In a recent posting here on the blog, Stephen Fry reminds us how much nicer it is to be in a position to give than to need to ask for something...
Well, May has already been a month of some fairly liberal "giving" (out of free ELT materials) here on English Raven - with a free Phonics Starter Kit, the whole catalogue of my City of CleverKey materials, some supplementary YLE test kit materials, and - most recently - my Places in the Community flashcards alongside some practical ideas on how to use them in the classroom.
I've received so many grateful comments and DMs on Twitter for these free downloads, and I have to admit that Mr. Fry is completely correct - it IS a buzz to be able to give something!
So why stop there?
I thought I would go out with a bit of a bang for the month of May. I'm going to throw my entire phonics and Sentence Navigator catalogues out into the Internet ether, for any teachers out there to pick up and hopefully pull some gems from.
First up - Phonics Starter
This download is a combined file containing all three of my Phonics Starter kits (quick teacher's guides for each of the three kits - 15 lessons - are located at the end of the file):
Next up - Phonics Builder
There were originally six of these kits, designed to follow up from Phonics Starter, with more overt work with consonants and short vowel sounds. I've combined them into three separate downloads with two kits and ten phonics lessons in each (again with teacher's guides located at the end of the downloads):
And the Grand Finale - Sentence Navigator Kits
These were some of the first organised workbooks I ever made - in my second year of full-time teaching to young learners and teenagers if I recall correctly. They were made at a time when my learners were being called on to develop more writing and grammar skills, and I wanted to make the most of an "experiment and discover" approach. There is a kits menu with more information here, and an overview and demonstration of some of the key activity types here. I was still something of a novice when it came to formatting and layout, as well as making my own web pages to distribute the materials (hey, we're going back a decade or so here!), so I hope you can be forgiving.
A couple of years later I organized all the lessons into complete kits, and here are all four levels of "Sentence Navigator" for you to download!
I never did get around to making teacher's guides for the Sentence Navigator books, but teachers always appeared to get by and be able to use the books without really needing them. I hope that is still the case.
The Sentence Navigator books have been surprisingly versatile, with teachers I've worked with using them in private academies, public school settings (primary/elementary and junior high school), with a variety of age groups. I was genuinely surprised when I got a phone call from Australia's public copyright agency to inform me that some primary schools in Australia had adopted sections from Sentence Navigator to use in their core language arts curriculum (and even happier when it turned out a nice fat cheque was headed my way!).
Anyway, there's a good 300+ pages of learning material here on this page for you to download and use with your classes, whether it be for phonics activities or sentence "navigation". Please do remember that you have my permission to download, print and use any or all of these materials for your own classes, but under no circumstances are they to be on-sold or uploaded to other sites without my express permission. Please.
I hope you'll enjoy these museum pieces from the Raven's Nest, and I hope they are still as relevant and useful for today's classrooms as everyone keeps telling me they are!
A big thank you goes out to Shelly Terrell for putting me on to this outstanding TED talk from Sir Ken Robinson, where he calls for a revolution in learning, and - in particular - the need for us to disenthrall ourselves from our current industrialised, manufactured and linear models of education and embrace instead a more "agricultural" model that sees learning as organic. Sir Ken introduces this as our "second major climate crisis" and I hope you will take 15 minutes or so to watch his excellent speech before reading further into my post.
While Sir Ken is of course referring to education in general in his speech, language education is definitely a stream within this broader field, and could arguably be accused of being one of the most susceptible to models that are based on linearity.
And at the heart of a lot of language learning, embracing a manufacturing-style linearity, the coursebook often resides. In a sort of presidential palace.
Lindsay Clandfield, a prominent ELT coursebook writer, recently hosted an excellent discussion about coursebooks over on Scott Thornbury's An A-Z of ELT. I can't help wondering if some of the commentators there in that discussion might see things ever so slightly differently if they take the time to really listen to Sir Ken's speech.
Some people argued passionately (but perhaps in some cases rather unhelpfully) that coursebooks needed to go the way of the dodo altogether, while others (also, in my opinion, somewhat unhelpfully) took a very defensive tone about coursebooks.
One of the things I called for most stridently in that discussion is the need to put blank pages or sections in language coursebooks. It is only one of many ideas about ways to improve future coursebook design, but for me this is based on several factors that I believe are inherent to language learning coursebooks as they currently stand.
Coursebooks are very popular in ELT contexts, because - to put things rather bluntly - many teachers don't know a lot about teaching yet, or haven't quite (yet) mastered the language they are supposed to be teaching. They are also popular because so many of us are "enthralled" with the idea that language needs to be carefully organised, packaged and ordered into incremental parts.
While it is fine to suggest that coursebooks are just a core of material that can be adapted and added to, I would suggest that in the majority of cases, the coursebook is used as the whole course, as is, and is expected to represent everything that needs to be done. In many of the contexts I have taught in or visited as a coursebook writer, the coursebook is seen and applied as the whole syllabus and as the schedule for learning. There aren't a lot of teachers out there who get to choose their own coursebooks to use in class. They have a coursebook forced on them, as well as a scheduled time within which to complete it.
The insertion of blank pages or sections would not only encourage teachers to generate more of their own and learners' own material and activities, it would in many contexts stipulate that this is important and a natural part of good course design and application.
This also represents to me a workable transition or adaptation from the fully pre-manufactered and linear coursebook content to something that incorporates more learner involvement, more contextual adaptation, and hence - potentially - better opportunities to facilitate learning that is more "agricultural" and organic in nature and process.
It could potentially force the hand of the pre-set syllabus and schedule by basically slipping some empty spaces into it. Some room to breathe, as it were. Room to grow.
Of course, this would require some teacher training and/or some helpful lists of activity suggestions in teacher's guides. It would also require publishers to take a risk. Probably most importantly, it requires the ability for some people somewhere to disenthrall themselves with the way coursebooks are made and used.
I think it is natural for some coursebook writers (and publishers) to want to stand back with a sort of "hands up/off" stance when it comes to issues like this. "We just provide good content," they say. "We don't want to get too involved with how teachers interpret or apply it in their own contexts. That's up to them."
That would be fine if teachers could in fact decide which coursebooks to use and how. But is it really up to them (the teachers), in all or even many cases?
This is only a personal observation, but I do think many of the teachers who use my coursebooks either expect them to cover everything they need, or are actually forced to use them as the be-all and end-all of their overall courses with given classes. That is why I perhaps need to think more about my coursebooks - not just what I put into them, but what I leave open. Rather than providing yet more content and structured activities, it may be providing (and encouraging) a more eclectic and organic approach to language learning by ensuring there are some regular big blank sections there, with clear signposts saying "this is for you and your learners to decide on (and make the most of)."
In any case, I don't think it's a simple matter of coursebooks versus no coursebooks (or, as I've commented in the past, an "all or nothing" proposition). I can understand why ELT needs coursebooks. I can also understand why they need different ones.
Close to a year ago on this blog, I posted about an experimental application designed to help teachers test their speaking AND teaching skills fully online.
There wasn't much in the way of feedback or enthusiasm at the time in response to that post, but I am very happy to report that a teacher has gone into the application recently and posted some video responses to some of the tasks there!
While this teacher has chosen to remain anonymous, I would like to congratulate her on being willing to go ahead and give the application a try, using actual video (and knowing this video would be publicly accessible on the Web).
Here is one of the tasks our brave teacher chose to tackle...
The challenge is to look at the title and picture for a new unit of study from a coursebook, and to talk about (or elicit talk about) the picture to give the students a good introduction to the new unit. The teacher only has one minute to give a response.
Here is a bigger version of the unit introduction the teacher needed to talk about:
And here is the introduction the teacher provided via Eyejot:
So why don't we reward this proactive teacher's bravery and willingness to "give it a try" by giving her some constructive feedback?
- Given she only had one minute to introduce the unit based on this image, how do you think she went?
- Can you point out some of the things she did well?
- How about some suggestions to help her improve?
I'm sure she would love to get your feedback!
Take a minute and make another teacher's day...
You'll be hooked within the first minute, and by the end you will have learned some really amazing things. About teaching. About learning. About life. About others, and - through others - yourself.
Peter Samuelson, interviewer. 29 April 2010.
What an absolutely inspiring interview. Thank you, Mr. Fry.
... they're just my friends Huginn ("thought") and Muninn ("memory"). They tend to come out at night and whirl around under the stars, and they help me to think to remember and to remember to think.
Despite Lindsay Clandfield's most unflattering depiction of the English Raven, I would like to assure readers here that there is both rhyme and reason to my use of the name for my blog and various sites (and social media IDs).
There's a post in my blog archive called What's in a name? Where "English Raven" came from..., and it will give you the full low-down (plus some fascinating accounts from other ELT bloggers about how and why they named their blogs - you might like to add your own!).
If nothing else, at least it's somewhat original. I like to think so...
Image credits: Jesse Mead
I have another free download here for you - my places in the community flashcards.
Consider them a sort of follow-up to the materials and task-based learning ideas I presented in my earlier post about the City of CleverKey!
[EDIT: I now have a 'digital rendition' that uses some of these cards. English Raven Jnr played a "guess the place" game with me and we caught it on screencast! It might be something your learners will enjoy watching and listening to. In addition to the activity described below in the blog post, on the main ER webpage I also have some simple activities described that correlate generally to Cambridge YLE test levels Starters, Movers and Flyers.]
These are typical of most of the flashcard sets I've created and used in my classes, in that they are relatively small. Generally speaking, I've always preferred to make flashcards that can be held and passed around by students for conversation-based activities and games (rather than vocabulary intros from a teacher standing at the front of the classroom). Whether that means they should be more correctly termed "game cards" instead of flashcards, I'm not sure - and don't particularly care!
