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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Let’s Hear it for Phil Wade!

This is not effectively a blogpost as such.

But Phil Wade did such a marvellous job of compiling the criticisms and responses on his website and getting us Dogmeticians all rallying together and sharing our views (and then realising we don’t necessarily think in the same way) that I felt his blogpost deserves a space here.

Including responses by Dale Coulter, Chiew Pang, Oli Beddall, Adam Beale, and of course, Phil Wade himself,

here is: EFL Experiment 2: The Ultimate Dogme Criticisms and Responses

 

Wham! Varoom! And things that jet setters do…

No. I’m sorry. This is the last of my misleading blog titles. This is not a post about the me and my partner’s imaginary jet setting lifestyle. It’s a continuation of the saga about the use of music in my Advanced Class.

Previously,

This is what happened next…

Part Five

The next day, the students were put in groups to recall what they had done the day before, and this naturally led to them discussing their interpretation of the Lady Gaga music video. We started to discuss the use of colours in the video and the parallels they could draw to Lichtenstein’s work, alongside those of his contemporaries such as Andy Warhol, all of which represented, albeit sometimes ironically, the pop icons and all that is wholesome and desired in the modern American world.

Some of the students had not just gone and researched Roy Lichtenstein, but had googled ‘Analysis of Lady Gaga’s Telephone’ and found other views on what they thought the video meant. Suggesting that ‘mind control’ could be a theme of the video, a student went on to explain the literal visual cues of Lady Gaga’s wearing of Coke cans and then a telephone on her head, and this bloomed into a discussion about the significance of the products placements featured in the video…

(There are so many! Here is a list: Virgin Mobile, LG – Mobile Phone, Coke and Diet Coke, Chanel – Sunglasses, Polaroid, Monster – Beats Headphones, Plenty of Fish – dating website, Miracle Whip – Mayonnaise, Wonder Bread…can you spot any more?)

We wondered whether the product placements were actually there to promote the products or as a tongue in cheek social commentary on the way our minds were controlled by advertising and marketing firms. One student then mentions the portrayal of food in the second half of the video. We discussed if it was Lady Gaga and Beyonce poisoning the people in the café, or if it was American food culture and eating habits that were doing the poisoning… Some thought that the use of the American flag colours in the Super Hero costumes Lady Gaga and Beyonce wore while they were dancing around the dead people confirmed that the video was a dig at American consumerism and materialism, and questioned the authenticity of the product placements.

The discussion about consumerist societies and our susceptibility to being influenced soon turned into one about advertising campaigns and strange ways that companies used to market their products and gain publicity. In pairs, students shared with each other the most notorious advertising campaigns in their countries, and this got students quite excited. Even those paired up with partners from the same country brought up different adverts that they remembered, and reminisced about how good (or bad) they were.

It was time for our usual 15-minute break, and so I gave them the task of finding their ad on Youtube so that they could show the class after the break. We were entertained with mini-presentations from the different students who talked about ads that gave rise to publicity coming from :

1) the extreme bad acting of a Uruguayan alcoholic beverage,

2) a Brazilian real estate company’s owner talking about his family and his phrase ‘My daughter is in Canada’ being made famous nation-wide

3) a car ad that featured a catchy jingle and animated ponies dancing around in the engine as a play on the word ‘Horse-Power’

4) A Peruvian tourism board short documentary filmed in Peru, Nebraska.

The class was made up of mostly Peruvian students, with the exception of one Uruguayan and two Brazilians, and so when the students played the video, which was in Spanish, most of the class understood what was going on quite well. Although I speak some Spanish, some of the funny moments were lost on me, and suddenly it dawned on me that this was a great moment to introduce some translation work.

Now, I know that the taboo of grammar translation methodologies still hovers over many of us teachers. And if you find yourself gasping at either the use of L1 in the classroom or the encouragement of translation, I’d urge you to read on and see if this changes your mind.

I paused the video after about one and a half minutes, and said to students, ‘You are all working as subtitlers and in charged of subtitling those one and a half minutes for an English-speaking audience. You can’t just translate word for word. You need to get the jokes, the connotations, the style of the genre across to the audience.’

I asked them if they ever did any translation work in their English classrooms previously and all of them said no. So I then proceeded to explain, ‘Many of you said you need English because it is now an essential tool to have to get a good job. So how many of you do you think would be asked in your jobs to translate an email from Spanish into English, or vice versa? Or perhaps your boss might say, ‘I need this report to be translated. You speak English? You do it!’ You might not need to be a professional translator, but at some point, you’d be asked to translate something or other into or out of English, don’t you think?’

