Here is the transcript of Luke Medding’s workshop:
Thank you very much everyone, thank you for coming — lovely to see you all, and lovely to see some familiar faces and also to make some new friends. I’ve started using this IPhone for notes, for talks, ’cause it means I can kind of quickly enter things [… 0.24] I can copy and paste bits and pieces from websites and have them to hand. One thing it doesn’t allow me to do is sort of set it up so I can read it, so I hope you’ll forgive me if at times I peer at it — I’m not checking the football scores or anything like that. It’s just to grab out some notes.
I’ll just give you the background, I suppose, to this talk. About eleven years ago Scott Thornbury wrote an article in IATEFL Issues called “A dogma –with an a– for ELT”. Does anyone remember reading that, when it came out? “A dogma for ELT”, question mark. Ok now, that’s a good start! So, anyone’s read it since? Oh, fantastic… Ok. It’s… you can find it quite easily by goggling it. And in it, he suggested that English language teaching, and particularly this so-called “Communicative approach” was actually being rendered uncommunicative by an overreliance on printed materials. Yeah, on course books, but also on supplementary materials that people used when the material in the course book wasn’t quite right. So instead of sort of putting the course book to one side, and trying something quite different maybe based on the students’ lives or a more conversational approach, people –as we all have, as I have, and I’m sure many of you would’ve done– have sort of fixed something in the course by getting maybe a unit from another course book or a bit from another unit, from another course book, or looking at supplementary materials. So little by little the materials pile up and the space for the learners in the classroom kind of gets constrained. So that’s how it all started in 2000, and when I read this, I kind of finally had an answer to all the questions I’d been trying to answer for myself about I guess what I thought was unsatisfactory about the way I was trying to teach classes, the way schools in London –which was my area of experience– were trying to teach English. And finally I had answers, and I had the starter of vocabulary which meant that I could make my own argument for a teaching that was less reliant on materials and based more on the language and the lives of the people in the room.
A discussion group was formed –I can show you the website for that a little bit later– and it became quite a lively discussion group, and it’s been going on for the same amount of time –about eleven years now– and there are still great posts there regularly, and about two or three years ago we were asked if we wanted to write a book about it, and so we said “yes”. Although there are quite a few sniggers, “Aha, so you are trying to write a book about not using books!” — which you know, it’s quite funny! But in a sense it shows how closely teaching and books, and teaching and printed materials have become aligned to an extent that we’re perhaps not aware of. And so what we can in fact do is pay lip service to the communicative approach while actually just delivering all other kinds of pre-prepared material and kind of getting language exponents and language areas into lessons in the order in which we’ve planned them.
So, I think what’s interesting to me looking back, it’s that what started as a critique of overreliant materials use and was perhaps rightly seen at the time, you know, as having a bit of a dig sometimes of course books being a bit negative, has grown into something much more positive and it’s all now –in my view– about the potential of opening up the space in the classroom to the learners and the challenge –and it is a challenge– of working with a language that emerges from that organic interaction.
So, what I do looking back now, is trace a kind of evolution from what started as a critique in 2000 with an article in the establishment of the blog and the dogma list, and then this book “Teaching unplugged” in which we suggested a kind of three point framework, almost as a check list for teaching unplugged and for applying dogma in class, and that three point framework was to make sure that lessons were conversation driven and the material is light — the connection being that the lighter the materials are, the more room there is for conversation. Conversation, material’s light and then the focus on the language that emerges from the conversation. So, there’s three things: conversation light… Sorry, start that again: conversation driven, material’s light and focused on emerging language. So that gives us a loose but fairly effective framework for applying these ideas.
Now, what we’re going to do today is look at twenty steps to teaching unplugged. I’ve got twenty slides here and the little twist that […05.47] into that is that I’m going to present them in a random order. Now, there’s two ways of doing this: I can either use it by scrolling between the power point and a website which offers random number generation — terrifically exciting. I can either do it via the website, or you can shout out numbers. We’ll start with the website because I’ve already set it up — and is pretty exciting. I did about three or four slides in Scotland and when I first presented this talk in December, after four slides somebody shouted out : “Why don’t we just shout out the numbers?!” I said “All right!” And that seemed to work all right.
But just so that you can feel the excitement of the randomizing — here it is: Mrs. Glosser’s Math Goodies. I don’t know, it’s a custom random number generator. I was testing it, so the random number is eighteen. We’ll clear it, we’ll enter one as a lower limit –this very much not my specialist area– and we’ll enter and we’ll start with whatever slide comes up. Slide ten. Bingo. House. Slide ten. All right, here we go. Oh, blimey. “Bend me, shape me”. Ok, I’m going to run through these slides quite quickly. If… I hope they’ll start building a picture. They’re not directly telling a linear story, and in a sense that’s in keeping with the dogma approach. It’s that the bigger picture emerges from classes rather than being directed in a linear fashion.
So here we are: “Bend me, shape me”. The idea here is that we work with texts, short texts, so, immediately we see that material’s light doesn’t mean no materials at all. We look at ways to bend them out of shape, we look at ways to transform them. How can you say the same thing in different words, how can you say the opposite? And what happens here –and I’ll give you an example of little text to play with – is that learners immediately get to grips with language instead of reading long texts and doing pre-tasks and post-tasks, and being kind of led into whatever language area the book wants them to go into. We can just use small texts and get them working with language and kind of, you know, almost get their hands dirty on the language.
