Hello world!

 

Welcome to Teacher Talking Time.

This is a blog for teachers interested in teacher education, teacher training and development, teaching and learning and related topics. We will be inviting a variety of  people to share their experiences on a regular basis – so keep coming back!.

The latest post is by Galina an ITI DELTA student working in Samara, Russia. She describes the three-day ITI Master Classes held at her University. Liz and I had a wonderful time and thank Galina for inviting us and also writing it up for our blog. 

I have written the first two posts to get the ball rolling. My first post is about ‘whole person learning’ and explains my personal philosophy that learning should utilise the whole person in terms of stimulating the mind, body and emotions.

My second post is also personal and describes my experiences over the last two years facing cancer. Like staring down from a precipice, confronting our fragile mortality is terrifying, and yet, at the same time by confronting the inevitable, it provides a unique opportunity to perceive from a new and sharper perspective and to learn valuable lessons about the nature of learning and life.

I hope you enjoy these postings and future ones.

Best wishes

Tom Godfrey (Director of ITI)

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Drama Workshops and a performance by ‘Performance Exchange’ a professional theatre based in the UK.

Tickets from:www.speechbubbles.org  

DRAMA WORKSHOPS and Performance at Speech Bubbles

By Performance Exchange

A professional theatre company based in the UK

Drama Workshop for young performers (age 7 – 12)

Sunday 29th September 11.00 – 12.30

Register here now:

Drama Workshop for adult performers

Sunday 29th September 16.00 – 17.30

Register here now.

The workshops may include the following:

1) Voice – For all those who use the voice. Based on the “Listening in” and “Whispered Ah” techniques.

2) Movement – Centering, breathing, physical expression in performance – Japanese Kabuki and Noh theatre techniques.

3) Masks – Eyes, faces, masks – a great introductory workshop.

4) Mask Making – Paper, papier mache, wood, cloth – for all ages.

5) Acting – Monologue, Improv, audition technique.

6) Shakespeare – Themes, rhythm, poetry, language, staging. acting – The Bards best bits.

Performance Exchange presents

AN EVENING WITH CHARLES DICKENS AND MARK TWAIN

Sunday 29th September 16.00 – 17.30

Performance Exchange is an independent London based theatre company presenting exciting, thought-provoking and innovative productions that tour to all corners of the globe and to far away and remote destinations. The company was formed in 1981 and is an “Exchange” of performers, designers, actors, writers and directors. The company has toured to 37 countries (and counting). For the British Council we have toured to Germany, Korea, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong. Our actors also offer exciting workshops, master classes, discussions and Q&A’s on theatre, acting, directing and cross-cultural theatre projects.

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Tickets from:www.speechbubbles.org  
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Speech Bubbles 30th Anniversary Celebrations

Chicago

Saturday 7th September and Sunday 8th September

Interested? Click here

The two-day celebration aims to bring together participants on ITI training courses, tutors, TP students and members of Speech Bubbles to a ‘get together’ to share experiences through a series of presentations, workshops, discussions, party games and many other fun activities.

30th Anniversary Celebration Provisional Programme

Saturday 7th September 10.00: Welcome address

10.30 – 13.30: Talks and Workshops

13.30 – 14.30: Lunch

14.30 – 17.30: Talks and Workshops

19.00: Bosphorous Boat Party and Dinner

Sunday 8th September

14.00 – 15.00: Shakespeare for Dummies. Performance.

15.00 – 16.30: Performance by Speech Bubbles (kids and adults). Plus Imporv and Stand up.

16.30 – 17.30: Pecha Kucha

17.30 – 19.00: “Pub” Quiz

19.00 – 20.00: Scottish Country Dancing

20.30 – 21.30: Cocktail Party

Please inform us which days and events you are intending to attend as interest is high by following this link: https://doodle.com/poll/qvcfe2p98b95ag6v

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ITI 30th anniversary celebrations and awards re-uniting friends and colleagues

The two-day celebration aims to bring together participants on ITI training courses, tutors, TP students and members of Speech Bubbles to a ‘get together’ to share experiences through a series of presentations, workshops, discussions, party games and many other fun activities. 