I asked the following questions for them to ponder upon.

Is translation an easy skill? Do you think it needs practising?

Can we just translate word for word? What happens when we do?

I then played the video again sentence by sentence for the students, giving them time to write their translations into their notebooks. The Brazilians were given help by their Peruvian partners.

In pairs, the students then compared their answers and discussed the differences between the way they have translated the sentences, and the different effect that creates.

Some fascinating discussions took place here.

Some students translated ‘Peru. Nebraska. Population 569. A gas station. A restaurant…a train station that now has another use.

Others translated ‘Peru. Nebraska. Inhabitants 569. One gas station. One restaurant…a train station that now has a different use.

We discussed the use of ‘Number of inhabitants: 569’ to make it fit the genre; the differences between emphasizing the number ‘one’ versus using a general article ‘a’; and the use ‘another use’ versus ‘different use’ or even ‘different purpose’ and the subtle differences in style they create.

I could go on and on here about the different discussions we had about the very short translated text, but it would only be relevant to this text and you would be bored.

More importantly, it was the discussions it provoked and the awareness it raised of the differences in language use and the different norms in the same genre.

When the translation exercise was completed, the conversation went back to advertising campaigns and marketing products. I had picked up the DVD of ‘Business Nightmares’ during their break, and proceeded to show them a short video of Sunny Delight’s successful, but not so truthful, marketing campaign.

This led to an interesting discussion about the responsibilities that companies and corporations have towards their consumers, nicely wrapping up our three-day journey that started All Because I Hoped I didn’t Fall in Love with You.

I Left My Head and Heart on the Dance Floor

Nope. This is still no tell-all of my secret romances, and definitely not a revelation of my non-existent life of partying and clubbing either…

Confused? Then do catch up by reading the first two posts about my wonderful Advanced class:

MLearning, Mini Whiteboards, and Emergent Stuff

and

Only in a Dogme Class

In yesterday’s blogpost, I described another lesson with this class.

To recap…(I can hear Kiefer Sutherland‘s deep voice resonating in my head, ‘Previously, in Chia’s class…‘)

  • My students re-arranged the lyrics of Tom Waits’s ‘I Hope I Don’t Fall in Love with You‘ while listening to the song.
  • A discussion about pub etiquette in different countries and chat up lines ensued.
  • Students listened again and visualise the lead character of the song.
  • Student made drew sketches of the lead character accompanied by descriptions of him and his history.
  • Students looked at each other’s work.
  • Students wrote a dialogue based on the two characters meeting again, and performed it to the class.

(For more details, see Part Three yesterday : All Because I Hoped I Didn’t Fall in Love with You. )

As homework, students had to print out the lyrics of their favourite English song and bring it to class the next day.

 

This is (Part Four) what happened the next day…

The following day, after a thorough recall of what they did the day before, the students animatedly told their partners about the songs they have picked. The conversations went from the use of metaphor in Elton John’s Rocket Man, to the syncing of Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon to The Wizard of Oz, to how commercialization of singers like Adele could turn listeners off. We then talked about the concerts that we had been to and somehow the conversation led to Lady Gaga and how some of the students felt that she was being dramatic and shocking for the sake of album sales.

 

I asked students if they had seen the music video of Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’, and when all of them replied in the negative, a brainwave struck.

I put the students in groups of three and had one of the three with their back facing the IWB. As I played the music video, the other two students had to describe what they were seeing to their partner, who would then furiously take notes. A third of the way into the video, I paused it and got them to swap seats so that a different student was now unable to see the screen.

Straight after screening the music video, I conducted open class feedback and got the students who did not see the relevant sections to try and explain to the class with the help of their notes what they had ‘seen’ in the video.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise, but the groups that consisted of girls seemed to have only described the clothes and accessories that Lady Gaga was wearing, while the group with all the boys consistently said things like, ‘Then a helicopter flew by, and she got into a car. A car with red and yellow flames.’ Perhaps we are reverting back to gender stereotypes a little here, but it certainly got us all laughing as we realized the differences in what the different groups were describing to their group mates!

Meanwhile, there was a lot of opportunity for feeding in language students needed, e.g. barb wire fence, surveillance camera, police tape, prison warden, fancy dress party, safety pins, a fight broke out, etc.

