IED In English Digital October 2012
The British Council magazine for teachers of English in Lusophone countries
Welcome to IED5 with its particular focus on Portugal. I am delighted to see once again a good mix of practice and theory and lots of good ideas for the classroom. My personal favourite in this edition is Bright-eyed and Bushy-Tailed Students, Parents and Teacher by Anabela Sala. The author who is a teacher in a state primary school really impressed me with their interest in engaging with the parents and the families of the students. And then there are some really lovely practical examples of the work done in the classroom. Ideas that any English teacher can pick up and run with. Another favourite – this time aimed at secondary English teachers - is the article Story-reading and Story-telling, and vice versa by Carmen Sofia Goncalves in which she uses some of the excellent BritLit Project resources. I do like the way Carmen links the ability to tell a story with the students being able to build their own life story and imagine their own future.
And finally I recommend Jon Felperin´s article The road to ELT Management… Like John I started out as an English language teacher and ended up as a manager – never imagining in the first place that was where I was headed. So I can really relate to the points that Jon makes. I won´t say more… read the article! Enjoy this issue of IED and do think about what you can send in for the next issue. Everyone has something they can contribute and we would like to hear from you.
Gill Caldicott Director British Council Portugal
Illustration: Paul Driver
Introduction: Special Feature Portugal Gill Caldicott
Editorial: IEDV Fitch O’Connell
Teen Angst Melvin Burgess
Education in Portugal Overview
Teacher Profile Filomena Alijaj
Video in the Classroom
Multimodality in the Classroom Lucia Bodeman
Story Reading & Story telling Carmen Sofia Gonçalves
Using digital tools to improve writing – a project Luisa Lima
Critical Thinking in Teacher Development Damian Williams
Burkino Faso Project Celeste Simões
Teaching to large classes Johannes Magombo
Testing Times Lucy Bravo
The Road to ELT Management Jon Felperin
Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed Anabela Sala
Imagination & the Curriculum Fitch O’Connell
EDITORIAL Illustration: Paul Driver
“Perhaps the crisis is helping to shake off complacency and encouraging practitioners, in particular, to look afresh at the state of teaching, take stock and think again.”
In this edition, the fourth in our 'Focus
On' series looks at Portugal. Like other countries at the present time, Portugal i s ex p e r i e n c i n g s eve re f i n a n c i a l difficulties, and, as is always the case in such situations, public sector education is taking a hard hit. Rather than reflecting a negative response, however, we witness signs of determination and resilience amongst teachers and students. Some of this positivism is reflected in the articles concentrating on Portugal, but there is also a sense of new paths, new opportunities reflected in other articles. Perhaps the crisis is helping to shake off complacency and encouraging practitioners, in particular, to look afresh at the state of teaching, take stock and think again. Perhaps. What is clear, though, is the continuing expansion of educational ideas and techniques, and the continued sharing of experiences, ideas and practices in the best tradition of pioneers.
development innovations to dealing with large classes and from the complexity of testing to the value of story-telling and reading. The acclaimed author of books for young people, Melvin Burgess, rallies on behalf of youngsters and wonders if schools are the right place for them in his article 'Teen Angst'. The theme of questioning the validity of our schooling system is continued in 'Imagination and the Curriculum'. I hope you enjoy this fifth edition of 'In English Digital', which once again offers access to student-made or studentorientated videos. I also hope that you will feel encouraged to write for the next edition, whether it be practical hints for successful lessons, or reflections on teaching, on training, on education in general. The next edition will have a focus on using technology (old and new!) in the classroom. Perhaps you have something to contribute either for or against.
In this edition we look at good news stories ranging from work in intercultural projects to new career opportunities for teachers, from teacher Fitch O'Connell Editor
Ar#cles and ideas for IED6 by December 7th 2012, please. Send to: email@example.com
IED In English Digital
October 2012 Issue 5
Fitch O’Connell Editor
Paul Driver Layout, graphic design, illustra@on
Download a pdf version of this edition for viewing offline or on other platforms Filomena Alijaj
Hand Illustration: Paul Driver
Download a pdf version of the previous edition for viewing offline or on other platforms
Teen by Melvin Burgess
Partly because I was always being asked whether my books Junk and Doing it were autobiographical, I started to write a memoir some years ago on my own teenage years, 14 19. I was expecting it to be a fairly unpleasant task. Teenagers, as everyone knows, are nasty pieces of work - arrogant, spotty, ill tempered, unpredictable and generally unlikeable. Even their parents find them difficult to stomach. Fortunately for the rest of us, they are usually too cowardly to give other people a hard time, except when they're drunk or stoned, which is as often as they can get the money to pay for it. I remembered my teen years as being one long crises of confidence, punctuated by a series of failures - a failure to get my hands on enough girls, drugs or go far enough with them when I did; a failure to make enough friends - and no really good ones at all. A failure, in fact, to be good at anything, even, or perhaps particularly, at enjoying myself. As I got older the list of failures only increased. I'd failed at school, failed to appreciate my parents or to capitalise on the advantages I'd been handed on a plate. I was clumsy, lacking in confidence, ugly and graceless. That, I think, is the worst and most common teen failure of all the failure to be graceful, in body, spirit and mind.
And I'm not the only one, am I? Of all the many people I've asked about their teen years, only a handful claim to have enjoyed them. Teen angst is an act of life. You, me, our children, and as far as we know, our grandchildren and their children as well, have and will all suffer and be miserable during these most important years of life. Teenage angst has been a great source for artistic endeavour over the past fifty years or more. Rock n roll, of course, was all about the stresses of teenage life. Teenage fiction would probably not exist without it. My own books, such as Lady: My Life as a Bitch, Junk and Doing It, have all in some way taken their inspiration from teenage angst. And yet both YA (young adult) literature and modern popular music are of the modern era. The very concept of being a
teenager is a thoroughly modern invention - no one ever heard of them before 1950-something. It begs the question - was it always like this? Does human history down the ages echo with cries of existential teenage pain? If so - why is it so little recorded? The fact is, there is a good deal to enjoy about being a teenager. Sexual awakening - come on, what could be better? When I wrote my book on sexual culture, Doing It, I found as much to cherish as there was to wince at. New friendships, new freedoms, the idealism of youth. It sounds great! So why all the pain? In short where does all that angst come from? There's a belief, perhaps because the experience is so general, that teen a n g s t i s a b i o l o g i c a l eve n t ; unfortunate, but necessary. Not much point in trying to alleviate it, is there, when it's going to be like that anyway? But what if it's not? Suppose it's cultural? Suppose we do it - to our own children, year after ye a r, g e n e r a t i o n a f t e r generation. If that could be shown, how far would you be prepared to stick your neck out and treat your child sufficiently differently to make a difference to the sum total of human happiness - to your child's happiness, and to the happiness of any children in your care? Imagine it - a word full of happy, angst-free young people! Is such a thing possible? Surely we'd all vote with our feet if it was so.
“…if you're going to make people jump through academic hoops, ages 14 - 16 are the very worst times to pick, period.”
As a teacher, perhaps of young people, would you be prepared to change your working habits, perhaps even your job, in an effort to help stop perpetuating the endless worry, strife and unhappiness that we deliberately bring down on the innocent heads of generation af ter generation of young adults? It's my belief that teachers, even more than parents, are implicated in causing unhappiness in our young adults. In one word, here's why. School.
pains to provide no alternatives for teenagers BUT school, it's not really necessary. It's a well kept secret in England that you can leave school, pass an infinitely easier access course at age nineteen and go to university as a mature student with better grants and a far higher possibility of success. All you have to do is leave school as soon as possible. It's a secret kept by teachers and parents from young people, almost to man and woman - presumably from a fear that they'll all jump up and go off on some hideous teenage rampage, due to our own failure to supply them with anything better to do.
Is it any wonder that modern teenage literature sells so much better in fantasy than in realism when real life is so stressful? One thing you can be sure of as well, as we all watch the world of work get increasingly busy and hard on the nerves - when young people leave school, already exhausted from being mentally hag-ridden for by their elders for fourteen years - it's certainly not something restful they'll be moving on to.
Let's take a moment to look at teenagers and consider what they are, what they're doing - what the biological and cultural need for them might be - and compare that with what school does. We will see that these two areas are at hopeless odds with one another. Perhaps, by addressing it directly, it may be possible to change this deplorable state of affairs.
Let's begin right at the beginning and admit for starters that if you're going to make people jump through academic hoops, ages 14 - 16 are the very worst times to pick, period. I can think no more inappropriate age. Anyone who has done any studying knows that it gets infinitely easier as you get older, and please don't flatter yourself by imagining this is down to the fruits of hard work and the accumulation of knowledge with age. Our brains are simply not well wired for that sort of work in those mid-teen years. Ability to concentrate, not to mention having a clearly defined direction in life, are all over the place until about 18, when it begins to settle down.
So why on earth do we pick 14 - 16 to administer this admittedly necessary process? Getting kids to sit for hours studying at that time of life is a simple attempt at cultural control of a difficult time of life. There's no developmental reason for children to take these kinds of tests at that kind of age. Even in our own culture, that takes such
Perhaps we want them to suffer. We did - and look what it did for us... School itself needs a root and branch reform. Thirty odd hours of compulsory learning every week, little or no choice of subjects, lasting for fourteen years? It suits some people, I guess. I'd personally be prepared to kick anyone who wanted to do it to me in the teeth. No wonder the phrase, "best years of your life" is such a joke. And the truly horrible thing is, it could be so different. It could be so fulfilling. If only we would tailor school and teenage lives to their own needs, rather than those of an increasingly competitive society, with an ever more voracious appetite for a better trained, more amenable, flexible and hard-working product - what would we find out about ourselves and our young people then? Teenagers are learners by their nature, but not in the form of English or biology A levels. There are melting pots, catalysts, all about finding out links for themselves, experimenting, developing. As well as the obvious need to prepare for the future, they need to live for now and find out who they are and what they want. OK - we all know it’s not going to happen. Our whole economic structure depends on a tightly controlled young product coming out the back end of a highly focussed education system in nice, neat coils that employers can easily evaluate and process on. But since it's New Year, let's take the time out to wonder how the school day, and the school year come to that, would be organised if we were really trying to optimise the abilities and talents of young people, maximising happiness, personal development and learning potential, instead of focussing on those oh so valuable employable skills.
Here's my suggestion for a kick off.
1. The school day needs to be kept down to a maximum of 20 hours a week. No one, even adults can concentrate for much longer that. Difficult subjects like maths, science and so on, should not be taught after 11am in the morning, by law.