Anyway, that downloadable set I gave you access to above depicts 48 different sorts of places one might find in a typical (western?) community. As with all my flashcard sets, they can be used in hundreds of ways in the classroom. I've always tried to use my cards to provide something visual and tactile which can then facilitate conversations and "finding out" tasks of various sorts.
Here is one of my favourite applications for these particular cards: Catching up with friends.
I let students choose a card from the set, or distribute them randomly. Basically, the idea is to facilitate quick coversations with (pretend) cell/mobile phones, where students give other students a call, find out where they are "about town", then use appropriate language/devices to find out more information and add conversational follow ups.
The conversation pattern I aim for looks like this:
B: Hi Sally. It's Tom.
A: Oh, hi Tom!
B: What's happening?
A: I'm at the sports store (right now), actually.
B: Oh really?
A: Yes. I'm going to buy a new soccer ball.
B: Great! You lost your other one, didn't you?
This goes a long way beyond the simple "where are you?" -> "I'm at ....." then "what are you doing?" -> "I'm _____ing" pattern (though of course this could be used for very low levels or a lead in to the Catching up with friends activity as I describe it above).
I use this sort of pattern process with the students for a variety of reasons (which I go on to demonstrate, explain or elicit from the students):
1. "What's happening?" is more open, colloquial and generally more friendly-sounding than the straight out "where are you/what are you doing?" (which can sound a little too interrogative in casual conversations).
2. Adding the "actually" can help to show the action or place is both "right now" and not a common sort of action for this person.
3. By using "oh really?", students learn to show interest and curiosity in a friendly/casual way, and again, it doesn't sound as blunt or potentially invasive/interrogative as "what are you doing there?" This is also a useful chance to show students that "oh really?" can change in meaning or inference drastically depending on the particular type of intonation used!
4. The final lines spoken by A and B help to wind up and conclude the conversation, but also give students practice with adding comments and creating contextual links with very little preparation. They will need to demonstrate an ability to pay attention to what their friends have just said to them, but also use that to create a natural connection and wind up for the spoken exchange.
Of course, the conversations can go well beyond this. Once I have students comfortable with the basic pattern above, I then work on ways to have them extend it even further. Student B can indicate where he/she is, or the information in the conversation so far can be used as a basis for arranging a meet up or follow up activity of some sort.
And yes, as I said, that is just one of hundreds of applications that can be facilitated with simple cards like this. In any case, I hope the cards give you some ideas and something attractive looking to use in your classroom!
I have dozens of other flashcard sets on my resource site, EnglishRaven.com.
Mine is only one opinion among many, but I honestly do believe that lesson planning and teaching time without effective reflection is potentially time wasted - like watching fuzzy bubbles disappear on the wind before we have time to see any real colour or texture in them! Image credits: istargazer
When I started out in TEFL many years ago, my lesson plans were hastily scrawled notes on loose leaf blank paper snatched from the recycling box in a corner of the teacher's room. They mostly documented the page numbers I needed to teach from the coursebook, extra notes about how to teach particular items of grammar, and perhaps a couple of game instructions.
That was all the school I was working for at the time required of its teachers. So-called lesson plans were collected up at the end of the day, stapled together, and whisked off to the principal's office. Occasionally there was feedback, but I never got any. My handwriting was too neat to attract criticism. No doubt another recycling box in the principal's office was happily fed each night, too.
Pretty soon I decided it was time to take this TEFL gig a little more seriously. My lesson plans were doing the job as far as the school was concerned - documenting evidence that I was following the schedule and covering the book - but I was getting tired of plans that dried up 15-20 minutes into a 45-minute lesson. "Guess what, everyone? How would you like to play hangman... again!"
I had a TEFL certification and the precious Ps (six of them, actually: presentation, practice, production; and procrastination, pretence, and prayers). I could do this lesson planning thing better.
Soon I was delivering beautifully word-processed one-page lesson plans for each of my classes each day. Given I had 8-10 classes to teach per day, I often came into the school 3-4 hours early just to make sure the lesson plans were produced to my new standards of TEFL professionalism.
My classes improved drastically. There was structure, organization, nifty supplements and extra activities- lessons full usually to bursting point. The principal was almost apoplectic in her praise, and three months into my first ever TEFL job I was offered a generous wage and the coveted (but never actually previously awarded) title of academic coordinator - which I later became sure was a term synonymous with "fastest way to lose former buddies in the staff room"!
For six months my lesson plans got prettier and prettier. The classes themselves began to resemble something more like Toyota-style EFL lean manufacturing. The efficiency, quality and reliability were there. There was minimal waste.
Pretty as the lesson plans and the actual classes were becoming, I eventually had to admit to myself that this was a rather superficial beauty. Prettier teaching didn't necessarily mean more beautiful teaching.
This is not to say that I wasn't reflective. I was. I would reflect for at least a minute before beginning my work of art lesson plan for each class in the mornings. I would also reflect over beers and dinner with the other teachers most nights once we'd finally knocked off at about 9.30 pm. Strangely, the reflection in both situations mostly ended up with remembered snippets of the most annoying or charming students, and quick recollections of activities that had worked (= use it again) and those that had bombed (=forget that one).
I didn't really begin to grasp the idea of reflective teaching until I began to read up on this thing called Action Research. It did sound a bit too technical and involved for a novice like me with a 6-day work week, but the idea of actually thinking and reflecting about my teaching in a disciplined way finally began to dawn on me.
Armed with my newfound Harmerian talismans in ESA and EASA (and assorted boomerangs), plus this idea of reflecting about each class, I revamped my approach to lesson planning. Over the next couple of years, my approach evolved constantly, until I finally began to settle on a lesson plan format that looked more like this:
My general teaching journal format, described as being "Lesson planning / Documentation / Reflection" - click here to open a full-size version in a new browser
This format, designed to open as a double page in a ringbinder or actual printed book, has three clear sections:
1. A half page section for a lesson plan, including practical and administrative details
2. A half page section following the lesson plan labelled "Reflective Teaching Notes"
3. A whole page facing the lesson plan and reflective notes, to either do more reflection (particularly with a variety of different classes at the same level using the same lesson plan - which of course would then require certain adaptations and would usually get different reactions) or complete brief lesson planning notes for other levels/classes taught on the day.
So what do I mean by reflective teaching notes?
Basically, these notes are just observations and questions and ponderings. They are inevitably personal, so will vary by teacher, but here are some of the questions I used to ask myself to get the reflective bubbles rolling:
- What happened in the class today?
- What went right? Why was it "right"?
- What went wrong? Was it "a little" wrong or "catastrophically" wrong? Does it belong in the "too hard" basket, or on the "re-tweak" bench?
- How did I feel? How did the students appear to feel?
- What language appeared to be learned? What was learned beyond just language items?
- What might I have discovered today?
- What can I try to discover next class?
Sometimes it's hard to think in these terms, and sometimes there isn't enough time to do so properly. The reflective teaching notes I've presented above also have a simplified teacher self-evaluation table next to the writing notes section, inviting the teacher to rate various aspects of the lesson according to a grade. This can be done before or after the note-taking process, or not at all.
In any case, with this format the reflective side of my teaching took off in a big way. For any given lesson, I was dedicating at least as much space to the reflective thoughts following a lesson as I was to the actual plan that preceded it.
There were some interesting early lessons learned once my reflective teaching habits became a regular part of my teaching day.
For one, with so many classes to teach each day, I quickly realized that it wasn't possible to reflect deeply about each one (even if it had previously been possible to plan for each of them in detail). I decided to plan and reflect in more detail about one particular class or group each day, and do very basic planning with little or no reflection for my other classes. Later I discovered how to rotate this focus on a daily, weekly or monthly basis across all the different levels and groups of students I was responsible for teaching.
Secondly, in the early stages, the reflection was rather like a pendulum from one extreme to the other (gloating with self-praise over really successful lesson experiences, then a sort of self-flagellation with some of the most extreme "you're not good enough to do this job!" self criticism possible). It took some time to learn to be fair to myself, and make reflective teaching notes that were both personal and constructive.
Also, some days were better for reflection than others. Basically, some days I had the time and the temperament to complete really dynamic and effective reflective notes, while other days were ridiculously hectic, too emotionally draining, or full of external distractions that would then impose themselves on my reflective processes. Coming back later to read pages full of sometimes venomous, by-the-by waffle convinced me pretty quickly that this wasn't going to be very helpful.
And finally, I began to notice a big difference between "hot" (within 5-10 minutes of finishing the class) reflections and "cool" (later in the day or even the next morning) reflections. Both sorts could be useful and interesting, but put together they could be absolutely fascinating!
When I was having a day conducive to good reflective notes, I filled the facing page to the brim with all sorts of recollections and questions about what had happened in the classes and why. On the days that reflection wasn't possible or wasn't going to be fair/valid/helpful, I used the facing page to put a little more time into lesson plans for the other classes of the day.
For me, this worked.
Not to say that my teaching was now "beautiful" (compared to my earlier endeavours), but the process of teaching and learning to teach had certainly become more attractive. It was staggering to compare six months of planning and reflective notes using this approach to the method of meticulous lesson plans (only) I had been using previously. There were many more failures and successes. There were (what felt to me, at least) some momentous changes in the way I was teaching. More than anything else, there was a rich cycle of observing, pondering, questioning and challenging myself - all shot through with some of the most unexpected discoveries.