As we watched the video a second (this time with no one back facing the screen), students had to note the number of product placements and brand names that were featured in the video, and had to answer the question ‘What is the message behind this video?’

(Why don’t you try this with the Youtube video link above? Answers in Part Five, to be published tomorrow…)

 

In feedback, some of the students pointed out the references to ‘Thelma & Louise‘ and ‘Kill Bill’ at the end of the video, but our three hours were up, and so I instructed students to do some online research on the pop artist ‘Roy Lichenstein’ as homework, and to draw relations between his work and the music video.

Sorry for making y’all wait for the continuation of the blogpost. But as Lady Gaga says, ‘I’m k-kinda busy’…

Part Five, Concluding Part : To be continued tomorrow…

 

All Because I Hoped I Didn’t Fall in Love with You

Before any of you think that this is an out-of-character blogpost that is going to tell all about my very exciting love life, I would like to first refer you to the two previous posts I had written about lessons with my wonderful Advanced class:

MLearning, Mini Whiteboards, and Emergent Stuff

and

Only in a Dogme Class

This is Part Three.

Taking on Phil Wade’s advice about using songs to motivate my class of young students, I told them to print out the lyrics of their favourite English song to share with the rest of the class.

To set an example, I then brought in my own – Tom Waits’s I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love with You. I did not anticipate that this would turn into three days of amazing conversations, language input, and critical thinking workshops.

To spark the conversation, I had brought in the lyrics of the above song cut up into pieces (supplied kindly by my colleague, Richard Chin). In the spirit of a bit of good ol’ bottom-up processing, students had to rearrange the sentences as they heard the song, gradually revealing the surprise ending.

We listened to the song again, this time paying attention to the storyline, using the questions ‘Where is he?’, ‘Who is he singing about?’, ‘What happens in the end?’

In open class feedback, we decided that the singer was in a pub and was trying pluck up the courage to chat a girl up. This led the conversation to things that we do in pubs and the difference in pub etiquette between their countries and the UK. Phrases like ‘Whose round is it anyway?’, ‘to sip, ‘to gulp’ and ‘to have no guts to-infinitive’ and ‘cheesy chatup lines’ went up on the board.

Franshesca, Gabriella, and Sophie's Group

I then got the students to close their eyes and visualize the main character as I played the song again. They were then given time to discuss with their partners and come to an agreement as to how they wanted the lead to look like. They were given poster paper to sketch out this man in the pub, and had to write a description of him and his history (how he ended up alone and lonely in that pub). Meanwhile, I was roaming around the class making myself available for any lexis that might arise or needed feeding in, e.g. stubble, bags under the eyes, creased checked shirt, dishevelled appearance, His career was going downhill, a derogatory term, She is freaked out (by him), etc., all went up on the board.

 

Richard, Johnny and Alessandra's Group

The posters went up on the walls of the classroom and the students walked around reading the descriptions pinned under the sketches and picking their favourite story.

Marco and Alejandro's Group

Then when the student sat back down, they were given the task to predict what would happen if he met the girl in the song again a couple of weeks later in the same pub. They then proceeded to write out the dialogue that they thought would take place between the two main characters of the song, and then performing it in front of the class. (Some of the stories were so funny, I could not stop laughing! One group decided that their main character would collapse on the spot and die of a broken heart…)

Evandro and Jacqueline's Group

If I had had more time, I would have got them to analyse each other’s dialogues and perhaps look at the appropriacy of what was said in the dialogues, and how they can reformulate the discourse so as to maintain face in the interaction. Students could have negotiated ways of saving face when asking a girl out and ways of rejecting someone politely. But my 3 hours were up and I reminded students to bring in lyrics of their favourite songs the next day.

(Part Four : To be continued tomorrow…)

Devil’s Advocate vs Anthony Gaughan on Lesson Aims & Plans in Teacher Training

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

The fourth victim on DA is Anthony Gaughan. 

Anthony Gaughan began teaching in 1995 and now spends most of his time training teachers in Hamburg and Berlin, Germany, where he was worked for the best part of the last 12 years.  He is especially interested in ultralight approaches to teaching, especially Dogme ELT (Teaching Unplugged).  In 2010, he shared his vision and work on unplugging initial teacher training courses like the Cambridge ESOL CELTA at IATEFL Harrogate

He writes about this ongoing work and you can also catch him on Twitter here.