Nominations for the ITI Awards.

The ITI awards are to celebrate the impact and innovation of ITI graduates in different aspects of English language teaching (ELT) and to provide a forum to share and disseminate innovative practice. The ITI Awards aim to elicit practical innovative ideas in general so no idea is too small or large. If you are interested in submitting an idea, please click here for further information.

30th Anniversary Celebrations: The Provisional Programme.

Saturday 7th September 

10.00 – 17.00: ITI Innovation Awards Presentations and Conference.

19.00:  Bosphorous Boat Party and Dinner

Sunday 8th September

14.00 – 17.00: Celebrations and party activities at ITI

17.00 – 19.30: Speech Bubbles show

19.30 – 21.30: Cocktail Party

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Are learners today awake or Sleeping Beauties?

Who is going to kiss the Princess?

Who is going to kiss the Princess?

One of my favourite drama based lessons (attached below) is based on the story of the Sleeping Beauty. The story can be seen as an allegory of the human condition and raises awareness of the nature of consciousness.

The term ‘raising awareness’ is often used in teacher training. The aim of many lesson plans produced by techers I observe is to raise awareness of a specific grammatical structure, a lexical set or a sub skill. However what is rarely defined is how a learners’ awareness can be raised – indeed what is awareness anyway.

Order versus chaos

I look at teaching as a delicate balance between the forces of order and chaos. Order consists of the elements that we know (what we have control over), it is the lesson plan, the materials and handouts, the lesson stages and their sequence. It is based on our knowledge of the subject and teaching methodology. For teachers it is their armour which protects them from the unknown. However a lesson that is too ordered is like a chess match in which every move has been rehearsed in advance. On the surface it looks like a productive lesson with each sequence following the next but in reality nothing is really happening apart from pre-ordained sequences, certainly nothing is being learned by the teacher or the learners. Unfortunately many lessons do suffer from this over controlling teacher centeredness as teachers fear the unknown and over compensate with too much order. A life that is too ordered is a life spent unconscious.

Chaos on the other hand is the unknown. It is unpredictable and every lesson needs to have an element of risk to encounter the unfamilair and provide learning opportunities. It is only by entering the unfamiliar that we can experience new phenomena. Chaos occurs when in chess our opponent makes a move we hadn’t expected and suddenly we are in new territory and our previous experience and knowledge needs to be adapted. However unchecked chaos is simply anarchy, directionless and random, a lesson with no focus, aims or direction. There must be rules and order in proportion.

So how is this balance between order and chaos achieved? Well, I believe this is where the concept of awareness raising is important. It is consciousness that allows us to negotiate a balance. Consciousness allows us to negotiate meaning and enables us to make sense of the boundaries between the known and the unknown. Awareness raising allows us to open our eyes and understand what we are seeing. It is the mechanism that enables us to perceive both our vulnerability and our strengths in action. However awareness raising has its limits, we are only able to focus on certain things at a time. To most of the world we are blind as demonstrated by the experiments of D. Simons who showed that when told to focus on basketball players and count the number of passes completed, observers were unable to ‘see’ a huge gorilla walk onto the court. So we can not focus on everything and what we do focus on therefore is valued, why else we would focus on it at the expense of other elements.

The fairy tale of the Sleeping Beauty provides a ueful allegory to help understand the relationship between order, chaos and awareness (consciousness). After many years of frustration and dispair, the King and Queen are finally blessed with a baby daughter, the princess Rose. Such is their joy they invite everyone to a christening to introduce her to the world and to allow everyone to show their joy by bringing gifts. However despite their elevated position, the King and Queen soon realise that they are unable to control their destiny. The christening raises some dilemmas: firstly what gift can you give a princess? The fairies gifts of beauty, and song will soon prove to be of little value. Secondly how do you prevent unwelcome guests?

