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  • Sue Murray
    Leeroy s latest has nicely pre-empted some of the points I wanted to make (but no time till tonight); this quite often happens, but this time I’ll throw in
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 30, 2002
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      Leeroy's latest has nicely pre-empted some of the points I wanted to make (but no time till tonight); this quite often happens, but this time I�ll throw in my bit anyway, and hope it's not too incoherent (it's difficult having so little time but so much to say!) So,, comments, from the perspective of teaching european (mainly Italian) teenagers, below.
      plus one additional thought; Leeroy says his water pistol is also useful for getting students to speak English in class. (the water pistol thing is close to my heart, as two years ago I really wanted one for a large, particularly rowdy and dialect prone class of mostly male16 year olds, but it was decided that I couldn't set such a precedent, because it would surely encourage them to bring in and liberally use similar toys, or things like that .... So, I'm very glad to know it can be effective!)

      Teenagers (in a monolingual group, of course) often need to have the teacher clearly involved in order to 'justify' their speaking in English - they can feel daft speaking to each other in English and don't see the point, especially when their own language is so emblematic and part of their developing identity and group 'status'. Of course there ARE teens who just love speaking English to each other even when the teacher is not involved or listening; but it is far more common that teens will do what they see as the 'exercise' in English and all peripheral stuff in L1; not so much talking to each other in English but doing what they 'have to' do; a structure focused lesson lends itself to this - for example, they will complete a so-called controlled or semi-controlled info gap activity using the prescribed structure/s, and everything else during and after will go into L1. A 'structure of the day' or ESS testing type of thing doesn't really answer the crucial, underlying question of 'why use English?'; instead, it answers the question, 'get the passive right' or something similar.

      This is perhaps why it can be so unusual to find learners using the target language for �metalanguage� (not the right term, but you�ll see what I mean) - in the past, we used to do things like write up on the board everything we heard learners saying in L1 while they were doing an activity; afterwards, we would ask them if they could translate what they had said; it was always simple, easy stuff they knew almost without thinking (stuff like, 'your turn', 'whose turn is it?', 'give me a rubber', 'don't understand that', 'what do you think?', etc etc etc). So - our 'teacher-logic' went! - if you know how to say it in English, why don't you say it in English, and get more speaking practice that way too? The reaction to this type of thing was usually benign, slightly polite amusement, but 'learner-logic' - especially teenager learner logic in their largely ESS world - didn't really see the point or make the connection; a sort of (not explicit, but underlying), 'either we're playing a game - to win, to have fun; or we're trying to get the right answers';

      (The right answer? Well, for a start, when there is no right answer, how do you know what to use English for and what to use L1 for??!)

      Anyway, here are some comments on Lee's previous main points:

      "1. Sometimes the students don't want to talk. They want to "study".
      They don't share the same enthusiasm for dogme as you & I. As
      inneffective as teaching grammar from Murphy first is, they feel it
      is the way it should be done. A few months ago, I was pulled into the
      DOS's office for "not using the books enough." A student had
      apparently complained they as he had paid money for a coursebook, it
      should be used more often."

      in contrast, most Italian teenagers patently do NOT want to study, BUT, perhaps partly because of the ESS/ELL dichotomy Fiona mentioned, if they don't 'study' (or aren't made to study) in a Murphy type way, they can feel they haven't 'done' anything; so, a sometimes common scenario in our school has been that teachers ask their teenagers what they want to do, the teenagers say they want to doss, or play games, or watch a movie, and if the teacher gives them purely what they want, the two faced little 'people' then go home and complain to their folks that they don't do anything, it's just a waste of time!!