Just try this out, OK? If you’ve got a pen and paper, I’ll dictate it to you. So this is a little dictation. I shall read it once, at normal speed, ‘cause you’re a very advanced group. OK. So, here we go: “A bungling burglar was captured shivering behind a bush, after police tracked a set of footprints he unwittingly left in the snow.” Ok. Now, if this was a class, the next thing would be to get someone to dictate it back, write it off on the board, to see if there are any differences between the text that’s being dictated and the one that’s being transcribed. So again, you immediately start to exchange language and to move it around the room. I will just read it one more time — it was this… Well, who wants to read it out? Who thinks they’ve got something close to it? Go on! “A bungling burglar was captured shivering behind a bush, after police tracked a set of footprints he unwittingly left in the snow.” There you go! Diserves a round of applause there, I think. That’s fantastic.
Ok, I don’t know how much of that you’ve got but it doesn’t really matter. Have a go at just changing to as many synonyms as you can, as much of that sentence is possible, just in a couple of minutes. It might be just the first phrase. Let’s do the first phrase, ‘cause we want to kick on. “A bungling burglar was captured.” In pairs, or in small groups. Or in buzz groups. There’s no talk without pair work. Come on. And I’m doing the one thing we shouldn’t do in a classroom, which is, stop a perfectly good conversation before it’s run its course. And that applies as much during a lesson as it does before. Who’s ever walked into a classroom where there’s a conversation going on, people talking a bit of English and a bit of other languages, and said: “Ok, stop talking, we’re going to have a conversation.” And then twenty minutes later when you’ve done all the pre-tasks, nothing! If conversation’s already started, then make the most of it.
Ok so that phrase was… I’ve forgotten now… What was it? “A bungling burglar was captured.” This is from The Southern Guardian, my local newspaper, sold a couple months ago. Who’s got a nice synonym version of that?
-A hapless thief was apprehended.
Lovely. “A hapless thief was apprehended.” Ok, thanks Mark. Anyone else has got one?
-A nerveless burglar was caught.
“A nerveless burglar was caught.”
-An incompetent malefactor.
“An incompetent malefactor.” Wonderful! So… Just one more… What was that? “Was apprehended [… 11.05 ]”
I mean there’s lot of things you can do with that, and you can choose the text to suit the level of your learners. But, you know, don’t underestimate level, don’t underestimate how much can come out of a class. So, that’s an example of a short text that’s a first paragraph of a news story. It was a dictation activity that could’ve been probably fifteen minutes in a class –as you compare different versions and people compare in groups and sort what they’ve done– but we haven’t kind of wasted any time. As soon as I started dictating that, you were focusing on language. As soon as I gave you a task, you were using more language than was already on the page, and you know, as a teacher, you then help, and try to push, and look at the words that were being suggested. Are they exact synonyms? Well, maybe there aren’t any exact synonyms in English if they’re registered differently. You know, “malefactor”, “apprehended” — would you even find that in a newspaper? It’s almost of a novelistic register.
There’s lots of things that can be done with language and another version is the opposite. So you just turn around the story to make it as opposite in meaning to the text that you’ve chosen, as possible. Let’s do another slide. Call out a number. You’ve seen the randomizing, you’ll get bored of it. That was number ten.
Three. There were some more, but that was the loudest. So, we’ve got a three. As I was saying, I hope we’ll build up a picture as we go along. “PLN” Ok, how random was that?! This is to do… What is a “PLN” anyone? “A person who’s learning network.” — says Fernando. Ok, we share parts of the same personal learning network and Fernando –I’m now meeting for the first time tonight– is studying the first part of [… 12.54] in London and works in Brazil. We’ve made friends via Twitter and I have now the pleasure of meeting him. When I started on Twitter I just thought it was daft and I happened to have very low expectations, and I thought it was just something silly for celebrities, etcetera, etcetera. But there’s something really exciting happening in ELT at the moment via Twitter, and it’s doing a number of exciting things: it’s connecting people in different countries –very simply and straight-forwardly– who share the same interests. So that’s how Fernando and myself have got to know each other. It’s also how Mike Harrison and myself have got to know each other. We, you know, we became friends — or we thought we had a good chance of becoming friends before we met. Something else that it’s doing is that it’s allowing different generations in ELT to speak together in a way that I don’t think that was ever the case when I was a young teacher — I was once in the late eighties and the nineties. And it’s kind of leveling the plain field, so know in conferences like the one I’ve just come back from, there are people giving presentations who’ve only just come into the conference world, if you like, and they’ve done it by connecting through Twitter.
So Twitter was a kind of annoying word and associated lexical field with “twit” and whatever; “tweetups” that’s a nice one to make an English person grimace. But it’s an exciting place to be in ELT, and if you want to find out more about teaching unplugged or anything else that’s happening at the moment in ELT –like technology in the classroom– then it’s a fantastic environment to be in — the only proviso being that it works best when it works in connection with blogs, and in fact neither can really operate without the other. The great thing that twitter does is that it gives you a quick glimpse into what something is interested in. But it also gives you deeper insight as people link to their blog or someone else’s blog — and that’s where the deep interaction happens: on the blog; that’s where extended comment can happen. But Twitter works quickly and moves you around. So Twitter and blogs, and Twitter and blogs working together is a really exciting place to be and it’s probably the best place I can think of to find out more about teaching unplugged or anything else that you’re interested in, in ELT at the moment. So leave your embarrassment at the door and get twitting — it’s fantastic!
Next slide… So we’ve had ten and three. Anyone?
Thirteen — unlucky for some. Let’s see, what do we get? Quite random so far, and here we have… Moving to another field: “Create reference points” is the idea here.
Traditionally, a lesson is planned in advance, and it’s conducted in linear fashion, according to the lesson plan. This is an absolutely essential part of most pre-service training course and indeed many in-service training courses: the idea that the teacher decides what’s going to happen as far as possible before it’s happened, and that includes the things that the teacher can’t actually determine, like anticipated difficulties. You might as well say “anticipated, unexpected events”. How can you anticipate that? Why not just wait and see?