He is also an active member of IATEFL, serving as the Social Media Evangelist for the Teacher Development Special Interest Group of IATEFL (TDSIG).

Having supped with the Devil’s Advocate here, he will be giving a talk at the IATEFL 2012 Conference in Glasgow on The Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT.

Chia:  It’s a real honour to finally get the guru of Teacher Training Unplugged on DA! You ready for a grilling?

Anthony: You do me too much honour, I think, but I’m happy to get a grilling now and perhaps a roasting from your readers later…

Chia:  I’m sure any grilling and roasting will all be done in good humour and in the name of CPD…

Many teacher trainers often tell their trainees that one should always start preparing for a lesson by first stating one’s aim…for when we know the aim, we can then go about planning a logical procedure that would help us achieve the lesson aim.

However, you seem to have a rather different take on this issue, I’ve been told…

Anthony:  I’m not so sure about that.  I think that having a clear idea about what it is that you are setting out to do and what you hope to achieve by that is generally a good idea.

What I perhaps have a problem with is how this basic common sense gets done in practice – or rather, how trainees get told to do it.

For example, ask any number of trainers (or trainees) on initial training courses what a lesson aim should be like and they will almost certainly say something like “By the end of the lesson, the learners will have improved their ability to (add communicative function, e.g. talk about their current habits) by using (add lexical/grammatical item, e.g. present simple).”

Sounds OK? After all, it outlines the language area being targeted, thus enabling said trainee to research it, and it’s communicatively oriented, thus making it potentially useful for the learners in real life, and it is developmental, as it aims for “improvement”.  Problem is, in many respects, it’s meaningless.

For example, does the trainee really know that their learners need this lesson on this piece of language? Even if they do need it, will this aim lead the trainee to an appropriate procedure for the level and needs of the group, or will they simply operationalise one of the “lesson “shapes” that they may have encountered on the course?  And how is one to measure improvement? Here are some problems for a start.

Chia:  Trainees on initial teacher training courses often come from a traditional background of teaching, which often involves a ‘chalk and talk’ style of ‘transmission of knowledge. Getting trainees to articulate their lesson aims forces them to think about what they hope to achieve (with the level and needs of the group in mind) before embarking on planning the lesson procedure. It also demonstrates to the learner that teacher has thought about what is needed and has prepared for them).

Without formulating aims, trainees are likely to just be going through coursebook exercises one after the other (Turn and Burn) without any thought as to why they are doing it or how it helps the learners.

Anthony:  The alternative to these sorts of aims is not “no aim at all”, as I’m sure you are aware – but to go back to your starting point…

If trainees come from a “chalk n talk” background, an aim formulated in a specific manner won’t change their behaviour – and it might in fact act as camouflage for their teacher-centred tendencies (i.e. the observing TP tutor is lulled into a false sense of security while reviewing the lesson plan by the superficially learner centred aim format, but under the hood in the procedure, there is something more transmissive brewing.)  This often goes unnoticed until during the lesson, incidentally, as procedures might be so thin on detail as to obscure what is really going to occur.

In short, lesson aim formulas may facilitate and disguise lack of reflection.  The trainee might have been better off simply stating in their own words what they wanted to achieve – they would understand it better, and the tutors would be less likely to fall for appropriately phrased but vacuous aims of the other type.

Chia : But Anthony, the way a trainee formulates his aims are often telling of their beliefs and attitudes towards teaching and language learning…There’s a reason why the ‘given pattern of phrasing’ aims exist. It ensures that the trainees ask the following questions:

Is the context included? (Because teaching language out of context is not only meaningless but can be detrimental to retrieval);

Is the aim achievable or is immediate production expected (Language acquisition is not linear and to expect immediate production is foolish);

Is it clear from the aim that the trainee understands the need for practice (Simply presenting the language without allowing practice of it is not going to help the learners)…etc.

Not only that, ‘it reflect teacher’s planning decisions, as well as the teacher’s understanding of the principles of lesson design…and a reliable indicator of the quality of a teacher’s expertise’ (Thornbury, A-Z of ELT) Wouldn’t you agree, Anthony?

Anthony:  Not entirely, Chia.  Firstly, requiring a lesson aim in a certain form of words in no way ensures “trainees ask themselves (important) questions”.

