April 16, 2012 § Leave a Comment
“Spring is the time of plans and projects.”
Buoyed with developments with Language Garden, the new distributor system that allows anyone anywhere to sell, the new lesson log ins, the new referral system, I was up with the lark. Of course, Mr and Mrs Blackbird were already hard at work, making sorties to neighbouring gardens and returning with worms dangling like handlebar moustaches for their scrawny offspring hidden in the variegated ivy.
These aren’t the only birds living rent free in our garden. There are some squatters just a few feet away, blue tits, in a little bird box we kindly put up, continually fluttering back and forth with feathers and fluff. They don’t like sleeping on a hard old floor either.
Meanwhile, lonely bees pop by to taste the tulips, but come the summer, the cotoneaster bush that curls up and around the garden shed will be host to over a hundred. Last summer I counted eight different friendly types, all unfazed (they declined the invitations to crawl along my finger) by my proximity.
A few branches are still all but completely bare, but most are now fully adorned with fresh green leaves, and the cherry blossom a few doors down is now proudly pink.
I love this time of year when everyone is doing their bit for life.
You can too, of course. Just click here.
“If you have much, give of your wealth;
if you have little, give of your heart.”
April 1, 2012 § 6 Comments
I’ve only ever missed one lesson in my EFL career…
“You’ll have to get up really early to fool me!” I’d been saying this to my girlfriend for a few weeks in the build-up to April Fool’s Day, and tomorrow was the big day. I was 1 – 0 up and now I was expecting, hoping for her revenge.
The year before, she’d left for work an hour early. I’d put all the clocks in the flat forward by an hour. Even her watch resting on her bedside table, which she’d grabbed and glared at for final confirmation. The clock in the corner of breakfast telly nearly gave it away. “It’s April Fool, they’ve changed the time for everyone”, I postulated, feigning drowsiness, from under the duvet. Genius. “Well that’s not funny. People could be late for work.” And with that, she left, only to return 15 minutes later. “The roads were too quiet!” she sheepishly grinned.
Despite my goading this time round, she had kindly offered to massage my head as I had a really bad headache. It was soothing, and I enjoyed the liberally applied face cream. There are those points around the body too, aren’t there, that when squeezed, miraculously take the pain away, if only temporarily. There’s that good one right in-between the thumb and first finger.
We were living in Hungary, teaching English in two schools in a small town. It was brilliant fun, and some of my fondest classroom memories are from this time. We’d originally planned to drive all the way from England to Greece in our camper van, but Lake Balaton and the surrounding countryside easily persuaded us to stay. So when she had an early start on April 1st, and then returned with horror in her eyes saying the van had been stolen, well, it was a lame attempt.
But she couldn’t carry on the ruse. She was laughing too much. “Have you looked in the mirror yet?” I hadn’t.
“The face cream I was using last night was fake tan. It didn’t seem to be working, so I put loads on!”
I scrubbed and scrubbed, but my face remained as bright as a carrot.
Not knowing whether to laugh or cry, I put my foot down. “Ring the school. Tell them I’m ill.” I only had one lesson that day, so I felt it acceptable. It was the lesson I told you about at the start, the only lesson I’ve ever missed.
February 9, 2012 § 7 Comments
Some nice kind people “liked” my concept fan picture in my last post. This post is about making one, and how to be a genius as well. According to someone or other, if you can think of more than 8 things you can do with a cabbage in 2 minutes, besides cooking and eating it, you’re a genius.
So. Are you? A genius, I mean, not a cabbage. Take up the challenge. You’re allowed some latitude (i.e. wackiness), but the question stands: What can you do with a cabbage (besides cooking and eating it)?
Errr. Ooooh. Hmmmm.
Play football with it.
Hit someone over the head with it.
Errr. Ooooh. Hmmmm. Eight seems a long way away, doesn’t it!
So let’s use a concept fan.
You said play football with it. Why?
Because it’s round. Round, so it could be a bowling ball if you carve out a few finger holes. Volleyball? Nope, too heavy. Play catch with it. Attach a message to it and roll it down a hill to your friend waiting at the bottom. (There’s no signal, in case you ask).
We said it was heavy, which is why you could hit someone with it. Break a window with it (if you want to burgle a house). Drop it on a rat. Stand on it to reach something at the back of the cupboard.
