Listen and observe

November 12, 2010 § 12 Comments

“Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed.
Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.”
Mahatma Gandhi

Cecilia and David found harmony together this week at Box of Chocolates. Willy literally found it with himself and his guitar at Authentic Teaching. On a different note, Ceri, in Close Up is searching for harmony in her classroom by integrating new technology with the “traditional” whiteboard and pen, which I am finding intriguing. There are many blogs where our learner’s voice is still resounding loud and clear, and for me one in particular shines through, Greta’s About a teacher, resplendent with stories where a learner’s voice can be heard only, we realise of course, after we first let ourselves love them. The stories have moved people to tears.

But it’s the windy weather that’s blown me towards this post. 60 mile an hour gusts, that’s 100km, if you need the conversion. The leaves were dancing all around yesterday morning, it made my mam (that’s the Welsh spelling) sing a song in the car:

“Come little leaves” said the wind one day.
“Come to the meadow with me and play.”
“Put on your dresses of red and gold
The summer is gone and the days are cold.”

It’s true. The landscape has been transformed in one almighty puff, and now the naked branches stand silhouetted against the red horizon, just like the one painted by our friendly scouser Kirsten in Kite Flying.

I personally find harmony in creating language plants. It’s when time stands still, as they say. And if, like Mike Harrison and Kirsten, who seems to have caught the bug, and her teenage learners too, if you fancy having a go, well, go outside and stare at a bare wintry tree, or find one from your window like I’m doing now standing proudly behind the garden fence and observe, there are no straight lines in nature, not when the trunk turns into boughs, or when the boughs become branches, or the branches break up into twigs.

Mike’s posted another activity. Don’t worry, I’ve asked his permission, and he’s happy to see his linear post metamorphose into something more organic.

The activity he describes gets learners to use more descriptive vocabulary. It’s a problem he’s encountered throughout his career, and me, and it is something I hear primary teachers pleading for too. Mike’s written a letter splattered throughout with the word “nice”. Everything is nice.

Nice food
nice weekend
nice weather
nice day

How unappealing. So:

Write “nice”. Write it big, like a trunk of a tree. Branch these other words off from it. Spread your fingers wide and see how they point out at different angles.

But let’s increase our learners vocabulary:

Write “meal”. Write it big. We’re going to attach different adjectives to it. Look at your palm again. It’s so much bigger than your fingers. It has to be, so they can all fit on. What’s your favourite meal? Ummm, delicious! Very tasty. Can you cook it for me? Oh, well can your mum? I know, next lesson, get you mum to cook it for me and you can bring it in. Will you do that? Will you ask her? What do you mean 20 euros!

We’ll attach these adjectives onto “meal”. Oh yes, you’ll have to quickly calculate how much room you’ll need. I bet you’ve laughed too when you’ve seen a shop sign start off boldly and brazenly and then, uh-oh, not enough room, the final letters are sheepishly squeezed and squashed in. Give the learners the pen. The Wandrous Whiteboard Challenge is about giving learners a written voice.

You can use colour too. Do you remember Mike did in the last post? He used it systematically, there was thinking behind it. Personally, I love using colour, and encourage my learners to beautify their books. Have you ever done that? It touches many, and I’m sure you can imagine how much nicer their notebooks look. I think scientists say our brains produce lovely smooth beta waves when we do it, a relaxing calming effect. I will hopefully never forget two little girls, like the two in the picture I have for the language plant “Walk beside me”, who came hand-in-hand in delegation to me after a lesson I had given with language plants to offer me their conclusion. “We like the colours” they quietly affirmed, and I just had to agree. Pride in their work, revision and recycling, a visual voice, if I may resort to synaesthesia. These are strong beliefs I hold.

As Kirsten’s learners said: “Cool”,  and “This lesson was funny”. When I listen to my learner’s voice, these are the kind of words I want to hear.


§ 12 Responses to Listen and observe

  • crazykites says:

    “Give the learners the pen. The Wandrous Whiteboard Challenge is about giving learners a written voice.”


    “Personally, I love using colour, and encourage my learners to beautify their books.”

    I’m a synaesthete, too! How do you spell your name in colour? 🙂

    • David Warr says:

      Wow! I’m not (sorry for giving you that impression), but if I were, it would be lilac. Or maybe blue. Or green, I don’t know. Stephen Fry is, I know. His Wednesdays are yellow. Tell me more.

  • Dear David,

    “Nice” doesn’t quite cover what I thought of your post, but it played so well in it, maybe it deserves a little upgrade 😉

    I know I’ll probably be repetitive here, but I (despite having enjoyed the whole post) was taken by the “Give the students the pen”. Don ‘t, even for only one second, think that that was all that interested me. I love colors and have many different colors of markers and give the students different colors to write with (if you are kinesthetic, I am visual).

    I think it all comes down to “give your students the pen” – that’s how our whole practices change, how the spotlight, the responsibility for the student’s learning, shifts from the teacher to the student. We are reluctant to let that happen, we feel insecure…because up til now we were the ones, and passing on that “power” can be scary. But it can also be very rewarding, and empowering, once (and if) the student understands that power, the power of learning.

    VERY “nice” post (and language plant!). 🙂

  • DaveDodgson says:

    I love handing the markers to my kids at school almost as much as they love taking them! I think the act of coming up and adding something to the board is not only motivating but an important part of them processing langauge and expressing their ideas as well. Collectively, they can come up with an extensive range of vocabulary, well beyond ‘nice’, and they seem to learn more from each other than if the teacher presents it all.

    When I do activities like this, I hand out the pens at first but then I ask the students who have just added something to the board to pass the pen onto a classmate rather than returning it to me. This completely hands control over to them and I can sit back and watch the lesson unfold (although I have lost a couple of markers this way!)

    • I do too, Dave, giving out the markers I mean. Not just to the younger learners, either. Such a great way to hand over the reigns for part of the lesson, or maybe the whole thing. The first time I do it, they look a bit incredulous – what are you doing, teacher? maybe. But they soon get into it. It really is wonderful =)

  • crazykites says:

    Your name is predominantly yellow with a hint of peppermint green and your surname is warm colours, the W is very red and the two Rs are pink!

  • crazykites says:

    No it never changes. Though it doesn’t seem to work with arabric script 😦

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