I do agree that a better teacher will be able to formulate lesson aims that more accurately reflect what they intend to occur in a lesson, and I agree that if aims are formulated in a way that implicitly poses useful questions to the teacher, this may make them more mindful of whatever tacit theories of teaching/learning are being inculcated.  However, I would question deeply whether this use of a “given pattern of phrasing”, as you put it, actually leads to heightened awareness in trainees in itself.

So what I suppose I am actually concerned about, or against, if you will, is less the formulation of aims as such (which I do see a point to), but rather the issue I see with a trainee potentially adopting aims formulation of a certain type simply in order to match whatever they believe their tutors want to read.

If we ask our trainees to work within a given framework, however we justify it, we create the danger that less able candidates will simply conform without really engaging with the task usefully, in order to do what we want.

Chia:  Fine, so we both agree that planning and formulating lesson aims can be good? So what would you suggest as an alternative in order to overcome the dangers of hoop-jumping which a formalised certification process often presents.

Anthony: There is a lot of potential on intensive teacher training courses for hoop-jumping, and a lot of it is connected to lesson planning.  I agree that preparing for a lesson is an important thing for teachers, experienced or newbies, but there is a difference between having a plan and being prepared.

One thing you could do straight away if you wanted to reduce the potential for “hoop-jumping” is get rid of TP points (note: TP points = Teaching Practice points, lesson ideas given to trainees by their TP tutors, with more or less detail about content and approach).  Another thing you could do is reduce the amount of paper documentation that a trainee needs to submit for formal assessment in the early stages of the course.  Another thing centres can do is become more flexible in the format that lesson plans take.

Chia:  Can I first address your point about planning and being prepared? I think we should remember that we are not asking trainees to plan for planning’s sake.

The point of lesson planning, I always tell my trainees, is that through the process of sitting down and writing up the plan, trainees are forced to think through what they want the learners to achieve and how exactly they are going to go about doing it.

It also focuses trainees on the language that needs researching before they enter the classroom. Although teachers might not go in and execute the plan in the exact way they have planned it, the careful thought that has gone into the lesson will ensure that teachers have a direction even when they divert off plan.

And although trainees might never have to plan in such detail in real life, the process of writing lesson aims and lesson plans gives them a foundation on which to base their classroom decisions, and it gives them the structure upon which they could improvise and be flexible with dealing with the learners needs in a lesson.

e.g. If during a lesson, it becomes obvious that all the learners have issues with using ‘for’ and ‘since’, the teacher will be able to instantly formulate on the spot new aims in his/her head, followed by a clear logical procedure that would help learners with their issues…improvising a ritual that he/she has honed through the practice of lesson planning….

I suppose, it’s like learning to play the scales when you are learning music. You are never going to perform the scales in a concert, but the scales, although seemingly restrictive, actually give you a foundation upon which to improvise and be flexible.

Anthony:  Lots there, Chia, so I’ll proceed carefully….

Of course we are not asking them to plan for planning’s sake, but how do they see it? And what might we be doing which might be contributing to their view of it?  What I mean is, by asking trainees to submit work in a given format (i.e. a centre specific lesson plan template) we are asking them to shoehorn their thinking and way of thinking into a rigid framework which may simply not make sense to them in their terms.

There are alternative ways of laying out thinking about a lesson on paper – mind maps, for example, but how often do trainees do that? And why do you suppose they don’t? Based on conversations I’ve had, I think it’s because, contrary to what we may say to them, they feel that they “should” do it the centre’s way, for whatever reason.  And by the way, it doesn’t matter what we say they are free to do; what matters is what they hear they “should” do.

Now, I see no meaningful correlation between the ability to formulate explicit lesson aims of a specific type and the ability to notice an emergent need in the classroom and work out a way of serving it on the fly.  On the contrary, the fixation of pre-determining everything which is to occur in a lesson and forming an aim which condenses this is arguably more likely to lead to such emergent moments going either unnoticed or ignored for fear that their treatment would get in the way of the plan (how often have you heard that?)

This is one reason why I suggested getting rid of TP points earlier: it isn’t forming lesson aims that trains a teacher to become flexible and responsive in class – far from it, I would say.  Instead, it is listening to learners with an open mind and responding freely to that.

And just so in music: a musician is not made by running scales – they are made by learning to listen and by exploring the range and limitations of their instrument unfettered by scales (ask Evelyn Glennie, world-class deaf percussionist, and she’d confirm this, by the way!)

So in short: lesson planning is not the key to developing a great teacher; developing listening skills, data gathering skills and the ability to see needs within the data – all this must be in place before formally assessing lesson planning has any added value.