Generally speaking, I got the feeling that I had finally "arrived" into genuine teaching, because I finally realised there were always going to be more questions than answers, that answers often turned out to be either deeper or shallower than they at first appeared, and this whole process of discovery was just so downright interesting!
Later, I faced the challenge of making this sort of thing work for other teachers as well - whole teams of them. I also looked at and tried out ways to collect and sort all the daily reflections and then triangulate them in various ways to arrive at richer reflective conclusions (or challenges) at the end of an extended term or session of teaching.
But those are discussions and posts for another day... I've already taken up too much of your very valuable time already!
Let me just finish by saying that if you haven't been much of a reflective teacher in your daily practice, it might be worth looking at it differently and giving it a try.
Start by making sure you dedicate at least as much time to reflect about your lessons as you do to plan them. Even if this means halving the amount of time you dedicate to planning!
Think of it this way: what's the use in putting a lot of effort into planning something that you'll probably never remember?
And always write your reflections down somewhere (and somewhere you can find again). I can guarantee you that they will look/feel/sound different every time you re-visit them, and if you don't make an effort to grab hold of them, they'll just be those fuzzy bubbles drifting off into your teaching past.
If you're a LEGO® fan and a teacher of English (and not just to children, mind!), there are two guest posts on Barbara Sakamoto's excellent Teaching Village blog that you simply MUST see:
The writer of these posts, the wonderful Emma Herrod, is an English teacher who actually used to work for the LEGO® company. Talk about qualifications! But aside from the fun and creative aspects many of us have come to think of as being synonymous with LEGO, a look at Emma's activity ideas reveals excellent pedagogical principles for language learning as well - an excellent example of fun and games with genuine language development payoff as well.
My favourite activity from this series is called by Emma "English bricktation" - an activity and a name that will remain in my head forever.
These are outstanding and exciting ideas, and I'd really like to thank Emma for putting them together, and Barbara for hosting her.
I was fortunate enough to get to know Carol when I worked alongside her as a committee member for the IATEFL YL-SIG in the mid-noughties. She's a wonderful and dynamic person who certainly knows her stuff when it comes to teaching English to children, and she's a brilliant communicator. She's also an accomplished materials writer and teacher trainer in the TEYL field.
Carol's ABC of Teaching English has a topical listing format similar to Scott Thornbury's An A-Z of ELT blog, with each entry featuring a key word or term (for example: I is for Imagination or H is for Holistic learning). Like Scott's blog, each post attracts a lot of excellent and thought-provoking comments from a rich variety of teachers.
However, unlike Scott's content (which of course deals with ELT across the board and does tend towards the theoretical), Carol's posts and the contributions from her readers blend the theoretical and pedagogical with practical hands-on experience and application - always an important characteristic for truly useful discussion about teaching younger learners.
Carol's blog is sorely needed in the field of TEYL, and she's made a flying start. If you teach children, I hope you'll pop over to her blog from time to time and join a very active and helpful community of TEYL practitioners at all levels of experience. There is a lot to be learned there, and a lot to share as well!
In an interesting and productive continuation to the It's worth taking a look at this blog initiative, my great colleague David Deubelbeiss has taken me to task over my It's worth taking a look at what you missed by not recommending 10 blogs follow up post.
I stand by my earlier claim that some people missed the point, and actually think David's recent take on it even confirms that view more than ever!
However, credit where credit is due, David has gone ahead and created something even better than the original initiative of recommending 10 blogs!
Take a look at Dave's Random ELT Blog Generator:
According to Dave: "There are 130 blogs in the bunch, culled only in two ways. 1. They have been regularly updated (at least 1 post in the last 3 weeks) 2. Are not commercial mouthpieces (however soft)."
I like this a LOT! Much more exciting and discovery-based, with much greater potential of stumbling on hidden gems in the ELT blogosphere.
If you would like to insert the random ELT blog generator into your own blog or site, David has been generous enough to supply a simple HTML code for you:
<a href=”http:eflclassroom.com/randomeltblog.html” target=”_blank”><img src=”http://eflclassroom.com/images/buttons/randomeltblog1.png” alt=”Random ELT Blogs” /></a>
Outstanding work, Dave!
One of my favourite ELT people (whom I've never been fortunate enough to meet in person) is Andy Hockley, and I regularly skip over to his excellent From Teacher to Manager blog for great insights and advice about making the transition from being a teacher to a manager in ELT settings.
This is a transition I went through many years before ever getting exposure to Andy's excellent exploration of this fuzzy and often fraught with peril pathway - to my great regret. All I can say, with my Ravenesque muninn benefit of hindsight, is that most all of what Andy has to say is absolutely spot on and really worth thinking about.
On my most recent visit to Andy's blog, I came across this outstanding pecha kucha performance he put on in Russia earlier this year (titled "How to be a Bad Manager"):
Not bad at all for a bloke doing his first ever pecha kucha presentation!
But I got confused by the date of the video... March 2010?
Because I swear to God and any other deity that happens to take your fancy, I've worked for and with people in private insitute settings during the noughties that had obviously seen this video and made it the cornerstone of their ELT management approach!
Some of the observations here were frighteningly close to real experiences from my past (some of them admittedly on my own part as a manager, but mostly as an actual victim or observer).
Anyway, a huge thanks to Andy for this, and if any readers here found this interesting, I really recommend visiting Andy's blog from time to time and getting involved with some of his posts. He's one of the real gentlemen in ELT and you can be assured of a warm and considerate reception there.
If you read and enjoyed my recent post Silent Periods can also be good for teachers, I've got some good news for you!
The very talented Darren Elliott from the lives of teachers recently put this idea into practice with his own class of adult learners in Japan, and he's posted about it in a great report titled a class with no teacher.
A great read, and definitely worth checking out. Darren's account is set to become more interesting than mine, as he is going further than I did and actually collecting feedback and comments from his learners about the experience.
One thing that struck me about both my and Darren's experiences is that they occured in Korea and Japan respectively - two contexts that feature monolingual and monocultural groups of students. Based on the comments on both of our posts, some teachers expressed doubts about using the silent treatment with students from Asia who share the same mother language, but Darren and I are either proving the exception to the rule or perhaps touching on an over-generalisation about learners from these (and potentially other) contexts.
What this issue does remind me of is something Dr. Andrew Finch once mentioned in an interview at an ELT conference in Seoul. He talked of the need to understand that, in places like Korea, where students are bombarded with Grammar-McNugget style English from very young ages, there is less of a need to teach students more language and much more of a need to facilitate chances to use it.
I think Dr. Finch is absolutely right, and in my opinion the experience of the silent teacher I shared with Darren has a lot more to do with taking the padlock off the door leading to a overstuffed storeroom than anything else.
I've included that interview with Dr. Finch below - there are also some fascinating comments from him about the game baduk ("go") and how it could relate to thinking about ELT in so-called 'rote-learning' contexts, plus the whole idea of dealing with students who have been effectively "trained to fail." You'll also pick up some diamonds here about making highly localised, student-centred coursebook material.
One of the highlights of my time in ELT was having Dr. Finch give me a job in his own department at Kyungpook University in Daegu, where I got to have conversations like this with him over a casual coffee. I was a lucky fellow indeed!
I created "CleverKey" close to a decade ago, and to date I still regard it as the most exciting and inspiring resource I've ever put together for helping students learn and use English.
The City of CleverKey is a series of materials and activities that allows learners to construct and then interact with(in) their very own mini-city. It begins with simple activities (and hence makes a good starter for lower levels) and builds across multiple layers to eventually facilitate highly task-based and collaborative action.
While I only ever got the chance to use it with primary/elementary age groups (one group of grade 2 students used and expanded on it over close to one year!), I see no reason why it wouldn't work (with some tinkering of course) with teenagers and even adult students.
There are hundreds of ways CleverKey can be used and extended - the only limitations are imagination and class time!
In any case, after close to 10 years as an English Raven members-only resource, I'm now giving away all these CleverKey materials and ideas here on the blog, so I hope someone somewhere finds this as much of a goldmine for their classes as I have over the years.
After you see some of the examples and application ideas below, feel free to skip down to the bottom of the post, where you will find direct download links for all of the basic materials.
I've already mentioned that the potential applications for this are virtually limitless, so I'll try to explain some of them according to three general layers.
LAYER 1: Building mini neighbourhoods
The CleverKey materials consist of 12 different city grid maps, each with its own accompanying set of cut-outs. Basically, a different grid is given to each student (or group of students, depending on your numbers), they cut out a variety of shops, houses and urban facilities or landmarks, and paste them on to their grids.
Please note that the cut-outs are just suggestions, and teacher and learners should feel free to add any of their own to the options given. There is, for example, a large blank box provided with each set of cut-outs if students would like to design and draw a house of their own to live in!
Once your learners have their grids complete, you have a wonderful little resource for applying a variety of simple activities - for example:
- Have the students talk about their little neighbourhoods, describing what they can see, where things are located relative to other things, and what sorts of activities or items might be found in the various locations on their maps.
- Have the students compare their neighbourhoods with other students', noting similarities and differences (for example particular types of shops and houses, special locations, number and length of streets, etc.).
- Distribute new blank city grids so that students can team up and have one person describe their neighbourhood (without letting their partner see it) while the other attempts to use this information (and answers to follow-up questions) to sketch and label the blank version.
There are literally dozens of other simple activities that can be applied just using the separate grids as they are - use your imagination!
LAYER 2: Building an entire collaborative city
Once up to 12 of the (different) grids have been completed, they can be slotted together to form a whole mini-city!
