A warm smile
November 9, 2010 § 13 Comments
I have been enlightened and educated by some recent blogs on grammar and how to teach it, and on the nature of education in schools and the role and respectability of the teacher. Rick’s gloomy thoughts in Doing some thinking are not new. On BBC Radio 4 at the moment, the book of the week is about Mark Twain, who one hundred years ago and counting was a fierce critic of formal, institutionalised learning. “I have never let schooling interfere with my education” he quips, with serious undertones.
There are of course always rays of optimism, such as the inspiring interview that Shelly conducts with Tom King in the Teacher Reboot Camp, founder of the Saturn school in the US, where he describes how he paid the teachers more than the principal, music to Rick’s ears, and where students learn from each other, and where competition and assessment is relegated. As they both concur, standardised testing, and multiple choice in particular, is not and cannot be an accurate measure of a learner’s understanding.
In relation to language plants, and the organic nature of learning that I adhere to, I picture continual testing as like digging up a tender shoot every few days to see how well the roots are bedding in. I can only imagine the anguish this would cause the poor little plant, but we all too often see it on the faces of learners. Woe betide Willy if he has a Christmas test on Fractals lined up for us all, after asking us to rejoice at their beauty last week. His latest post, Conform to Conformity fits with this theme, and has a little rap to boot.
The recent ELTchat on grammar has been excellently summarised by Richard, at I’d like to think that I help people learn English.
And even with all the different perspectives on learner autonomy and coursebooks, it seems grammar is at the heart of everything we do. David, at Reflections of a Teacher and Learner describes his communicative grammar lessons with young learners. Simply by taking a pencil case in hand, “I’ve got a pencil case” suddenly has meaning in the here and now. Karenne always takes great pains to state she is not anti-grammar. But then again, how could she be? A grammar defines the rules that a language employs so words can connect together to give meaning. Otherwise would learners her words order put any in. Focusing on emergent language, I understand it to mean, means focusing on emergent grammar and emergent words, the new little branches that sprout naturally in human minds.
The thing is, grammar, and here I refer to those cumbersome rules encapsulated by the term “Third Conditional”, is easy to teach, and to test. Easy to teach in the sense that it is easy to get through a pre-packaged amount. Easy to test, because you can make a gapfill and get the computer to mark it. Conversely, a Dogme exam could really only be prepared after the course has taken place. Well, some bits would be predictable and predicted, but there would be many unplanned language chunks that had cropped up as part of natural conversation, and which is what help make Dogme courses unique, personal and so potentially rewarding.
However, my favourite post of the week is the one by Mike Harrison. Just a little post. Nothing spectacular. No big words. Few words at all actually. But what he’s done is what Tao Te(a)Ching mentions in his post, where the Tao describes how by losing the unnecessary, we gain. What has Mike lost? Redundancy. Redundancy of words. Repetition, unnecessary clutter. What has he been rewarded with? A language plant! And he’s been kind enough to post it for everyone to see at www.mikejharrison.com. It’s actually the one at the start of this post, the one with a warm smile. Look how he’s used colour to show singular and plural nouns, and matched “a” with the singular ones. That’s nice, don’t you think?
So, for people like Rick and Willy, and Shelly and Tom, and Diarmuid and Mike, and anyone like them, I offer these words by the German philosopher Goethe.
“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element.
It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration,
I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that decides whether
a crisis is escalated or de-escalated,
and a person is humanised or de-humanised.”