3. All schools should serve a decent breakfast. There should be a financial incentive for eating it. The recent innovation of paying people to attend school is a good one. If we're not going to let people work, it's the least we can do. A great many problems we have with young people come from keeping them on short supply of money.
2. The school day should start at 10.30. This practise is already implemented in a number of schools. Teenage brains do not function well first thing in the morning.
m gr b 4. A great deal of the money currently spent on "education" should be spent on other activities - sport and art, of course, but also music - young people should be given an allowance each month for music, art and literature of their own choice. They are the future, not you, and believe me, they are far more likely to know which way the wind is blowing on that account. I would also suggest they be sent on paid trips abroad, and have a system of well funded youth clubs set up across the country -Â properly funded - with gaming facilities (this is an art form, I'm afraid, and it's appreciation is only going to increase) as well as a selection of any other skills members would choose to try.Â
That'll do to start. I hope you don't think I'm being facetious I'm not. We spend a fortune on education. I'm just trying to think how we might turn out better young people at the other end. Having said that, I'm a writer, not an educationalist at all. Any other suggestions very welcome. Melvin Burgess
Education and English Teaching in Portugal A Brief Guide Education in Portugal is free and compulsory until the age of 18, and is regulated by the State through the Ministry of Education, Higher Education and Science. There is a system of public education supplemented by many private schools at all levels of education. There are around 2 million students out of a population of around 10 million.
The basic literacy rate of the Portuguese population is 95.2%. However, functional literacy is amongst the lowest in Europe and according to official sources in 2007, 64% of the population had never read a single book while only 17.9% read more than two books in one year. According to the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009, the average Portuguese 15-years old student, when rated in terms of reading literacy, mathematics and science knowledge, is placed at the same level as those students from the United States, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, France, Denmark, Hungary and the United Kingdom. After the 1974 revolution, the number of basic and secondary schools, as well as of higher education institutions, increased until the end of the century, though it has been argued that quantity overtook quality during this period. From the mid-2000s a program of modernisation of schools (basic and secondary) was carried out, and new elementary schools were. The Bologna process for higher education has been adopted since 2006. However the higher-education rate in the country still remains the lowest in the European Union, (around 7% in 2003 (Source: OECD (2003) improving to 11% in 2007 - as compared to Slovakia and Slovenia (16%), Germany, Spain and Ireland (28%) and Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, and the UK (30%) (Source: EuroStat, March 2007). According to PISA, the average Portuguese 15years old student was for many years underrated and underachieving in terms of
reading literacy, mathematics and science knowledge, on a par with Italy and a little higher than Greece, Turkey and Mexico. However, since 2010, PISA results for Portuguese students have improved dramatically. Due to the recent Portuguese sovereign debt crisis, and the subsequent IMF-EU financial assistance to the Portuguese Republic, many universities and other higher education institutions are suffering financially. Many are on verge of bankruptcy and are being forced to increase its admissions and tuition fees as the budgets dwindle and the staff members and bonuses are being reduced. English is introduced in schools during the 1º ciclo, but is not compulsory: it is treated as an 'enrichment' subject and is not part of the core curriculum until 2º ciclo (years 5 and 6). At secundário level English is one of a choice of modern languages available. of which Spanish is becoming increasingly popular. The ambition is for students to attain at least a B1 (CEF) level of proficiency. Basic education In Portugal, Basic Education consists of nine years of schooling divided into three sequential cycles of education of four, two and three years (see table). Click to download a larger image
Children start school aged six. State-run schools are free of charge; private school tuition is refunded by the State in part or fully, when state-run schools in the area are filled to capacity. The first cycle of basic mandatory education covers years 1 - 4, the second cycle years 5 & 6 and the third cycle years 7 - 9. The curriculum contains only general education until the 9th year at which point vocational subjects are introduced. 1º ciclo State-run schools are owned by the municipalities; all other State-run schools are owned by the State.
R E H C TEA I L E PROF IED talked to Mena, who teaches English in Portugal. IED: How long have you worked as a teacher? Mena: I have been teaching for 19 years. Seems like a long time now…I’ve taught mostly in the north of Portugal but I have also worked in England IED: What age range are the students? Mena: I have taught all age groups. In my current school (EB2/3 de Toutosa, which is currently amalgamating with the local secondary school, Escola Secundária do Marco de Canaveses), I teach mostly years 7 to 9 (3rd Cycle) – so the students’ ages range from 12 to 16. IED: How big is your average class? Mena: Up until now we have been lucky and our classes have been 24 students, or less. This coming school year things will be different as the Government wants to have more students per class. These are tough times, I know, but to destroy an already struggling school system by laying off teachers and creating larger class sizes will not be worth it – dumbing down an already depressed and distressed youth is not the solution.
“Being well-informed teachers enables us to live up to the expectations of our students.” IED: How many students attend the school altogether? Mena: From this academic year onwards we are a mega-school with a total of 2838 students. That is a lot! IED: What kind of area is the school situated geographically? Mena: The school is in northern Portugal, in Marco de Canaveses, which is around 56 km away from Porto. It is surrounded by lovely countryside, including the Marão mountains, and is crossed by the rivers Douro and Tâmega. IED: What kind of backgrounds do the students come from? Mena: We have two opposing realities at the moment. On one side we have the students from our school – low aspirations, low income, immigrating or absent parents, rural, mostly deprived areas, so more likely to fall behind and needing extra support and, on the other side we have students who have a lot of aspirations and come from the catchment area of the secondary school, closer to the town of Marco de Canaveses.
IED: Can you generalise students’ attitude to learning English? Mena: I can say that in rural areas students are normally pleasant and their attitude varies according to their aspirations. If they see in the English language a means of improving their lives then they want to learn it and give it a try; whenever their aspirations are low, their self-esteem tends to follow the same standards and then, English is seen as a boring, useless subject and something that they will never learn – they use the same sentences as motto: “I was never good in English so I will never learn it” – or – “Why do we learn English if we are Portuguese?”. It's a voice of despair. IED How flexible can you be in designing lesson plans? Mena: Since my teacher training year I have learnt to have a lot of alternatives up my sleeve. During that time a little bit of everything has happened and I managed to cope with all the unexpected situations in a creative way and was lucky enough to reach the anticipated results. I would say I am not at all rigid when planning a lesson. And I like the unpredictable part, the element of surprise. I also tend to put myself in the place of my students so I quit a task if I sense that it is not working for them or me – quite often a well-planned, detailed lesson is not handled well by a specific form and will go to waste on them but will be perfect for another. IED: Do you have access to course books? If so, how do you rate them? Mena: Our course books are mainly the ones brought in by Portuguese Publishers, written by TEFL Portuguese teachers and then revised by native speakers. I honestly prefer the ones from English Publishers; I find them more communicative, diverse and providing more eye-catching activities.
IED What kind of training have you received since becoming a teacher? Mena: I'm always looking for training opportunities - online, reading, professional magazines, webinars, live sessions from the University or APPI* and workshops abroad. I get really involved in international projects. Being well-informed teachers enables us to live up to the expectations of our students. It also makes policy-makers a little more cautious of us! IED: What innovative things in the school are you proud of? Mena: I was particularly involved in creating a slam reading competition – it was great because the students were excited and their parents attended the reading, had some English treats (most parents have no idea what we do in class and that is also a task we should invest more. I have also participated several years in a row in the European Youth Parliament initiative which is a great way to show the students that English is made to communicate - they had to prepare a resolution and defend it and also attack or support other school’s resolutions and English was the main language of communication. IED: What are the most frustrating things that occur in your professional life as an English teacher? Mena: Nowadays school involves juggling a lot more than school books or files with plans. There is endless bureaucracy - all that
excessive paperwork that seems to take over teaching time in schools. I am saddened when colleagues are too afraid to share what they know or have experienced. I'm concerned by disenchanted students with behavioural issues that are not tackled by schools. IED: Which highly satisfying events or moments do you recall (in the English language classroom). Mena: I have had plenty of satisfying moments. I love it when a class labelled as a “failure” ends up getting a good grip on English and being enthusiastic about it. That is the most satisfying it can get for me! IED: What do you want to see more of? Mena: More creativity to start with, and more respect for teachers as the profession is prestigious; smaller class sizes, more welcoming classroom environments, more positive input of teachers, less sheep-like behaviour, less pessimism, more cooperation, fewer reforms from the top down and more planning from the bottom up. IED: What do you want to see less of? Mena: I would like to see less conformity, obedience, painting inside the lines - a system that, as someone put it, is turning students into “unoriginal blobs of grey goo”; the standardization that is happening in our schools – teachers being pressured via administration to work for test-scores and achieving good results (sometimes false) in a short time.
V I D E O
hen we sent out a general appeal to Portuguese teachers of English working in state schools for samples of videos that their students had made as part of their English studies, we had no idea what to expect. We offered no guidelines and we were asked for very little guidance. In return, the in-box soon filled up with links to an extraordinary wide range of film-making endeavours, from the simple and direct to the complex and layered. Against this generous showering of talent lay a recent background of teacher development and training, run by APPI, which looked at both the content and technical issues behind video use in the language classroom. Though none of the six video clips chosen to share with IED readers came directly from the course, we are going to use some of the parameters discussed in the course to demonstrate these videos. In terms of language skills demonstrated, the easiest one is the one which doesn't use any student generated language at all, but, rather, uses the background sound of a song to indicate a general theme - the collegiate nature of school friends and colleagues bound together by the beginning of a new school year: back to school. Some teachers get quite defensive about this kind of activity, unnecessarily in most cases. Certain students respond well to simply working within an English language environment in a passive manner rather than being expected to (literally) face the camera and produce. It's also a useful activity to engage in at the beginning of the new school year as the amnesia of the long school holidays is gradually overcome! The next step up, so to speak, is where language is presented in the written rather than the spoken form. In this video, which was produced as an 'English club' project (i.e. as an extra-curricular activity) the video was designed by the students, who planned the action and wrote the captions, while the actual videoing was carried out by adults. Again, the pressure of facing the camera and speaking in a foreign language is removed but the production of an English language final product created a suitable language-generated focus though we can't pretend that English was used throughout the production of the final film!