The evil witch (furious at not being invited) curses the princess, sentencing her to death at the age of sixteen, caused by the prick of a spinning wheel’s needle. The story illustrates that even the most protective of parents can not protect their daughter from chaos. Indeed trying to protect her actually makes her weak and vulnerable. The spinning wheel is the wheel of fate, the prick that produces blood symbolises the loss of viginity and innocence.

The spell (fortuitiously) is reduced by the third ‘good’ fairy to eternal sleep redeemable only by a true love’s first kiss. The terrified monarchs destroy all the spinning wheels in the land and turn their daughter to the constant attention of the good fairies. Of course the strategy of removing all dangers from the princess is not only ultimately futile but leaves the princess naive, innocent and weak. As I said earlier, without exposure to chaos we can not learn and develop. Sure enough on her sixteenth birthday Rose pricks her finger on a spinning wheel and falls into unconsciousness. She becomes the Sleeping Beauty choosing unconsciousness over the terrors of adult life.

Something existentially similar occurs in modern life where over protected children seek the bliss of an ordered safe routine often involving large stretches of time unconsciously absorbed in front of screens (phones, TVs, computers). Take the young adolscent play station addict who is selfishly self absorbed gaming every evening. The parents feel this behaviour is anti-social but are too nice to intervene. More truthfully they do not pay attention or admit to what is happening, non-confrontation is the easier route. They are annoyed of course but pretend everything is OK. It is not OK. They will snap at their child later for something totally unrelated. The child will be hurt and confused but will learn nothing. Far worse is that he or she will continue to learn nothing. Later they will have problems socialising at school, they will feel rejected, and lonely. That will produce anxiety, depression and resentment. That in turn will produce the turning from life, more screen time and a wish for unconsciousness and the existence of a Sleeping Beauty.

Fun drama based lesson

This is a fun integrated skills lesson practicing reading and speaking skills based on the fairy tale: the Sleeping Beauty. By the end of the lesson students will have practiced controlled and less guided speaking practice leading into a dramatization of the story.

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If you saw the film – Don’t miss this show

Speech Bubbles has come a long way since our first musical (Grease) performed at Robert College in 1999. This year we are celebrating 30 years of musicals and pantomimes supporting children and education in Turkey.

This weekend Speech Bubbles theatre group are performing We Will Rock You by Queen at the Torun Centre, Mecidiyekoy. Book your ticket: http://www.speechbubbles.org

We Will Rock You is a story about a future world where everything is controlled by one large technology company. The population is taught how to think and behave the same. Fortunately, there are a few ‘free thinkers’ (the Bohemians) who still believe in creativity and the power of ‘rock music. In many ways this dystopian world is not unlike the reality of today where children spend hours passively in front of screens, failing to communicate or think critically – only the Bohemians struggle to stay awake and dream of a brighter future.

This is the ethos behind Speech Bubbles. We are a multi-national group of musicians, actors, teachers and other professionals joined by our love of the performing arts and the desire to raise money to support education and children in Turkey.

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Transformative Teaching: Channeling Energy in the classroom.

 

What is exceptional teaching? This is a question that, as a teacher trainer, has preoccupied me for the last 40 years. What makes an exceptional teacher?

A production line view of education.

Traditionally education is perceived as a process similar to the production of a MacDonald’s meal. The ingredients are assembled (course books and materials), a methodology is followed and the anticipated outcome is predicted in the form of learning, which is then tested and evaluated.

This is a static, and mechanical view of education. It reduces the teaching process into parts: curriculum, materials, teaching methods and learning outcomes and attempts to apply objective standards to each component. Unfortunately the conception disravels as learners do not behave in a standard manner (unlike ingredients in a MacDonald’s hamburger). Learners are not readily standardised. It is a source of inescapable confusion to academics and administrators that learners defy all attempts at logic and rationality imposed on them.

