Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Faking it.

Right, now that I'm back into the maelstrom of the new term and put a few lessons under the belt, time to kickstart the old blog again - I hope you all had a good summer, readers.

I don't know about you, but I still feel somewhat apprehensive before going into a new class, even after twenty years before the whiteboard. I still remember my first time going into a class for real, staring in panic at my reflection in the mirror of the bathroom I'd locked myself in, saying 'OhshitohshitohshitwhatthebloodyhellhaveIgotmyselfinto?' and trying to breathe. I just wanted to run away, but knew I couldn't. I would, eventually, have to unlock the door and go into that classroom to be met by twenty pairs of eyes. Minutes passed, and I kept on looking at myself, trying to chide my reflection into action. Suddenly, the school bell, an electronic little jingle that kind of went all wonky at the end, sounded:
Bing bang bing bang bing bang biiioooononinining.
This was it.
What did I do?
I went on to teach for the next twenty years, by striding into the class and saying, as loudly as I could without shouting, 'Good Evening!'
And I've been doing varieties of this with every new class ever since. It was all about faking it at the beginning - the impression of control, the sense of being the boss of the environment, until I actually became so. That may make me sound as if I need to have the class centred around me, and I think in retrospect that was what the first few years of my career was about, but until I learned to master what I do it was where I felt more comfortable. So, I faked it until I became it, which neatly segues into a mention of Amy Cuddy's TED Talk Presentation on that very subject. In it, she talks about how adopting power poses, i.e. postures that imply confidence and dominance, even for as short a time as two minutes, actually change the way a person thinks of themselves, and of how they perform in situations such as interviews. She has conducted experiments that strongly suggest that how we hold ourselves physically strongly feeds into our mental health and general wellbeing, and I'd recommend giving a view.
So, why am I mentioning this? Well, because as a seasoned TEFLer ready to jump on any passing idea as a teaching opportunity, it got me wondering whether I couldn't experiment on this with my own students. The premise: What if adopting 'power poses' would actually improve a student's capacity to learn English? Teaching ESOL students as I do, it struck me that an awful lot of our learners do actually hold themselves in class in rather diminutive, submissive positions - in the role, as it were, of supplicants before the Grail Of Language Learning. In addition, people with their Affective Filters set to Stun tend to adopt highly defensive postures. What if making the learners sit in ways that imply confidence actually changes their attitude and ability, and actually boosts their learning capacity? This would also, incidentally, link into a subject I've discussed here (and at the EUK conference) before, namely Maslovian Hierarchies and Thematically linked language learning.
Well, we'd have to design an experiment to see if it could work, and I think I may have an opportunity to give it a test- but more of that in another post.

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