Engaging in spoken commentary or dialogue, the first step is to engage in a scripted performance. There is a predictability about the results of such an approach: no one is going to be convinced by the dialogue of a scripted interview carried out by amateur actors, but that is not the purpose, of course. The presence of the camera adds an urgency to the action which changes the dynamic of what otherwise would be a self-conscious and wooden faux dialogue in true ELT fashion: the camera makes the make-believe world more possible to engage with. While there is a certain world-weariness in the responses of the 'husband' in this short clip (at such an early age too!) his comment about how difficult it is to get a job is revealing. From a technical point of view, this clip falls into a common trap by relying on the in-built camera microphone for the sound track, which means that there is a big difference in the quality of the sound from the reporter, who is next to the microphone, and the 'couple' who are distant from it. The answers to the questions are more important than the questions asked, but are harder to make out. This problem is solved by the introduction of a second microphone and, even better, for the sound track to be recorded separately from the video and added at the postproduction stage. The fourth example is the result of a larger class project which looked at issues of Multiculturalism. Students were asked to examine the topic from a variety of viewpoints, including Culture shock and cultural differences, Body language in different cultures, How other nationalities see the Portuguese, Immigration in Portugal and Gender discrimination in Portugal. They had to be engaged in speaking, reading and writing as elements of the project, and as a final product could choose between a number of options, including, making a poster, writing a leaflet and producing a video. In this simple, semi-scripted interview the students used the presence of a Finnish student in the class as source material. While the material is genuinely informational and interesting, it is, again, spoiled by poor sound quality, making it hard to hear what the interviewee has to say, something which could have been improved by a second microphone.
Venturing into drama on film can be a lot of fun for the participants - though sometimes a touch painful for the eventual viewer witnessing amateur thespians at work! In many ways, the real language work is done during rehearsal, and the filming is simply a point of focus rather than being the main event. In this short video, - An Englishman in Gaia - there are two speaking parts, a non-speaking character, and role for a whole year 7 class. The production team, script writers and film directors, are shared between key players, including the actors, which means that an easily manageable group was involved in the overall production. Again, some more care with microphones would have made some scenes - especially the outdoor ones - easier to hear, but the scenes are well thought through and the editing is effective. The final offering is a fine example of the motivational power of video production. The students involved are from a 'vocational' course and were reported to be diffident in the extreme in their use of English, and the teacher was looking for ways to help them improve their marks. As she reports, the original idea was for them to produce a video showing 'now and then' and for them to engage in some small speaking parts. In the end the students managed to avoid speaking altogether by resorting to captions, but the effect on morale in producing this little film was extraordinary and as a result of making it the students became more engaged, motivated and enthusiastic. The knock-on effect had the desired effect in improving their engagement with English even if the actual product didn't meet all the expected requirements. The video was also used to show to other classes of lowachievers in English which further improved morale. In this video there are some sophisticated techniques used, with sensitive scene changes and an effective switch from black and white to colour to gain a particular effect. All in all, the many teachers who submitted videos which were made by or involved their students (only some of which being shown above), reported enthusiasm and commitment from many of their students in these projects. In most cases the use of video helped to overcome the difficulties usually faced in encouraging students in mainly monolingual classes to speak. Even in the cases where speaking is either at a minimum or non-existent, because the medium of the final product is in English, the overall effect was always to boost confidence which, when all is said and done, is the most vital ingredient in language learning.
Thanks to: Dora Lopes and the students of Escola Secundária Quinta Das Flores, Coimbra Celeste Simões and the students of the English Club, Escola Secundária Carregal do Sal Gabriella Reis and the students of Escola Secundária Inês de Castro, Canidelo, Vila Nova de Gaia Margarida Pato and the students of Escola Secundária com 3º Ciclo de Azambuja
One can easily become accustomed to looking at things from one perspective alone, after many years of practice. And in my career as a teacher of English as a foreign language, it had always been a given to me that language is composed of systems, skills, thoughts and ideas. My narrow (linguistic) viewpoint had led me to believe that it was all about words, sentences and not much else. As an admirer of the new technological possibilities available in education in our digital world, quite recently I stumbled onto the fact that there was much more involved in representing ideas and expressing meaning than simply by producing words and sentences. As I delved further into defining ‘language,’ I was introduced to Language within a Social Semiotic perspective, and to the works of Gunther Krass and Theodore van Leewen on Multimodality. Eventually, it became clear that today everyday texts combine different modes, evenly distributed and combining colour, sound, images, words which work together to give it meaning. Exploring these opportunities in the classroom, rather than merely elaborating through the traditional means of paper can provide maximum effect in communication, a springboard for greater development in the writing skill. Being literate today involves understanding how the world works socially and culturally, and meaning-making includes an awareness of the af fordances available for that result. By considering what each mode and media affords it becomes easier – and more pleasant – for learners to make choices about how they wish to communicate, whether through words, acts,
Multimodality in the Language Classroom Lucia Bodeman
gestures, attitudes, beliefs, purposes, bodily movements, clothes and so on. The terms ‘multimedia’ and ‘multimodality’ are known to cause some confusion, but it is basically a matter of distinguishing the difference of ‘mode’ from ‘media’, being that ‘Modes can be understood as ways of representing information, or the semiotic channels we use to compose a text. Modes can be understood as ways of representing information, or the semiotic channels we use to compose a text (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2001). Examples of modes include words, sounds, still and moving images, animation and colour. Media, on the other hand, are the “tools and material resources” used to produce and disseminate texts. In today’s digital world, there is a plethora of new mediums available in learning environments such as blogs, vlogs, mobile phones and websites; there is much to choose from in creating opportunities for students to carry out tasks. Twitter® and Facebook® alone have served as a springboard not only for greater writing opportunities, but have also contributed to adding new ways in doing so. Instagram® is yet another tool massively used in today’s society, where photos are shared among friends and relatives, with captions playing an important role in its display. Whether still or in movement, pictures add a greater value to the written word and aid in transmitting a clearer message to the reader, through visual stimulus and appreciation.
Meaning is no longer conceived by simply adding words and sentences, but how these are laid out, and how other modes can be applied. Colour, font sizes and styles play important roles in today’s writing, serving to attract the public eye to a written piece, with each component adding meaning.
Layout is also important, and coherence is no longer restricted to linguistic components which hold a text together; it is also a question of how best to distribute the information on a platform (be it printed or on screen) in order to achieve effective – and harmonious – exposure. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that Multimodality in texts is not a new concept. In fact, exploiting opportunities for communication by means of different modes dates back to medieval storybooks, where illustrations and words combined perfectly to add luster to the reading experience. Pictures and texts have successively, throughout history, been used to perform as a means toward pleasurable reading while carrying out a message. With new medias evolving, sound and gestures add a special touch to the written piece, and processing ideas becomes more meaningful. An example of how well multimodality is exploited is by Paul McCartney’s video of his song ‘My Valentine,’ (see YouTube®). Here, meaning is created through sound, colour (the choice to display in black and white), and sign language, all working together to transmit a harmonious and touching message of love. By being aware of the different modes available, it is up to the teacher to discover ways in which to stimulate learners to create, through collaboration, texts (whether visual or printed) that allow them to fully express themselves and add meaning in their communication with society. Compositions are no longer enough, although they continue to play an important role in academic work. It is necessary to point out that, in certain contexts, learners need to display familiarity and confidence in composing academic pieces such as research papers, thesis and disser tations, where rubrics are given and standardized formats are expected when presenting research results, for example, adding greater value to the written piece. Yet, beyond these circles, writing can be exploited by placing an emphasis on creativity. As human beings, it is in our nature to create. At an early stage of our development, we learned to express our thoughts through drawings, whether at home or at school. It is a breakthrough in establishing communication with the world (the first being the spoken word), and assuming our position within it. And the more we are aware of this need to communicate through self-expression, in our classrooms, the greater are our chances to build a positive environment for learning and sharing. Learners, as writers, should have the opportunity to
assume responsibility for creating meaning in their tasks, through autonomous experimentation with the different modes available, while being encouraged to express their thoughts in their attempt to create meaning – and add fun! – to their work. Some suggestions for applying multimodality in the language classroom are: Task 1: Text development: develop a writing sample based on a headline, title or audience expectation Through multi-modality: Design a website offering a public service according to a public need. Task 2: Re-formulating information: rewriting encyclopedia entries about famous people so that they are about famous achievements instead. Through multi-modality: Changing genres: from song to letter, from written ad to video poem, from dictionary entry to a personal message, using a particular language structure from lessons, adding a background song, image or gesture Task 3: Summarizing: Paraphrasing and reducing a text so that the meaning remains unaltered. Through multi-modality: Twitter entries to respond (through paraphrasing) to a question or situation (from a song, picture … ) Task 4: Logical relationships: match two halves of a short, authentic text and justify the logical relationship between them Through multi-modality: Do a Google® search for images or songs (on YouTube) that would have a logical relationship with a written text. Share results with the class. Task 5: Text organizing: jumbled paragraphs Through multi-modality: Organize a series of photographs, and build a story around it (website, class blog, etc) Note: A useful website for this last suggestion is http:// www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics/, with a wealth of beautiful photos taken by language teachers worldwide, for general use. (Restrictions apply for copying and pasting) REFERENCES: Beyond the Sentence. Thornbury, S. (2005) MacMillan Publishers Crea#ng Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. Wagner, T. (© 2012, Scribner: New York, NY Literacy in the New Media Age. Kress, G. (2003) Routledge Publishing Mul#modality. Kress, G. ( 2010) Routledge Publishing Mul#modal Discourse. Kress, G. and Van Leewen, T. (2001) Bloomsbury Publishers New Literacies: Changing Knowledge and Classroom Learning. Lankshear, C. and Knobel, M. (2003) Open University Press. Visual Approaches to Teaching Wri#ng. Bearne, E. and WolstencroS, H. (2007) Paul Chapman Publishing Weblinks: hVp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4dzzv81X9w Paul McCartney’s ‘My Valenbne’ hVp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gN8VjhBs1N8 Theo Van Leewen: UT Speaks: The New Wribng (part 1 of 4) hVp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJ2gz_OQHhI What is a ‘mode’? – Insbtute of Educabon, Univ. of London
Story-reading & story-telling,
By Carmen Sofia Gonçalves
and vice-versa There is always time for more than one story, no matter how demanding the syllabus is. There is fruition and learning in these reading activities: pre-reading, context, images and prompts, chunking or reading the whole text at once, promoting class discussion and asking or answering to questions, and so on, this is what BritLit Project has to offer and I like it. It is accessible, easy to use, I feel free to choose from a wide range of writers, types of text, didactic materials, suggestions and updates… sometimes even the opportunity of meeting some of the authors. What I am about to do is a description of students’ and my choices, our favourites: a)13 year-olds: Louise Cooper (The Storm, Genie-us, History lesson, A Wolf’s Tale) b)14 year-olds: Paul Jennings (The Copy) c)15 year-olds: Roald Dahl (The Landlady, Taste) d)16 year-olds: Narinder Dhami (Bend it like Beckman), Benjamin Zephaniah (different poems read by the author about mass media responsibility), along with any other author the textbook might offer. a) The Storm has a multimedia presentation that anticipates the story; students have to guess about context and characters; when reading the story (practicing expressive reading), they may link it to the images seen
and discuss it further; unaware of the conclusion of the story, students, in pairs or groups of four, are asked to write a conclusion, which is invariably surprising, and they read it; the last part of the story is presented and students react very positively to the dimension of the surprise. The other three stories are bonuses for other moments of reading for pleasure: making students aware of ironical and subversive overtones that new readings and unexpected endings offer; another activity is to cut the three stories and distribute them around and students organize themselves according to the topic and the story sequence, then they read it aloud and exchange ideas about their experience. b) Cloning has become a literary text, introducing students in the science fiction world, but also going through feelings and affections that worry students of this age at school: falling in love, being bullied, feeling like a fish out of water, having an improbable friendship with a mad scientist, being cloned. All activities suggested are fantastic, I choose to follow chunks of the story and explore the “narrative building questions”. Exploring some inventions further, students are challenged to make up and describe inventions of their making, or research about inventions that changed the lives of people.