Furthermore I have noticed that on teacher training courses there is intense reductionist pressure to identify objective teacher competences that are observable and measurable. This obsession with standardisation is evident on the CELTA where, for example, trainee teachers are evaluated against a list of criteria and marked as standard or not to standard. Teachers, of course, are no more malleable to standardisation than learners.

Samples of criteria from the CELTA course

The criteria judges whether a teacher can plan a lesson, and effectively set up the activities, (assemble the ingredients and process them in an appropriate manner). These are basic requirements of a teacher and therefore it is not unreasonable to focus on these in an initial training course. However these are standard competences: what competences measure an exceptional teacher?


Criteria for a Distinction grade at Delta

Let us look at the pinnacle of ELT teaching expertise – a distinction at Delta! This represents the highest practical qualification an ELT teacher can obtain and therefore should describe the competencies of an exceptional teacher. The criteria, however, is surprisingly similar to the CELTA criteria describing the observable processes of planning and executing a lesson. It too mirrors the pattern of producing a MacDonald’s hamburger – assembling ingredients and processing them effectively. Admittedly in this description of an exceptional teacher we have the inclusion of subjectivity: ‘in-depth’ understanding and ‘highly developed’ awareness of learners but essentially the criteria to evaluate a highly experienced exceptional teacher are not dissimilar to those used to rate a ‘standard’ teacher of no previous teaching experience. In this paradigm there are no exceptional teachers and there are no ‘exceptional’ McDonald’s hamburgers – everything congeals around ‘the standard’.

Objective criteria describing teachers’ behaviour (planning and executing lessons) are of limited value in terms of identifying what distinguishes an exceptional teacher. Competences that define teacher’s behaviour are simply stating what a teacher does but avoiding the more subjective judgment involved in how effectively they do it. What is happening under the surface?

Ticking the boxes on a list of competences does not identify exceptions. All teachers plan and teach lessons. It reminds me of my mother who claimed to be an excellent driver because in her words:”I have never had an accident”. She was a terrible driver.

I am a member of a choir and we have had three choral directors. In terms of their observable behaviour they all tick the boxes in terms of their knowledge of music and how they conduct choir rehearsals. However in terms of their interactions with the choir they are very different. The first was young, dynamic and had an infectious enthusiasm. He was a ‘Caregiver’ who was loved and admired and had a close, easy-going relationship with the choir. The second director was more of a ‘Leader’. He was forceful, arrogant and led by force of his determination and vision. He met with considerable resistance initially but was confident in his own abilities and manipulated the choir into his style through attrition. The third conductor is more passive and focussed on the music rather than relationship building. The choir demanded him to take more of a leadership role and discipline members for not pulling their weight or adopt a more caring, emotional attachment but he was more focussed on the tasks (action). The point is that describing these choral directors in terms of objectifiable competences reveals little and fails to highlight their unique qualities.

The true qualities of a choir director

Outside education, in other areas of human activity there are noticeable developments: we are running faster, jumping higher, producing more and exploiting technology and artificial intelligence. There is an evolution in human endeavours, so why shouldn’t we be seeking an evolution in teaching and focus on what exceptional teachers are doing? These opening sections are a preamble leading to my response to the question that has preoccupied me for the last forty years: what distinguishes an exceptional teacher from a standard one? If we can not find the answer from behaviour alone we need to explore what is beneath the surface which manifests itself in observable behaviour?

The answer came to me when I considered the question: what causes change or transformation in general terms? What makes a light come on, an apple to fall from a tree or humans to act? These are manifestations of an energy flow, whether electrical, gravitational or other forms. We do not see electricity, radio waves or gravity but we are aware of their intrinsic power by virtue of their effects.

Teachers need to generate energy in the classroom and channel this energy in meaningful ways. All teachers are aware of energy in the classroom, and when it is lacking.