      So, here, it's a case of getting the balance right; it's a case of understanding that what they say they want isn't really what they want or expect; this isn't easy of course, especially when a teacher wants to bond with a group and wants a group to bond. The teenagers here - and I'm sure not only here - want a teacher to be 'strong' (that's the word they use!) with them, but that doesn't mean just trotting out the familiar type of ESS stuff; indeed, the most commom problem with teenage classes here over the years has been that they find the book 'boring'; the problem doesn't necessarily get easier when teachers work hard to provide fun and games, because teenagers can often take that as a licence for sheer chaos; and so you're caught between Scylla and Charybdis, as it were, or the devil and the deep blue sea. (The sort of trap Leeroy talked about). they need a distinction between the classroom and the disco or the street corner, but they also need a connection between the classroom and the disco or the street corner. As well as their own personal space. And even if they really like you, if you give them too many Murphy exercises or too many water pistols, they'll either get bored or just lose respect and take it as a licence to let it all hang out.

      So, somehow, we have to try and provide new 'answers', which aren't sheer dossing and aren't sheer focus-on-form or meaningless language for language's sake; convincing teens that you are 'on their side' also means understanding that they want you to be teacher as often as they want you to be friend, and that as teacher you can be their friend by giving them constructive choices (at first, they might turn their noses up at both options - it's best to start off by giving only two options! - but unless you're very unlucky, they'll respond well once they realise you're giving them choices which are specifically for them, and they generally tend to respect this type of more personalised 'planning').

      "2. Perhaps it is cultural, but the students believe that as
      the "teacher", I should be the one leading discussion, leading the
      lesson, & "teaching" them. Some students are not comfortable in just
      talking about themselves for an hour & a half, or being "in the
      driving seat". They don't think it's what they paid their money for."

      Sometimes, the trick is just letting it happen; and they don't have to 'explicitly' talk about themselves - when we give opinions, have ideas, reactions, use our imaginations, and even of course when we listen and reflect, we are 'using' or 'being' ourselves, rather than specifically talking about ourselves. We are not always really using and being ourselves when we do largely abstract but relatively easy formulaic Murphy type exercises. (and such exercises can be a satisfying self-study adjunct for those who like them, but when you're all together ....)

      (And the point about the teacher 'leading' discussions is perhaps also partly related to the fact that they know it's a way of keeping them at least somewhat on the speaking English track, and giving a them a credible reason for speaking English ???)

      I had a teenage class this year where merely asking 'what did you do today' (a question I find crass, but they loved it!) often passed half the lesson, via various digressions and comments and repartee, and most of the language they needed for their 'exam' - and much more - came out that way; we spent most the rest of the lessons with various games, discussions and roleplays - the games however had a very 'didactic' scope, such as focusing on and recycling what had already come out, and we modified or even invented the games ourselves (though round familiar themes such as wheel of fortune, quizzes, sudden death stepping stones, pictionary, team paraphrasing and basketball); the discussions were often dominated by the stronger speakers but I and the others enjoyed listening (and whenever I'm with a group of people socially, there's always a mix of quieter and more talkative ones ...and they seemed to much prefer whole class rather than groups here - perhaps, again, a way of 'making' themselves stick more to English??), and the roleplays had even the shyer and less confident students at full pelt, with no concern for whether the teacher was anywhere near or not!!! I was in the 'driving seat' because I decided to not worry about using the book or page numbers or workbook drills; all we did was about ten pages of the latter over the year, mainly because the exam they had to take was workbook like, and most students ate them up and looked at me as if I'd given them fresh air rather than pasta for dinner.......one or two, however, clearly had some difficulties with the more abstract, purely form focused stuff, and this provided very good opportunities for peer teaching.

      very luckily, I don't have anyone breathing down my neck to check whether I've done at least 3 pages of the course book each lesson. But I do write down what students ask about and talk about each time, and take care to remember and follow-up and recycle, and together with getting them to share their work and homework and projects, and using some special topic research and �learn about� stuff according to the learners� own interests and passions, and adding in as ongoing themes one or two class 'souvenirs', such as their doing a class photostory, or producing a class newsheet or magazine, the whole thing turns into a sort of 'coursebook' of its own; a lot of us here have been increasingly including this type of thing with teenagers - including (as other colleagues have done more than me) stories and a lot of songs - largely as a result of overt dissatisfaction with coursebooks from that age group.