“Texts need to have balance between challenge and conformity…” c) The author offers strange and challenging stories, and I usually introduce the author by viewing some videos from YouTube, for instance “Revolting Rhymes” – Three little pigs, Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, to call students’ attention to a degree of uncertainty and unpredictability that his writings can offer. Then all activities are developed, with special attention to cultural, historical and superstitious elements of “the landlady”. There is always the opportunity of students to reverse a bedtime story they remember and offer it to the class with a twist… “Taste” is an extra I offer the students,. The story takes place on the other side of the Atlantic, the characters are contemporary and middleclass and the story raises ethical and materialistic questions as it unfolds. I only disclose the end when the students have discussed the possibilities of winning a bet, the objectification of the daughter as a family asset, ambitions of upstarts, trying to keep up with the “Joneses” culturally. d) There is a topic that deals with adolescents’ choices, studies and professional careers, finding their place in society, alternative lifestyles, gender-based roles and prejudices. Texts need to have balance between challenge and conformity, traditional and culturally-based communities and the necessary distance critical thinking needs to observe and manage change. There are excerpts of a film to watch and class discussion about successful stereotypes portrayed. Secondly, migration implies cultural adaptations and that is difficult, even belonging to the Commonwealth of Nations. Here Benjamin Zephaniah’s part is directed to cultural awareness and political statements, education and critical thinking.
With so many levels and heavy syllabus to follow, sometimes extra-lessons or replacement/compensation lessons provide the opportunity to practice story-telling with students: building a story board with 12 or 15 cards, each representing characters, places, objects, contexts, from which a story or many stories can be built. Sometimes students retell stories from the cards or even draw new cards for new stories. In every story, even in the oral tradition, there is always a scribe to note them down for posterity… The more they practise the better equipped they become to build their own life’s story and become the part they want to play. Sites to keep: BritLit Project http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/britlit Benjamin Zephaniah - Rong Radio http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3HjMcY50Kc Benjamin Zephaniah - Touch http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=AMHusbDmKYM Roald DAHL - Revolting Rhymes - Three Little Pigs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5DS2DnsJ04 Revolting Rhymes Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf.mp4 http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=Y3uVQIhSYfY&feature=relmfu Food for thought: WordPowered www.wordpowered.org
By Luisa Lima
Using Digital Tools to Improve Writing – a Project
Earlier this year I took part in the online course “Building Teaching Skills through the Interactive Web”, thanks to the E-Teacher Scholarship Program, American English Institute, University of Oregon. Within the aim of the course I developed a Writing Extension Project with a class of 8th graders (thanks 8D!) and maybe some of you will find my sharing this experience useful. I am sure that most of us have already (if not often) felt frustrated and overwhelmed by the number of mistakes our students make when writing. There are all types: spelling mistakes, grammar, sentence structure, word order, interference from mother tongue and, when it comes to written assignments for homework, there’s Google translator and all the hilarious situations that derive from its (mis)use. I will never forget a girl talking proudly about her snails when she really meant curls or the other one who wrote “at the foot of my friends” because that’s how the expression “ao pé dos amigos” was translated. It doesn’t matter whether or not you correct all those mistakes and try to point them out to them. Next time they have to write something, they will be there again. How can you solve the problem? How can you find the time to cover all the content in the syllabus and develop different activities, particularly as far as writing and speaking is concerned? The first step was to pinpoint my students’ needs and it was easy to conclude they needed to find motivating ways of developing their writing skills outside the classroom and to expand their vocabulary and learn to use it in context. In fact they seemed to have problems writing fluently and most of them are unable to imitate a reallife dialogue, their attempts at discussing topic were painful, opinion texts were short and there were still many mistakes hindering the understanding of the whole idea.
In common with many other students they don’t particularly enjoy writing activities as homework, some of them tend not to deliver the work within the deadlines and all the feedback the teacher can give stays with the person who receives it. So, I opted for a new approach – using digital tools to practice writing – hoping this would spice things up a bit. To address the problem of dialogues I decided to use Chatzy (http://www.Chatzy.com). It allowed me to save and share the transcripts, making it possible to track their improvements. Besides, Chatzy allows students some customizing and they can use smileys/emoticons. These metalinguistic cues are important for teens today as they use them everywhere. To give students the chance to express their feelings and opinions I tried something collaborative and simple like wallwisher (http:// wallwisher.com/), a virtual notice-board where you can post stickies with text, images, links to websites and even videos. I decided to create a weekly wall with a specific topic and they had to post their opinions and add whatever they wanted to share. To get more seriously into writing and to allow self-expression I had them open an account at penzu (https://penzu.com/) to create a personal journal where they would talk about and reflect on what they were doing, what and how they were learning. They were expected to post something at least twice a week and to share that with the teacher and anyone else they wanted. I was also aiming at some critical thinking about what was being done, some kind of metacognitive analysis. It's essential that they reflect on the purpose of the project, their performance throughout it, class engagement and work, developing a more proactive attitude towards their own learning.
I decided, then, that it would be much better to use those texts to work on error understanding and error correction. So I dedicated a lesson every week to that activity; I wanted them to understand why something was wrong and how it should be.
During the first week I had some mixed feelings. Some students complained about the extra work, but were doing what they were supposed to do; others, who had seemed very enthusiastic, did very little, which came as quite a disappointment.
They worked in pairs and they found these lessons really funny and useful. First they tried to find what was wrong with their own texts, and then they exchanged texts and tried to find the mistakes their partners had made. Finally, I helped them, underlining all the other incorrect bits: they had to find what the problem and correct it. The first text took quite some time and they needed a lot of support from the teacher, explaining why the tense or the structure could not be accepted, but then things speeded up a bit. First, there were those recurrent errors they were starting to identify and then they were suddenly more aware of what to look for.
The activity they found easier and more enjoyable was their task on wallwisher: there were eighteen contributions to that wall (http:// www.wallwisher.com/wall/ClassDMovies) during the first week and it got better over the next weeks. Quite a lot of students appeared in the chat during the first week. I was particularly glad to see that some of the weakest students joined the chat almost every day and they actually said something, they were talking. I also enjoyed the fact that sometimes they were there talking without my presence and they were still doing it in English. However, the novelty wore off: soon, not enough people were using it and when they were, they interacted more with the teacher than with the others. When I was not available to chat, they would stay around for a while if they had company, but dialogues were purposeless, they soon felt bored and left. I concluded that they were probably too familiarized with chats to consider them interesting and use them for the purpose of learning. Penzu, on the other hand, had been a good bet. Students were sharing their entries and I was able to confirm that the moment they were left free to write, without the support or scaffold of a wellstudied topic, the result was appalling: vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, spelling, the problems are everywhere.
The first conclusion to derive from the way this project developed was that the students had evident difficulties in writing and needed to understand and correct what they were doing wrong. Although not all the students responded with the immediate enthusiasm the teacher was expecting, they all ended up extremely involved in the project and making a serious effort to improve. The first suggestion I would give to anyone carrying out a writing project is that it should start as early as possible. The more students are used to their own mistakes the harder it is to make them disappear. Itâ€™s also important to find ways to make students use the target language when thinking, not the concepts and structures common to their mother tongue. This is not an easy task and it may take some time and need the use of many different resources. Still, I felt rewarded because students were becoming more aware of their own work and improvements were slowly showing up. There may be a long road ahead but choosing this path has probably â€œmade all the differenceâ€?.
Don’t Believ e in Fairy Tale s: Critical Thi nking in Teacher Development By Damian Williams What advice would you give to a newly qualified teacher? When you were just starting out as a teacher, was there a piece of advice that you received that set you in good stead? I recently set up a wallwisher.com page to ask this very question, and was somewhat overwhelmed with the amount and range of useful advice people posted. Personally speaking, I remember one piece of advice which I received from a trainer, which I’ve never really forgotten, and what’s more I try to use this a reference point as I move along in my career. That advice was:
Be aware of your learners, the language, your own teaching, your colleagues and what’s going on in the world. Sir Ken Robinson, speaking on creativity at The Dalai Lama centre, said: If you take a small child into the garden … and point at the moon, the child will look at the moon. If you take a dog into the garden, and point at the moon, the dog will look at your finger … and wonder what your problem is exactly. Sir Ken Robinson
Critical thinking in teacher development Critical thinking is a 21st Century skill known as one of the four ‘C’s – Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical thinking. The idea of the four ‘C’s was born out of the frustration of many business leaders in the United States in the 1990s, who were increasingly aware that people who were graduating and had done well academically weren’t equipped with the necessary skills for the modern workplace. The traditional educational system had generally advocated the three ‘R’s – Reading, Writing, and ‘Rythmetic. Not only did this acronym not really work on a linguistic level, neither, it seemed, did the skills they produced. In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about critical thinking, and how we can encourage this modern skill in our learners. However, in my opinion, it’s just as important for teachers, too. Towards a definition So what is critical thinking, exactly, and what does it mean for language teachers? Critical thinking is the disciplined mental activity of evaluating arguments or propositions and making
judgements that can guide the development of beliefs and taking action. Robert Ennis (1992)
Critical thinkers: distinguish between fact and opinion; ask questions; make detailed observations; uncover assumptions and define their terms; and make assertions based on sound logic and solid evidence. Rod Ellis (1997)
A few points in these quotes are immediately relevant. As language teachers, we are constantly ‘making judgements that can guide the development of beliefs and taking action’ in the classroom. When we read articles (such as this one!), attend workshops/talks, or even discuss issues with colleagues, we need to ‘distinguish between fact and opinion’ and ‘ask questions’. Part of being aware of how are learners are picking up and using language involves ‘making detailed observations’, and I think it’s fundamentally important in order to develop, to be able to ‘uncover assumptions and define terms’, (i.e. constantly re-examine our beliefs,
what we think we know is right), in order to either uncover something new or simply reconfirm what we feel is right. Earlier in the year, we had a discussion on #eltchat via twitter on this very topic (you can read the summary here), and one of the first things we did was try to define what we mean by critical thinking for teachers, and why it’s important. Here are some the ideas that people came up with:
Re-examining our beliefs and practices Here are some statements I have heard made by teachers (with a range of experience) on both preservice and in-service training courses. How far do you agree with each one? Can you think of arguments both for and against?
