Starting the Module: Coursebooks, Networks and Metaphors.
In our first input session with Paul he asked us to take a couple of minutes to write down a few notes in response to the question ‘Why am I here?’ Before I started the diploma course I noted down some thoughts about what I hoped to get from each of the modules (see What I hope to get from the diploma course), but here’s what came to mind during Paul’s session:
Number 1 is an important point. I usually know which coursebooks I like (In Company) and which I don’t (Speak Out), but I’m not always able to clearly justify why – particularly for those that I don’t like. And I’m sometimes surprised when other teachers express dislike for books that I like. Although I’m largely going on instinct, I thought I’d just jot down a few thoughts on some coursebooks, In Company, Global, Speak Out and English File:
Points 2 and 2a are more about putting ideas into practice and while this is something I can go ahead and do of my own accord, I’m hoping that some of the input on the course will offer creative and constructive ways of approaching the design and development of materials. Ideas and guidance might also save me time and energy that I’d lose from months of isolated trial and error.
In terms of my skills and interests (playing to my strengths, if you like) sometime before Christmas I started jotting down some thoughts about what I might want to do with the materials module:
There are two main themes that have been running through my work since I started the course. One has led to the idea of a grammar map. In reading about complexity theory and language as an emergent phenomenon I’ve been becoming more and more conscious of the ways in which aspects of language are all interrelated and informed by each other. The image that’s been resonating in my mind for several months is one of networks: connected and interconnected aspects that form a whole.
In my Reflective Essay I talked about encouraging learners to build connections between elements of grammar and consider their relationship. It recently occurred to me that I should try this for myself first of all, so I’m starting to experiment with building a grammar map – an illustration of networks of language (using a blank ‘ordnance survey style’ map). At this stage I don’t know how it will turn out, but I hope that the process at least will reveal something of value.
Similarly I’m using the same format (a blank ‘ordnance survey style’ map) to record my notes throughout this module (the photos above are of my notes) and already connections are emerging. I plan to photograph this map of notes regularly so that later I can also see its stages of development.
The second theme that’s becoming very evident in my work is the use of visuals in ELT. The term visuals is rather broad, and I define more clearly what I mean in my Reflective Essay so I won’t go into it here. But I would like to talk a little about visual metaphors as a way for learners (and teachers) to conceptualise language – thus building a personal and more memorable connection with it.
Again this is something that I wrote about in my reflective essay, but there was a wonderful moment in our first input session on materials where this idea cropped up again. We were playing with sharing/brainstorming ideas for ways to use cuisenaire rods in the classroom and suddenly – I think triggered by Rachel’s suggestion of using the rods to represent word types and morphemes – I had the idea of asking learners to (individually) to use the rods to show what a phrase or expression looks like. The example I used in the session was ‘How do you do?’ and in sharing with the whole groups I asked teachers to do the same – use the rods to illustrate the phrase. I introduces the idea by asking “What does ‘How do you do?’ look like? Show me, use the rods to show me.” Retrospectively this needed more clarity in the set up as people immediately began working together, but nonetheless some of the responses were interesting, ranging from a tower like structure to the words spelt out with rods. Here’s what I made:
I asked one teacher why he’d chosen a pink rod for ‘how’ and he said he felt it stronger or more passionate than the other words. Brilliant. This is what I’m talking about.
So what is it exactly? Visualising? Metaphors? Critical thinking? Personalising? Or a combination? Maybe down the line I’ll be better able to articulate why, but right now the point is that I like it and I believe in it. I’ve yet to try this with my learners, but I will.
Returning to coursebooks for a moment; I then made these to represent my feelings about two books:
Why? I’m not sure, but maybe these feelings about the books:
In Company feels clear, practical, manageable, functional, accessible. Speak Out somehow feels overbearing, sickly, heavy, impractical, unrealistic.
Lastly – for this post – because it relates to the connectivity that I was talking about earlier, using Cuisenaire rods in the session triggered the idea of using them in my class today. I’ve used them many times before, but sometimes we forget how many resources are available to us.
I needed something ‘different’ for a class I’ve been struggling with (see Critical Incident 4) and an activity that would help them get to know each other better. I used an autobiographical storytelling activity that a colleague shared with me when I first started out. After I demonstrated the activity we did a little focus on past tenses and learners then shared their own stories in pairs before retelling their partner’s story in a different pair.
We ended up with a short autobiographical writing task in which learners wrote about their partner and next week we’ll display these in our classroom. In terms of what I needed for the group, they finally started to show interest in each others’ lives and engage with each other more enthusiastically. A great start to my rescue mission after my fourth critical incident, and another example of the crossovers between everything we’re doing and thinking about.