There is ample evidence of energy in the classroom

There are three identifiable energy forms that manifest in a classroom: physical, mental and emotional. We are familiar with physical energy and we are well aware that sometimes we are energised and at other times we are tired and listless. We know that if we are to complete an activity effectively we need to feel physically ‘up for it’. Although we can not observe the energy itself, there are observable effects. Energised learners have positive body language, they seek eye contact, their heads are up and they show an awareness of their surroundings. Learners lacking energy are slumped, with heads and eyes looking down and they appear distracted.

The second energy is mental. Again this is not observable but the evidence is very apparent. Learners with their heads down focussing on a problem are using mental energy. It is evident in their body language and also in their progress at completing the tasks. The third energy is emotional energy. Similarly this is evident when learners show their emotions; smiling, laughing, frowning crying. It is also evident from the atmosphere and interaction within the group.

When these energies are fused together and working in harmony – that is when a teacher becomes more aware of themselves, the learners and the context. It allows a group to achieve a state of ‘flow’. Teaching is about making choices and exceptional teachers have an expanded awareness of what those choices are and how they can be utilised in the classroom.

Learners need to be energised if learning is to take place

We are familiar with the classes lacking in energy. Learners are tired and listless. There is no engagement with the lesson content or tasks. Without energy, learning can not take place. It needs to be generated either by the teacher, or the learners themselves or the interaction between them. 

The Conductor.

The Conductor: modelling and mastering

Transform through physical energy.

Learning is active. We learn by doing. Learners need to read, write, speak and engage in activities. This energy can either be teacher generated by modelling and mastering behavior or learner generated through activities that encourage experimentation and creativity and interaction. This is perhaps the traditional view of the teachers’ role: the teacher is the master who models the processes for his learners who then aim to imitate the master and develop their skills through extensive practice. It conceives as learning as a craft and reflects the relationship between the master craftsman and apprentice. This balance between guidance and discovery is well documented in EFL methodology. The Conductor transforms through action, he is task oriented and seeks out possibilities for the implementation of ideas and plans of action. The Conductor asks the question: “How can I make this work?”

The Caregiver

Transform through emotional energy

The Caregiver: providing respect and a sense of belonging.

The Caregiver seeks connections, creating relationships, to make communication and sharing of ideas possible. She transforms by building a positive dynamic. The Caregiver asks the question: “What emotional support do my learners need? Effective teaching involves creating dynamic relationships between learners and the teacher. Collaborative learning is more rewarding and motivating than working alone. This energy can be focused by the teacher on individuals personally and uni-directional (ego enhancing) or it can be focused collaboratively to establish a group dynamic and a shared sense of belonging. How we feel about our learning is a crucial determinant of success. A feeling of well being, self-confidence in our abilities and high expectations influence the learning outcomes.

This influence is exercised in accordance with one’s self-efficacy beliefs, which are defined as the extent to which people think their actions will result in success. These beliefs are strong determinants of success (Bandura 2012a).

Low expectations lead to poor performance and high expectations to the opposite. The beliefs of others also has an important influence. Teachers’ expectations of their own competence effects the learning process. Teachers with higher efficacy manage time better (Bouffard-Bouchard et al. 1991), are more persistent when faced with challenges (Bandura and Schunk 1981), perceive more control over student success (Skaalvik 2010), are more committed to their job (Ware 2011) and exhibit greater job satisfaction and less job burnout (Klassen 2010).

The creator

Transform through mental energy

The Creator: generating thoughts and ideas

The Creator needs to be imaginative, to break boundaries and rules, to question and challenge. She aims to transform through imagination. She asks the question: “What’s possible?” Cognitive learning theory states that learners improve their understanding of the world by revising their frames of reference. These are shaped initially by social and cultural influences but are amenable to modification when individuals solve problems (instrumental learning) or discuss (communicative learning) while critically reflecting on the assumptions upon which interpretations, beliefs, and habits of mind or points of view are based (Mezirow 1996). Teachers can promote changes in attitudes and beliefs by having learners complete discovery learning exercises, such as projects, role plays, discussions, that engage students with concepts in a way that is relevant and meaningful for students’ lives (Mezirow 1997, 2000).