I always have to ask a question to check students have understood my instructions, even if it feels patronising at times. The problem with English grammar rules is that there are so many exceptions. If a student makes an error, I shouldn’t draw too much attention to it in class. I don’t have enough time in my busy teaching schedule to try out new ideas.
Three key areas Through my experience as a teacher trainer, I see the application of critical thinking in teacher development as covering three main areas: 1. Using you experience and knowledge of your teaching context to apply what you read/hear/ watch. In other words, being introduced to some great new ideas at a workshop or in a book/article, and thinking carefully about what would/wouldn’t work, and how it would need to be adapted for your own learners. 2. Tailoring materials to suit your learner’s needs, rather than ‘crowd pleasing’. There are some great materials and resources out there, especially online/web 2.0 resources, but how appropriate are all of them for your learners. And more importantly, how far do they help you realise your linguistic aims? 3. Reflecting on what you do and why you do it. This is the most practical aspect of critical thinking for teachers, and also one which we should never stop doing, no matter how experienced we are. Let’s now look at this in a bit more detail.
These are just some statements I have heard teachers make regarding their beliefs, but obviously there are a wide range of areas where we take things as ‘given’. Let’s now look at each of those statements in turn I always have to ask a question to check students have understood my instructions, even if it feels patronising at times. I recently watched a teacher give the following instructions when setting up an activity: OK, now I want you to match the words in A with the definitions in B. Fairly straightforward instructions, and the students were keen to get started. However, the teacher then interrupted the students to ask: Are you matching the words with the definitions? Not much of a response, as the students had already got started with the activity. The teacher repeated the question again, to which the students laughed a little uneasily and replied ‘yes’. This question was then followed up with: What do you have to do?
When we discussing how she checked her instructions in feedback, I asked her how she felt when she had asked these questions, to which she replied ‘a bit patronising, to be honest’, and then stated the belief above.
T h e re f o re w h i l e c h e c k i n g instructions is important, using the most appropriate method ensures we do it effectively. If you feel patronising when you check instructions, chances are there’s a better way to do it.
So do we always need to check our instructions? It’s a good idea, I think, despite the above. I’m reminded of the time I was teaching a proficiency class, and set them a simple exercise to do alone then check in pairs. When we came to go through answers, I realised that they’d done the wrong exercise – because I hadn’t checked my instructions.
The problem with English grammar rules is that there are so many exceptions.
There’s an acronym I hear bandied about very often, by both teachers and teacher trainers. That acronym is ICQ, which stands for Instruction Check Question. Every time I hear it used I have to admit I get a little shiver run down my spine, as it makes me think of the ‘What do you have to do?’ or ‘Are you doing this exercise or running round the room dressed as a chicken?’ – type questions. In other words, it makes people think that the only way to check instructions is by asking a q u e s t i o n , w h e n i n re a l i t y, questions are only one way of checking students have understood what to do. Other ways include: 1. Elicit an example. By far the most effective way to check instructions is to ‘do the first one together’ and elicit the answer. This shows you that students are looking at the right exercise, and answering it in the right way. They can then do the rest as normal. 2. D e m o n s t r a t e . E i t h e r demonstrate yourself or ask stronger students to. This is better for activities which are longer and more complicated to instruct. 3. Check the details. This is where questions come in, and only really for the details e.g. ‘Can you show your partner your picture?’, ‘Are you speaking or writing?’, etc.
The problem with a lot of grammatical terminology and metalanguage that we use when describing English grammar is that it was ‘borrowed’ from the classics, at a time many years ago when the study of English along with other ‘modern’ languages) needed to be justified. This means that a lot of the language we use to describe language in English doesn’t really work. Take, for example, English tenses. How many tenses are there in English? Does the present tense always refer to present time? Does the past tense always refer to past time? There are two tenses in English – what we refer to as present and past tenses, both of which can refer to the past, present and future. English doesn’t have a future tense, instead using a multitude of different forms to refer to the future depending on how we see it and how we want it to be seen. The rules governing the use of English tenses are fixed, set in stone, and with no exceptions. Rather than thinking in terms of ‘present’ and ‘past’ when we describe English tenses, it’s much better to think in terms of distance. There are three things
which affect our choice of tense: time, reality and register, as can be seen in the diagram below: We can see things as ‘close’ or ‘remote’ to our lives now in terms of time (i.e. part of our current lives or a time in the past), as with reality (i.e. real or not real). In terms of register, we add distance to the verb to reflect the social distance between us and the person we are speaking to. There are no exceptions to this rule (at least I have never found any!), and this is an idea which I usually introduce to students at about intermediate level, when we start looking at hypothetical language. This really helps them raise their awareness of the English grammatical system as they progress. When we compare this with the multitude of very specific rules often presented in coursebooks, we can see why it’s important for the teacher to possess this awareness of what’s happening with the language. In other words, this allows us to see the moon like the child, as opposed to the hand like the dog. If a student makes an error, I shouldn’t draw too much attention to it in class. I have never heard a student complain about being corrected too much. I have heard students complain about not being corrected enough, though. I often see errors go uncorrected in class, and I think it’s such a shame, as these errors are real oppor tunities for language learning.
There are many different correction techniques we can use when the time is right, such as reformulation, using gestures, etc. (obviously we don’t want to interrupt when the focus is on fluency), and the effect is one where students really feel they are getting their money’s worth.
As I said, nothing revolutionary or overly technical, but it was effective and I’m now able to do this naturally when teaching, and the students remember vocabulary much better.
Also, by drawing attention sensitively to errors in class, other students will also benefit from increased awareness and the chance of greater collaboration. I think it’s sometimes easy to forget, especially in today’s highly competitive ELT world, that students are primarily there to learn the language, not just to be entertained.
Critical thinking is a vital skill in today’s world, and what separates us from the animals. While it’s important to encourage critical thinking skills in our learners, it’s important that we are critical of ourselves and what we read and hear as teachers. We need to constantly re-examine what we take as given as teachers, and not be afraid to think ‘perhaps this isn’t the best way to do things’. This in turn will not just make us better professionals, but it’s also interesting. There’s nothing like making a new discovery to reignite your passion in teaching. Above all, it will help us to be aware.
I would like to draw your attention here to the Demand High ELT website, set up as a collaboration between Adrian Underhill and Jim Scrivener. In it they describe how they have seen lots of teachers refrain from ‘hands-on’ teaching, in an effort to ‘crowd please’. It really is worth a look, and you can also join in the discussion by leaving comments. I don’t have enough time in my busy teaching schedule to try out new ideas. This was a comment I heard on a recent course for teachers in Brazil. And it was true, the teacher was teaching classes of 70 students (not very common here), and working 30 contact hours a week.
A final note
If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised here, then feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our website and leave a comment at www.tmenglish.org.
References I had to sympathise. It’s very easy to become motivated to try out new things in the classroom, and indeed very important, but I think if I’m 100% honest then by the end of the semester then it’s easy for that motivation to lag. One way of overcoming this is to try out one small idea a week. The key, however, is to give yourself an aim, evaluate it properly, and decide what you’ll take away from it. This is by no means revolutionary, but keeping it systematic and manageable means it’s more likely to be maintained. I tried this many years ago when I wanted to improve the way I recycled vocabulary. The idea was very simple – just to spend 5 minutes (sometimes even less) testing students at the end of class and the beginning of the next class on vocabulary that had come up during the lesson. This is the chart I used with some results:
Lewis, M. The English Verb 1985, LTP Sir Robinson, K. Educating the Heart and Mind http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MSgCut1Ils last accessed on 14/08/12 Scrivener, J. and Underhill, A. Demand High ELT https://demandhighelt.wordpress.com/ last accessed on 14/08/12
õe s Si m
In a previous article, published in the latest edition of The APPI Journal, I mentioned the E-Teacher course I
attended in 2010 - Critical Thinking
Cri@cal Thinking – Promo@ng Intellectual and Emo@onal Growth A Successful Project: “Solidarity with Burkina Faso” students’ needs, the class size, the condition of the school facilities and the quality learning resources2.
Youssouf Tangara, a very enthusiastic and dynamic teacher of English in a high school in in the EFL (English as a Foreign Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, West Africa, Language) Curriculum1. commented on his difficult teaching conditions (if compared to our own): overcrowded classes The course tasks were divided into three parts: (100 or more students), students huddling weekly online discussions, weekly tasks and together in small classrooms, some of them project tasks. The course project consisted of with no money to buy stationary material, and four components: analysis, lesson plan, unit a high school drop out rate. The more he plan, and action plan. I have written on the talked about it, the more I wanted to know, lesson and unit plan because, in spite of the before 2 , so now I will We all know how teachers’ daily bad working conditions, share my action plan with activities are affected by such he loved his students and you, as it turned out to be factors as the diversity of students’ h i s j o b a n d , m o s t a very successful project. needs, the class size, the condition i m p o r t a n t l y, h e w a s The goal of this determined to help his of the school facilities and the component was to have students finish their quality learning resources. participants in the course secondary education and, further Critical Thinking in if possible, access tertiary the future, be it in classes, sessions to fellow education. Youssouf sent me some images of teachers or the school community, or any his students and the school facilities and, from other way we envisaged. that moment on, I couldn’t think of anything During our weekly online discussions we else but find a way to help out. exchanged ideas, shared information, and interacted with the other participants from It didn’t take me long time to set the main such different regions as Namibia, Mexico, objective for my action plan: I wanted to Uzbekistan, Mauritius, Philippines, Burkina develop a project that would benefit Faso, India, Macedonia, Honduras, Cape Verde, Youssouf’s school while simultaneously Pakistan, Romania, Dominican Republic, promoting my students’ intellectual Paraguay, Georgia and Tanzania. Everybody a n d e m o t i o n a l g ro w t h t h ro u g h shared their teaching methods, but we also understanding and respecting other reflected on our teaching practices. We all people’s cultures. know how teachers’ daily activities are affected by such factors as the diversity of
In order to plan efficiently, you must, first of all, be aware of the steps to follow. When writing an action plan, these are the most important: • Clarify your goal; • Write a list of actions; • Analyze, prioritize, and prune; • Organize your list into a plan; • Monitor the execution of your plan and review the plan regularly. (http://www.time-management-guide.com/plan.html>)
– set out actions for you and for those who will support you; – be realistic and achievable within the resources available. Resources should: – be identified to support training and development needs.