So, what dogma and teaching unplugged suggest is a different way of teaching. And before Scott came out with dogma, there was a bit of vocabulary to help people to talk about this — I called it post planning. The idea is that you get conversation going or you generate conversation with small texts during the lesson, you make notes as people speak, you gather information from the class, you board it; it doesn’t matter if it’s a IWB, or a white board or a black board — you just get those notes up as you go through. But then what’s essential is that you make sense of it afterwards. So you may find that your planning time ahead of a lesson is reduced. Although I’d suggest that doesn’t mean you’re not thinking about what’s going to happen, it doesn’t mean that you’re not really kind of keeping in mind your next lesson even when you are maybe at home, maybe on your way to work. But as teachers we have a responsibility to help learners shape the experience they are going through. Course books do it for us — and it’s often an argument that’s made in favor of using course books. It gives the student a clear structure and it gives them take-home at the end of the lesson. Whether it’s relevant take-home or indeed when it comes to teaching people who’ve come to the UK to learn English as we all have and many of you are now, it may be stuff they’ve already studied! You know, I mean I’ve taught students using a course book unit and they’ve studied the same unit maybe more than once! And they’re paying for a course! How crazy is that?!
So, there are arguments in favor of course books but you shouldn’t use them uncritically. And if in fact we’re going to put them to the side or use them less and less in our classes, we do need to take into account this need for take-home and this need to provide structure. How do we kind of asses what is being learned if it’s just emerging from the class? How do we kind of make decisions about the sheer volume of language that can emerge? One way to do this is to use a syllabus to contextualize emerging language. So then, as the lessons go by, you review your notes from these lessons, you relate what’s been said and what’s come up and the language points that perhaps cause problems, with a conventional syllabus, and you can tick it off. But what it means is you’re not doing it in linear fashion. You’re not anticipating the problems, you’re actually responding to the problems; you’re going with the flow. But there’s no reason not to use a syllabus as a tool for yourself and indeed a tool that you can introduce into the classroom, so the learners can see that actually in this lesson we’ve been looking at the Past Simple and that’s on the syllabus.
I’ve just had a thought here about metalanguage. I think if you scratch any dogma teacher, you’ll find someone that’s pretty keen on grammar. There’s sometimes an assumption that dogma teachers just want to chat! That is really not the case! Anyone who does it in the principal fashion really wants to get to grips with the language. And metalanguage which could be the language to do with grammar and verb forms and other areas of language competency, is a really important tool, and that’s one of the things that again, helps us to shape what’s happening in our classes. We don’t abandon all the metalanguage because we are moving away from published materials. In fact, one could argue that it becomes more important. Most classes I’ve taught in had a Sound Foundations pronunciation chart. That kind of gives us everything we need to know about pronunciation. I mean, we need to unpick it for learners, we need to practice it and rehearse it, but it’s all there! Why don’t we do the same with verb forms? Why don’t we put all the verb forms on a chart and refer to it when these verb forms come up? Why does it need to be hidden? Why does it need to be parceled out once a week? There are better ways to do this!
And that was chart thirteen!
Who wants a different chart? Now you have to have a different chart ‘cause it’s my lesson plan!
Five. Chart five. As I said, we’re building a picture here, I hope it’s not too confusing. All these key areas need to be thought about when thinking about teaching unplugged. Ok, this is an absolutely essential one, and the idea here is to “See each lesson as a social event”. This idea came completely from my classroom experience and the classroom experience of lots of other people. But it also has some very, very interesting background in sociocultural theory.
What I found teaching in private language schools in London, in the 1990s was, as many of you will also have found — it was impossible to predict who was going to come to class, from one day to the next, from one week to the next, even from one hour to the next! And this made a lot of teachers really stressed; and at first, it made me really stressed! And then I thought, well, why not just go with the flow? Teach who’s there on that day and don’t worry about the people who aren’t there! Don’t get cross because people are doing low paid jobs and are tired and don’t want to come to class, or they want to go to the museum one day ‘cause their family are over! Just say: “Fine, that’s what they are doing today!” Who have I got in class today? Great! If you hold a party and a bunch of people don’t turn up, you don’t spoil it for everyone else who’s there by saying: “Well this record is not going to work, and these nibbles are no good… ‘cause I planned nibbles for twenty! There’s only fifteen of you! What am I gonna do?!” You know, it’s much better to say: “Great, there’s more nibbles for us! There’s more conversation for us.” If there are fewer people in the class, you get longer turns for everyone.
So the idea here is that language –if it’s allowed to– emerges from participation, from interaction. And what’s interesting here –and this is where I’m just going to give you a brief flavour– it’s that the socio-cultural theory associated especially with the name Lev Vygotsky… V y g o t s k y… is engaged with precisely this idea. And the most exciting thing about this theory of language learning, is that it’s a bottom-up language theory based on people, based on the interaction with people, rather than a top-down theory which is based upon theories of language. So a lot of the teaching theories that we’ve used as methods or approaches in class, are derived from applied linguistics, that derive from theories of language. But socio-cultural theory has much more to do with insights about the way that people interact and how interaction prompts learning, and how learning doesn’t just happen in our mind but it also happens physically as we interact with each other in a physical world. But it also actually happens between us. That’s how we learn things. Because after all, the reason we use language is to communicate, and not primarily with ourselves, but with other people.
Next slide. So Vygotsky is the jumping off point there. And Scott’s “A to Z of ELT” blog is a great way to find Vygotsky and lots of other stuff in socio-cultural theory.
-Have we done legs eleven?
