Tuesday, 31 July 2012

A Tale Of Two Teachers

Angry Evil Face
Meet Steve...

True story...

Here’s a tale of two teachers, Steve and Bob. They both teach the same class, one after the other. After almost every lesson, Steve returns to the teachers room, sits down at his desk, lets out an audible sigh and then proceeds to moan about the students. They don’t engage, he complains, they don’t get what he’s trying to do. The atmosphere around him is negative and other teachers look at each other with a look that says “here he goes again...”. Steve then opens up his big folder of lesson plans, photocopies the materials he needs for tomorrow’s lesson and goes home early.

Bob teaches the same students. After his lesson, he comes back to the staff room full of energy, enthusiasm but with occasional and irrational pangs of self doubt. Sometimes the lesson is great, sometimes it could have been better but he rarely criticises the students, and when he does he feels bad about it later. He reflects on the lesson he has just given and thinks about how it could have been better. He then looks at his lesson plan for tomorrow, and prepares his materials, changing and adapting them from last time, trying to make them better. He leaves at the end of the working day.

Steve is a naturally gifted teacher but he has given up. He isn’t interested in becoming better and is completely incapable of self-reflection. If anything goes wrong, it’s always the students fault and he has started to resent them. The students have picked up on this and they now no longer enjoy their lessons with him. Some of them have even complained about his lessons to the administration of the school.

Happy Evil Face
...and Bob.

Bob is far more experienced than Steve, and yet when you talk to him he, he knows he still has has a lot to learn and can improve. He is grateful to the students for their patience with him, and he genuinely enjoys their company. The students pick up on this and they look forward to lessons with him. He feels that after lesson he has learned something and through interacting with these people, he is becoming not just a better teacher but a better person.

I’m going to guess that nearly everybody reading this will identify with Bob. After all, the Steves of this world don’t read blogs in their spare time like you do. So I’m not trying to convert Steves with this blog post, instead I want to remind you that you are a Bob and you should be proud of yourself. Just make sure you don’t ever let go of your inner Bobness and become a Steve.

Apologies if your name is Steve, I’m sure you’re a great Bob!

Photos taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/martinb/, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/deed.en_GB.

Read more ►

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Matching Pairs

Matching activities are as old as the hills. Sometimes it seems that some coursebook writers just can't resist asking students to link a word to its definition, or to reunite two halves of a sentence, such as this example from a recently published coursebook.

As an activity, it doesn't exactly thrill me. It's very functional and helps the student to connect ideas, but it's also very rigid and doesn't give the student an opportunity to work on creating their own, more personally relevant sentences.

The problem isn't so much with the actual task, but with the idea undergirding it. Personally I'd rather see these activities used as warmers, acting as a fun quiz to engage learners in the subject. Here's an example I found in a back issue of Wired magazine recently that could make a great intro to a lesson on town and cities.

All together more engaging, don't you think?
Read more ►

Thursday, 19 July 2012

52: Bailout

52 by Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings is an e-book collection of subversive activities for the ELT classroom (see also the support blog Subversive Teaching 52). Each of the activities in the book attempt to engage the learner and the teacher in a challenging conversation. They are both forced to question, investigate and debate the world that we live in.

Since I like to push my students to engage critically with materials, I’m always on the lookout for interesting and demanding stimuli for my lessons. Subsequently this book was just what I was looking for.

As they say themselves at the beginning, “This book is not for everyone” and they are right. Indeed, there are activities that I wouldn’t use in there. But I would always choose to use a book that advertises itself in this way over a book that suggests that it appeals to everyone. Something that designed to be liked to everyone is going to bland and unchallenging, and I don’t want anything to do with that.

And in case you’re wondering, my students have never had a problem with it either!

I recently taught a lesson from the book and I thought I’d share it with you here. This classed was based on activity number 32 and is simply this picture below:

There is no lesson plan, no levels and no language exponents, so that’s how I taught it. No planning, no pre-set ideas of grammar that should be covered or vocabulary acquired, just an improvised lesson. (I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with planning, by the way, this time was just an experiment.)

The Setting:

A one to one business lesson, 2 hours long. The first 30 minutes was spent on conversation.

The Procedure:

I showed the image to the student and gave him a minute to look at it. We then discussed the following questions / points:

1) What’s your immediate reaction?
2) What’s it about?
3) Who is responsible for this advert? (He took another look it at this point.)
4) What does the slogan mean? (He thought it was written by the car companies.)
5) We discussed Wouldn’t referring to the past in the headline sentence. (He understandably found this confusing as the structure of the sentence is complex.)
6) Again, who is responsible for this advert? (We discussed this again, as he hadn’t yet grasped the nature of the advert. At no point did I explicitly tell him that it was a criticism, I just dropped hints as we went along.)
7) The meaning of the headline to the paragraph (“The auto bailout...”) (He was becoming more suspicious by this point, but hadn’t yet made the leap to satire.)
8) Pronunciation of precedent. (He was pronouncing it like president.)
9) Tone of the paragraph (It was here that it finally grasped that this was a satirical criticism of the car companies.)
10) What impressions does the final sentence of the paragraph give you?
11) What’s the message behind the satire?
12) You work for one of these companies, how would you respond? (His novel approach was to suggest that they should acknowledge that the advert was correct and that they will be better from now on.)
13) The final line (“We’re learning to...”)
14) Have you any experience of a company that doesn’t need to compete?
15) What happens to a company that thinks it doesn’t need to compete? (The word ‘struggle’ came up and we discussed how it can be used.)
16) I told him about Adbusters and showed him a few more examples from their website, which we discussed the meaning of in less detail.
The Homework:

I asked the student to find another advert on the Adbusters website that interested him and to bring it next week. He chose this image:

Taken from http://www.adbusters.org/content/philip-morris-out-business
The Next Lesson:
1) Why did you choose this ad?
2) We discussed the message.
3) Who is this aimed at? (new vocabulary included ‘preaching to the converted’, ‘activists’.)
4) Would you ever work for Philip Morris? (Interestingly, despite agreeing with most of the things in the adverts, my student would still work for them. He also told me several scandalous stories about the company that I won’t repeat for fear of libel!)
5) We reviewed new vocabulary that had come up during the discussions.