      "3. The tests I work under do not evaluate communicative competence,
      it is often a case of remembering certain structures or forms, and
      awareness of grammatical terminology. I know many native speakers who
      would bulk at the prospect of "Re-write the following structures
      using a 1st, 2nd or 3rd conditional sentence." And yet, the students
      must pass it."

      This is perhaps the most 'serious' obstacle, in that it conditions everything else;

      a lot of the 'business as usual' status quo of transmission style teaching owes its predominance to the fact that testing is not placed at 99th position, as dk 'generously' suggested!, but in 1st. And, as dk again pointed out, the assumption that therefore you learn what I teach. (Back to Fiona's ESS/ELL distinction, some extremely valiant secondary school teachers I know have been trying to introduce more communicative and personalised lessons, but they are thwarted by a number of factors, not least the rigid requirement to 'test' what has been 'taught' every three weeks....)

      spose I'm very lucky again - we have two types of test here; one is internal, and the class teacher creates his/her own criteria (perhaps even together with the students, and including course assessment); the other is the option of taking an external UCLES exam - about 70% of students overall opt to do this, though with teenagers alone it's more like 85%. And, to be fair, UCLES exams are relatively general and communicative, as exams go, and at least up to FCE need no specific course 'deviation' or conditioning, just a bit of specific exam practice to be familiar with the tests. (We still have one exception, in that Elementary students, like my above mentioned teenage class, have to take a rather old fashioned examination which is part of the school group our school belongs to!)

      As to grammatical terminology, a student of mine got an 'A' in FCE but she knows no grammar terminology, except what she gleaned from when I or her peers used it now and again; but she sure knows how to use the language.

      just as a semi-relevant postscript, a couple of interesting articles in EtP this month; one is about GLP and CP (Grammar/Lexical Push and Communicative Pull); Richard Bradford says that he has done a study involving 229 students of all levels and ages over 3 years, and found that the CP (getting language out, rather than putting it in) students outperformed the GLPs (pre-set drills, rules etc). There are no details of how the study was conducted, but it's an intruiging article.

      And, as an antidote to the assumption that everyone has to start with a coursebook, it's the only way, Tessa Woodward states in her article in July's EtP, "Luckily, I was trained as an English teacher long before the 'aims and objectives' approach had really got its teeth into the teaching population! I was, therefore, shown how to build lessons and courses around interesting texts and stories, literature, student talk and other things"; there was life before CELTA as we know it, and a mixture of looking back and looking forward (as with Scott's 'bit on the side' with Peter Watkins) could help create something less rigid and more fertile for all concerned.

      a lot of learners are naturally conditioned by the requirements of tests and testing, and/or haven�t really developed the habit of thinking about THEIR learning beyond the general �I want to learn English�, where �English� is a �thing out there� that exists imperialistically, and independently of anyone�s efforts to learn or teach it. If a teacher takes or is forced to take this attitude too, it is 'business as usual'. You can�t expect 180 degree turns (as Francesc said at the end of his post), and every teacher as well as every group has his or her own personality and needs, and what works for one might not work so well for another; probably that water pistol WOULD have led to unmitigated mayhem had I been allowed to use it with those teenagers (who, I might add, were one of the most rewarding teenage groups I�ve ever taught, but also by far the most hard work and the most exhausting!), but that water pistol can work a treat in other cases. And it�s not a case of whether a water pistol �is� or �isn�t� dogme, but a case of using available resources (including those which resourcefully suggest themselves to imaginative and creative teachers such as Leeroy and which it may be necessary to �import� into the classroom) towards creating conditions which will better enable a particular group of learners to become central to their own learning.

      Just a final word about one of my favourite subjects (grammar!); what grammar means - really means - to learners is often (or always) something quite different to what syllabuses churn out; their questions and doubts, what is or isn't clear to them, their curiosity about certain - often surprising and unpredictable!! - things, their need to understand something in a certain way, what they're ready for, what charms and intrigues them, their 'blind spots', relationships with their personal view of language and their mother tongue - all these and more (let alone what they really want to say) are rarely helped or tackled by a standard syllabus.


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