Chia:  Every good trainee should know that they should not be teaching the plan but their learners. It’s a well-known maxim that trainers often tell their learners.

To quote Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT again, he says, ‘”Despite the apparent inflexibility of planning a lesson in such detail, most observers allow for the fact that no lesson is entirely predictable. They will not expect the teacher to follow the plan slavishly. In reality, most lessons are a dynamic mix of the planned and the unplanned, and it is often during the unplanned moments that the most rewarding learning opportunities occur… Nevertheless, it is generally felt that the exercise of planning lessons in detail is a useful training practice, and a relaible indicator of the quality of a teacher’s expertise.”

All the teaching skills that you mentioned (developing listening skills, responding appropriately to learners, gathering data from what is happening in the classroom, etc) all point towards the fact that you believe in learning by doing.

But arguably, Celta trainees are going to go on to teach and practise their teaching skills after the Celta and they will be able to hone those skills in their own time. Having said that, many Celta trainees come on the course, not just to get a certification to teach, but also to learn by being given a structure to follow. Providing a basis using lesson aims and procedures can guide more systematic learners as they will have something to fall back on – a hook, if you may, to lean on, before being thrown into the deep end…

And you must agree that we should train our trainees in the way they are best able to learn, and not in the way that we want to teach. If our trainees find that giving them a structure can help clarify their doubts, why are we insisting on taking that away from them?

Anthony:  Why? Simple: because that is putting the cart before the horse, however easy it may be to use the “we’re serving our trainees by giving them structure, a hook, a recipe, etc” argument to cover up the fact that this leads, wittingly or not, to an industrial, production line model of training, and – and this is the truly nefarious bit – outsourcing the real learning to after the course!

You talk about honing, but you can only hone what you have in hand – and as these things are core to teaching and are hard to get to grips with, are we doing our trainees a service or a disservice by saying that “you’ll have time to hone that after the course; focus now on getting these recipes down pat”?

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen that many trainees who are put at ease by having to complete formal lesson plans – on the contrary, they are a source of stress, regardless of learner background.  As I said earlier, this is linked to squeezing one’s thinking into a given format.

Chia:  You speak of recipes…Jamie Oliver is famous for experimenting and creating amazing fusion dishes, but did he not learn from having recipes at the beginning before going on to become the master that he is today.

Our trainees need building blocks before they can start to go solo and improvise, and this is not ‘squeezing your thinking into a given format’, but rather giving them good habits they will need and the thought processes that will underline the decisions they will make in the classroom.

Anthony:  I know you like the analogies that can be drawn between teaching and cooking, as do I, but we should be careful!  I am not arguing here against “lesson recipes”, if you will, but against the products which we ask trainees to submit as evidence that they have internalised these recipes – the paper-based plan itself.

Taking your cooking analogy further: what is the better indicator of a chef’s aptitude – a paper-based description of a recipe that they have conceived, or the ability to get in the kitchen and turn out something edible in real time?

Let’s face it, lesson plan documentation (as opposed to recipes), especially when linked to a given “helpful” lesson plan template, is an administrative convenience, nothing more.  It enables the quick assessment of the outcomes of a trainee’s thinking about a lesson – but the question that concerns me is: how much is not revealed by these partial documents?

And they are partial in both senses.  They require trainees to think and express themselves in the terms of the plan, not in their own.  This is likely to have a limiting effect on their ability to express their ideas, and it may even hinder them in their thinking from the start: if you spend any time talking to trainees about the process of planning, you hear this a lot.

And I doubt that Jamie Oliver ever had to produce the kind of “meal plans” that you can read and replicate from his cook books in his time as a chef – he learnt by watching an experienced chef and by getting stuck in.

 Thus suggesting perhaps that writing a clear and useful lesson plan – like a clear and useful meal recipe – is something to aim for towards the end of training, not the beginning?

Chia:   What then do you suggest we as trainers do to help trainees hone the necessary skills and develop a systematic thought process that would enable them to deal with skills and language work in the classroom effectively?

Anthony:  Well, passing over the danger in your use of “systematic” (whose system?), I think one thing that could be done is ease up on when and how much documentation needs to be submitted for assessment, and also easing up on the format this takes.  As I said earlier, another thing you could do is reduce the amount of materials and concrete guidance provided early on, in order to allow for trainees to invest themselves more fully in the planning of their lessons from as early as possible.

