Thursday, 29 March 2012

Something in the Air...

Something in the Air,
Lovely, gentle
Passes by
Something in the air

Like a feeling.  Premonition.
Like a breath and a shiver.
Like rustling and whispering.
At the last minute.

Something in the air.
That shines in the eyes,
That resonates in people
At each step.

Is this the secret
Inspiration for the song?
Or love?
Her breath and her sigh?

By Tone Pavcek
Translated from the Slovenian by Carmen.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Meaningful Holiday Homework Tasks

Next week we will have a fortnight’s Easter break, and my class have requested homework.  This gives me the perfect motivation to compile a list (did I say ten?) of meaningful homework activities.

  1. Use the two week break to correspond with a pen friend in a different part of Scotland. Luckily I already have a list of names, short biographies and contact details of a group of Intermediate learners at a community education centre in the Highlands.
  2. Meet your classmates at least once in an environment conducive to chat. 
  3. Research Unst using the Shetland Tourist Board website and write a proposed itinerary for our class trip on the 20/21st April.
  4. Continue our poetry theme by visiting the poetry channel and watching poets read and perform their poetry.  You can do a google search if you wish to find an accompanying text. Choose a favourite and practise it, using the poet’s reading as a model.  To be performed at the next class!
  5. Look in the “What’s on” section of the Shetland Times for community activities you could try out (going in pairs, small groups or even as a class to give you confidence) You might want to try,  for example Makkin an Yakkin (Knitting and Chatting) or visit that Shetland institution: Sunday Teas!
  6. You could use free evenings to follow a British soap opera, for example Eastenders or Corrie.  What differences do you notice between Shetland English, and, say, East end of London English?
  7. Keep a diary or start a blog! This can be shared on the return to class. You might want to blog about what you did when you would normally have been at English lessons!
  8. Watch a film with English subtitles.
  9. Make a point of eavesdropping on as many conversations as you can on one outing.  Remember any unfamiliar phrases or words you hear and note them down.  Share what you have learned (or what continues to puzzle you) on the return to class.
  10.  Um, if all else fails there's always Headway Online!

I will ask learners to choose one or two of these tasks.  It will be interesting to see what they return with!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Most Pointless Homework Exercise...

Comparatives and Superlatives with my class of pre-intermediates tonight.  I always find this fun to teach, probably because it has such visual and kinaesthetic potential in the classroom.
Tonight I divided the class into two groups. I indicated a most and least side of the table. Then the race was on for the groups to order themselves from most to least according to the adjectives I read out. Some were obvious (tall, long hair) while some involved more discussion (young, sporty).  Once groups had organised themselves accordingly, the rival group had to use their positions to make sentences using the adjective in its comparative and superlative form, e.g. Andrej is the tallest in the group.

So the French have decided to boycott homework, dismissing it as “useless” and “tiring”.
Having to sit and encourage my six year old daughter to struggle through half an hour’s of spelling and maths homework every night, I would be inclined to agree. A couple of weeks ago I took the homework situation up with her  class teacher.  A rather bizarre exchange followed in which she ensured me that she personally “hated” homework, but that it was what the parents wanted.  Not this parent.

In the ESOL class, I tend not to give homework on the basis that learners have such busy lives with work, family and language learning commitments. On the rare occasion learners request it I have (lazily, guiltily) given them photocopied pages from the Headway workbook or a Stop and Check Test.  I feel guilty because I know full well that by using a little imagination I could easily dream up a meaningful homework task that takes advantage of the English speaking environment the learners live in.  Correcting workbook gap fills is as useless and tiring for the teacher as it is for the learner anyway.

The challenge starts today.  Tomorrow’s entry will include ten meaningful homework tasks for learners in the ESOL classroom.

Monday, 26 March 2012

In Praise of Introverts

I’ve been reading with interest reviews of Susan Cain’s book Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

  Cain’s book looks at the ways in which our society is geared up to celebrate and encourage extrovert personality traits.  Placed in opposition to the extrovert ideal, introverts are undervalued and overlooked.  Cain goes on to argue that our celebration of extrovert culture begins at an early age, where pupils are grouped facing each others in pods, and praised by teachers for giving quick (rather than thoughtful or original) answers. 

As a child I was an introvert.  Painfully shy and bookish, I would never have willingly volunteered an answer. “Very quiet pupil” was a frequent refrain on my report cards.  Well over thirty years later, I have learned to quell my introvert tendencies, at least at work. I am vocal at meetings, gregarious at social events and never slow to put myself forward for exciting sounding opportunities. However, deep down I know I’m still an introvert. How can I not be, when the typical workshop phrase “Now I want you to get into your groups and discuss…” sends a shiver down my spine?