“Have we done legs eleven?” Why did you choose that slide? I wonder. We haven’t. And I like the bingo moniker as well. So do please –if you can– apply that. All right…“Focus on learner language”. By now, this is kind of obvious. If we’re doing all these things, then focusing on learner language rather than language exponents or what the linear syllabus dictates that we should focus on becomes absolutely paramount. And something else that I’ve noticed, both in terms of looking at my own teaching and sometimes observing other teachers which is related to this notion of planning a lesson for seven or seventeen people and deciding on tasks that happen in groups of three or four is that most people wait until enough people are there to start an activity. You can’t do pairs in three or you can’t do group work in three… Whatever! You know, if one person comes on time to class and everyone else is late, just start talking to them! Don’t kind of sit there like this, saying: “We’ll start soon…” I mean, maybe I’m the only person who’s done this — but I have, and at some point I just thought: “This is crazy!” And a nice way to do this, and a nice model on one to one teaching that lends itself to teaching unplugged is just to start talking and to start noting. Start talking, start noting. Make notes: the lesson begins when they start speaking, and they start speaking when you invite them to. So that’s a caricature of the teacher sitting, waiting for more people, and the student kind of, you know, maybe opening the course book to look as if they’re revising. I mean, crazy! Just get talking and make notes and use those notes to feed back. No one else comes in for ten minutes, you can say: “Ok, we’ve been talking about this… these are some of the things you’ve said. I’ve noticed that you said this really well but you are struggling a bit with this.” And if we’re keeping the metalanguage going in the classroom, then you can use that really confidently. You know that’s the Past Simple or the Present Perfect.
Ok, another slide. I hope eleven was to your taste. Let’s have another one.
Seven. What’s the bingo for seven?
-All the way to heaven.
“All the way to heaven.” I’ll take that! Oh, lovely, at last! Just a nice synergy between two slides, ‘cause this is way more random so far than the previous time I did this. So “Focus on learner language” — “Focus on learner lives”. When people talk about their own lives, then they use the language they’ve got and they use the language they need to learn. Now, I believe this can be applied to greater or lesser extent in every classroom in the world. But as I was having a conversation with Jeff before the start, there are huge differences between a state school in the middle of China or a state secondary school in Egypt, where there is a different teaching culture and different expectations of what can be taught and different levels of access to real examples of English and all the rest of it, and schools in the UK. But you know, in the UK there is no excuse for not focusing on learners’ lives. Don’t miss opportunities for natural interactions! So when the next person does come into class, don’t just say, you know: “Can you sit down?” or even with a smile: “Can you sit down? Thanks!” Hey, now we’ve got a pair, we can start! I’ve done it! You know, I’m not immune to this behavior! Just say: “Why are you late?” You say it with a smile, and then there is language, there is a story! And if you dig behind the story, there’s an activity in teaching unplugged I think called “The five whys” which is a kind of very serious business thing, you know: Why aren’t we making a profit? Well, because we don’t produce our product sometimes. Why? Because we are really disorganized. Why? Because the manager is useless. Why? Because he drinks too much. Sack him! That’s the five whys in a business context. But in teaching, it can be much, much softer: “So you were late… why was that? Ok.” But it needs to be done sensitively. And one way to establish a sensitive, gentle space in which people are happy to share things about their own lives is by sharing a little bit about your own life. And I’ll suggest one way or two about doing that. Anyway, I’m not suggesting that this is rocket since — ‘cause it really isn’t. But at the same time there’s a really strong imperative within our profession, kind of not to this.
Publishings are powerful institutions and they push course books for the same reason Coca-Cola pushes Coca-Cola: to make profits! That’s not to say that course books aren’t well written by committed, brilliant teachers and that they aren’t edited by brilliant people and that they don’t represent a fantastic… — It’s not a “suppository” is it? What’s the word I’m looking for? Course books are a fantastic suppository of knowledge. No! — …a fantastic repository of knowledge! Because they do. But that doesn’t mean that we have to use them! It’s telling me to get on with it, isn’t it? Well then, it’s necessary! Let us proceed!
Just a quick note, that’s a note to myself… What?! It seems to be… The technology is playing up! What’s going on? Ok, so while this is giving us a light show, I’ll just read a little bit –so this is where I said I’d refer to the small screen here– from a blog I wrote last year on a Delta Publishing website which is to do with identity. And this relates very strongly to the focus on learner lives, allowing people into the room. It’s important for ELT and EFL students; it’s especially important for ESL students. Any teachers here primarily engaged with ESOL students? Ok, lots of you – that looks like about half of the room. So their identities and the language they need to find and express, a new identity, in a new country are absolutely critical in our working lives. And I’ve started to think about a plenary that I watched Bonny Norton give at IATEFL in April of last year, which was in… It was the previous year, actually… It was in Cardiff. And I wrote “Bonny Norton’s IATEFL plenary in April, explored the links between language and identity, contrasting the difficulties…” Sorry “…contrasting the experience of learners whose identities were not allowed expression in the classroom, with those who were. One of the latter, Rosita, was quoted as saying: ‘When you communicate, you think your own English.’” Isn’t that a lovely quote? Not mine, Bonny Norton’s. Rosita. When you communicate, when you’re allowed that space to talk and interact, you think your own English. And then I added: “When our identity is allowed expression, the language we need emerges. Why do the lives of the learners matter? Not just because they are interesting and not just because their exploration language yield of immediate relevance and value. But because without space for them in the teaching process, space to establish and express the identity, they want to bring to the classroom, they will be disenfranchised and they won’t learn the English they need. So that issue runs really deep. It’s not just about methodology — it’s about identity.