The Fusionist

Transform by fusion

The Leader: following a vision

The Fusionist proposes the vision and establishes shared outcomes. She asks the question: “What is our goal?” Intentional change theory derives from management literature. It involves first establishing an ideal self and a personal vision of the future. This is compared with a ‘real self’ and a learning plan devised to move between the two states by engaging in activities that allow experimentation new behaviours and development of relationships with people who can help progression towards their goal of realizing change.

Transformational leadership is a universal; paradigm for empowering, inspiring, and challenging individuals to transcend their own self interest for the purpose of achieving higher level of functioning *Bass and Riggio 2010)

The transformative teacher is one who is able to generate energy in the classroom and also balance how the energy flows. It requires heightened awareness of the context and the learners. A teacher needs to be sensitive to and aware of the undercurrents of energy to channel its flow appropriately:

  • Is direction and attention dissipating and unfocussed? A Conductor intervention is needed to re-establish structure and to model and set up practice activities that keep the learners active in a purposeful manner.
  • Is progress becoming too procedural and routine? A Creator intervention is required to open up ideas and fresh possibilities.
  • Is the group lacking cohesion and learners not listening to each other, or disrespecting other viewpoints? Caregiver skills are necessary to pay attention to the group dynamics and ensure cooperation and collaboration on tasks.
  • Are learners losing their way, questioning the process, undermining the teacher? It is time to assert Fusionist skills and restore a sense of purpose and mission.

The transformative teacher connects knowledge and wisdom, reason and intuition, logic and imagination. It is the space where a balance of the energies in the classroom are utilised.

The energy patterns are not equally balanced within us. As teachers we have preferences and aversions. Sometimes we can underplay an energy pattern by not utilising it – for instance being unwilling to allow too much creativity and exchange of ideas in preference for more teacher centered modelling and practise. Similarly we can overplay a preference. For example a teacher who overplays emotional energy can become overbearing and smother learners. They seek dependency in the learners rather than supporting them to be independent. While appearing to give emotional energy they are in fact seeking it for themselves and suck the strength from others.

Conclusion


If we conceive of learning as an active process, as most educationalists readily accept, then we must consider what is the impulse, the force that drives the action. I operate from the assumption that learning requires energy, in other words the force or power that makes things happen and individuals’ act.

I have examined how this energy manifests in the classroom in different guises and describe how these energies can be channeled by teachers and learners to foster learning and development. The power to channel energy effectively explains why some teachers are transformative and effect deep learning while others fail to channel the energy flow effectively.

My purpose is not to describe different roles that teachers perform in the classroom (this has been covered elsewhere in the literature). The aim is to demonstrate how a transformative teacher generates energy and channels it to create effective learning. Rather than focus on static, measureable, observable behaviour and standardising teacher competences, we need to remind ourselves that teachers are dynamic, changeable, vital personalities, each capable of personal development and growth. There are many forms of human energy which commentators from different traditions have identified as ‘chakras’ (yoga), ‘chi’ (Chinese medicine), the holy spirit (Bible), and archetypes (Jung). They emerge everywhere in myth, literature, art, religion and science. They occur at all times and in all places on the human journey. They reside as energy within the psychological unconscious life of people everywhere. They are invisible controlling patterns or metaphors in our consciousness that control how we experience the world.

Balancing the four energies may be applied in many other contexts of interpersonal interaction. All situations of human interaction are dynamic and changeable and a transformative teacher is able to create an energetically balanced and sustainable learning environment.