Target dates for achievement should: – be established when the objective is framed; – be realistic and manageable. And so my action plan came to life on paper! That was the easiest part…
As a way to help us design the action plan, our instructor sent us a template and the rules to fill in the table:
Action Plan4 Setting objectives and writing action plans Your action plans should identify: – objectives – three; – success criteria against which you can judge whether you have achieved each objective; – actions that you and others need to take to achieve the objectives, and an indication of who needs to do what; – resources that will be needed to support the plan; – target dates for achievement Objectives should: – be appropriate for the plan; – support your needs in the context of a particular teaching post; – be related to achievement of course or professional critical thinking goals; – be clearly phrased, focused, realistic, and achievable. Success criteria should: – describe how it will be evident that you have achieved your objectives; – be phrased clearly in relation to your objectives. Actions should: – identify exactly what is to be done and who will do it;
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Now it was time to put it into practice! The second term was coming to an end, which gave me some time to prepare an approach to the project during the Easter season. So, the two and a half months of the third term were all I got to develop the plan. All the steps were followed and my students were just amazing. Not only did they embrace the project immediately but they also managed to involve their parents and the school community: in such a short period of time, we collected loads of school stationery – pens, pencils, rubbers, rulers, paper, notebooks, pencil cases… - as well as textbooks, readers, grammars and dictionaries, kindly sent us by some publishing houses and distributors. 8 boxes, weighing 204kg were ready to be sent! Also, we managed to get a good sum of money from the raffles (the prizes were given by some students’ parents, who owned shops in the village), which we used, later, to pay the transportation of the boxes to Lisbon.
But the school year was also coming to an the teachers going through the materials end. The materials could not just lie in a and the happiness of the students receiving corner in a tiny room, completely abandoned them. and doomed to oblivion. So, I sent emails to Although the target date was not met, the all institutions I could think of. Some fact is that the objectives were achieved! The answered me, others didn’t. Finally, in success of this project shows that if you October, I got an answer really want to do from I PA D (the something, you must “The success of this project Portuguese Institute for keep on fighting, and shows that if you really want to Development Support); never give up even if do something, you must keep on t h ey we re w i l l i n g t o adversity presses. You fighting, and never give up even support our project. It must also work if adversity presses.” seemed we had our collaboratively and problem solved, but IPAD involve other parties in could only send the materials from Lisbon your project. Our school headmaster played airport to Ouagadougou’s airport (the capital an essential role, as he authorized the of Burkina Faso), which was, of course, development of the project and gave us full excellent. autonomy to make all the necessary arrangements that led to the success of the However, Youssouf’s school still had to pay a project. I cannot thank my students, school lot of money to get the materials, and that headmaster, school community, publishing was not our goal. I, therefore, contacted the houses, distributors, IPAD, US Embassy US Embassy in Lisbon and let them know enough. Without all of them this wouldn’t about our project. As it had been created have been possible. 5 while I was attending the e-teacher course , the Embassy offered to send the materials from Lisbon directly to their Embassy in Now it’s your turn to create similar projects and let us all know about the Ouagadougou. Bobo Dioulasso is more than wonderful work you’ve done! 300km from the capital, so Youssouf still had a long journey to make, but at least his school didn’t have to pay for the airport taxes and duties. The boxes were sent to the Embassy in January 2011 and reached Bobo Dioulasso in May. How amazing it was to see the photos of
1 I strongly recommend it, and if you want more informabon on the courses and on how to apply for the scholarship go to <hVp://
umbc.uoregon.edu/eteacher/courses.html> and visit the US Embassy website <hVp://portugal.usembassy.gov/> or Facebook page <hVps://www.facebook.com/usdos.portugal?ref=ts>. 2 Simões, Celeste. “A Liberabng Force in Educabon: Cribcal Thinking”. In English Digital Issue. The Bri#sh Council Magazine for Teachers of English in Lusophpone Countries. No. 2., September 2011. 32-‐36. <hVp://issuu.com/bribshcouncilportugal/docs/ ied_2_master_copy>; hVp://www.bribshcouncil.org/pt/portugal-‐ensinar-‐ingles-‐revista.htm 3 Other important factors are, of course, the teaching assignments, the access to preparabon bme, parental support, among many others. 4 Adapted from Portland House, Stag Place, London SW1E 5TT Telephone 020 7023 8001 Publicabon Line 0845 606 0323 www.Va.gov.uk © TTA 2003. Publicabon number TEA0010/1p 10k Apr 03 5 The US Embassy in Lisbon is responsible for the selecbon of the Portuguese parbcipants.
Teaching Speaking in a
By Johannes Magombo
Teaching speaking is a serious problem for teachers who work with large, mixedability classes. They claim that the number of students they have to deal with is extraordinarily large, and even wonder how they can set activities let alone control the students. Others talk of lack of curriculum emphasis on speaking and classroom conditions which do not favour oral activities. If you work with a large, mixed-ability class and face one of the problems mentioned this article is especially for you. Speaking is one of the important skills that students have to learn and master in the process of learning a language. Speaking is
the only ‘proof’ to show that someone knows a language. It would be really awkward for someone to be well equipped with basic grammar rules, good reading skills and good listening techniques but unable to speak. It is for this reason that teachers should by all means make effort to teach speaking. We expect doctors to cure us or at least put us on the mend. We expect lawyers to defend our rights with thorough knowledge of the laws of the land. So why don’t we expect English teachers to teach us to speak correctly? (Michael Swan, TESOL France annual colloquium; Paris November 2008). The following are some of the techniques of teaching speaking to a large, mixed- ability class:
1. Get to know your students: If we have large classes, it may be hard to get to know all the students names. However, it is vital that the teacher knows the student's learning styles. Knowing your student's learning style makes it easy to set activities that suit their learning style. Suggestions: at the beginning of the term set activities that reflect different learning styles, take time to check which students do better in a particular task. Group those that have the same learning style and write their names down. In case some do not manage to identify their learning style ask them questions like: I learn better when I do the things or when I see the thing.
2. Integrate the skills: it is always good to integrate all the skills into a single lesson. This allows you to explore little of all the skills. An integrated lesson reflects the teacher’s ability to be dynamic. This on the other hand, requires a lot of creativity and flexibility. Suggestions: start with a reading lesson, explore as possible as you can reading. Shift to another skill; say listening using the same text then move on to speaking and then writing. The order may be changed as you the teacher wishes. 3. Contextual teaching: it is always good to teach the language in context. Set a context that they may face in their day to day life and then teach a language item related to the situation. When it seems impossible why not explore the students’ knowledge? This creates room for them to use the target language. It is important that the teacher provides them with the language they need when doing the task. Suggestions: imagine the students are going to read about a famous footballer. Instead of going straight to reading, why not explore what the students knowledge about football and create room for them to speak.
These are Tes@ng Times
By Lucy Bravo Have you ever had a doubt about whether an answer is acceptable or not, even though the key does not make reference to it? Have you ever wondered whether the test is actually testing what it should be? If you answered, yes, to both these questions then keep on reading as you might be surprised. As teachers, we have all been faced with both of the situations aforementioned and both have left many of us anxious and led us to doubt our own knowledge and very often this happens because the test is either badly constructed or it is not trialled sufficiently and therefore results are not analysed to ensure that the test is both valid and/ or reliable. Hughes (1989:23) states that ‘too often the content of the tests is determined by what is easy to test than what is important to test’. Lado, one of the experts in language testing states that …the total test will only be as good as the sum of its parts, any part that is unsatisfactory, will weaken the total test accordingly.
Can you say that the tests you use or construct are completely satisfactory? One of the biggest downfalls in education is asking teachers to write tests. After all, it is just putting tasks together and can't be that difficult to put one together, can it? Constructing a test is probably one of the most difficult things to do and should be left to the experts or teachers should be given specific training. For a test to be well-constructed the test writer needs to take into account much more than the content but also: • the context - the timing, the response format, the text lengths, etc. • the scoring – multiple choice, short answer, value awarded • the marking criteria – marks per question, human rater vs automated marking • the cultural/neutral context (even more so now in a mixed environment), and • how to analyse the results and the test’s validity
And this is not an extensive list.
Only after completing training in the theory and practice of language testing does one realise how complex and difficult the task of constructing a fair and reliable test is. It is not something that should be done lightly as the tasks might influence the result â€“ and could actually be more favourable to girls than boys, or to certain socio-cultural groups than others - the psychological aspects of the test tasks are extremely important. In the first paragraph the question is raised about whether the test is testing what it should be and this can be clearly demonstrated by Hughes(1989:82) statement: Another ability which at time interferes with the accurate measurement of writing ability is that of reading. While it is perfectly acceptable to expect candidates to be able to read simple instructions, care has to be taken not to make these so difficult that they cannot be fully understood by everyone whose ability is of sufficiently high standards otherwise to perform adequately on the writing task.
This scoring validity is a serious concern today and one that is very often a big point of contention amongst teachers. Should spelling be part of the marking criteria? Hughes (2003:32-33) once again makes us think about the clarity of the marking criteria and guidelines:
A reading test may call for short written responses. If the scoring of these responses takes into account spelling and grammar, then it is not valid.
Have you ever analysed the results to see if the task is an adequate one and is actually of any use,.i.e. does it tell you anything about what has been taught or learnt? What is the point of having a task that all students always get everything right? If it is too easy it should be omitted, but how many take the time to analyse each and every answer? No test should be used without first being trialled as the results might be invalid if used incorrectly. The context validity is one that raises many questions about the length of the timing of the tests and very often they are too short. This happens if the test is not trialled sufficiently as it is at this time that the test timing is analysed and set according to the performance of the test takers. Without trialling it will be impossible to set the correct timing or check whether the content, as mentioned above, is worth being tested. So before you write another test, or ask your teachers to, think carefully as you could really be affecting your studentsâ€™ academic performance and not realising it.
References: Hughes, A! ! ! ! !
1989! ! !
Testing for Language Teachers Cambridge Handooks for Language Teachers Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Hughes, A! ! ! ! !
2003! ! !
Testing for Language Teachers Cambridge Handooks for Language Teachers Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Lado, R, ! ! !