Ok, so that’s six down. We’ve got fourteen to go, and we need to get moving. Another one? And I’ll only accept it with a bingo phrase! Candy?
One. What’s the bingo for one? “On its own! All alone!” Well, you’ve seen one anyway, so we’ll do it really quickly. The idea of the dotted line here and showing you that arrow –the thin arrow– to show that we’re moving away from pre-planned ideas ideally and emphasizing more the post-planning element — the reflection of what’s come out of a class and what the next step, and the next lesson is going to be. So that’s one kind of a reversal of the paradigm. And my dotted line here is a kind of adaptation of another strong paradigm in terms of lesson planning, which is fixed times. So we plan lessons and we say: “That’s going to be five minutes.” It’s so stressful — it is to me! I mean, I think there are different ways of doing this in class, and I think different personalities are going to choose different ways and I think every teacher has to find their own way to do it. But you know, again, just like anticipating unexpected events, deciding that a task is going to take a certain amount of time, doesn’t allow us to let that buzz go on. If we’re more focused on timing, we miss learning opportunities. And that dotted line just means “Be flexible!” It means “be flexible” in two ways: It means that if something is going really well, let it run — don’t cut it off in its prime! And if something is indeed going badly, just –you know– admit it! You know, we’ve all been there! And it’s much easier to kind of do that if we’ve kind of downgraded the timing’s element of a lesson plan. And it becomes easier if you’ve already done it with a class before. All of this humanizes the classroom. It makes us less tense as teachers. And as Fernando said in the conversation just before we started, it makes teaching more fun for us as well as the learners. We all remember the teachers in school who just looked like they didn’t want to be there! And it was horrible doing talks back then! You’d see that it was almost anything they’d rather do, than teach! So if we can find ways to distress in the classroom, then that transmits itself really clearly to the learners. And once you’ve done that, once you’ve humanized your teaching practice, it becomes really easy to say: “It’s not really an interesting activity, is there?” You thought it would be! I thought about it, on the way in to work, I thought this text was going to really interest you — about the burglar that got caught. But not really! Let’s move on, OK?
Another one. So we’re seven down now!
Nineteen. Ok, bingo for nineteen? You don’t spend enough time in bingos. Nor do I! Nor do I. But I thought it would be at least one bingo fan at the British council. “Revisit, revise, reshape”. Ok, this relates to the post-planning element within unplugged teaching. Always go back to the language that emerged in the previous lesson. Create your own routines so you become less dependent on course book routines. And again, it isn’t rocket science — these can be basic, kind of involved teaching practices, such as: during or after class, boarding a certain number of words that caused problems; a number of words that have been correctly introduced into the lesson, and saying: “Ok I want you to write six sentences using words you’ve never known before or you’ve never encountered before, words that are new to you, words that we’ve talked about, words that hopefully the teachers have taught and the learners have learned –whatever that means– and put them into sentences of your own. Find a context for them.” Which is a good way of establishing as a learner and from a teacher’s perspective, whether or not they’ve been learned. But also work with words you already know. You know, don’t put emphasis on the new language, don’t put all the emphasis on problem language. Start at the new lesson. This came up yesterday. Revise a little quiz on the way to work. Use the course books to learn tasks that you can introduce, but bringing you own language into the information gaps. Or gap-fill. Or gap sentences. So, revisit, revise, reshape. So there’s a lot of that coming back, suggested by that post planning idea of the arrow that comes back. Create your own routine. It’s not chaotic teaching! It really isn’t about just seeing what happens and then go with the flow. It’s about really focusing all the time. It’s quite a demanding way of teaching. But we demand a lot of learners – think of all the processes that are involved in learning a second language! Incredibly complex! Fantastic amounts of multiple tasking going on – multitasking! I think we should be able to the same as teachers.
Oh! Well, I’ve done it now! “Have fun”. We’ve dealt with “that, haven’t we? You’re all happy with having fun? Yeah, have fun, all right? Because it is good for everyone. It transmits itself really clearly to the learners. Sorry, if you were hoping to say “twenty”, it’s gone!
Well, another one.
Well, we’ve had three. Sorry!
Fifteen. Let’s see what fifteen is. This is where it starts to get tense, when there aren’t so many slides left. Ok, “Turn everyday life into dialogues, roll plays, narratives”. Talk about the challenges people are facing. Help them shape their language for next time. People living in the UK will have things they need to do in English. They might be incredibly difficult things like dealing with immigration solicitors or immigration policy. They might be difficult things which can still be stressful –they’re not life and death, but stressful– like dealing with a landlord in a second language, when –you know– your vocabulary and, you know, your exposure to text of that sort isn’t strong. They may be in some disagreement with flat mates. Those are rather negative things I’ve suggested, but actually there’s no reason why all should be, you know, happy-clappy in classroom: people have problems and, again, this is a way of helping them, really helping them with a language they need — which in turn can really help them with dealing with those challenges. So help them shape their language for the next time. If they’re going to have a conversation with someone to try and get a job, or to try and set up a bank account, then use the kind of language they’ve already got and help them shape it into something more useful and effective and then role-play it in class. You’ll notice all kind of familiar things. But they’re almost bits from course books and resource books that have been emptied of preset content and you’re taking the frameworks and then filling them with learner situation, learner lives, learner language.
Ok, next slide. You’ve got no more ideas than I have which slides have been chosen, have you?
Ok, we’ll come back to four, I promise. Two: “No-to-copier” – instead of “photocopier”. Use texts that are short enough to dictate. There’s really no need for photocopiers — they cause so much trouble! I’ve done this tracing with that first slide, which is quite a kind of full-on start to the talk, that you can get a lot just by reading a single paragraph from a newspaper story. And then playing with the language, getting your hands dirty on the language — see what comes out of it. So just use texts that are short enough to dictate and you can enjoy a more relaxed coffee in the morning, while other people queue at the photocopier or kick the photocopier… Or queue outside the principal’s office saying: “Why isn’t that photocopier not working again?!”