What is exceptional teaching? My conclusion is that the key distinction is not identifiable by a list of competences or related to knowledge of subject, pedagogic skills or even personality: an exceptional teacher is one who is able to generate energy in the classroom and is a master at channelling this energy to maximise learning opportunities.

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Developing Writing Skills: The Genre Approach

Development Plans for my favourite holiday destination

Everybody is talking about the new development plans. It is the hottest topic in all the cafes, like the one in the picture. I wonder what is your opinion!

The Genre Approach to develop writing skills.

Introduction.

This is one of my favourite lesson plans. I created the lesson around the context of a small fishing village on the Black Sea coast of Turkey faced with plans for a huge holiday complex to be developed in the village. The lesson could, of course, be built around any similar scenario such as a ski resort in an alpine village or a nuclear power station in a rural village. I have a similar lesson about a new bridge being built over a site of natural beauty. The lesson works on several levels but is essentially constructed to provide an opportunity to develop productive skills – speaking and writing.

In terms of writing tasks, the following rhetorical styles are covered:

The lesson consists of a series of stages although as with any lesson these are a flexible outline and need to be adapted to the level and needs of the group. Some of the key stages are:

  • Setting the scene: using a visualization to arouse learners interest and personalise the topic of “favourite holiday destinations”. Learners first visualize their favourite holiday and then describe it to their partner.
  • Prediction and pre-reading stages: introducing my favourite holiday destination and introducing the village of Binkilic. Asking learners to brainstorm the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed holiday complex development plan.
  • Reading: learners read a variety of text types: a description of the village; the proposed plans. These texts serve to build the context by providing further information, exposing learners to key lexis and concepts and providing a model for their own writing.
  • Analysis and planning: learners are provided with handouts that provide a template to plan their writing. The templates provide an overall framework and key functional language.
  • Role Play: The lesson builds in stages for role plays where the learners take on the roles of the villagers and conduct a meeting in the village hall to decide on their future.

Methodology

The underlying principle of the lesson is that language production needs to take place in a context so the activities and tasks have an authenticity of purpose (a reason to communicate ones views). It conceives of productive skills (speaking and writing) as a social activity and adopts a genre approach. In other words, the primary focus for the development of productive skills is situated in the communicative purpose: in terms of writing we firstly need to consider who we are writing to (the audience) and what we are trying to achieve (the purpose).

There are five categories of knowledge that learners need in order to write effectively:

  •  Content knowledge:  ideas and concepts in the topic area the text will address
  •  System knowledge:  syntax, lexis, appropriate formal conventions needed
  • Process knowledge:  how to prepare and carry out a writing task. 
  • Genre knowledge:  communicative purposes of the genre and its value contexts. 
  • Context knowledge:  readers’ expectations, cultural preferences and related texts. 

The advantages of a Genre Approach.

The first part of the lesson builds the context. Introducing the concept of favourite holiday destinations and describing my favourite holiday place, the village of Binkilic. The scenario develops when we introduce the development plans for a huge modern holiday complex that will change the traditional village life. The context is vital as it provides meaning to the language: without a context the learners have no clues to meaning. Learners use contextual information to understand individual words – ‘destination’, ‘development plan’, ‘facilities’, ‘traditional life’ and so on but also to understand the relationship between the words and concepts. ‘Describe’ your favourite holiday is meaningful having visualized it, talking about causes and effects makes sense when we learn that a development plan is going to radically change the traditional village life.  

There are a series of writing tasks in the lesson.

  1. Write a description of your favourite holiday place for a holiday brochure.

This first writing activity adapts a traditional ‘product’ approach. Learners first visualize their favourite holiday destination and then describe it orally to their partners. Then they read and analyse a model text noticing the lexis and organization. The genre is typical of a holiday brochure first describing the location and highlighting its attractions and then the second paragraph states the advantages for visitors.  Learners use this text as a template for writing their own description.

