Learning, and IATEFL

April 23, 2011 § 8 Comments

“I saw the angel in the marble
and carved until I set him free.”

And so the endless summer continues. I’ve been sitting in the sunshine, reflecting on the myriad of memories from the wonderful weekend in beautiful Brighton, evaluating my hippiness, my business and geekiness. Cool post, Brad!

We’re all basking, it’s beautiful, but water is the secret of life, and I’ve answered the polite requests from my floral friends to quench their thirst, the brazen tulips, the private bluebells, the sky of sociable blue forget-me-nots with a proud yellow dandelion reflecting the scene above.

Haven’t we all just met so many great people and seen so many fantastic talks! I’m positively overflowing with ideas, and it’s as much as I can do to catch them and put them all down on paper lest they blow away for good. Catch them, and water them. As teachers, and last week as learners, it is our job to make these ideas take root and grow.

“Why are diamonds so valuable, dad?” said Freddie, looking at a diamond ring.

Freddie is Edward de Chazal’s 6-year-old son, and Edward told this story to a packed house as part of his IATEFL talk on critical thinking.

“Ah, good question son, diamond is the hardest element on earth, we use it to cut rock and glass, and can make all sorts of things with it. It’s really really strong.”

How we all just love a learner bursting with natural curiosity like this. In my talk, Johanna Stirling from The Spelling Blog, prompted by one participant, was able to enlighten us all as to why it’s “remarkABLE” but “invincIBLE”. “Remark” is a word in itself; not so “vinc”. Thanks Johanna, and to Vladka, Paul and Shelly amongst others for attending.

“Dad, why is that rock like that?” Freddie and family were down in Hampshire on the south coast of England, admiring the huge arches that the power of the sea had carved over millennia. His dad told him all this, no doubt slipping in a few dubious dates about the rocks and the epochs when such huge figures are involved.

Learning is about connecting new things with old. Just like the flowers who would soon start to wilt, we need to water and nourish all our new-found wisdom. I’m sure Jesus’ parable of the sower has not escaped some of your notice this Easter weekend.

It’s innate too, this desire, need almost, to search for associations and try out provisional rules. Children are prime examples, as are eternally youthful teflers. I say innate, because no-one forced us to endure five full days of mayhem. Just like no-one had forced little Freddie to be pondering away to himself as they were all strolling over the rolling hills next to the sheer cliffs, so that he’d blurt out:

“So dad, which is stronger, diamonds or the sea?”.

A Glass to the Wall

April 10, 2011 § 6 Comments

“As I grow older,
I pay less attention to what men say.
I just watch what they do.”
Andrew Carnegie

Down they came, right on time, polite bemused smiles on their sweet innocent faces. I’d asked their class teacher at lunchtime if I could borrow them to do some recording. It took a whole 15 minutes before we got down to it though. Stardom was not something they craved; rather, it only seemed to evoke the dread of being mocked in the playground for evermore. Some stroking was required.

I hunted out Love all, trust a few, the post I’d written a few weeks previously mentioning them, and demonstrating unambiguously that their attitude and aptitude were specifically why I’d asked for them again. As a final gesture, knowing that things were on track, I left the library to let them assess how grave the situation actually was that they found themselves in, leaving a clear uninterrupted route to safety should flight take hold, with no hard feelings.

A post I really enjoyed a few months ago, and the only one I’ve seen like it, please let me know if there are others, was Jason’s video of him teaching a beginner class. Personally, I found that most enlightening, as learning by watching I think is invaluable. And besides, how many of us are able to resist taking a peek at a class we occasion to walk by, or listen with a glass pressed firm against the wall to the teacher next door?

This recording is of the Zimbabwean girl and Russian/Lithuanian boy who are classed as EAL but, as you’ll hear in the recording, are native-like, and they have been here a large proportion of their short lives.

I present this here for you to judge and comment on. There are some things I’d change, do differently on hearing it, but I won’t prompt you in any particular direction. It’s the first of three recordings, the other two can be found here and here, you’ll work out what they are though after watching this first one, they’re of the rest of the language plant growing.

The recording below is of them doing Puzzle, an activity that only the grouchiest sourpusses fail to enjoy. Why I personally like it so much is that I’m not needed. I’m eagle-eyed, attentive to their every breath, but if I can remain in absolute stillness and silence throughout, I feel my work has been done.

Language plants present lots of different language, merging the distinction between lexis and grammar. Oh, how I’d love you and your learners to be able to make them super fast and easy using some cool whizzy word shaping tool. I’m sure some of you would love that. Some of you have even asked if such a thing exists.

See you at IATEFL! And if not, fear not. You’ll be able to play with it soon enough.

The sun has set

April 6, 2011 § 7 Comments

“The next little country might be so close
the people could hear cocks crowing
and dogs barking there,
but they’d get old and die
without ever having been there.”
Tao Te Ching, verse 80

The sun has set on two blogs, from the Antilles and China, in spirit at least. Karenne and Diarmuid have called it a day, at heart two dogmeists, speaking from different angles, different eras even.

Karenne’s was the first blog I started reading, and there are many of us who can only aspire to her spirit of inclusion and energy. It was a proud moment for me when Language Garden made it onto her blogroll.

There are, we now know, only 81 verses in the Tao. The verse I chose to make into the language plant above was one of Diarmuid’s recent favourites. To his country, I am very glad I went. It was a lovely experience. In fact, it was Diarmuid Tzu who engaged me enough to write my first story, about my experience learning Luo in Kenya, and I am immensely grateful for the inspiration.

Both have been kind enough to comment and reply to me often, and I have greatly appreciated this. To date I have met neither in person, but I imagine this will soon be rectified at IATEFL next week.

So thank you both for entertaining and enlightening me, and thousands of others, and I wish you a happy retirement. I’ll finish with the first verse of Karenne’s historical epic:

“I’m going to take you on a journey through time
from the shores of Friesland
to Norway, Normandy and Ireland.
Raiding Latin, Greek and French
adding new words from new worlds
I’m going to take you on a journey through history
to tell you the story
of our global language.”

Thanks, everyone

April 1, 2011 § 9 Comments

“It’s not what you know,
it’s who you know.”

Everyone’s been having fun. It was the Virtual Round Table conference last weekend, and I for one had a great time. Huge thanks and respect to Shelly, Heike and Berni for organising it and working with the fantastic technology that allows it to happen, and at the start, during the opening plenary with various British Council ELTon entrants, for helping this particular technophobe get sorted out.

I dropped in on a number of sessions, made friends with some lovely new people, and discussed some future possible projects. Thanks to all those.

Thanks to Dave too, for his talk, and from me, doubly so, since I was feeling rather left out, not being able to make my own Wordle and join the club. So he made one for me.

I was away for a few days at a Festival of Learning, which is why I’m a bit slow posting it. I’d taken with me all my recording paraphernalia to capture some learners doing some language gardening. Well, all except one vital piece. Plan B: Panic. Plan C: Find someone useful. Step forward Mr Harverson, a philosopher if ever there was one. Sitting talking over lunch, next to some of his fresh-faced Year 4 acolytes, they were asked to explain why they believed in dinosaurs without direct proof. I think their lasagne got cold.

Naturally, he found connections between language plants, free choice and multiverses, the idea that there’s not just one universe, but an infinite number hiding somewhere. I love meeting such people. I can feel all my electrons in all my atoms buzzing around with extra zip.

Finally, thanks to Fiona Mauchline, for her expert holistic analysis of my Wordle: “it looks like a tree”. What else need be said?

Where Am I?

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