This was another short text. We won’t do this as a task ‘cause we shall run out of time – but this is another example. This is a kind of how you can tailor your choice of short texts to your learners. So this will be a nice discussion text for you as group of people — because in addition to being highly advanced as speakers, you are teachers. So what’s the blank here? You don’t have to write it down as a dictation. “Phone –this is a news story from a couple of months ago– Phone language teachers in some British secondary schools are not prepared to use –blank– class. Watchdog Ofsted, said.
It can be dangerous. Any other suggestions?
“IWB dictionaries”. Ok, phone language is the really depressing of an Ofsted report. “Phone language teachers in some British secondary schools are not prepared to use foreign languages in class.” — Watchdog Ofsted, said. “Others made insufficient use of authentic written material, such as foreign language websites” the group claimed. “Too often the students were not –this is a quote from this text– taught how to respond to everyday requests. And that’s routine work and the target language and opportunities to use it spontaneously were too few.” Here we are, foreign languages barriers in classes. So that’s another example of what in this context would be quite a rich text if we took it to a slower pace and explored all those different options. And a nice thing you can do with a gap-fill short text like this is play with the ideas that came up. So if the first line of that text were: “Phone language teachers in secondary schools are not using thinking, a report claims.” — write the next sentence of what that story would be, how does that change, how that text moves on.
Ok. I think four was the next one, wasn’t it? We’ve had the “PLN”… “What’s the buzz”. And again, I’ve dealt with this, so you see we start to move through these slides a bit more quickly as the picture starts to become a little bit clearer. “What’s the buzz”. Don’t stop a conversation to start a conversation. If there’s some event happening around or something happened … even if it’s just pouring with rain — you know, that’s likely to be something people are already talking about: all the transport and the mess that often is in London… You know, use that to start a lesson, rather than coming in with something random from a course book. This actually isn’t a random… I’m doing the slides in a random order but it’s a really organic way of teaching. It’s just drawing out what’s already there rather than putting stuff in that a different sort of structure suggests should be there.
Ok, that was number four.
Seventeen. Good call. Bingo for seventeen?
“Teenage queen.” Nice. “Trust in the human.” Ok, this is where I get pretentious. It’s also where I have to admit that I’m sort of taking a sentence from another context just because I liked it. There was a lovely article in written about the need for a more humane economics in the Independent just before Christmas, which drew on this quote from, I think, an eighteen century economic thinker, Ferdinando Galliani. Whose Italian is good enough to read that out to the group? Who would like to read it out? I meant just to read the Italian.
-“La ricchezza e una ragione tra due persone.”
Thank you, Melissa. Lovely! So the translation that this writer used was: “Richness lies in the relationship between two people.” I’m not actually sure it’s the right translation, but it’s good enough for me. That’s the meaning I want to convey. “Richness lies in the reason, the relationship between two people.” How much do we need in a classroom? What do we lose when we have too much stuff in our hands or in our minds that we want to get done that day? I referred to Twitter earlier on. A few weeks ago I read a wonderful tweet –a two word tweet– and very often people try to write as much as they can in 140 characters. And software solutions have a reason to allow people to write more than 140 characters and link to it from Twitter – which I think is cheating! 140 characters is the idea but you rarely read tweets as brilliant or as concise as this. It was two words, and because I knew the person who’d sent it, I was pretty sure I knew what she meant. It was this lady sitting here called Candy and is now holding her head… And she just said — her tweet was: “Listen, ask.” And because I’ve worked with and spoken to Candy on many occasions, I just tweeted back: “What a fantastic definition of unplugged teaching.” Listen, ask. In fact, I was quite annoyed ‘cause after spending two years writing a book trying to define it I hadn’t come up with something as brilliant as that. The reason I love it is that it doesn’t start with the teacher saying something. You know, it starts with listening and it doesn’t continue with telling or fixing — it’s asking! Listen, ask. Listen, ask. That is a fantastic summary of what we’re all about here. So thank you Candy for that!
Let’s have another slide. I can’t even read what I’ve crossed out. Let’s see what’s left.
Twelve, dig and delve. Here we are. Lovely picture. The idea here is “Get out of the way”. Let thought and language breathe. Listen, ask. Don’t start speaking until the learners start speaking. This is an activity in the book. And the activity is one of Scott’s and it is to put a picture up in the classroom and I’m sure it’s something we’ve all done. We’re not saying any of this is original but we’re suggesting it is all good practice. Put a picture up that you think will interest the class and then don’t do anything! If it’s interesting enough people will start talking! What’s going on there?
Kiddies and piggies. What’s going on there?
Laughing. The pigs are reading, yeah. What is this? This is a real picture. It’s a news picture. That’s a real scene. It’s not a story scene, something fictional. Hasn’t been posed. Does anyone know the story? It’s always been on the news over the last few months. Ok, this is a primary school in Rochdale, and the story is… Don’t tell me I’ve lost the original story! What happened is that the pigs were introduced –I think it might be here– into a classroom –Here we go– to essentially help the children be nicer to one another. And this is the original story: “Kids have swapped a playpen for a pigpen by getting their own pair of porkies in their class. Charlie and Lola live in the reception class at St Edwards primary school in Castleton Rochdale. The minute the pigs were brought in to encourage kids to be nurturing and nicer to each other. Headteacher Lynne Coxell says they have made themselves perfectly at home and aren’t hogging the limelight.” You knew it won’t be long. Ok. Now, I’ve first used this before Christmas. I think it’s a lovely picture and a lovely story, actually. But wait, here’s the continuation: “A rash move at school, pigs outgrow their welcome. People have said good bye to classroom pets, which turned out to be real porkers. Children at St Edwards were delighted when pint-sized piglets, Charlie and Lola, arrived last year, but teachers grew suspicious as they swelled in size. The pair were thought to be micro-breeds, a miniature breed, which just grow to twelve inches tall, but they turned out to be a whopping Tamworth and pot-bellied pigs and munched their way through sacks of feed.”