Thinking about Quiet prompted me to examine my own classroom practice. So much of what we do in the classroom is based on collaborative learning through group work and pair work.  Learners are asked to peer check answers, work together on information gap activities and take part in mingle activities. Heck, my learners even worked in pairs to write poetry!

It can be argued that there are sound reasons for all this collaborative work. I am, after all, a language teacher and oral communication is a key goal in language learning. I also work with a class of sociable and outgoing learners who frequently end up conferring in small groups even when they have been asked to work alone on a task. But how would a more introvert newcomer to my class fare? In encouraging the extrovert learners in my class am I perpetuating “groupthink” at the expense of reflection, sensitivity and creativity?
I look forward to reading Quiet.  In the meantime I will keep a log of the types of activities I do in my classes and monitor the learners not just for their linguistic performance, but also for their reactions. Perhaps in doing so, I will discover that I teach more introverts (or ambiverts) than I had thought.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Poetry Please

One of the most wonderful things about poetry writing in the English classroom is the way that direct translations of phrases and metaphors from the learners’ L1 produce such fresh results. Tonight was our second poetry translation workshop and there are some beautiful pieces of work in the making. I hope to be able to share some next week.

To ease the learners into the session we watched a couple of poets perform their work on the Poetry Station:
 John Hegley’s Rowena is a hilarious poem about unrequited love, and the humour was not lost on the class.  Before watching the performance, I wrote down five or six words from the poem and asked the class to generate as many rhyming words as they possibly could. They did well with this, and even managed to predict some of the words which occur in the poem itself. After our first viewing, I asked the learners to listen out for some of the insults Rowena dishes out to her boyfriend. They did well here, getting the “dead below and the above the belt” one as well as the particularly nasty “you’re thicker than your glasses”.  I have never used the poetry station before, but it’s an excellent resource which I will certainly be returning to before long.
We then got down to the business of continuing with poetry translation.  Many of the learners had already translated their poems' basic meaning. They then began to play around with the words, adding rhyme and reading aloud to listen to the rhythm, before sharing their work with their designated PP (Poet Partner). This part of the lesson worked really well, and I was heartened to overhear some really constructive and thoughtful discussion between partners. 

This morning’s plenary by Steven L Thorne certainly gave me yet more food for thought.  He spoke at some length on the language learning opportunities presented by online gaming sites such as World of War craft. Steven is an energetic and convincing speaker and I came away keen to investigate this possibility more thoroughly. This said, although I find the idea of engaging with such resources appealing, I’m not sure it would suit my teaching context. Many of my adult learners look forward to English classes as a social event, not just an “English lesson”, and I’m not sure how they would react to being immersed in a “second life” virtual world. Still, I will keep an open mind on this until I have had a chance to explore this area in more depth.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Kitchen Table Conference Continues

Another day, another badge.  This one’s for The Round, the e-publishing collective set up by Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings in 2011. It sound exciting and subversive and I am looking forward to finding out more – and perhaps, buying their new book of lesson ideas 52.
I’m thoroughly enjoying watching the interviews. At the fag end of a hard day, listening to a ten minute chat is infinitely easier than sitting through an hour long talk. Once again, I find I have come away from my quick whistle stop tour of the British Council Glasgow Online site with a handful of ideas to mull over, websites to pursue and books to look out for.
Thanks to Diana Laurillard’s plenary I’ll be heading to  to see how I can improve my abilities as a lesson designer. And after watching the interview with Scott Thornbury, I’ll be delving into task based learning, and looking into how technology can help to build a classroom culture of autonomous learning.
So far, a recurring theme of this conference seems to be an exploration of the way that we as teachers use technology in our classrooms. Rather than just using what is there, it should be our challenge to ascertain the needs of our learners. Then we need to creatively adapt existing technology to fit these needs.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Day Two

Day Two of the online conference experience, and I have whiled away the evening flitting around the British Council Glasgow Online website, and collecting various interview nuggets which I plan to apply to my own classroom. Here they are:

Adrian Underhill’s “portable” mantra: “See what’s going on. Do something different. Learn from it.” An appealing idea, but Adrian himself was quick to point out its limitations. How do we see what is really going on in our own classroom?

Alan Maley’s ideas for teaching creative writing to learners of all levels. It’s a common assumption that creative writing should only be tackled with higher level learners, (it’s certainly one I’ve been guilty of making) so it was really nice to hear Alan’s suggestion for a simple metaphor poem which can be attempted with lower level learners. He suggests writing two columns of nouns. Learners then match the nouns from each column together to create metaphors and then write a line to explain each one, e.g.
Love is an egg,
Be careful you don’t drop it.
Freedom is a flute
I look forward to trying this out!

Finally, I really enjoyed hearing from Adam Simpson, blogathon winner. His tips about blogging have given me food for thought, as well as pointing me in the direction of his erudite (and very entertaining) blog: The blogathon sounds like fun - I'll be keeping a look out for a repeat event!