Education (x3)

November 22, 2010 § 3 Comments

When I started this blog, I was fresh off the back of reading a highly illuminating and enjoyable book on the art of rhetoric, and had intended to include what I was learning as part of my posts. For example, the rule of three, saying three little words or phrases in a speech, is so paramount, that even just repeating a word twice more can warrant a standing ovation. “Education, education, education” is our mantra too, even if, without the need to repeat words visually, it ain’t much of a language plant. (The more observant of you will see the slither of red I couldn’t resist putting in running across the top, and the red “e”, showing the verb “educate” from which it is derived).

I have been out and about these last few days, so much so that my blog has been woefully neglected, neglected instead for the warmth of a handshake and the sweetness of a smile. I’ve actually been attending various conferences and exhibitions, and I know that many are looking forward to TESOL France and the brotherhood and fraternity it will foster. There have been some very informative posts on the value of conferences and teacher training courses from the point of view of professional development, and I concur with those who say that to be inspired, listen to a speaker; to change your behaviour, embark on a course.

I have particularly liked John, in Training ELT Teachers, Scott Thornbury
and, although wildly behind the times, agree that Marisa’s post on Kalinago English takes the biscuit.

I will watch and contribute to the growth of Shelly’s and Greta’s collaborative effort as something impressive and worthwhile.

I have met some lovely people these last few days. I really do enjoy it.

As part of my tour of the south-east of England, I was invited to attend one morning of a 7-module course for teachers of advanced EAL learners in UK state schools. EAL means English as an Additional Language, so here we are talking about children who speak English fluently in the playground, but do not have the ability to write well enough in exams to get good grades. The demographics of the UK necessitate addressing this head on.

A large offering of the course is grammatical knowledge, Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics to be exact, and the teacher trainers know it inside out. Scott mentions it in his video, it’s number 5 on his list, and pleasing to him because it looks at grammar in context, presents a sentence with its co-text. Sentences are still parsed into subjects, predicates, objects and adverbials, but learners generally understand these in terms of who is doing what to whom, and where and when, why and how.

Nominalisation is also key to improving EAL learners’ writing of academic genres. Well, I say EAL learners, but this too can merge into mainstream teaching. The amount of information that is packed into a sentence like “condensation falls as precipitation” is staggering, and a good science teacher will not just expose learners to this type of language, but draw attention to how the verbs have become nouns as an act of consciousness-raising. This last phrase is quoted from Scott’s video once more.

It is an uncertain time for many EAL teachers due to economics and the politics it spawns, though one teacher I met has used this to improve her standing and importance. It was quite funny too for, as is common for me these days, when a conversation directs itself towards current theories and advances in teaching, I bring up Dogme, especially with those who I feel agree with the principle of learner autonomy, even though I don’t expect them to have actually heard of the term, or of Scott or Luke. But this teacher had been taught by the very man himself in Barcelona, and although she had originally been employed as an EAL teacher in a massive private school, which like many in the UK are now relying on higher numbers of fee-paying international students to operate, had set herself up as a teacher trainer for the whole school, improving the language knowledge and teaching skills of her colleagues. I was extremely impressed with her and her career move.

The next simplest rhetorical trick is to come up with three different words, if possible with a rhyme or rhythm that catches the ear and changes the world. When you know what to look out for, you realise they’re everywhere, and I think I’d like to mention a few more of these over the coming weeks. After all, teacher education is riding high, especially in France next week. I hope you all enjoy it very much indeed.

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§ 3 Responses to Education (x3)

  • crazykites says:

    I love France!

    I remember learning about the rule of three at school in English. And I learnt about how important nominalisation was for writing compositions in French in my final year at uni. This is what I’ve advised for a couple of my CAE students who want to improve their writing. Sometimes their writing is fine with few errors but lacks that certain je ne sais quoi…and I’m sure this is often the case with my own writing.

    Thanks for sharing these with us, and please share more.

    All the best,

    Kirsten

    • David Warr says:

      Hi Kirsten, very interesting comments about your CAE class. The courses I’ve been to explicitly show how to nominalise, and the effect it has. I’ve been very impressed with them, and there are local authorities/companies in the UK that do these courses in schools. Halliday calls it shifting rank, where each shift upwards reduces the number of words in the sentence, and makes the information much more dense. This is one of the features of academic texts. How did your learners find this new information you gave them?

      • crazykites says:

        Not sure it’s gone in, yet. I only really mentioned it to one or two, but it sounds like a lesson I must write. I have a lovely student who has a scary amount in common with me. Anyway, like me, she has a tendancy to go drastically over the word limit. I said to her she needs to write less but with words that say more, because it’s amazing the amount of words you can write that say nothing at all. It used to be called waffling in essays, or trying to fill the word limit with padding. I’ve been there, too!

        I’m interested to know more about this, David. Would you be interested in telling me some more information? This might help me and also to help my CAEs a lot.

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