Language Testing London: Longmans
Lucy Bravo is the Managing Director of Knightsbridge Examination & Training Centre. She has an MSc in ELT Management, and a Diploma in the Theory and Practice of Language Testing among others. Lucy has extensive experience teaching exam preparation classes, is a Cambridge Teacher Trainer and has been a Cambridge speaking examiner for over 14 years. Lucy is an accredited trainer in Portugal and has also worked with the DGIDC as an external course assessor.
The Road to ELT Management…
Is Paved with Good Intentions By Jon Felperin I have heard it said many times, and have read it even more often, that most teachers enter into TEFL by chance. Back in days of the Cambridge ESOL´s RSA certifícate (replaced by CELTA in 1985 along with the UCLES name), I remember a British colleague in Japan telling me that one could actually have a career in TEFL. That truism did not resonate with me at the time, and I went on for the next nearly 28 years, in a TEFL career largely unplanned. Except for earning an M.A, English TEFL/SL degree in 1993, and state teaching certifications in 2001, most of my efforts have been more entrepreneurial than career-oriented.
The same has been true of management skill. Although one of my majors at university was economics, I never followed my mother´s advice to ‘take business classes, just-in-case.’ As luck would have it, the older I get, the smarter my parents become. So the road to ELT management for me has been paved with good intentions. Experience has taught me more than a few things about supervision, training others, leveraging technology, leadership and profit or loss. I hope to share a few insights with you here. A turning point for me just following the completion of my M.A., which for Americans at the time (1993), was one of the few options available (CELTA was new and DELTA was not available), was the opportunity to teach Business English in a university extension programme that was predominantly general English-oriented. The Windows operating system, if you can imagine was fairly new, and I was able to volunteer to teach TEFL online, using simultaneous video conferencing technology similar to live webinars today. We were the guinea pigs for a pilot that
was to extend to all less commonly taught foreign languages in the California-state system (this was the Haas Business School at University at California, Berkeley). At some point in your teaching career, you may be offered an opportunity to teach adult classes onsite, or in specific settings, to professionals who need English for their work. Many of these professionals will really require an English for Academic Purposes, or ask for TOEFL or IELTS, a specialty also needed by most foreign students seeking university education in English-speaking countries. However, English for Specific Purposes (hereafter ESP) is quite a different animal. ESP is an attempt to teach only the most relevant and important language in situations directly applicable to a career. And over the last 30 years, several innovative techniques have been developed to impart Business English, English for lawyers, medical English and a dozen or so other areas of ESP teaching. The key differences between regular English and ESP have much to do with the use of authentic material and skill training borrowed from the various professions, such as making presentations, participating in meeting, negotiating, writing for purpose, serving clients, analysing case studies, etc. By far, the area of greatest demand in ESP is Business English. Many ELT teachers shy away from teaching Business English due to lack of interest in the subject matter or for fear of not being able to relate to the material. Some teachers can be intimidated by their students (often referred to as clients) who exhibit high levels of ability and expectation.
My exposure to Business English teaching was invaluable and allowed me to quickly move into supervision (I began teaching in 1979, and TEFL in 1984, so I already had years of experience) and from there, I immediately saw the opportunities beyond general English. While still employed, I was able to freelance in English teacher recruitment for Asia, mostly Korea and Thailand, and bring a unique concept of language homestays (one-to-one lessons while living and studying with a qualified English teacher) to the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2003, while working as an EAL teacher in the state system, and again through an unconventional channel, I was hired to teach freelance for an online university programme in a content area (criminal justice). Later I began marketing English programmes online from Central America (Global English, recently purchased by Pearsons), and applying these same principles to free online websites for customised, call-center English initiatives. From Costa Rica, I was recruiting and training TEFL teachers to teach online; and presently, I am working with an TEFL provider to launch management certificates in ELT, in an online, blended format. In the meantime, I went from an English literature teaching position in an international school to creating an in-house, TEFL training programme and teacher training. I helped sell and create a Ministry of Education English language and methodology training course for more than 2000 state English teachers and computer lab professionals. We worked on a train-the-trainer model whereby 30 master teachers, and five supervisors, trained by me, were to impart TEFL methodolgy and foster English language ability, across the entire country (El Salvador) simultaneously. This project management endeavour went on for almost two years. Then as director of continuing education, and later as managing director, I introduced the CEFR, Cambridge English and Cambridge ESOL exams into markets where these concepts were not widely-known. As a management consultant, too, I have written business plans and helped launch language teaching organizations (LTOs) from the ground up. Among other things, now I represent the CASAS instructional design and testing system out of Mexico and Central America, and work d eve l o p i n g E S P p ro g r a m m e s f o r l a w enforcement and tourism in Quintana Roo, Mexico.
It is said that the first eight hours of every day is for survival and each one after that is pure profit. If that is true, what can you do right now, whilst still employed, but wishing to take your TEFL career to a new or different level? The most important is to begin thinking like an entrepreneur and developing certain useful traits. Even if you teach in the state sector, the cry today is for more innovation. How can you teach something to your students that you, yourself, don´t have? The British Council´s Behavourial Competency dictionary (2004) defines entrepreneurship in job candidate behavior as, ‘… the ability to formulate new ideas or to adapt or use existing ideas in a new or unexpected way to solve problems, and to think ahead to spot or create opportunities and maximise them.’ It also offers several suggestions as positive indicators of these traits: • ‘Sets aside thinking time to come up with more creative ideas for getting things done. Is willing to be different. • Is prepared to consider major changes to processes and procedures if reasoned analysis shows benefits to be greater than costs. • Responds to new ideas by discussing why they might work instead of telling others why they won’t work. • Asks colleagues to identify key factors that hinder performance, alternative ways to achieve results and use these to plan improvements. • Acts to take advantage of new technologies and ideas. • Uses brainstorming techniques to come up with solutions to problems. Doesn’t just do the same as before. • Looks to other areas and companies for good ideas.’ Finally, whether you teach in a private or state school, or freelance in-between, you must continually add to your skill sets in anticipation of a tomorrow where your administrative and business knowledge may become just as important to you as your exceptional teaching abilities. Begin planning for your TEFL future today; you will be glad you did.
Jon Felperin, MA TEFL, (Jfelperin123@yahoo.com) is director of Centro de Capacitación Vocacional based in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. He has over 28 years in ELT and has launched over six language business start ups.
By Anabela Sala
right-eyed and Bushy-tailed Students, Parents and Teacher I teach English to young learners in a public sector school and although English in Primary schools was implemented in Portugal in 2005 there is still some prejudice due to lack of information. People in general don’t understand the reason for English lessons, nor the work that is required, and the students’ parents don’t understand it either and so students come to class with the wrong idea of what they are supposed to do and what is supposed to happen and that affects motivation and their commitment to English lessons.
in the evening?”, “My son is enjoying the English lessons and so am I” In the blog I wanted to post everything we did during lessons but I wanted to post interesting work and so the blog was also challenging me and my skills as a teacher. I’m proud of the projects developed with students, some of them in interaction with their family. Here are some examples of interesting things we’ve done:
This year (2011/2012) I tried to solve one of these problems: the lack of information parents and family have regarding the English lesson and their children’s work. As parents have their jobs and busy lives they can’t come to lessons, so why not bring the lesson and the work done to the parents? I developed a blog as a channel between English and students’ home, to show their work in class. Students shared the blog link at home in order to let their families see what was going on in English lessons and to comment it.
Aims: To promote creativity, to develop a cross curricular activity (http://www.dgidc.min-
It was a success and what started with my initiative developed into something really interactive and motivating for me, for students and parents. After a while students were asking me if that work they were doing was good enough to be on the blog and whenever parents saw me they asked me things as “ “When will you post another song?” Or “Will today’s lesson be on the blog
Clothes + animal body coverings drawing contest
3rd grade – Os seres vivos e o meio ambiente) to develop confidence, to challenge students Procedure: This could be done with any English theme plus estudo do meio. In this case, as I was teaching animals and as the theme clothes has been taught before I mixed both and I linked it with a subtheme of estudo do meio – animal body coverings. I asked students to draw clothes with different animal’s body coverings patterns and then they had to present their work to the class using simple structures to explain their drawing (This is a _____ made of _______). Afterwards I presented their drawings to a different class and they chose the three best drawings. The winners had a special prize.
Skeleton competition Aims: To relate English with a 4th grade Estudo do Meio theme (o seu corpo-os ossos - http://www.dgidc.min-edu.pt/ensinobasico/ index.php?s=directorio&pid=21), to challenge students and family to work together and be creative. Procedure: After studying the body and, in coordination with estudo do meio, students learned the names of some bones in the human body, students and parents are challenged to work together and create a collage, a human skeleton using different materials. “Twist on the board” game Aims: to develop physical and cognitive skills, to promote cooperation among peers, to train questions and answers structures, to motivate kinesthetic students. Procedure:The class is divided in two teams and each one has a spokesperson. The spokesperson comes to the board and spins a paper spinner; it might land on a question or on an answer. If it lands on a question, the team must say the correct answer; if it lands on an answer they must provide the question. On the spinner besides the question/answer there is also the name of a part of the body and in case the team is correct, the spokes person must touch the twist board with the part of the body mentioned in the spinner. Try or lose healthy food Aims: promote communication related to the real world and children own experience; give the opportunity for students to answer in a personal way. Procedure: While teaching the theme food, especially when using the story “I will not ever never eat a tomato”, challenge students to taste for the first time some food items they’ve never tasted before and report their experience to the rest of the class in the following lesson. Students are given a grid to complete and to make sure they really accept the challenge; the grid must be signed by the parents. English library and family reading time Aims: to develop reading skills in a shared and collaboratively way, to involve the whole class and the family in the process of learning, to create a sense of community between students and among teacher, students and students’ family. Procedure: We created a class library in which there are stories I tell students and then they practice reading the stories in lesson, in small groups, then to the big group and, finally, each week a student takes a story home and reads it to their family. The family must fill in a report about their children reading
The blog was the start of everything and one of the keys for the learning success. I definitely want to continue this kind of work involving students and parents by giving continuity to this teaching/learning interactive style.
