him/her, would you?
Being aware of language for teachers also means being aware not only of the errors being made, but being aware of the process of learning and the progress learners are making too. If a learner chooses the wrong verb in a collocation, such as “the writer gives importance to…”, they are still experimenting to use that phrase so teachers should, I think, be helping them to navigate these exciting waters of lexical discovery, not getting them to walk the plank for making a mistake. This is not so easy to do as it may seem, as what tends to hit us smack on the nose is the error, rather than the process of experimentation behind it. There are those who cling to accuracy at all costs, interfering at inappropriate times, such as when learners are working on fluency or even when they are trying to read or listen to something, since they perceive “correcting errors” or “explaining unknown words” as being the major role in their job. This is not, of course, something I am advocating as I feel that recognition of a learner’s interlanguage is crucial, and giving praise for effort is essential to encourage and motivate our students.
3) Where will the learner go next?
As I mentioned above, I believe that after recognising and correcting their errors learners need to be able to work with the “correct forms”. If the correction is done directly as part of the clarification of new language models then the students will presumably have the opportunity to experiment with these forms later in the lesson. If the errors come up in written language they can be dealt with in various ways. My students are all familiar with the correction code I use and our normal procedure is as follows:
3) I correct their texts with Markin’ a great correction tool. and then publish these texts on our class blog. Scroll right down until you come to a section in the second term called Week Four “My Place” and under the “Preparing” section in red this you will see a word document called “My Place Word” this is where you will see what these texts look like.)
4) Students then come to my office hours to discuss their corrections.
5) The texts are reviewed and revised and finally published for global consumption on Tripadvisor.
Points 4) and 5) of this process are, in my view, perhaps the most interesting because the learners go back to their texts, having learned how to look more carefully at how the language works and they then publish those texts for a real reason. This is no longer an exercise in class but becomes a real communicative act in the big wide world. When other people then comment on their texts on tripadvisor the whole thing becomes even more exciting and brings it home to them that they are actually using English effectively. This is its own high!
This, of course, is merely one example of how to integrate correction in a positive way into the learning process.
So, I think, at the end of this little foray into language analysis we have come a long way really from the traditional idea of correction as being the righting of wrongs, and in fact it is more like a crystal sphere which learners can learn to benefit from, seeing how the language works and how to make their own expression more effective. So, let’s keep on helping our learners to improve their own English and to enjoy discovering new language and magical new ways of communicating with each other and the rest of the world. 🙂
This piece of writing came abut as the product of a free writing exercise I did at a session on courageous teaching at today’s Iatefl. I decided to tidy it up and share it with you 🙂
The bright, shiny lights and colours all around us get to be too much, at times, for me to see which one to follow; which one is the flame of inner creativity and motivation that lights us up inside and which one is simply a gaudy neon sign that flashes on and off in my email box, distracting me for a few minutes before it fades. Yes, those lights are pretty too and can wow us all for a day, but then the novelty wears off and we are left wondering what all tthe fuss was about. They are like the icing on the cake, but if it is all icing with no cake we might very soon tire of it. What we want is a true inner light, that illuminates our tthinking, leading to a true sense of wonder and meaningful discovery in both teacher and learner.
We both need to make sense of the world and sense of the learning or teaching. My sense is not necessarily your sense and that is fine if we can walk along together for a while and I can show you my favourite tree, whilst you show me thte strtech of water beyond the forest, which beckons with the promise of adventure and new horizons.
Some claim that true exchane between teacher and learner are hampered by rigid rules of hierarchy, and that they cannot really exist, but this is not always true. Although hierarchy can be a daunting framework, in classrooms it often exists for a reason and needs to be established first until we all feel comfortable with each other, before we can go beyond it muting the barriers by the meaningful use of respect and the lsharing of ideas both in class, inforamlly and even,why not, through social media these days. By far the most important ingredient in the mix, though, is still, I think, communication whether on or offline. If we listen to each other and take care to try to understand the message each one of us is trying to get across then we are on the road towards understanding and reciprocal exchange. Where there is a lack of communication there can only be misunderstandong and stunted growth… definitely not education.
If you saw my 2011 Happy Easter post, last year, you’ll already have an idea of the way this site works. I started using it a lot at Christmas 2011 and have used it again this year because there were some lovely designs like reindeer travelling across snow covered roofs or traditional living room scenes complete with roaring open fires, mantelpieces covered in Christmas cards and all the trimmings. Here is the Christmas smilebox 2012 that I made for my class thi syear which has a gingerbread theme as the “gingerbread man” had come up in class:
I started using this site for classroom activities in different ways last year and decided to try it out as a storytelling tool. What makes it very useful for this is that the smileboxes (ready made storylines and layouts for you to adapt with your own images and text) are conveniently grouped into themes that cover various aspects of everyday life. This makes them very easy to relate to topics that you might be working on in class such as:
You get the idea. You just need to browse the catalogue to find a topic you are interested in and then you choose the smilebox, feed in your photos or video clips and add comments.
Instead of text add questions then ask stds to answer them in class or at home before the lesson;
Use the smilebox in class with a clear story line, stop the film and ask stds to predict the next image;
Post members of your family and ask stds to guess who they are;
Post memorable moments and ask stds to discuss why they are memorable (This can be done in pairs first and then as a whole group activity)
Here is an example of a box I made called Exploring Life, which I intend to use with advanced level classes. They should:
look at the title and predict the content of the box;
then watch to see if they were correct and decide why I chose the images I did and how they are connected to exploring life;
a vocaulary teaching slot may come here with common collocations and verb patterns related to hobbies and activities (take up something new, try something out, see how you like etc.)
then discuss the best way to motivate yourself when you are feeling down;
the follow up activity is for them to create their own motivational smileboxes, which they can then present to the the next lesson, with any task they choose (This may require preparation such as showing them the tool and how to use it and suggesting tasks, but it is worth it, in my opinion, as it adds an invaluable personalised investment element to the whole exercise.)
So, here is the Exploring Life Smilebox. I hope you like it 🙂