Looks a bit like this when you put it all together:
This can be put together on a section of classroom wall or on a table. You will need a fair amount of space, as the overall grid is 3 X 4 with each section being a horizontal A4-size piece of paper. The grid pattern is as follows:
A1 B1 C1
A2 B2 C2
A3 B3 C3
A4 B4 C4
Now once you have CleverKey all put together like this, the potential applications become much richer and much more exciting! This is where TBL (Task-based Learning) can really come into its own.
At this point, what I usually do is introduce the learners to the overall City of CleverKey, let them know that they each have their own neighbourhood to look after, but also inform them that they have become special CleverKey Citizens with a variety of important tasks to complete as a team.
From here on in, the activities become rather like an extended role-playing game (though not everyone may want to get into this as deeply as I have with my students). As an incentive (and in line with the whole underlying idea of CleverKey in the first place), students have chances to earn a variety of special keys from the Mayor of CleverKey. Depending on the nature and difficulty of the task, they might earn copper, bronze, silver, gold, platinum, crystal, opal, sapphire, ruby or diamond keys - to name just some of the options.
Here are just a few of the things I've done with the combined CleverKey maps with my learners:
- Find the most convenient places on the city map for all of the students to get together for various purposes, along with directions on how to get to these places from each student's respective "neighbourhood."
- Organise birthday parties, complete with invitations, directions, etc., and give students the chance to do some shopping around CleverKey to find the perfect present for their classmate!
- Make series of basic improvements to the city, like choosing where to put traffic lights, children's crossings, public telephones, special signs, and things like that.
- Make more advanced additions to the city's infrastructure, like design an underground metro system with a limited number of lines spreading out under the city, along with designated stations, entrances, and even timetables. Similarly, the bus routes around the city can be negotiated, designed and presented by the students.
- Help Chief Booker (local head of police) catch a jewelry robber on the run, staying in their neighbourhoods and relaying directions to the policeman via mobile phones. As a timed activity, their ability to speak quickly and clearly can determine how far away the robber manages to get as Chief Booker pursues! (Similar activity can be done with fires and the CleverKey fire department, or even the hospital emergency services).
- Design and present advertisements (for print or radio or even television - CleverKey has its own broadcasting station, after all) for businesses located in their local neighbourhoods.
- Design and conduct simple surveys of their local neighbourhoods to find out what the locals feel needs improving in their areas, and perhaps follow up with semi-formal recommendations and presentations that result in council debates (with each student or group of students arguing on behalf of their own neighbourhood).
- Organise and implement a variety of local events, festivals, charity fundraisers, etc.
- Follow a series of clues to track down CleverKey's resident prankster-wizard Moonbeard, and stop him before he upsets more of the locals!
- Follow a series of clues to solve the mystery of The Haunted House, and somehow stop the resident ghost there (my version was a purple perfumy ghost named Powderpuff) from scaring the willies out of CleverKey's citizens.
- Thwart Mr. Fumealot (filthy rich owner of the Fumealot Factory) from polluting his neighbourhood and using low-down tactics to bribe and manipulate people out of their homes and businesses so that he can build more factories around town.
- Act as advisors (or even a jury!) to Judge Goodlaw as he tries a variety of cases involving CleverKey's citizens and businesses.
- Interview families from CleverKey who are interested in being host-families for students visiting from other countries (the learners' own, for example).
And that is really just the tip of an immense iceberg when it comes to really fun and interactive challenging experiences for the learners!
I mentioned a few specific characters above that I developed alongside places and roles in the city. I actually made little illustrated character cards for many local characters in CleverKey, but all I can now locate is the image below:
Boy oh boy have I had some fun playing these characters and interacting in role-playing situations with my students as part of an ongoing City of CleverKey game! And you know what? The students LOVE it!
LAYER 3: Helping the city grow in sustainable and environmentally-friendly ways
There are a variety of roads leading out of CleverKey, which can end up on highways, in forests, in mountains, in swamps, or even out in farmland or on the beach. The city maps can be added to in ways that reflect the interface between urban, rural and wilderness settings.
At this point, students can be encouraged to take on more challenging and potentially sensitive tasks, like finding the best places to add more housing and infrastucture, mapping out and creating regulations to protect certain wilderness areas, or even creating and developing a tourism bureau for the city and surrounding areas.
It may depend on learners' ages and overall proficiency, but as with layer 2 described above, the possibilities for this sort of thing are both inspiring and endless!
So there are three general layers I have explored with the City of CleverKey. Never have I found language learning and "language in action" more stimulating and effective than I did with CleverKey. Whether you use it really full-on as a whole approach to language learning, or just use it in small doses around other core curriculum content, you would be amazed just how well it can work.
If anything in what I've described above doesn't seem easy to apply or if you need help in understanding how it can be applied to maximise language learning, don't hesitate to leave a question for me in the comments section below!
Your free City of CleverKey Downloads:
Here are those downloads I promised at the start of the post. They've been set up here to open for you as PDF files in a separate browser.
Remember that the city grid is set up to link up with the following layout:
A1 B1 C1
A2 B2 C2
A3 B3 C3
A4 B4 C4
CleverKey City Maps B1-B4 (Single download)
CleverKey City Maps C1-C4 (Single download)
You have my permission of course to download and use these materials with your learners as much as you like. Please just remember not to go uploading them on your or other "materials farms" sites without checking it out with me first. :-)
Oh, and remember to tear off the things you don't like about the approach or materials and rebuild everything and anything in ways that are bigger, brighter, and better for you and your learners!
Hope you and your learners enjoy CleverKey!
I've decided to go ahead and dedicate the whole month of June to a series of blog posts relevant to my own coursebook series Boost! from Pearson Longman.
Far from being (I hope!) a demonstration of shameless self-promotion, my intention here is to explore a range of interesting topics and issues and use the Boost! series as a sort of grounding context to not only demonstrate, but also question and critique.
Here are just some of the things I'm looking forward to exploring with this series of blog posts:
- Materials and activity design for the 'tween' and 'preteen' sectors of EFL/ESL in particular
- Building a skills-based approach to language learning
- Options for coursebook application
- The role of international tests in coursebook design
- The 'glocal' challenge involved in global 'one size fits all' coursebooks
- A closer look at particular macro skill sectors (from reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar, and vocabulary)
- Teaching methodology as it is reflected in coursebook design
- Integrating coursebooks with technology and social media
- The ELT 'author experience' (before, during, and after!)
So I hope you'll join me here on the blog in June to explore some of these issues and areas, and forgive a coursebook writer for apparently dedicating a whole month of his own blog to things relevant to his own publications...
If there is anything else relevant to coursework for learners aged 9-15 in general or Boost! in particular you'd be interested in seeing addressed in this series, by all means let me know!
Posted at 03:00 AM in Boost! Integrated Skills Series, ELT Materials Design, Grammar Activities, Raven's Nest (Flotsam and Jetsam), Reading Activities, Speaking Activities, Teaching Activities, Teaching Methodology, Teaching with Technology, Vocabulary Activities, Writing Activities | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Well, first off, a confession here: the blog featured above isn't exactly "new" to my block. I've been following it for quite some time, and I was mortified at not having space to fit it into my list of 10 blogs I think you should read posted a couple of weeks ago.
So here it is as its own entry!
Teaching Village is an absolute gem of a blog written and coordinated by Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, a well known figure in the ELT community and author of the outstanding Let's Go series from Oxford University Press.
Barbara is about the nicest lady you can meet in ELT (I would go so far as to say that, with the admission I've only actually met her through things like email, Google Talk and Twitter!), but she's also a talented facilitator.
While she does of course write many posts herself on Teaching Village, one of the highlights is the long list of guest posts from "everyday / at the chalkface" teachers from all over the globe (called the Stories from the Front Lines of EFL series on the blog).
As recently as April, Barbara was able to proudly boast 30 thoughtful and beautifully written guest teacher posts from 16 different countries, and it's clear there are many more to come!
The guest posts on Teaching Village don't sugar-coat what we all know is a very difficult and demanding profession to work in, but they do approach contextual issues with respect and sensitivity.
So, if you haven't yet checked out Barbara's fantastic ELT blog, make sure you get over and take a look at what's happening on Teaching Village. I'm sure you'll find a lot of great reading there!
This post and set of downloads/links is a bit of a "from the Raven's Vault" type of thing.
Way back in 2005, the subject of tests for young learners was being debated and explored on the IATEFL YL-SIG discussion list, and I mentioned that I had actually found the Cambridge YLE Test booklets (or more accurately: past test papers) really useful as regular classroom materials. So useful, in fact, that I had even expanded the test papers and built supplementary study kits to go with them.
A very nice lady from Cambridge ESOL contacted me pretty quickly expressing tons of enthusiasm and asking for all sorts of information about how we were using the tests in class and how we were supplementing them.
I sent this nice lady the following files:
Plus the following explanation to provide some context on how they were applied:
Unfortunately, I never heard from the nice Cambridge ESOL lady again, though I did note with interest that about one year later Cambridge launched some impressive "fun" YLE test prep books with a range of supplementary activities.
[Aside: this sort of thing can happen a lot when you start to deal with major ELT publishers - they love to have you tell them how to improve what they do and provide samples of your work from actual classroom settings almost as much as they love never replying to your emails or giving you any credit! Get used to it but, erm, try not to take it personally, okay?]
Anyway, I do apologise if the downloads there don't make a lot of sense at first glance (you sort of need to see them alongside the actual test papers, and I think there are now second editions available which may not match up precisely with the supplementary kits I made for the first editions), but some downloadable tests at the following links might help with matching the supplementary activities to the original formats in the test booklets:
Even without the exact context or teacher's notes, you might find the kit downloads I provided above interesting to look at for potential material/activity design for YLs, and in particular, how we can supplement and work around formal test formats (or, for that matter, just preset coursebook materials) to create more learner involvement and learning strategies/skills.