Imagination and the
Curriculum a contradiction or the way forward? One of the current catch phrases in education refers to the 'four Cs' of the curriculum. They are Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication and Type to enter text Collaboration, all of which are supposed to be applied liberally in a classroom near you, in particular by dynamic, forward-looking teacher. Let's risk an explosion by adding to this already potent cocktail and throw in a quote by Albert Einstein, no less, who claimed that 'imagination is more important than knowledge'. The implication might be that imagination trumps the four Cs, but it could also be that it can interact with them and, as a result, a judicious application of imagination will lead to increased creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration in the classroom, all of which combine to provide a new teaching and learning environment. You don't need to look very carefully to realise that this isn't happening. Indeed, looking around at the sorry state of education in many parts of the world we see the opposite occurring: a strengthening of the status quo, not a break from it. The current dominant teaching and planning methods which are implemented in our schools are referred to as ad hoc methods by Prof Kieran Egan1 and they tell us that in teaching the concrete must precede the abstract. The Council of Europe Framework principles support this idea to some extent (see for example, the can do statements). The prevailing view of how we learn, which has led to the concrete to the abstract theory of learning - nihil in intellectu quod non prius in sensu (nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses) - is the same view passed down from Aristotle, and it formed the basis of the mediaeval concept of learning2. William James later described the learning process as deriving from new born infants arriving in the world in a state of ‘blooming, buzzing confusion’3 and the process required to impart knowledge from this original state is that of going from the known to the unknown, a process which has been described as 'the logical plodding tool'. This has led to an underlying assumption that this stepwise approach is the only process worth following when planning curricula and
Part 1 - an introduction
lessons and, while this well suits the narrow logical process known as the logico-mathematical approach (upon which, for example, IQ tests are based, and upon the principle of which most academic tests are designed), it does not account for the strengths of most children. Some might say that Piaget’s analysis of learning procedures, which tended to look at what children did not know and what they could not function well at, has been transferred lock, stock and barrel to the planning and assessment process. We seem to be working on the assumption that children are dumb, and we therefore test them on what they don’t know. We owe them something better. A contrary view to the Aristotelian entering the world with a mind as a tabla rasa is the anti-empiricist view is that we arrive in the world with a mind which has certain models imprinted upon it and that babies experience a structured world and that patterns emerge to eventually make particulars (or concretes) fit into the abstract. A central philosophical debate, which has raged since the dawn of time, is that particulars and abstractions seem to presuppose each other, just as chickens and eggs presuppose each other. For example, a five year old will understand a story such as Cinderella without many problems but the story of Cinderella – and all stories like it (which is most stories) – is based on a series of abstract concepts: fear/hope; kindness/cruelty; good/bad. These are very broad abstract concepts but they are implicitly understood by the youngster. Some may argue that concrete experiences had already moulded those abstract concepts – e.g. hunger + feeding = contentment – and that the resolution of the binary opposites is through the plot rhythm of expectation and resolution. There is an abstract link between each abstract concept, after all not everyone has been in the position of poor Cinders in the kitchen which means that empathy might well be a linking tool. However, part of the problem lies in articulation - a five year old will not be able to define abstracts like cowardice and heroism but they will recognise the ideas and take sides.
So, while words can be used to create a link with abstract concepts, they might not always be available for expression - something language teachers would also recognise in older children struggling with a second language. Philosophy apart, there is another fundamental question that needs to be addressed. What do we perceive as the purpose of education? If it is to allow individuals to achieve their full potential then we would be foolish to ignore the importance of the abstract and the ability of imaginative minds to grapple with this. If, on the other hand, we see education as a tool for increasing the wealth of a state or of its elites then the current status quo, the ad hoc method, will do and, in fact, suppressing imagination might seem a good idea. We won't want people asking awkward questions if we want the status quo to remain stable. However, if we value imagination as a corner stone of a child's development and wish to champion the four Cs, then we are challenging the ad hoc method itself, and calling into question the whole structure of the curriculum as well as individual lesson planning. But challenging isn't the same as destroying. I am not advocating that we ditch the ad hoc method, but that we recognise its deficiencies, especially regarding developing students’ imaginations. We need to incorporate a new methodology into the classroom, lesson and curriculum planning, not supplant it - the current method works for some but not the majority. In my opinion, narrative structures hold one of the keys to allow this to happen, and a powerful and resonant key it is. Narratives – stories and story-telling – engage the imagination and utilise the abstract abilities of the developing mind in a real and productive manner. They also provide for a solid, inherent structure - a framework upon which lessons and curricula can be built. The current model of education is not infrequently likened to an industrial assembly production line. Many teachers are familiar with Sir Ken Robinson’s work in this field, not least through his TED talks4 and the excellent RSA Animates film5. An assembly production line means that you need to know precisely what the result will be before you start the process – the planning process is precise and the assessment of its success is made with predefined measurements. In a sense a mould is created and success is measured by
the product fitting the mould precisely. However, observation in the classroom shows us the endless and unpredictable ways that students use knowledge. What we should be valuing in education are these unpredictable and spontaneously creative uses of knowledge. That doesn’t mean to say that the object we are trying to teach needs to be compromised by the imaginative uses that the children will apply, it simply means that we must be prepared to accept uncertain outcomes, outcomes that are harder to measure. After all, in the industrial production line model the ultimate customer is an external customer who wants what you are selling. In the educational model we would hope that the ultimate customer is the item of production itself – the human being lurking under the skin of the student. I say that we hope that this is the case: the alternative, real as it might seem, is a very dark prospect. Kieran Egan shows us that the story might be a more optimistic analogy for teaching than the assembly line, and that the story form provides a more adequate model for planning teaching. He advises us to avoid the clockwork orange of the assembly line and find something far juicier to feed our students minds – fruit for a productive imagination. There are three key elements in the narrative process that help us to see how it can aid our teaching and in the way that lessons and the syllabus are designed. Story rhythm. Stories create an expectation and a good story contains no element that is irrelevant to the progress of the story. This self-contained world is selfreferencing and complete; it is thus ‘ownable’ by the reader and, by extension, by the learner in a school environment. From the beginning [once upon a time being the most basic] to the end [happily ever after] we witness the resolution of a situation. This editing of irrelevance from what is presented is a vital tool in preparing what we teach – or rather, from what the narrative teaches as it unfurls. Resolution of Binary opposites. The truth is that even very small children can find degrees of resolution between binary opposites (good/bad; hero/villain; courage/cowardice) in narratives. All the elements of a narrative exist to support one or other of the binary opposites, or to bring about the inevitable resolution exposition of binary opposites, followed by mediation, followed by resolution.
This provides the dynamic not only for the story, but of its individual elements and for the engagement of the reader or listener. The same is also true of nonnarrative binary opposites (cold/hot; high/low; long/ short) and that the same abstract concepts that allow the story-fuelled analysis in the child’s mind to work, can work also in other fields: mathematics, social sciences, history, linguistics. An adult equivalent is the way we receive, for example, a news item from the TV or radio – we look for our binary organisers for us to start to make sense of the story: we hear of a bomb explosion in a Middle East capital and we sift through our existing knowledge to find out if Al-Qaeda, or the Americans, or the Israelis, or the Iranians etc are involved, and we are on the way to setting up our binary opposites for the story. If we are unable to do this then the story is likely to be meaningless and unmemorable. Being unmemorable is something we wish to avoid in the classroom hence the need to engage concepts which resonate with the student. It is worth noting here that the media is often able to manipulate our concepts of what is good and what is bad, and by so doing create its own version of the binary opposites that makes it easy for us to categorise but which makes it difficult to see the true story. George Orwell warned us frequently about this ability of the media in essays and novels6. The same ability to manipulate the perception of good/bad in the binary opposites is latent in education and any attempt to manipulate it can be called indoctrination. Narrative overtly engages affective responses. The dominant model of planning for education, the ad hoc method, restricts learning to a largely logical and narrowly rational business. I don’t think anyone would disagree with the contention that we make sense of the world in both an affective and cognitive way - we engage both an emotional and an analytical perception and that, for example, a child’s learning through their own structured or unstructured play engages both affective and cognitive responses. When we read a story we engage both emotion and logic; extend this into the natural learning world of a child at play, at home, in the 'real' world and, in fact, no natural learning process divides the two. Except that we do in schools. Affective learning is something for ‘the arts’ – it’s on the margins of education. It’s a frill. What nonsense is this? Are we seriously ignoring half of our ability to learn? Yes, there are little boxes on our curriculum planners and in course books where we note the affective learning that will be taking place during an activity, but just look at what gets written and what is expected: working together, cooperation and exchanging ideas (if you are lucky). The list of affective responses expected is very limited indeed, and is mainly concerned with group dynamic and not with individual response. We are thus only drawing on a limited range of the students’ capacities. By using narrative structures in the planning process we can reintroduce a reasonable balance between affective and cognitive learning. The two most powerful ways in which affective behaviour is expressed in stories lies
first in the fact that the characters in the stories are shown to us as emotional beings, and it is in the resolution of their dilemmas that we become engaged: we either sympathise or don’t sympathise with a character and we wish to see them be rewarded or punished. The second is the complete nature of stories, and the fact that they end. We reach a point when we know that it is ended and we can take stock of what we feel at that point. In terms of learning this a valuable point of reference: life divided up into neat learning chunks and separated from the usual ritual of ‘one damned thing after another’7. We need to import this into lessons, that sense of completeness where reflection can take place. The end of the lesson should be like the end of the story, with resolution, rather than simply a summary of what has passed, a gloss or a list. To conclude this introductory article, I am suggesting that the model of the story form is adopted as a useful teaching model. This is not to say that we spend all our time telling stories for it is in the strength of the dynamic model rather than any individual tale that we seek inspiration. The binary oppositesmediation-resolution model is powerful. It underpins the vast majority of story forms. Incidentally, it is also the same structure as one of the most successful musical structures ever created, the sonata form, the enduring strength of which lies in its expositiondevelopment-recapitulation form in which the exposition consists of two contrasting themes which interplay and challenge each other in the development section, and find resolution in the recapitulation, usually with one of the themes becoming dominant. This structure allows us to interact with both cognitive and affective learning process and thus is more effective than the prevailing models of ad hoc models mentioned earlier, let alone the analogy with the assembly line. We would implement this by constructing a series of questions about each topic to be taught so that the story structure elements contained within each topic emerge and are explored effectively. Teaching languages ought to be an especially useful method of applying this technique. Egan has shown that the technique can be applied to the teaching of social studies, maths, history and physical sciences. Why not, then, a subject in which using appropriate language within a given context is the purpose of the lesson? After all, our curriculum is driven by topics which supply the thematic material, and narrative story structures (fictional and otherwise) can be built around them using the model shown. In the next article I am going to explore the use of narrative structures as a planning tool in the language classroom and how this will help to engage imagination. 1Kieran Egan Teaching as Storytelling (1986)
2a principle subscribed to by Aristotle, St. Thomas and Locke; opposed by Plato, St.
Augusbne and Leibniz
3 William James The Principles of Psychology (1890), pp 462
6George Orwell, Poli#cs and the English Language (1946), Animal Farm (1945),
1984 (1949 )
7 aVributed to author Elbert Hubbard (1856-‐1915)
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