Heavy. A paperweight. A doorstop, keep a window open with it, one of those elegant sash windows. Drop it in a puddle to splash someone.
It’s green. Mash it up to make face camouflage (when you’re burgling the house). Paint a wall green. Dye your clothes green. Dye your ex’s clothes green.
What about stripping off the leaves? Use one as a fan (not a concept fan). That’s a good idea. But why? Why can a leaf be a fan? What properties does it have that make it a good fan? It’s large and flappy, it catches the wind. OK, so it could be a sail for a toy boat, or a handkerchief. It’s curved, so it could be a hat, or protection from the sun. Curved we said? A spoon for soup. Pick up a spider with it. A pooper-scooper for your dog.
How we doing?
24!! We’ve hardly started! What’s the one above genius-level? Surely they’ll have to invent a new category for us. A scatter-gun approach to generating ideas, the way we often think creative minds work, shooting off all over the place, you’ve either got it or you haven’t. Not at all. Far more effective is to be systematically, logically, predictably creative.
Try it with your students! I’m sure they can beat this paltry figure. You could even use the Genius Generator.
February 7, 2012 § 9 Comments
A picture speaks a thousand words. There are ten pictures here, taken from my notebooks over the last year or two, each representing an important insight for me, mostly in a business context. See if you can match the pictures with the ten definitions below…
Think global, act local. ”Glocal”, the word is, working with lots of people in different countries, making resources with them that suit local needs, and selling through local teachers and business owners.
If you say three things, you say nothing. What’s your core message? You can’t have two priorities.
Some people take up new ideas. They get it, and take the lead. The vast majority of people on the bell-curve look to what others are doing, and follow the crowd. The gulf between these two mentalities is wide. Take note of the feedback from the early adopters, and act on it to make it accessible to the rest.
A book, the Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya sisterhood became a word-of-mouth sensation because the book spoke to the (mainly) female readers, who spoke to each other. People build relationships with each other, a network of support and love. Design a business that allows and encourages this.
Key Performance Indicators. Business terminology really, but for all of us, information is king.
When the goal is fuzzy and a long way away, and the external environment can change, you need to be flexible, have a strategy where you continually strengthen your position. Like in chess.
On the journey, when you make things, products or services maybe, to you these may be just important milestones, things you note as you pass by, keeping your head down. But hang on. To the outside world, these can be worthwhile products in their own right.
That’s a good idea! But don’t stop there. Think. Is it the best? This idea is a way of doing what? What are you trying to achieve? Looking rather like a mind map, you can make a concept fan, where you continually jump back and forth between ideas and concepts.
Do one thing well. Don’t try and do everything. You’ll end up being a jack of all trades, master of none. Take what you’ve got, and make it brilliant. Don’t smother the good idea in blanket of excess. Maximum magic, that’s what you’re after.
The environment always changes. The only constant is constant change. Successful animals, and businesses, are those that evolve to suit the new landscape.
Do you have any wise words you’d like to share? Or pictures that represent them?
January 14, 2012 § 7 Comments
“I may not have gone where I intended to go,
but I think I have ended up where I wanted to be.”
“A Hitchhikers’ guide to the galaxy”
When I worked in the Alps as a waiter in a 4-star hotel, a guise solely enabling me to go snowboarding at every opportunity, ah snowboarding, what a ride, skimming across the soft fresh glistening powder, weaving in and out of trees and rocks, landing head-first in chest-deep snow and gulping down the mountain air for hardly-existing oxygen as you struggle to dig yourself out, where was I? oh yes, mornings in the hotel were spent clearing the tables after breakfast and setting them for the evening meal. It’s where I learned to fold napkins into swans and fans and the like, seven designs, one for each day of the week.
How annoying, then, when they’d saunter in after a day on the slopes and whip my artwork into their laps without the slightest hint of acknowledgement, let alone admiration.
Hotels would run perfectly if it weren’t for damned guests.
A few years later, having swapped Alpine snow for Atlantic surf, ah surfing, sun, sea and sand, paddle paddle, the wave picks you up and you slide down an ever-shifting slope seeking stability, what a ride, where was I? oh yes, I had also, in my eyes, moved up a rung on the career ladder by working for the British Council in Portugal.
