Monday, 23 July 2012


...or the lack thereof. It's my last day in the college before the summer hols, and I'm now at a loose end. If truth be told, I've found myself with a lot of time on my hands over the past week and a half. And what have I done with this bounty of time on my hands? What exciting EFL articles have I perused, what research have I followed, which online debates have I participated in?

Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not a sausage. Not even a small pork chipolata on a cocktail stick.

Well, actually, I have in some ways done quite a lot, but it's all the little stuff - checking off records of work, trimming schemes of work for the coming academic year, updating course handbooks, completing records of achievement for the exams, writing reference letters - all the bread and butter stuff, and none of the exciting zingy contents that should be in the Grand Sandwich of Language Teaching. It is not, as you know, very motivating, yet it has to be done, because without all the planning and admin, there is simply no learning or teaching or all the parts that still make this job interesting.

Which leads me on to the point of this post: How do we keep learners motivated when they're doing the boring bits of learning a language? In fact, what parts of language learning do learners consider tedious? Going back into my own murky language learning past, I would say that, while learning French, I found learning all the irregular forms annoying, as well as gender agreement - but this in part was because these had not been sufficiently explained by the teacher(s). It was also hard work, being in a class of 30 other students, listening to a half-mad tutor rave on about the beauties of French, while being taught to say 'Where is my monkey? My monkey is in the tree' , or listening to a tinny little tape recorder say 'Ecoutez et repetez....'
However, when I was learning Turkish, I found it a challenging, but enjoyable experience, most probably because 1) I was teaching myself , 2) I found I could master a foreign language after years of hearing 'Oh, the British are useless at foreign languages' and 3) I felt a sense of competitiveness with other Turkish-speaking Brits - who could say something better, or find new words faster? I only found it hard work after reaching a high level of spoken and everyday written fluency, when I started trying to use more formal language and structure, and discovered that it was almost like learning a brand new language. It was very frustrating indeed, and still is. But, with practice and study, I'm sure I'll be able to master it entirely.
Sounds familiar? So it should. I think a lot of students just lose motivation when they realise that they have to get on with the slog of learning, simply because it feels like they're doing nothing and there are few immediate results. Remember, English is an easy language to speak basically (or, as my student and well-known Brazilian playwright Antonio Rocco said to me, 'English is the easiest language to speak badly'), meaning that even after a little work, a learner can perceive sudden leaps and bounds in their knowledge and use of the language. It's only later that everything seems to slow down, and the miracle of suddenly perceiving and using another tongue gets dragged down into the mundane. How do we keep students keeping on at it?
Well, that's my question for you. I'm off for the summer.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

What does a British Citizen look like?

Finally, the end of term, and an opportunity to reflect on the year, cast one's eye over the work done, the things achieved, the things learned and taught - and a chance to make a large bonfire of all the crap on my desk.
Like most teachers, by the end of the year I generally require the services of a team of industrial archaeologists to sift through the varying strata until the desk surface is reached. However, thanks to two moves of office location in as many years, each of which involved boxing LOTS of stuff up and conflating the debris of desks in two locations, this supposedly annual process had been delayed until this year. You can probably imagine the towering bundles of dreck, clouds forming at their pinnacles, while seabirds try to nest amid bundles of yellowing homework and unused photocopied resources. Well, after calling in Time Team, and then setting the braziers burning, I have been left with a desk that looks more like a working space, plus neatly organised resources and a few choice samples of student work, all ready for the September onslaught, when paper will once more accrue on on my desk faster than autumn leaves in a storm.
So what the hell has this got to do with the title of this post? I thought I'd share a sample of the aforementioned student work with you. When I'm wearing my ESOL teacher hat, I have to include the topic of Citizenship in the class work, as this is a requirement of ESOL classes in FE - it means that students learn about stuff like MPs, Human Rights, the UK legal system, a bit about history, and generally practical stuff that helps them live here. And because they study it over the course of a year, it means that they don't have to do the ghastly citizenship test, an exam that would ensure about 70% of the native population were kicked out of the country, so obtuse it is.
One of my first Citizenship lessons is a discussion about what it means to be a British citizen. This is a very useful exercise, because it means students can discuss stereotypes, habitual behaviour, and differences between life in their own countries and here - linguistically and thematically a very rich seam. I get students into working groups initially to discuss some questions on a worksheet, then lead a whole class feedback. After this, I give groups a sheet. On this sheet is an outline of a human body, and the question, 'What does a British citizen look like?' I then instruct the students to work in their groups and draw what they think a British citizen looks like and write a few phrases.
Now, the whole idea of this is that it's meant to show that British citizens come in all shapes and sizes, that there's no such thing as a 'typical' citizen, that it doesn't matter where you're from, that we are a pluralistic, cosmopolitan society that can rise nobly above crude stereotypes and see The Person Within.

Do you think that is what the students had in mind as well?

Oh dear, no. Instead, most students end up drawing and describing what they think a typical native British person looks like. Here are a few:
OK...not too bad...

well, at least this one's polite...
Hmm - Reading town centre on a friday night


As you can see, a bit of a mixed bag, but basically we're tattooed, chip-loving, fag-smoking, beer-swilling, big-breasted, high-heel wearing, lardy-arsed, polite, benefit-scrounging layabouts. Apparently.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Getting back in the saddle

Is this wise? trying to get this blog started again with the summer holidays upon us?
Well, I have been neglecting things somewhat, thanks to my lovely, lovely DELTA course, amongst other things. That's the trouble with doing a Dip: you're so busy learning how to be a brilliant teacher that you, er, stop teaching properly, and head back to good ol' Headway, page 76.
Well, the studying is finished for now, although I've been given th go-ahead in my institution to pilot a course based on my module 3 course design - a blended learning course using a Flipped Class Model with TBL in the class-based sessions. I'm experimenting with the online materials at the moment, but unfortunately I'm slightly hindered thanks to our Moodle VLE being updated.
Now, you might think that this flies directly in the face of what I wrote in my last post, but in fact it's a direct development from the principles of using tech that I laid out. This will be a pilot project, which will give me data on the efficacy or otherwise of blended learning. I will initially try it on a limited group of students who have previously been identified as being relatively digitally literate, and on teachers who don't react to computers with gibbering fear. Once I've got some more work done on it, I'll give a fuller report.


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