A Fresh Ride

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.”
Douglas Adams
“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.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Beautiful People

January 5, 2012 § 12 Comments

“Where there is no struggle,
there is no progress.”
Frederick Douglass,
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.

Cristina, who wonders, is looking for teachers to read to her little bunnies on Friday afternoons via Skype. Willy’s done one. I’ve signed up, they’d love you to, too, I’m sure.

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.

Happy New Year!

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!

Where Am I?

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