Doing more with less
This past week, with my B2 General English class, I’ve been experimenting with two inter-related areas: making more of the course book (which with higher levels I tend not to use very much as ‘where we’re up to’ doesn’t often correlate with my learners’ needs), and ‘demand high’ (see Reflections on a workshop 1). I was also very conscious of the need to revisit language which has come up in a lot of the reading I’ve been doing prior to and during the course.
What I’ve found is that within a week we’ve only *done* two pages of the book, and the only other materials I’ve brought into the classroom have been a handout and some flash cards I created for conversational functions (agreeing & disagreeing and giving opinions), and some copies of Monday’s Metro newspaper.
I feel I succeeded both in making more of the book and demanding more of my learners, and enjoyed using the book material – and newspaper (see 14. Noticing influences in an unplanned lesson) – as a basis for more in depth analysis, exploration and practice of the language. Frequently ideas occurred to me during the lessons of ways in which to extend the material to achieve these goals and so the way in which I was teaching felt very responsive and intuitive.
Looking back on the week I feel like we have done a lot of intensive study and practice of a limited amount of language, although inevitably lots more language has cropped up in the process. My students have demonstrated very clear signs of improvement in the language we have been working with and I feel confident that this has been very valuable for them, but nonetheless still feel slightly uncomfortable with having not *covered* a lot of ground.
I think this feeling of discomfort is caused by several factors:
- Unfamiliarity – I’m used to *getting through’* more material during the course of a week
- A linear idea of progress – a point that Barbara raised in our input session on Lexis in the classroom, which made me consider the absurdity of how teachers, course book authors and institutions expect learners to ‘acquire’ one language point after another. This seems to me to work in opposition to the way information is connected and interconnected in the mind. I’m strongly reminded here of a concept put forward in a graphic thesis I’ve recently started reading, about visual thinking in learning, in which the author/artist describes how in an ‘integrated landscape lies the potential for a more comprehensive understanding’ (Sousanis 2015:37). I’m not sure I can yet fully articulate how this happened, but feel the activities taking place in my classroom this week required my students to think critically about the language and build inter-related connections between forms, meanings and usage. Certainly their understanding of the language was far deeper than it would be were we not exploring the language in so many different ways.
- Learner and institutional expectations – in fact my students fed back that they were quite happy with the week’s lesson content, but there are undoubtedly circumstances in which learners need to feel like they’ve made further progress through a book. The important point here is communication – to establish and maintain an open and ongoing dialogue with our students to ensure that the way of working is helping and not hindering them, as well as encouraging them to be more conscious of their own learning styles (see 8. Learning to learn).
- The impact on colleagues – something put forward in discussions with my peers on the dip course was that not *getting through* more of the book can impact negatively on teachers taking over a class. I can see how to some extent this might be problematic, but am fortunate enough to work in an institution where teachers’ individual approaches and methods are valued, and am comforted by the knowledge that it’s not every week I work in this way. My belief that variety is important (in that it engages, stimulates and ‘reaches’ different students in different ways within the complex system of a language classroom) supports my tendency to experiment with and develop different ways of working – not only when doing the dip course.
*A note about the asterisks*
done – covered – getting through : All terms which in their contexts above strike me as so empty of real comprehension and human connection.
Sousanis, N. (2015) Unflattening. Harvard University Press. p37.