This is a guided writing task in which learners use the text as a template substituting their own ideas while following the text’s structure, organization and lexical phrases. The advantage of this approach is that learners analyse an authentic model, errors are minimized as learners imitate the organizational structure of the model.

  • Advantages / Disadvantages of the development plan. Write a report.

This writing task is essentially a brainstorming task. The learners brainstorm advantages and disadvantages of the development plan. Half the class brainstorms pros and the other half cons. Then learners are paired pros and cons to share their ideas and try to convince their partner (this creates the need to justify their points with reasons and examples). Learners in pairs now write their pros and cons in a report. The report genre lends itself to bullet points. Learners are provided with the functional language as illustrated below.

  • Compare / contrast: How do the development plans compare with the present? What are the similarities and differences?

This writing task is a guided writing based on two example sentences. Learners are asked to compare a diagram of the current village with the development plans and write sentences based on the example sentences provided. This can be done in pairs.

  • Cause and effect: How will the proposed changes effect life in the village?

This writing task guides learners in the organization and structure of a typical cause and effect essay. The learners are provided with a template and try to complete it by adding examples to support their statements. The task provides the organization and key language while the learners complete the content.

  • Opinion letter: Write your opinion about the proposed development plan to your local newspaper.

After the role play stages in which the villagers share their opinions and discuss the development plans in a meeting, the learners write a letter to the local newspaper stating their opinions. This is a free writing activity but it provides an opportunity for learners to use all the rhetorical styles practiced earlier in the lesson.

These are some of the writing tasks that lend themselves most naturally to the context but there are many other tasks I considered that could also be included: describe a typical day in your life (daily routines) – while imagining they are the character on their role card, learners envisage and write about a typical day.

Pedagogically, authentic moral dilemmas provide a rich context for language input. Once students are familiar with the outline scenario and content, the situation provides a model to focus on structure, lexis and phonology and provides a ready context for follow-up writing and speaking activities. Learners explore issues, events and relationships through improvised role plays and discussion. Typically contexts are presented in course materials in a static and lifeless manner, as content to be absorbed; however every effective teacher understands that real learning is not generated by the materials but is generated by co-construction and negotiation between teachers and learners in a lived experience which is why every lesson is unique and learning outcomes unpredictable.

Context knowledge. Psychologically the dilemma between maintaining traditions and accepting change, as depicted in the Binkilic scenario, represents a part of human consciousness that exists in all cultures and invariably evokes a personal response. Each learner responds differently as their relationship with the dilemma depends on their own interpretation of the world. Not only does the cultural, social, sexual and physiological make up of the classroom impact on learners’ responses, but also each individual learners’ struggle with contradictory viewpoints of the world. Paulo Freire (1970) claims that at the heart of education is an ability to help learners (and teachers) to reflect and act upon the world, and through that transform it into a better place.

The advantages of a Genre Approach.

A Genre Approach takes as its starting point ‘life’ not language and by so reversing the learning process, that is, by beginning with meaning and then moving to language later we are able to draw on the full range of a learners’ multiple intelligences and exploit learning as a ‘whole-person’ approach. The lesson builds on the input of the personalities, energy and ideas of the participants, so is alive and always changing and evolving. Because of this no two lessons are the same, and the level and quality of the work is determined by the nature of the group.

  1. Driven by inquiry. Although based on an imaginary fictitious scenario, the theme explores authentic and emotive dilemmas: should parks be destroyed to build shopping centres? Should the rain forest be cut down for cattle grazing? Should villages be flooded to build dams? Scenarios arouse genuine passion and strong, emotive learner responses.
  2. Meaning is ‘learner generated’ through their responses to the scenario and not transmitted from an external source.
  3. The lesson stages are logically sequenced and yet the structure is flexible as it depends on unpredictable learner responses. The method is powered by risk-taking as the process relies on challenging learners to respond and engage with the materials and issues raised. Each time I do this lesson the views expressed are different and the outcomes vary both in terms of language output and opinions stated.
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