Another nice activity in the book is using a short reading text with numbers in it. It’s something I’m sure it’s familiar to you from another places. But it’s another nice example of using a small amount of input for big amount of conversation and a ready-made task. So this text you could use for 2, 12, 800, 6, 300, 5… What’s the significance of all those numbers? So the pre-task is to look at numbers and then it is to listen, and then it’s to discuss. So where were we?
“They munch their way through sacks of feed, a Tamworth can weigh up to 800 pounds and eat its way through eat six pounds of vegetables in feed each day, while a pot-belly pig can tip the scale at 300 pounds. The […50.30] and the special pen in the reception class have now been returned to the farm which bred them. The school is now taking delivery of two real micro pigs named Wibbly and Pepper by children.” Ok now, when I located this on the website this afternoon, this follow-up story, I went for the print version. You know when you have a website story that says “print version” and you think you’re going to get one page? They gave me twelve! Which I don’t think is much of a print version. However, it reveals that people can get cross about anything online. And there’s a comment, a first comment: “Why did the school not go to Trading Standards? They were conned when sold these pigs, like many, many others! Also, you show me one pig in the UK that is twelve inches! They are not, they are a lot bigger! There is now a Facebook page called for the truth about mini pigs and how big they actually grow to!” There you go, follow on Facebook. Oh, dear, there we go. And then someone named “Stuck in lateroom”: “P.S. Archie. Don’t forget the fact that [… 51.43] your bald spot. Wouldn’t want to boil what few brain cells you have, would you?” It doesn’t take long for a fight to start online.
Ok, so that was a long way around a simple task: put up a question… Uhm… “put up a question!” Put up a picture and see what happens. I don’t know how many more we’ve got. How many to pass through quickly, otherwise we shall run out of time. So that’s where we started. 20 Steps to Teaching Unplugged. We’ve done the “No-to-copier”, we’ve done the “PLN”, we’ve done “What’s the buzz” I think. Don’t stop a conversation… Yeah then get on with it! There’s booze over there! “See each lesson as a social event”. Yes…
“Find the angle”. New and exciting, different, different directions are these arrows – but they’re the same arrows, a thin and a thick, and the idea here, again, is very simple: reversal of the prevailing paradigm, the Orthodoxy that is expressed in pre-service and in-service training courses — which is top-down. The whole idea that we pre-teach… Sorry, we predetermine what we’re going to teach in class, and we teach it in the set order. So what we’re trying to do is explore stuff bottom-up, and of course there are many contexts –even in this country, where I don’t really think there is a rationale for it, and in many other countries where there is– for the many reasons why teachers have to use a course book. So the question there –and this is something that we spoke about in Glasgow and will again in Cardiff, in June– is how can you unplug (with) the course book. And that’s something we won’t go in in detail here. But if you are using a course book, look for ways to get into it kind of before you start using it. Is anyone who is using a course book at the moment, and can they tell me the theme of the current unit?
Childhood. Ok, so does it start with pre-task and a reading text or a listening text? I don’t know… I mean, if it’s a course book unit, it will start with some combination of…
A song? Ok, fantastic.
- Cat Stevens.
-Cat Stevens? Well, there you go. But, you know, maybe before listening to the song and seeing what the book writers had to say about it, see what your learners have to say about it; see what their perspectives on childhood are — credibly rich! And maybe that we’ll make the course book more interesting when you get to it. “So we’ve talked about our childhood perspectives today,” you can say, “tomorrow we’ll see what other people have to say about it in the course book.” So you dimensionalise your class; you’ve effectively got two roots into this theme.
So that was “Find the angle”. We shall proceed.
“Focus on learner lives”. We’ve done that.
“Full English”. Ok, this is just a favourite warmer of mine. Ask people what they’ve had for breakfast. Sometimes people ask after talks or in conversation with us: “Isn’t this way of teaching English just for confident speakers?” And the answer is “No, it’s not!” Because this way of teaching is all about using ordinary events that are common to all of us, to ensure everyone in a class takes an equal turn.
And I simply don’t accept that there are nationalities that are more or less willing to speak and that enjoy speaking more or less, provided that the way in which the conversation is set up is bottom up and doesn’t set the bar too high. There are different cultural expectations for giving opinions in class — we know that,. So if we’re asking people to say something semipublicly about a big theme like the environment, then some people will have more to say than others ‘cause they have been brought up to feel more comfortable expressing opinions than others. But everyone can talk about what they have for breakfast. And it makes a great warmer. So that’s it: “Full English” — I changed that to “Full Scottish” in Edinburgh. I don’t think it has ever taken the train down from Scotland to England, but you never know when to stop thinking whether it’s a full Scottish and think it’s a full English, ‘cause you can get into trouble! In little words: start small! Don’t come in trying to create a big conversation about a big theme. Start with the little details. And they will repay you.
Ok, “On their toes”. Reconstruction. Someone says something, ask the class to play it back. And you can do this unexpectedly. So someone makes a contribution, and you can say: “Ok, write down what he or she has just said.” And it’s a great way to make ordinary contributions feel important — which they are, because they’re made in learner language. That’s also great in keeping people on their toes.
