Where Lessons come from
Generally, my decisions about what to teach result from an understanding of my learners’ language needs and personal interests. But identifying their interests is frequently less easy than identifying their needs (particularly with young adults), and so in terms of topics I often use things that interest or inspire me and which I feel my learners will engage with as human beings. And of course there is an element of contagion at play – if I’m enthused by something I’m more likely to enthuse my learners.
So if I read an article or part of a book or a story, or watch a video clip or hear a podcast that I really like, I usually want to use it in a lesson. Yesterday, for example, I heard a great speech in a TV series about what’s wrong with society (see below) and one of my first thoughts was ‘that’s great! How can I use it in a lesson? The materials of my free time often become the materials I use in lessons.
Like this I’ve created and shared some fantastic lessons. But here’s the thing – while I remember those lessons being interesting and engaging and language rich, I rarely feel enthusiastic about reusing them. I have a bank of authentic materials I can draw on, but do so surprisingly rarely. Somehow the material feels old, and the old is no longer new. It loses its novelty and therefore its magic. Why? I think because when it was really good it belonged to a time and – more importantly – a group. Ownership of the lesson lies with the learners (The Rap and The Parsnip Lessons are testament to that).
When I’m teaching higher level groups especially, this leaves me constantly on the look out for new material and inspiration. Which I enjoy – it’s exciting.
What do I enjoy about it? I guess that I get to be inspired by and share other people’s ideas and creations. Teaching allows me to share with other people something which I find interesting, and play with and examine and evaluate its language. But it also allows me to develop lessons from a wide range of sources – so I get to be creative in manageable chunks, in ways that are less daunting in size than making a theatre show, or writing a novel, say.
Extract from episode 1 of ‘Mr Robot’ (Creator Sam Esmail, 2015).
Therapist: What is it about Society that disappoints you so much?
Elliot: Oh, I dunno. Is it that we collectively thought Steve Jobs was a great man, even when we knew he made billions off the backs of children? Or maybe it’s that it feels like all our heroes are counterfeit? The world itself’s just one big hoax, spamming each other with our burning commentary bullshit, masquerading this insight; our social media faking this intimacy. Or is it that we voted for this? Not with our rigged elections, but with our things, our property, our money. I’m not saying anything new, we all know why we do this, not because Hunger Games books makes us happy, but because we want to be sedated. Because it’s painful not to pretend, because we’re cowards. F*ck society.