Image: Patrick Hoesly
Those readers who were familiar with this blog before my switch out of EFL/ESL into Applied/Vocational Literacy won't be surprised to see me post about emergent learning and teaching; there is ample evidence of my inclinations in the Teaching Unplugged directory on this blog...
Well, I've been up to '(no) good' again. I threw the regular, highly pre-set curriculum for our literacy program right out the window today to tackle writing with a group of quite reluctant literacy students. The ones who have become quite infamous for spending as much of their time in class playing simple browser-based computer games as possible, only ever retrieving their writing document when a teacher walks past or actually sits down right beside them. Even then, it's basically a waiting game (the very literal pun intended there).
I started by gathering them all together at the start of class today to have a chat about these games they like to play. They were hesitant at first, and some were even bold enough to feign looks of sheepishness; they figured this was some sort of friendly build up to a stern (but pointless) lecture about classroom behaviour and dedication.
After our little chat, I announced that I wanted 300-word written pieces from each of them describing in detail what their favourite online games were, how to play them, and what the best tips were for excelling at them. I wanted final drafts from each student by the end of class.
They were gobsmacked.
Then they got to it.
Seventy-five minutes later I had final drafts from eight of the ten students. They were more than passable at Intermediate level in the VCAL Literacy program (their designated level), meeting the outcome of writing for practical purposes, with full evidence of planning, drafting and editing (as well as teaching/feedback from myself).
That's all well and good, but selected texts from this stash can now be uploaded and used as reading for practical purposes (another outcome) -- with a fair chance the students will be willing to read them. We can then have some discussions together and cover oracy for practical purposes, and most probably oracy for self expression and oracy for knowledge as well.
We might finish with a discussion and debate about whether students should be allowed access to online games at school. From that can stem oracy for public debate and writing for public debate, and reading for public debate as well.
In essence, with this one particular fire, I can probably cater to up to eight of the twelve official VCAL Literacy outcomes over 3-5 lessons with these chaps (more if they need it and the engagement is still running hot; if not, out the window it goes and mind that pre-set curriculum stuff on your way out, if you please!).
I've seen the same group struggle along like Frodo and Sam across the plains of Mordor for similar periods of time (3-5 lessons or even more) and not complete a task that met one of the twelve outcomes.
My point in writing this wasn't to slag off pre-set curriculums. Some pre-set tasks work quite well. Others don't, and need to be put to the sword. The pride that accompanies selecting and designing all the tasks in advance needs to take a back seat when it becomes obvious it is sneezing into a strong wind. The quite unfounded need for (and belief in) authority/control based on this sort of program design needs to be relegated to a Pink Floyd song.
The starting and finishing points are the learners. We can't keep excluding them from what is supposed to be their curriculum -- especially when we are working towards outcomes that are officially described as being necessarily flexible and designed to be adapted to meet the needs and interests of learners.
I deliberately added (Part 1) to the title of this post. In reality, it isn't my first time as a pre-set curriculum chuck-outer (or chucker outer, or chucker outerer, or whatever works best here), and it most certainly won't be the last time, either.
See you later down the line for (Part 2)!