Here, I encountered a teacher with the most extreme and opposite views to mine I had ever heard. I can’t remember which coursebook we were all supposed to be using, but he wanted every level in every centre, twelve or so dotted around the country, to all be doing exactly the same thing in exactly the same lesson at exactly the same time. Order. Precision. Perfection.
Syllabuses would flow perfectly if it weren’t for damned students.
Because people, life, lessons, can’t be planned to the letter. You’re always going to end up somewhere else, somewhere you hadn’t envisaged. It’s not wrong, coz there was never any right, only a pitiful attempt to impose order and feel safe.
Luke said recently:
“Conversation-rich and materials-light (and the implications of pursuing these in the classroom) are not new – but I believe that focusing on emergent language is new, or at least represents a challenge to ELT orthodoxy – and is the most interesting and challenging of the three.”
I agree. Dogme can be a gentle breeze blowing the dust off the coursebook’s pages or a hurricane tearing it from everyone’s clutches entirely. Dogmers describe how exhilarating this ride is. But anyone who laughs at the well-intentioned but ill-informed idiocy of trying to map out a country’s language lessons for a whole year in an afternoon has the spirit of Dogme in them. Because if you do sympathise with such a prescriptive view, then just for starters you’d be missing out on the wonderful drama classes that Luke was part of in Nick Bilbrough’s cosy retreat in Devon.
And so this is where I find myself, making and selling interactive language plants, but with this spirit in me that has been brought into much clearer focus over the last few years, thanks to Teaching Unplugged and the blogs it has spawned.
Especially this third principle, dealing with emergent language.
Because too many teachers and pupils, those who have never heard of Dogme, have said to me: “Can we make our own language plants? Can we add our own words to the ones you’ve made? Can we make our own activities?”.
Reading between the lines, this is what I hear teachers saying:
“We love language plants. The interactive activities have brought a breath of fresh air. We also love creating an environment where learners are encouraged to contribute their own language and their own ideas and can grow and learn in unpredicted and unanticipated ways. Can you marry the two?”
This is the ride I now find myself on.
“You can’t stop the waves,
but you can learn to surf.”
January 5, 2012 § 12 Comments
“Where there is no struggle,
there is no progress.”
former slave, and social reformer
It’s funny to hear of old men from thousands of years ago, Ancient Greece or wherever, in uproar at the state of the youth of their time. Their quotes are as fresh today as they were then. I must admit though, I did chortle when some wrong answers were read out on the radio recently that 18-year-old students had written in their exam papers.
One was from the poem “Daffodils”, where the poet, William Wordsworth rejoices at the daffodils dancing in the breeze. The first line is particularly well-known in Britain, and what caused such outrage was a student’s answer to this gapfill:
“I wandered lonely as a ….”
Do you know what it is? Who or what could be lonely? More importantly, what does Wordsworth imagine as being lonely? It’s a good collocation activity.
“Sheep”, wrote one ignoramus.
Oh, woe! What is the world coming to?
Actually, it’s “a cloud, that floated on high o’er hill and dale”. A fluffy little white cloud, all alone in the deep summer sky, minding its own business. I can picture it now.
I found the poem she tweeted a few months back, one of her favourites, very moving. I’ve made it a gapfill. Can you come up with suggestions for the gaps? (Hint: there are no sheep).
The answers are hidden in the language plant, but they’re given underneath in case you’re struggling. If you do struggle, well, you’re obviously progressing
Could this activity be something you’d use in class? Your suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
“The most beautiful …… we have known
are those who have known defeat,
known ………, known struggle, known ….,
and have ….. their way out of the …….
These persons have an …………,
a sensitivity, and an …………. of life
that ….. them with compassion, ……….,
and a deep …… concern.
Beautiful people do not just happen.”
Elizabeth Kubler Ross
people, suffering, loss, found, depths,
appreciation, understanding, fills, gentleness, loving.
January 3, 2012 § 4 Comments
Happy new year to my friends
and happy new year to my family.
Happy new year to those I am close to
and happy new year to those I am not close to.
Happy new year to those who I will meet this year
and happy new year to those who I will never meet.
In fact, happy new year to everyone,
and of course, happy new year to you!