There are all sorts of supplements and extensions in those kits, everything from word finds and vocabulary grids to story expansions or re-writing, supplementing one skill (like listening) with others (like more speaking and writing), and lots more.
Hope they give you some ideas. Enjoy!
The benefits of a "silent period" for learners at beginning levels have been well documented. But what about teachers? Can keeping your trap shut actually improve your teaching? Image credits: Adactio
I once had a class of advanced level teenagers. They were all excellent speakers and we were using an IELTS coursebook (which was actually pretty good). After the first couple of weeks, it became clear the class was starting to sort of "rot" - there was less discussion, less involvement, and the old "drawing blood from a stone" impression was starting to set in for me as a teacher. The more I tried to improve the class activities and content and make my teaching approach engaging, the further the students appear to sink into a kind of torpor.
This is, of course, not at all uncommon in many TEFL contexts, and it can be very demoralising for teachers who bust an absolute gut to make their classes as interesting and interactive as possible, only to find their students withdrawing further and further into disinterested shells.
In a lot of cases, I actually think these sorts of classroom environments are often caused (or exacerbated) by the actual efforts of the teacher him/herself - strange as that might sound. Basically, the more reliant the overall environment becomes on the teacher to provide the interest and engagement, the more the students tend to withdraw. They'll answer a question if asked, but won't ask one of their own. They'll tell you the content is boring, but won't (appear to) be able to explain why, and won't offer anything in the way of better suggestions.
In the case of the class I described above, I eventually found the perfect solution: I stopped doing all the talking.
Actually, I stopped doing any talking at all.
I walked into the class one day, and without greeting or addressing any of the students, I wrote (something along the lines of) the following on the whiteboard:
I won't be doing any talking at all in today's class. We need to finish Unit 7 today. It's up to you to get it finished, working in pairs or groups or whatever suits you. If you finish this unit with lots of time to spare it means either (a) you didn't do the activities very well or didn't really discuss them, or (b) you've got plenty of time to extend the unit in whatever way you like.
Please do not ask me any questions. Please don't freak out because I've stopped speaking today. Today's lesson is all about you, and you are going to run it completely on your own.
I will of course observe, and I will be grading your performance. The grade will depend almost entirely on how much talking and interacting you do with your classmates.
I then sat down and just watched them. For an hour. And said nothing. Nothing at all.
(Though I did smile or flick an eyebrow here and there).
They all sat there for a minute or so like stunned mullets. Their eyes were wider than I'd ever seen them before. It looked for all the world like I'd thrown a cat with shades and a leather jacket right into the middle of a dog pound.
When it was clear I wasn't going to say anything, they all began to glance sheepishly at their coursebooks, and occasionally stole quick shy "this is a bit nuts, isn't it?" looks at the other students sitting near them.
And then, ever so slowly, they began to talk. Quick, furtive queries here and there and some humorous comments. But they started to pair up or form groups and start talking. The looks in my direction gradually became fewer and fewer, and as they did the talking and interacting picked up pace accordingly.
Twenty minutes into the class, and they were all talking. The various little groups each took to the unit in their own way, but they were all discussing. There was laughter. There were suggestions and disagreements of opinion.
For me, I was like that hermit in the Monty Python film Life of Brian - you know, the one who has taken an oath of silence and suddenly has someone step on his foot? I wanted to sing for joy and dash about the classroom telling all these teenagers how awesome it was to see them talking it up. But I couldn't. For the experiment to run its course, I had to stay detached and silent.
From memory, there was more independent and active discussion in that one hour class than I'd heard in almost two weeks of classes prior to that.
And it was all because I simply shut up, and made the class about them. Completely about them.
After that I ensured there were regular lessons like this one in our schedule, and more non-teacher run periods in the other lessons. The class came to life. It worked.
I also found this wasn't just an issue for advanced learners. The same approach worked wonders with intermediate and lower levels as well.
In fact, it worked in any class where the learners were not all that motivated and had come to depend almost entirely on their teacher for the motivation and interest.
So yes, I think silent periods can be good for teachers as well. And very good for their learners!
If we can just let go of the usual role and expectations of teachers, the regular way of going about a lesson, we can in many cases succeed in taking a blanket off the banquet table - and find that the table is already fully laden.
That was Bilbo Baggins' take on things, anyway...
As we approach the middle of 2010, I can't help but think of what ELT (English Language Teaching) was like in the middle of 2000. There have been developments, both good and bad, and while I do in many ways have faith that language learning and teaching has made progress overall, I'm not sure it has always represented a good return on investment (and not just investment of the time sort).
And what will ELT be like in 2020, then?
Beyond the safe predictions about things like the role(s) of technology in language teaching, what about things like teachers' professionalism, conditions, salaries and prospects?
Will there be the demand for English language classes we see today, or will it be even greater? (I've been reading a lot about boom and bust cycles in other industries recently, and have begun to wonder if ELT doesn't actually represent a sort of inflationary bubble that could pop at some point in spectacular fashion!). What sorts of people will be teaching the actual classes in 2010? Will the learners fit the same or similar demographics we see in most classes today?
Probably most importantly (for us - you and I): what role are we going to play in shaping what comes in the years ahead?
It may feel at times that we are pawns or relatively powerless players in this grand (and increasingly corporatised and/or politicised) game called variously TEFL, TESOL or ELT. A sense of powerlessness can make any career feel overcast with a long term forecast of more gloomy weather (even if we're lucky enough to catch the odd break in the clouds and some unexpected sunshine here or there).
But surely there are things we can do (however small) to advance our own prospects as language teachers, and the profession as a whole. There are times when we ought to be thinking less about what our profession can or should be doing for us, and what we could be doing to help ourselves.
And surely it must be only sensible at times to reflect on whether we think ELT is a field worth sticking around in...
Prestwick House has been providing useful information and quality products to English teachers since 1983. How do I know that? I've seen the proof on Twitter!
Twitter has not been around for a very long time, and despite the phenomenal growth in its appeal as a marketing tool, it's pretty clear not many education-oriented companies have learned how to effectively utilise it yet.
They're all there of course - on Twitter. I follow many publishers big and small on Twitter, and generally speaking to date I've found their performance there to be pretty ordinary. I get all the announcements about their new publications and products. I get all their plugs about conference appearances and special offers.
But I don't think many publishers actually "get" Twitter. Not yet, anyway.
Introductions are important in any field of business, and Prestwick House's public Twitter page does it superbly:
Short summary of what the business is and does, but the clincher is the bit at the end:
Beyond the company logo and description, we have an actual person here. A person tweeting, a person we can communicate with.
It's instantly more personal (or personable, I should say), and therefore more appealing to someone like me.
But intros and presentation aside, it's what Annie (as the Twitter "face" of Prestwick House) is actually doing with Twitter that really sets a powerful example of how to get the best out of this form of social media.
I already mentioned that, with other publishers, I get all the product updates, the offers, the announcements about events being sponsored or participated in by that publisher. It's just tweet after tweet of advertising, basically. It goes in one side of my monitor and out the other (so to speak) in less time than it takes me to think, "Hell, I hate blanket advertising."
When you take a look at Prestwick House's twitterstream, however, you will see something different.
Annie reads other people's tweets. She responds to them, and retweets them. She adds comments. She engages people with the occasional friendly banter (and it's not contrived - it's genuine). She posts a lot of tweets with links to resources and news that are not directly related to her company, but are certainly highly relevant to the general field of education in which her company is an active player. She also connects with people on Twitter to invite them to contribute guest blog posts on the Prestwick House website. These are not posts reviewing Prestwick House products - they are posts of potentially high interest value to the field in general.
Annie (and Prestwick House of course) are doing something really important here. They are not using Twitter to try to directly sell to a target market. They are using Twitter to communicate with their market, get to know it better, and actually participate in its activities and momentum in a social media setting.
I think those are really crucial words in understanding what makes Twitter tick:
Communicate. Get to know. Participate.
If some of the major publishers out there are wondering why a smaller publisher like Prestwick House has close to double the number of followers that they do (a quick calculation I did by comparing PH's follower count to some of the "big boys" out there), it could be worth taking a closer look at what they tweet, why they tweet it, and "who" is actually tweeting it.
It's not a matter of people not getting your tweets, publishers.
It's a matter of you not really getting Twitter. Not yet, anyway!
After much encouragement, I've finally accepted Lindsay Clandfield's invitation to write a guest post on his fabulous blog Six Things.
The topic of my guest post is
Thanks very much to Lindsay for the invitation, and I hope readers of my blog here will pop over there to read the post and leave some thoughts!
Our son James (or Jamie, or Jae-min) is a bilingual speaker of English and Korean. But it's both more complicated and simpler than that... as I think a lot of issues in bilingualism tend to be.
Our son Jamie is due to celebrate his fifth birthday next month. Most of his first four years were spent in Korea, where he developed into a very capable speaker of both Korean and English (his mum's Korean, and I'm Australian) with what I might go so far as to describe as being a very balanced proficiency between the two languages.
We moved to Australia about a year ago, right when Jamie was about to turn four, and something pretty drastic happened. He very abruptly stopped speaking Korean. My wife and I put it down to the change in scene and the language he was hearing in public around him, and felt that if she continued to use Korean in the home, he would eventually get back into the swing of it.
But he didn't. Not for an entire year.
He didn't want to speak in Korean at all. He didn't even want us to speak it around the house, and was quite adamant that we stick to English at all times. This was strange for us, because my wife and I both use both languages on a regular basis around the house.
