Just believe and you can’t go wrong.
It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled,
It’s been a long time since I did the Stroll.
Ooh, let me get it back, let me get it back,
Let me get it back, baby, where I come from.
It’s been a long time, been a long time,
Been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time. Yes it has.
Thank you, The Zep. You said it all much more beautifully than I ever could have. My apologies to anyone who was expecting (quite rightfully) that subscribing to a blog would allow them to receive regular updates. I have been away from my secret desk pursuing other interests. But, ooh, let me get it back, let me get it back, let me get it back, baby.
I’m back in the classroom. Conscious of the fact that my employers think I should be teaching a fair whack of hours over the year, I have timetabled myself to teach a lower level class over this teaching period. This means, of course, that I now have insufficient time to devote to management and insufficient time to devote to teaching. However, my masters say that this is possible and my masters are honourable men and women.
So it’s been restless days and sleepless nights as I try to escape the sensation that my teaching is woeful. I’d hate to be observed right now, I think, especially by me. And I plan activities…no, I don’t…I plan lessons that to an objective eye might look highly questionable. Then I rationalise my choices, all the time cursing my knowledge of the effects of cognitive dissonance and self-serving bias on the brain. Just believe and you can’t go wrong? Quite!
Luckily, I have this blog to help me. So today’s return is a confession of sorts and you are invited to “observe” me. Be merciless. This then is karma.
The objective reality
Yesterday’s lesson consisted of the following stages:
1. New student was introduced to all members of the class. Jokes were made about each individual to help the new student anchor names into his consciousness.
2. As is routine, the students saw the IWB page with diagrammatic representations of the rules. They were asked to work in groups of three to translate these diagrams into words.
3. The students sentences were put onto the IWB and used for error correction.
4. The students were asked to turn to page 24 of the coursebook. They were set the assignment of reading the text and doing exercises 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. They were asked to work in groups of three to do the exercises. The reading text they were asked to read without dictionaries and to understand “enough”. As they were doing this, a timer was put on the IWB and they were asked to measure how long it had taken them to read the text. They were to make a note of this time next to the text.
5. Students worked in small groups to complete the exercises. I circulated the groups answering questions and peeping at their work. I joked with each group, chided the more recalcitrant, googled images to help them with their uestions (What’s cricket? What’s rugby? What’s a referee?)
6. Students finished the exercises. I highlighted the lexical areas that I thought were pertinent. They took photos of my IWB. Tomorrow we will use these lexical areas to try and define certain sports.
The lesson lasted two hours.
Subjective reality – self-serving bias
The students worked on the texts and used the coursebook to unpick the lexical and grammatical features deemed important by the coursebook writers. They also unpicked the areas of language that they considered important – either by using their dictionaries (secretly) or by overtly asking. I got a sense of the language that was causing them difficulties and will be able to revisit this tomorrow. Some was interesting (you don’t know what win means? Seriously?)
I consciously eschewed the communicative activities because I didn’t see that there was much to be gained from focussing too heavily on a text that was no more than pap. The focus of the text was unusual competitions. If it had been a well written text of intrinsic interest to the students, conversation would have emerged from reading it (have you ever heard anything quite as absurd? No! These westerners are crazy!). As it was, they clearly recognised it for what it was: a vehicle for lexicogrammatical input. We dealt with it as such.
Students in a conventional class would have been making up equally weird competitions and using the target language to explain the rules: You have to perform as many irregaular verbs as you can within a fixed time limit. Prizes are awarded for ingenuity, indecency and inventiveness. Again, this was eschewed with the rationale: look – they’re going to be using English to talk about the coursebook exercises; they don’t need to be given some activity that is more in keeping with school-age students. They don’t need to invent weird competitions to speak English. They can speak English deciding on the differences between referee and judge.
The affective filter would be lowered by my touring the groups and joshing them along. Have you got your head on the desk again, Jeremy? Tomorrow I’m a gonna bring my axe and chop that head right offa your shoulders. Yes I am. Sweet Jesus, yes I am. Aha! Mohamed – this man is the cleverest man I have ever come across. How many have you done? Three? And you’re working well with the group? You are? HOW?! TELEPATHICALLY?!?! USE YOUR MOUTH TO TALK! Lots of ridiculously OTT miming illustrated vocabulary queries.
What did the students learn? I have no idea. Yet. But they talked to each other throughout the class. English was the language of choice. They had a clear target and they achieved it. A common body of knowledge was poked and prodded and the next day this body of knowledge will be tested to see if any has been retained. It was almost like flipping a classroom, except instead of getting them to do the work at home, I got them to do it in the classroom where they would do it by talking to one another or asking questions. They work on the exercises and then they ask questions about what they don’t understand. The follow up lesson will explore to see if they have learnt any of the language that the coursebook writers consider salient: the language of sports and the modals for rule-making. They will be asked to memorise various lexical chunks and then asked to regurgitate these chunks in texts that describe sports or sporting competitions that they are interested in. There will be very little communicative make-up applied: the focus will be on regurgitation: I asked you to try and memorise these chunks. Now I want you to try and use them to describe Champions League football to a martian.
Subjective reality – self-hating bias
What?! So, essentially you said to them, Turn to pages 24-25 and do the exercises. Way to roll, cavedweller! Will you be giving them a refund?
The challenge I lay before you, dear reader(s), is to opine upon which subjective view you more incline towards. The self-serving view is the one I like most (no?! really?!) because it allows me to think that I can still teach without the need to cut up loads of slips of paper or to think of ways in which I can incorporate TV quiz shows into my lessons. It is almost postmodernly retro: yah! I like follow the coursebook, ya get me? But I do so in a knowingly ironic sort of a manner, yeah? It is built around a witheringly patronising view of contemporary ELT practice: I don’t try to disguise the learning with activities, I try to disguise the activity with learning. It is predicated upon a belief that adult students don’t need to be jollied into language study by being hoodwinked into playing games; it is enough to help them enjoy an otherwise rather dull endeavour by making jokes and managing the dynamic. It boldly refuses to say what students have learned and implies that any teacher who claims that they “know” what students learn in a class is delusional. It provides a solid body of input that can be tested and amplified throughout the week – but rests upon the beliefs that the actual language is irrelevant and that the value is to be gleaned from the activities that are employed to review and expand upon the language; that is, I don’t really care whether or not the students learn the lexis and grammar to describe sporting competitions; I care that they reflect on how regular review of the language makes the lexis and grammar more memorable; I care that they understand that trying to use this knowledge to create and understand texts results in incidental and incremental advances in their ability to use English. I care that their new knowledge of the lexical and grammatical features used to talk about competitions may make other lacunae in their English more evident to them and lead them to asking questions about these. And so the journey continues.
Who’s kidding who? My stroll is done.