A final thing you can do is stagger the need for formal assessment of their lesson planning ability by not asking for fully featured plans from day one, or even during the whole of weeks one-three on a typical initial 4-week course.  But I’ll leave it to your readers to take these discussions further.

Chia:  Thanks for your time, Anthony. You’ve provided us with lots of food for thought there!

Epilogue: Anthony’s opinions are his own and do not represent any organization he is associated with. Chia was just playing DA. However, Chia is still waiting to be convinced to lighten her focus on lesson aims and plans on her CELTA courses, and so Chia and Anthony are planning to carry on this discussion in Lubeck, Germany. Interested parties ought to leave their comments here.

Only in a Dogme class…

Thanks for all your interests in my previous post! Today was Day 2 of my Advanced class and boy, are they amazing! Conversations flowed, topics took surprising turns and interests were piqued in a way that only a Dogme class could afford!

The day started with a recall of the previous day’s discussions and language, and this led to them reminding me about how I clearly had a pet peeve with the London Underground and RMT. I fed in the lexis ‘pet hate’ and ‘to rant about something’ and that led to the binomial ‘to rant and rave about something’. This then led to the discussion of what a binomial was.

I decided to put them in pairs  to brainstorm in pairs and write on their mini-whiteboards as many binomials as they could think of. What emerged in the eventual mind-map I had on the board were gems like ‘out and about’, ‘down and out’, ‘rhythm and blues’, ‘trick or treat’, ‘back and forth’, ‘hit and run’ and ‘pros and cons’.

But what was more interesting was the emergence of ‘high and low’, which we figured only really existed in the expression ‘to search for something high and low’; ‘black and blue’, which often occurred with the phrase ‘He was black and blue all over’; and ‘odds and ends’ which frequently collocated with the verbs ‘to tie up’.

Once the geeks in us were pacified by this nice chunk of a language lesson, we went on to discuss their homework from the day before – finding out why some countries drove on the right and others drove on the left. Putting students in groups, I had those who did do their homework to relate to those who hadn’t a summary of what they had found out, and then moved those who had not done the necessary reading to the next group in the style of a carousel so that they could relate back what they were told to their new group members.

In open class feedback, we were fed with all kinds of information – from the mounting of the horse from the right to the avoidance of samurai swords from banging against other samurai passer-bys, but one thing was clear: We all used to drive on the left, UK-style. The righteousness of being right-handed dictated that driving on the left was a necessity. Somehow, along the way, some countries deflected…then others followed. Now, those that drive on the left are a minority…

After their break, the students were meant to come back with the adverts they had brought with them. Their homework had been to spot an advert they liked…but coincidentally and interestingly, one of the students was eating straight from a Nutella jar during the break and the conversation became about how Nutella was a lot cheaper in London than it is in Peru…

We started talking about spreads and I asked if they had tried Marmite. We looked briefly at the bell curve compared to the Marmite curve and then I showed them an advertisement of Marmite. In pairs, they then discussed the following questions: Considering the slogan, font, layout and pictures used, what do you think is the target market? What image are they trying to portray. We then went to the Marmite website and saw the memorabilia they sold and how they even had an area for haters of Marmite.

This was the perfect lead-in to the adverts they had brought to class. Using the same questions they had been asked about the Marmite advert, the students discussed the adverts they brought with them.
But in true Dogme fashion, not everything is predictable. In open class, a student was sharing a dentistry ad laid out in the style of Facebook.

The conversation moved on to social networking sites and we started talking about digital natives and how they learnt differently from digital immigrants. The students started on their views about Facebook and social networking online and it only seemed natural to put them in pairs to talk about the disadvantages of such social networking and the stories they had heard.

The buzz in the classroom reached a significant peak at this point. Students were clearly enthused by the topic and had a lot to say about it. They started talking about stories of cyber bullying and celebrity slagging matches. It seemed pointless at this point to pursue the adverts they had brought with them. This was clearly a much more interesting area that sparked reasonable debate.

I immediately searched for ‘Tom Scott’ and ‘Flash Mob Gone Wrong’ on Youtube and set the following questions ‘What happened in this story?’, ‘What happened in the end?’, ‘Is this a true story?’ and ‘What is the presenter’s message?’ and played the clip as a listening text. The discussion of what a flashmob was and how the phenomenon of the internet took us to the end of another very fruitful and exhilarating lesson.

Gosh, I love my job! Wouldn’t you?

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