My wife and I began to get a little worried. Was he going to lose his Korean? Was the precious gift of bilingualism going to fade into a distant memory?
Common concerns for a lot of parents of bilingual children, no doubt. Even for parents (like us) who have a fairly "hands off" approach to our children's bilingualism (as in, we want it to develop as it will, naturally, without ever trying to overtly force anything), it's the sort of thing that constantly has you scratching your head.
But in Jamie's case, something changed again.
Abruptly, about a month ago, he started to speak Korean around the home again. It came in dribs and drabs the first couple of days, and his accent was rusty, but after a week it was like he had never left Korea. Although his English is far more advanced now (thanks, no doubt, to his time in an Australian kindergarten and spending lots of time with extended family who speak English), Jamie is back to being very much bilingual. Almost as if it was like flicking a switch on in his head.
I think there is a possibility that Jamie, adjusting to a new place and language setting, had made some sort of instinctive decision to stick to one of his two languages and draw on it to help him make sense of his world at the time. Eventually, as he began to feel settled and comfortable with the language and context most relevant to him in the here and now, it's possible he then felt there was "room" to use and play with his other language.
Who knows? Trying to venture into the young bilingual child's mind to find explanations that are logical (to us) is a pretty tall order.
In my mind, however, at least part of the explanation (for Jamie's very sudden comfort with his other language) is actually very simple.
You see, one month ago my wife started reading bedtime stories to Jamie in Korean. Every night. They began to talk about the stories, and of course it was just natural to do so using the same language the stories used. They also started watching Korean cartoons (the legendary Porroro!) on the Internet and discussing them, too.
Basically, my wife just did the exact same thing I had done with English in Korea. I read to him nightly and watched Disney Channel cartoons with him, and talked about and played games around what we were reading and seeing.
There's actually a video posted right here on this blog from early 2008, showing Jamie at the gorgeous age of 2 reading aloud from The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
It worked in Korea to help him develop strong English skills in a non-English speaking environment. Obviously, the same process with the other language is helping him to maintain and develop his bilingualism here in Australia, too.
Seriously, I don't think we can ever say enough about the value of reading and storytelling (plus story sharing and exploration) for language acquisition in children.
Do you have bilingual children, or come from a bilingual family? Care to share some of your thoughts and experiences?
There is a definite hierarchy when it comes to teachers.
When you look at qualifications, salaries, and overall societal 'status', there is a clear set of levels that segregates early childhood teachers, primary/elementary school teachers, junior high school teachers, senior high school teachers, and university teachers.
I saw this discrepancy quite poignantly in Korea, where I started out teaching quite young learners, then developed more specialisation with teenagers, then became a test preparation expert, and then a university 'professor'.
This apparent 'rise' involved increasingly higher income and more overt displays of respect from the society I was living in. I will never forget how my own neighbours in our apartment building changed their behaviour towards me drastically when it became known I had stopped teaching children in a local academy and was now teaching at one of Korea's most reputable universities. All of a sudden there were bows and honorifics, and (curiously) more respect for my privacy.
And of course, this 'rise' through the teacher ranks also generally involved having to do a lot less work and putting up with considerably less stress.
In fact, if I could be forgiven some indelicate talk here, I couldn't help but get the impression that my perceived elevation through the teaching ranks coincided with a move toward sectors that specialised in talking crap, and leaving behind others that specialised in dealing with it.
That was one context, but this differential regard for teachers is pretty universal across most cultures. The older the learners, the more money and overt respect you earn, and (generally) the less time, work, and emotional capital you need to put in (comparatively).
You see, having worked in pretty much all of the possible age sectors, I can tell you that the teachers who are responsible for young children have to be the most talented, conscientious, patient, tolerant, empathetic and downright hard-working of them all. Their grand reward is longer working hours, less money, and less overall respect from society - and often a rather imperious and patronising attitude from teachers in other sectors.
I can also tell you that almost every person I worked with in young learner settings, who then later went on to teach teens or young adults in university settings, handled it without missing a beat. University teachers who for whatever reason tried to turn their hands to teaching youngsters, on the other hand, often missed almost every beat possible, and then - erm - beat it out of there as quickly as possible!
I don't know...
I personally think that when it comes to recognising and rewarding teachers based on the age sectors they work with, we've got the whole thing back to front.
Okay, this is going to sound quite frivolous, but I love having one of those little ClustrMap thingies on my blog!
It's great to get a snapshot view of where your visitors are coming from, where there are particularly many visitors coming from, but - most of all for me - how your blog or site can reach out to some pretty remote places.
I love seeing those dots out in the Indian Ocean, on the frozen tundra of far-north Russia, deep in the heart of the Sahara Desert, or hard against the isolated coasts of Greenland.
It's a reminder of just how far your blog-voice can reach, and a sober reminder of how the Internet creates ears in some very remote places.
Nothing deep or intriguing here. Just thought I'd mention it!
Avatar: Take away the 3D glasses and surround stereo, and you're left with a very ordinary and rather unoriginal story experience. Image credits: VJnet/Incerazo
Well, after all the hype and glowing recommendations from cinema-goers, my wife and I finally got a chance (once the kids had finally settled down) to sit down together and watch Avatar on DVD in our living room.
Yep, that's right. No huge cinema screen. No supercool 3D visors. Just a humble widescreen digital television.
We liked it. The special effects and CGI in particular were spectacular, even on our average television screen.
But nothing to write home about, really. Nothing particularly better or worse than many other Hollywood blockbusters we've watched on DVD recently. And stripped back to this more humble medium of an average TV in an average living room, nothing in the scenery or special effects did enough to hide the fact that this movie has an insipid and depressingly predictable storyline.
And that, well, got me to thinking about teaching (as a lot of experiences do).
I've seen technology used a lot recently to jazz up ELT content and activities. It certainly helps to make some English language learning experiences more entertaining, but I'm not sure that really means the learning content or experiences are more relevant or effective.
Personally, I think if tech-enhanced material is stripped back to its basic content and applied in common classrooms, and fails to deliver original and effective learning experiences, the designers may well be risking the old "cart before the horse" problem.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for using effective technology to enhance good language learning.
But when it comes to the content and its relevance, I want that sorted out and evaluated properly before we start dressing it up as edutainment using bells and whistles.
Or perhaps I've got it wrong... Perhaps most all of the content we need to apply in our language classrooms is already unoriginal and uninspiring, and technology and media can help us by dressing it up in more modern clothing to appeal to today's learners.
What do you think?
Here are some of the first materials I began to develop on my own for use in my classes (though the downloads here are slightly modified and formatted versions of the earlier originals) with quite young children.
I call these "Phonics Starter" kits, and they combine things like initial motor skills with alphabet and phonemic awareness. When I designed them, I deliberately made them small, separate files so that teachers could mix and match them as needed. They were (and still are, I guess) an alternative to phonics materials that are either too brief and flimsy or too over-the-top and involved.
As a precious English Raven blog visitor, these materials are free for you to download, use in your classes, and distribute to other teachers (so long as you don't modify them and ensure that you link back to this blog or my main resource site at www.EnglishRaven.com).
Phonics Starter Kit 1!
It's been quite a few years now since I taught English to young learner classrooms, but I now use these materials with my own 4-year old son, Jamie. He quite likes them! There's a blog post from mid last year called Phonics Fun with Dad which shows some YouTube videos of us using the materials together at home.
You can find more Phonics materials at my resource site in the Kidzfoniks section.
I plan to pull a lot more material out of the English Raven vault over the coming year and distribute a lot of it here for free access on the blog, so I hope it helps out somebody somewhere!
I like Teresa's blog a lot. She shares ideas about teaching and resources and explains them in a refreshingly direct and uncluttered fashion, enhanced with a "here and now" character reinforcing the fact that what Teresa blogs about, she has just done (or will very soon do!) in her actual classroom.
I've added Views from the Whiteboard to my blogroll and intend to visit regularly. Thanks Teresa!
As I'm sure many people out there would agree, music is an essential part of life and can be a great mood-setter.
When I was in Year 12 at high school, every morning before taking off to school I would crank up the stereo with Motley Crue's Kickstart My Heart. Mmm. Luckily my parents had already left for work, though it was often bad news for any of the neighbours who were trying to sleep in.
Through my university years, as I struggled through a long commute and Melbourne's bustling inner-city human traffic to make my way to The University of Melbourne each morning at some ungodly hour, U2's Zoo Station and Even Better Than the Real Thing were particular favourites to help put me in an energetic frame of mind.
Later, as I got into the routine of heavy teaching schedules (and then - as a school manager - the challenge of doing what felt like a whole day's work before the first class had even started), the song below was my absolute favourite heart-starter. This was the song that helped me drop everything and focus on a positive and energetic day of teaching, arms and eyes wide open and ready!
I do almost all of my teaching online these days, and it may come as little surprise to hear my current favourite heart-starter leading into a session of teaching is another U2 track:
So, there are my heart-starters for teaching.
Care to share some of yours?
1. What's your favourite ELT book?
2. What or who has had the biggest impact on ELT in the last 25 years?
3. What do you wish you'd known when you started out in ELT?
Take a look for yourself at Ken's responses:
I'm glad Ken mentioned drama in ELT, because personally I think I could go out on a pretty stable and hard to fall from limb and say that drama is possibly THE most under-utilised and under-appreciated application for dynamic, student-centred, effective and entertaining foreign language learning experiences.