I had a quick chat with my student after we had finished to see what he thought of the lessons. He thought it was very interesting and thought provoking. It was a different experience for him to see this kind of material, in or out of the classroom, so he enjoyed the challenge. He is someone who is not afraid of expressing an opinion which is why I chose this particular image to use with him, so from the perspective of student engagement, the lesson was a success.

From my point of view, I was very happy with how it went. The student didn’t understand the tone of the advert at the beginning, but I led him towards it, pointing out key words and phrases (shitty, taking your money, corporate irresponsibility, market share loss, too big to fail) that eventually made him realise what the advert was really about. I thought it was particularly interesting to observe how, even in the face of such explicitly critical language that he understood, the format of the advert was so compellingly authentic that he dismissed the linguistic clues, instead choosing to continue to believe that this must be a real advert for this companies, because frankly it looks like one. It’s interesting to consider how often we are convinced by a text simply by the way it is presented.

To conclude, I consider the class to have been a worthwhile and successful experiment and I’ll be using both this image and other materials from 52 again.

Read more ►

Monday, 9 July 2012

Guest post: BESIG Summer Symposium 2012 report

On 16 June 2012 the Besig Summer Symposium took place in Paris. Unfortunately I couldn't be there, so I asked Mieke Kenis and Vicky Loras, two people who were lucky enough to be present, to report back for me. 

I was really looking forward to the symposium for various reasons. It would be my first ever Besig event, David Crystal was going to be the plenary speaker and the programme looked very promising. Furthermore I was taking a colleague of mine, whom I was going to introduce to some Twitter friends. The train journey from Brussels to Paris wasn’t long enough to tell him all about the benefits of a Twitter PLN :-)

Mieke with Sue Annan

But what was most exciting was the prospect of finally meeting Vicky Loras. We had been talking to each other on Twitter for some time when one evening, a few tweets led to our collaboration on some of Vicky’s poems. It was just great I was going to see her live ;-)

Vicky is also a regular contributor to the ELTchat Podcast, for which she interviews ELT people. When James Taylor asked us to write a guest post for his blog about the Besig Symposium I thought it would be a nice idea to reverse the roles this time and ask her a few questions.

Vicky enjoying the Parisian cafe lifestyle!

So Vicky, here we go...

What made you decide to present at the Besig Summer Symposium?

I love teaching Business English, so when I saw the call for papers, I decided to send in my presentation proposal. I was also very excited about the topic of my presentation, as it is an idea I have developed with my adult students and we absolutely love it.

You were a first time Besig speaker. How did you feel about that?

It was a great honour for me to be accepted as a speaker at the BESIG Symposium. I have presented at other conferences as well, but this would be my first where the sole focus was on Business English.

What makes a good conference presentation for you?

I love presentations where the speaker shares practical knowledge, things we can all use in our classes. I love theory too, but a combination with practice is even more beneficial for me!  I also like it when speakers are people who have actually taught and bring with them this enthusiasm of teaching.

You had the last slot of the day. How did you feel about that?

I thought at the beginning that it would prolong the waiting time (and hence being a bit nervous would last longer), but actually I had so much fun learning all day with the other presenters, that when my time came, I felt so comfortable and happy at the same time!

So, how did it go?

I think it went well. I loved the participation from everyone who was there – the atmosphere was very nice and I love it when people want to share their own experiences or comment on an idea. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did! It was truly a great experience for me.

Vicky after her presentation
We sometimes read some tips for conference presenters but what do presenters appreciate most in the audience?

I think an audience that participates is great, because it makes the speaker feel more comfortable and that the presentation can actually give something to everyone.  Even negative comments or disagreements can help. They can make you think!

Vicky, you won the second prize for best first time Besig presenter. How did you feel about that?

I was very very happy about it and that I could share this happiness with all my friends and colleagues there - and really excited to be presented the prize by David Crystal, a linguist that I have admired and read about ever since I was a freshman in university. It was a truly unforgettable moment!

Vicky after receiving her award from David Crystal
What was the highlight of the Symposium for you?

I loved many things about it: the presentations I attended were amazing and each gave me things to learn (I wish I could attend some other ones as well at the same times as the ones I attended). The networking that went on in-between the sessions and after the Symposium was absolutely fantastic, as we could reflect on our own experiences as well and share learning moments. It was also great to see people I had met before in person (people with whom I have connected to on Twitter), but also to meet new people face-to-face – like you!

Many thanks for this interview, Mieke!

Thank you, Vicky, and  thank you, James, for asking us!

Thanks to Vicky and Mieke for this interview.
Read more ►

Copyright © TheTeacherJames Design by O Pregador | Blogger Theme by Blogger Template de luxo | Powered by Blogger