What was that last thing I said? Reconstruct with others I said, and it’s a good way to keep people on their toes. OK.
Here we go: “Bend me shape me”… “Focus on learner language”… We’re nearly there! “Get out of the way”… “Let thought and language breathe”. “Create reference points”.
“Make use of bottom-up technology”. We’re not against technology, we’re against top-down technology which just provides new ways to deliver language and the process forms in the classroom. So we’re definitely against IWB plugins. What’s the point of those? However, you know, most people in your classes in the UK, or any classes in the whole world, will have access to basic technology in the form of mobile phones that allows them to do all sorts of things outside the classroom and bring it into class without thinking twice! Take a picture on the way to class yourself. If you have the technology, display it in class. “Where do you think I took this picture?” Conversation. It might be a picture you took at the weekend. “What was I doing, where was I going?” This is a way of sharing a little bit about your life. You’re not going to take a picture of your own bedroom — you don’t want to embarrass yourself or anyone else!
Take a picture on your way to class and then it becomes a task that’s been established and then you ask them to do the same. And then it becomes this really rich activity, and then if you do that and you’re committed to it, you’ll find the people doing it without being asked. They’ll say: Ah, I’ve got something to share!”
Make a note. You can do that on paper, or you can do it on a mobile phone as you’ve seen me, fooling around with the IPhone. “Record a sound” is an activity in the book which suggests that you invite people — and again, you can model this by doing it the first time yourself; record three different environments you’re in over weekend, play them in class. “Where was I? Put together the story of my weekend.” And again, if you were at a funeral, don’t include that! If you had a terrible row with your partner, don include… Well, that might be just interesting, I don’t know. You could get some good advice — you’d like that Candy!
Set up a shared space. I do believe in this to be a safe space as well. So you share just enough of your own life to encourage learners to do the same.
Moving swiftly on… Oh, I took this about 24 hours ago, if you actually do know where it is –because some of you do know– don’t say! But if it’s a genuine guess, where do you think I took that picture?
-It is in Istanbul!
It is in Istanbul! So I was there last night.
-It’s the Sultan Suspension Bridge.
It’s the Sultan Suspension Bridge. I don’t know what is called, actually. You know the name… It was taken from a boat, we had this amazing… I don’t usually take pictures like this but since I did, I thought I’d share it. We were right underneath this tall, tall suspension bridge, going in a boat and that is indeed Istanbul.
Ok, we’re nearly there! “Turn everyday life into dialogues, role plays and narratives”… Yeah, yeah, yeah…
“Use evolved learning practices such as repetition, drilling and memorisation”. They work! I’ve come across this phrase: “evolved behaviour”, and I googled it and it kind of makes sense to me, but I don’t really know, I’m assuming it’s a sociological term. I don’t know if I’m using it right, but the family is an example supposedly of an evolved social unit. We haven’t really come up with any better way of raising children and some kind of family unit. You know, repetition, drilling and memorisation can also play their part in the dogma classroom, because very often, they work. I went to a great workshop by Nick Bilbrough about two weeks ago and he suggested –as you know, other people have– again, none of us claims this is rocket science, but a good way to remember something is to come up with some kind of visual mnemonic. And as I was in Istanbul and struggling terribly to learn any Turkish words ‘cause they were very unfamiliar to me, I tried to employ this in learning the word “cheers” which I think is probably in the top five words one needs in a new language and the first word is “thank you”, actually. And that’s quite a tricky word in Turkish. And the variant is even trickier than the normal word. But… So the word for “cheers” is “sherife”. So I thought: “What’s the visual mnemonic for this? You drink too much, you get arrested by the sheriff!” And it stuck! And fortunately I had several opportunities to say “Sherife!”
So it’s as old as the hills that way of learning – but it works! Learning isn’t all about bells and whistles. And don’t feel that in adopting a different take on teaching or a different approach if you want to go further with it, that you need to throw the baby out with the bath water. And after I did a talk in Edinburgh and seeing these slides –most of them– a lady came up and said: “I’m so glad you said ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.’” That was the main thing that she’d taken out of it. And I agree, you know. It’s so important that, you know, we’re not saying: “Forget everything we’ve ever learned before!” We’re just taking different ways to apply it, in words that are more relevant to the learners and more fun to do.
“Get in the zone”. Very quickly… I’m not going to do much about this. The zone is the zone of proximal development. This relates to Vygotsky, it relates to socio-cultural theory, and it relates to the idea of scaffolding: the idea that someone with a bit more knowledge than the person they are teaching, helps them up to the next level. I like to think that this is kind of nudging the learner’s language. If a learner’s language is here… It’s never there, ‘cause I’s always spiky, their profiles are spiky and the language is good in that direction but not so good in another… But if their language is here and we’re trying to teach them something from up here, there’s a big gap to get to. If we go to their language and say: “Look, you can do this with it, you can improve it, you can be clearer if you say this, you’ll sound more correct if you say this, you’ll sound more forceful if you say this…” We’re just nudging it. And in a way we’re doing it at the learner’s level. It’s a bit like sitting down with people you’re teaching and talking to them –which can be quite powerful– rather than standing up as I am now.
So you’re starting to do things at the level of the learners. And I find the zone for proximal development –a slightly scary phrase– actually a very human idea, a very human metaphor for how we attend to our learners, how we think about what they are saying, and especially how we think about how we can help them. Helping is the key.
“Revisit, revise, reshape”, “Have fun”… That’s it! Any questions?
Thanks for listening everyone! It’s a slightly odd way of doing a presentation, but I hope it was of some use.
Transcript created by Cristina Mindu