He also talks about how ELT has started to take itself much more seriously, especially in terms of teacher training. Personally I think that is one of the many branches that has sprung out of ELT's move into politics and mainstream public education policies worldwide (with so many countries adopting EFL as a mandatory element in their public school curriculums from increasingly younger ages) and big business in general (corporatisation of publishers, testing bodies and teacher training providers in particular).
Ken's point about published ELT materials hits a nail very squarely on the head: these days the coursebooks need to look sensational to get teachers and students through the door, but the content also needs to sophisticated and of high quality to get them to return for second helpings. However you happen to feel about publishers and coursebook materials in general (including perhaps the need to scrap them entirely!), there is no escaping this essential truth.
I also really like Ken's final response, about the "trip" of being a teacher going through the nervous beginning stages to ending up on a plateau of self-assurance, then seeing certain things you thought you knew or defined you as a good teacher start to crumble around you. I subscribe to a similar view of things with the benefit of hindsight, and alluded to some of these issues in my recent post What's good for the goslings can be good for a gander.
You might like to share some of your own thoughts about Ken's responses, or even provide some of your own to those three core questions:
1. What's your favourite ELT book?
2. What or who has had the biggest impact on ELT in the last 25 years?
3. What do you wish you'd known when you started out in ELT?
Image credits: David Sherrett
Well, today we celebrated Mother's Day here in Australia. Given this blog is generally geared around teachers and education, please let me take this chance to wish all the teachers out there (who happen to be mothers) a very happy day!
I've worked with a lot of teachers who were also mums. Frankly, I still don't know how so many of them managed to fulfil both of these roles with so much care, compassion and commitment. From what I've seen, great mums usually make amazing teachers, and great teachers often make amazing mums!
To all the teacher-mums out there:
You're the best!
Have a great day!
~ Jason (English Raven) :-)
I recently took part in the It's Worth Taking a Look at this Blog initiative, and thoroughly enjoyed not only featuring 10 blogs I thought were worth taking a look at, but also exploring all the other lists of recommendations that sprang up around the blogosphere as a result of this idea.
It's not surprising that some members of the ELT blogosphere chose not to take part, but some of the reasons I saw put forward did have me scratching my head a bit. While in some cases those reasons appeared logical or understandable (and goodness me, let's not forget that nobody warrants criticism simply because they chose not to do something a lot of other bloggers were doing!), I can't help coming to the conclusion that several good bloggers out there not only missed the whole point, but also missed a golden opportunity.
One concern some people had was that there is nothing really new under the sun, that we all tend to share the same readership anyway, and that lists of this nature are somewhat pointless.
My first reaction to that is: How do you really know what your readership is? Your readership is not just limited to who comments on your blog, and is not limited to who features you on their blogroll. My own blog gets 200-600 visits per day, which is far more than the selection of 50-100 good ELT bloggers I happen to know out there at the moment. I get far more visitors from Google searches and links from my resource website than I do other ELT blogs. Based on that I would encourage bloggers out there not to underestimate the overall readership and reach (and potential) of their humble blog posts.
Another (more or less whispered) concern was that this was just going to become a sort of PLN mutual grooming exercise, and that (inevitably, with a limit of only 10 blogs to choose) certain bloggers were going to end up excluded from certain lists that they figured they should have been a dead set certainty to make it onto, and the retractable claws were going to start peeping out of the PLN kitten fur.
If that is the case, why is it that I found between 2-5 new or relatively unknown (to me) blogs to check out on almost every list posted?
And I didn't see any of the PLN claws come out (not that they would be brazenly bared in public anyway). What I did see was a lot of bright-eyed buzz as many emerging or until now "unearthed" ELT bloggers rejoiced in the fact that they were actually being read and recognised on some of the more established blogs out there.
This shows me (personally) that the bloggers who took part in this read the intiative the right way, and in most cases came up with a list that blended some well-known favourites with some new or relatively less well-known blogs. There were also some better-known blogs mentioned that I'd heard of but never actually got around to checking out. Their presence on these lists reminded me to make the time to actually go and have a gander.
Some lists had 10 blogs I'd never even remotely heard of before, with plenty of recommendations that reflected personal or wider interests outside of language teaching. It all made for interesting reading and/or a more interesting insight into the people behind the blogs to start with.
My blog was not mentioned on the lists of several people I collaborate with quite closely at times. Oh my goodness - you know what that means, don't you?!!!
That's right! On each of those lists there was the chance of another blog being mentioned that I hadn't seen before. Another person in the ELT blogosphere I could hopefully connect with and potentially learn from.
Why would I want to peruse these lists just to make sure my blog was featured on them? It's something approaching an insult to me (and I suspect a lot of other bloggers out there) to assume that this would be the underlying rationale or reaction.
I did see lists that were clearly carefully chosen tribute lists, and I did see other blogs that pointedly mentioned avoiding a list and referring readers instead to a blogroll (which, sorry, is not the same thing as saying "here are ten blogs to check out now, if you're inclined, and here's why I like them"). I also saw a whole lot of quite prominent blogs which enjoyed the attention they got on other people's lists but wouldn't even acknowledge the intiative, much less go to the trouble of featuring an inspiring and interesting list of their own.
Well, each to his/her own (blog), but I really do think some bloggers out there really missed the point AND the opportunity to grow out of this rather tight little circle the ELT blogosphere has become - or rather, thinks it has become. They could also be missing both the point and the nature of this overall conversation - this networked conversation called blogging.
I think the initiative is a fantastic one, and I hope we see it happen in the ELT blogosphere once or twice a year. If so, I really look forward to presenting a completely new list of interesting blogs, and reading the new lists all my colleagues out there come up with as well.
I've found about 30 new blogs to explore out of this round (so far) and this has also inspired the "new blog on my block" recommendations that I plan to feature here on English Raven on an ongoing basis.
All in all, the It's Worth Taking a Look at this Blog idea worked well - really well.
For those who actually grasped it, that is.
I read this article last week on Mashable after seeing it in the Tweetstream from Dayle Major: Tim Ferriss: 7 Great Principles for Dealing with Haters.
Tim Feriss has seven great principles designed to help you understand and handle criticism in a proactive way, some of them based around interesting quotes:
1. It doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it. What matters is how many people do.
2. 10% of people will find a way to take anything personally. Expect it.
3. “Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity.” (Colin Powell)
4. “If you are really effective at what you do, 95% of the things said about you will be negative.” (Scott Boras)
5. “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” (Epictetus)
6. “Living well is the best revenge.” (George Herbert)
7. Keep calm and carry on.
See the full explanations for these principles here.
There are some great thoughts there, and some I really feel I need to take on board.
By the same token, however, I think that some of them already in fact guide some of the stuff I see in the ELT blogosphere (and some of this stuff is sometimes stuff I'm tempted to write myself, in my darker moods!), and that stuff is often pretty needlessly negative and inflammatory. I personally worry some of the advice here could me misread or deliberately misinterpreted, and super-charge some soapboxes!
What do you think?
I've been meaning to post a review and recommendation for this site for a very long time - it's an outstanding source of current news stories for children using genuine but accessible language, with opportunities to do extensive reading, participate in interactive chats, and read and listen to summarised versions of a range of different stories.
It's called Newsround, and is part of the Children's BBC (or CBBC) network.
For a direct link to the accessible newsreader (with story summaries and audio) mentioned in the review, click here.
Outstanding resource for teaching (and really using!) English with children, tweens and younger teenagers... you could build an entire ongoing EFL/ESL syllabus around this site!
Following the enormous initial success of his outstanding coursebook series Global, and encouraged by some comments from the blogosphere right here on this blog, the talented Lindsay Clandfield has announced that he will soon be embarking on a new series called Spousal.
"It's going to be a sort of niche ESP course," said Clandfield, speaking outside a church where he was in the process of interviewing newlyweds to help him with some genuine non-scripted content for the earlier units of the main coursebook.
"It's designed specifically for couples who do not share the same first language," he claims, dodging some confetti and grinning at a photographer who is asking him to get out of the shots. "It will be suitable for people who marry native speakers of English, or even people from different language backgrounds who want to use English as their common language together throughout married life."
Clandfield's new series concept has already met with some cynicism, however, with some ELT industry insiders (incidentally, all of them married) saying that the whole series ought to be called Trouble.
"It would be a more accurate title for an overall series targeting married couples," muttered one publishing representative we met at an airport, who then returned to an (evidently difficult) conversation by phone to his wife about why he had to go away to yet another ELT conference on the other side of the world.
Clandfield, with his usual unflappable determination, isn't paying the critics any attention.
"The interest is definitely there," he says. "We're even figuring there will be markets for what comes before and after marriage. We have some plans for Betrothal to come before Spousal, and perhaps even Parental and then Quibble to follow up. But we'll see what happens after the honeymoon period, shall we?"
What about if things don't go well in people's marriages, however? Does Clandfield have plans for any follow ups with potential titles like Betrayal or Scandal?
"Hey, we'll have none of that!" says Clandfield. "Down with negativity! And even if teachers want to cater to stuff like that, they can just use the regular coursebooks and insert in prefixes like 'non-' and 'ex-'. But really, what's with you people?"
The release date for Spousal hasn't been set yet. Apparently some parts of the series will be written with the help of Clandfield's own spouse, and they don't appear to be able to agree on many of them just yet.
We hear a lot about and discuss bullying as it affects our students (as well we should). But what about the bullying of teachers? Image credits: SeanRogers1
I was recently reading a very interesting article from the April edition of Australia's Teacher Magazine, in which the issue of workplace bullying for teachers is tackled. It presents some quite disturbing statistics about the amount of bullying that teachers receive in countries like Australia, the UK, and Ireland, but also explores some very helpful information related to actually defining "bullying" in teacher workplaces, differentiating it from behaviour which shouldn't be categorised as bullying (but may be in an attempt to apply bullying accusations), and - of utmost importance - what we can realistically do about it.
As tough as mainstream teachers in public school settings in Western countries may find bullying, my personal impression is that people involved in ELT/TEFL cop it far worse. When you are overseas, subject to different laws (and even different cultural definitions as to what comprises "bullying" and what doesn't), in easily-compromised visa situations and with a far less reliable (or significant) sources of income, the bullying dilemma can raise its ugly snout far more often and lay its bite far more severely.
I don't see the issue of bullying of TEFLers raised much at all, which is really tragic - considering how often and how severely it occurs.
So this blog post is an attempt to reach out and talk about the issue. Here are some starting points:
- What IS and what ISN'T reasonably defined as bullying in the TEFL workplace?
- Given the greater or lesser (usually greater) tolerance for bullying in many of the cultures/contexts where people work as TEFLers, should our intepretation of and reaction to it be flexible?
- As a TEFLer, have you experienced bullying yourself, or seen it happen in your workplace? How did you react to it?
- Have you ever been accused of bullying behaviour, and do you think it was a fair claim?
- Is there anything effective we can do to try and reduce the amount of teacher bullying that goes on in TEFL, and also more adequately support victims of bullying?
I'm very interested to hear your comments on what I think is a very important issue in our profession. Please feel free to comment anonymously (you will need to include an email address when posting, but this will NOT be displayed publicly anywhere on this blog or anywhere else!) if you feel uncomfortable about discussing the issue on a public blog.
(I usually sign off with a little grin, but I won't in this case for - I hope - obvious reasons).
Tired of language teaching in real life? Perhaps Second Life brings new potential to online learning. I won't know until I figure out how to get the flippin' thing started...
I came across the following interview between Nik Peachey and Graham Stanley while recently perusing the Ve-blog from Miguel Mendoza. Nik is asking Graham about some of the ways Second Life is being used for language learning groups, and while quite dated now in blogosphere terms (I think this interview happened mid-2009), it is an interesting topic to follow.
As I said - interesting stuff. Assuming of course that you know what Second Life is and know how to use it, and have students who know (or can learn) how to use it.
I first tried to get into the Second Life thing a bit over two years ago, at the urging of a teacher colleague of mine based in Europe. After 90 minutes of extremely frustrating fiddling and downloading and re-booting my computer, the spectacular results of this precious investment of my time consisted of a cloudy grey screen and that sense of nervousness you get knowing your computer is going to crash at any moment.
That was it for me. I was already way past my 15 minute rule when it comes to online language learning programs or applications. If it takes me personally more than 15 minutes to get going and at least understand the basics of a program, it's not going to work with my online students without some serious help files and explanations and painstakingly detailed instructions on a screencast. That's time neither I nor my online students have - unless the application has some absolutely awesome potential.
So, as I consider perhaps giving Second Life another shot, the questions remain:
1. Just how hard is it and how much time investment is involved in getting started with Second Life?
2. Does it really have seriously outstanding language learning potential compared to what we can already access through simpler, easier to access and use applications like video conferencing?
Second Life appears to be a real buzz word for language teaching and learning on the European scene, but does it actually live up to glowing endorsement of what is (relatively speaking) still only a handful of educators - all of whom appear to have quite advanced experience with technology?
Second-lifers out there may be able to shed some light on this, but I'm particularly interested in hearing about the experiences of teachers who have recently taken up Second Life and are actively using it with their students (or aren't, for whatever reason).
Interested to hear your thoughts!
I came across this blog recently from Neil Barker, a teacher based in South Korea (which as the most major of my previous ELT stomping - and slinking - grounds never fails to catch my interest).
Neil blogs quite candidly and coherently about teaching English, but also the trials and tribulations of learning Korean - which he ranks as "the most difficult language I've ever tried to learn."
As a teacher but also as a language learner himself, this makes for some interesting reflections and ideas.
I'll be returning to Neil's blog regularly for a good read for sure!
No matter how rigid the curriculum and learning materials are, there will always be cracks. This is where you should start innovating if you find yourself forced to teach in a McEnglish-style learning program. Image credits: mrtruffle
Partly to alleviate problems of inconsistency with new untrained teachers, and partly as a way to streamline program implementation and management, a lot of language institutes in various contexts now go with heavily pre-set curriculums with incredibly precise syllabuses. Every lesson and every day is mapped out precisely, with this many pages of these coursebooks, etc.
In some cases it's sort of like an "English program for dummy teachers" - while in other cases it fits the aspirations of chain schools who want to "guarantee" their product's consistency irrespective of which city or suburb one of their branches or franchises perches in. Students tend to be numbers on a class list, and catering to large numbers of students in the exact same way is not only desired, but strictly enforced.
As far as consistency for the masses goes, these programs generally achieve their desired effect. They also tend to confine more creative and eclectic teachers (and those looking to address the particular needs and preferences of individual classes and students) to a sort of concrete jungle, with every turn mapped out in cold detail and nary a place to stop and grow something.
For these creative, eclectic and student-centred teachers, highly pre-set programs can be like going to jail.
But remember, no matter how well it is built and reinforced with concrete, every single curriculum or "system" will have cracks. In fact, the more elaborate and stacked up the learning program is in advance, the more cracks you will find.
In my experience as a teacher in private insitute settings, it's always been a more effective option to find and start innovating within these cracks than to start alarming people (and drastically reduce ongoing employment prospects) by waving a rebellious sledge hammer at the reinforced curricular walls.
So for teachers confined to McEnglish-style bleakness, here are some general ideas to make sure you still have room for innovative, more student-centred activities.
1. Find the cracks and exploit them
They're always there somewhere. At the beginning of a term or session, look carefully through your coursebook(s) in advance. McEnglish-style set ups have a tendency to look at the number of pages in a coursebook and then divide it neatly by the number of teaching lessons in the session (and some more "sophisticated" programs will even calculate in days for review items and sesson tests). This almost never results in a precisely even workload for each lesson. There will always be pages that will go faster or need less attention than others.
Find these pages in advance and mark them in your schedule. Depending on the exact nature of the program and material, you should be able to find plenty of spaces where 5-15 minute activities of your own design can be inserted. They could extend or adapt the existing course structure and content, or they could be completely stand-alone activities.
So long as you don't get too ambitious with the scope of these additional activities, you could quite easily work within a concrete curriculum and still have room for many of your own small plants. Nobody can accuse you of not delivering the core program, and some contexts may even appreciate your innovations. Even if your manager doesn't appreciate it, there's a very good chance your students will, and at the end of the day that's what should really count.
2. Create cracks (quietly, mind!)
Some institutes will bless you with programs that are as ambitious as they are ridiculous. You know the sort: six different textbooks to cover in three lessons per week over one month. Leaving even one box in one page blank is tantamount to risking court-martial. They give you the feeling that you are being asked to showcase every discernable feature of French cuisine on an Eiffel Tower monographed plate the size of a coin.
You often need to tread carefully here, because these programs are more commonly designed in stand alone institutes that try to compete with the big boy chain schools by covering absolutely everything that could possibly be associated with the English language (hence showcasing how they are doing things more thorougly than the brand name chain schools). They are often made by pencil-pushing academic managers who walk and gesture strangely as a result of too much sitting and too much mouse clicking (and certainly nowhere enough actual teaching). They can also be monitored and enforced with gestapo-like fervour that results in sputtering fits of rage in staff meetings when it is revealed before all and sundry that last week Teacher Tom neglected to fully cover the grammar box crammed into the corner of page 87.
So you'll need to be a bit of a risk-taker here, and so long as it doesn't directly threaten your employment, perhaps consider that asking for forgiveness is often more effective than asking for permission. There aren't any real cracks here in this sort of syllabus (other than the overall mien of the person who deliberately designs the curriculum this way), so you may need to create some.
To create cracks, you basically need to look at ways to speed up certain activities or pages (to ensure you can say they actually were covered and students have important evidence of it in their coursebooks).
Here are some of the techniques I've used in the past to speed up the chaff and allow some precious time for genuine grain:
- Keep explanations simple and brief for content/material that doesn't require any writing
- Read aloud entire texts myself (it's faster than read-around, and can be passed off as additional listening practice)
- Do and correct exercises as a whole class on the spot
- Apply the activity or exercise as a "fluency building" process (like doing a gap-fill in 25 seconds)
- Fill in all the blanks myself in advance, then turn the written exercise into a quick dictation exercise
- Pre-prepare answer sheets and have students use them to self-correct their work
- Break a coursebook task into a number of sections and have different groups do each, then check as a class (say you have 10 comprehension questions: 5 groups take 2 questions each, reducing the time it takes to finish the overall task dramatically)
- Claim a loss of memory ("the students told me we'd already finished that page last week")
- (For the quite sneaky): Stick two pages of your copy of the coursebook together with a minute amount of glue, and use this as an explanation as to why you neglected to teach two whole pages from the coursebook
- (For the really brave): Have students loosen the bindings on their coursebooks, and whenever a student discovers a page has gone missing from their book, skip it entirely for the whole class in your pursuit of equitable learning opportunities for every student in your class.
So whether you're finding cracks or creating them in your carefully constructed curriculum, make sure you then take those spaces and fly with them for all their worth. Make them like a breath of fresh air for your students in an otherwise claustrophobic program. Make sure your students really enjoy and get a lot out of them, because in court-martial situations (for curricular treason) they may just help sway the governor into granting you a pardon.
And once you've got cracks to work within without upsetting too many important people too often, start thinking about devious ways to widen them!