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Is My Map To Scale?
by Mark Wilson

- 1

The task sequences presented here aim to provide ways of questioning the relative value of various aspects of our classroom practice - in other words, to enhance a sense of perspective and proportion. Which things are really important and which less so? Have I been overvaluing or undervaluing anything?
The tasks are intended for in-service training sessions or teacher development or discussion groups, and at a push might be adaptable to late stages of CELTA courses. I hope in any case that you feel an insatiable craving to try them out with a few colleagues.

Task Sequence 1: Teachers A & B

This sequence is designed to encourage questioning of four terms that sometimes receive too uncritical a thumbs-up:
•learner-centred (sometimes over-simplistically taken to mean "not involving the teacher" - even if that leaves students floundering)
•communicative (over-simplistically = "get 'em talking" - however hesitant or low-octane the communication)
•personalisation (over-simplistically = "get 'em talking about themselves" - even if imposed or "fictitious" material might actually be more interesting or rewarding)
•authentic (over-simplistically = "make it real" - regardless of unhelpful distractions)

In designing these tasks I've tried to avoid the trap of "setting it up to knock it down". I would hope that equal respect be extended to both of these teachers!

Task 1
You will see how two teachers go about teaching lessons which have virtually the same aims, but which are approached in different ways. Discuss the relative merits of the way teachers A and B choose to begin their lessons.

Teacher A
Vocabulary review game
T divides class into two teams. T gets a S from one team to come to front of class and sit with back to board. T writes on board a word which has cropped up recently in class. Team members have to elicit the word from the S at front through definition, explanation or "oral gapfill". When the S gets it, team get a point and play switches to other team, and so on alternately.


Teacher B
Vocabulary review
T elicits items of recently-encountered vocabulary through a variety of techniques e.g. "suspended sentences", "oral gapfill", first-letter priming, explanation, definition.
All this is done at a brisk pace with frequent recapping. T ensures that all Ss participate by alternating between group response and random individual nomination.

Should teacher B's wrist be slapped for being teacher-centred, uncommunicative, not "fun"? Perhaps you can see where I'm heading.
Consider the following task before reading how Teachers A & B continue their lessons.

Task 2

For each of the two lessons described - assuming a competent, alert, knowledgeable, sensitive teacher in both cases - indicate which of the following attributes apply, and then evaluate.

Tchr A
Tchr B
Value? (comment)


Teacher A's Gerunds & Infinitives Lesson

1. T gives out cards for an activity requiring the Ss to match up half-sentences to form complete sentences, each containing a verb which is sometimes used with the gerund and sometimes with the infinitive, e.g. stop, remember, forget, try, regret etc. Examples include:

Please remember to include / descriptions with each image.
I don't remember seeing her / on the Carol Burnett show.
I shall not easily forget meeting / several scouts who stated firmly that hiking was the best part of the adventure.

(The sentences are authentic examples collated by the teacher)
The Ss are asked to work in pairs, then the answers are checked in whole-group feedback.

2. T draws attention to, and concept-checks, the different meanings of the verbs depending on whether used with infinitive or gerund.

3. Ss are given another handout beginning:

Tell your partner about...
...someone you'll never forget meeting
...something you remember doing when you were five or six
...something you forgot to do which caused a problem. (etc)

Ss talk in pairs.


Teacher B's Gerunds & Infinitives Lesson

1. T half-tells, half-elicits a story concocted so as to contextualise verbs which take either gerund or infinitive e.g. stop, remember, forget, try, regret etc. It is a story about a disastrous car journey - somewhat unnatural and far-fetched, but nevertheless (or, indeed, consequently) easily memorable at least in outline. The story's ending typifies the ways it contextualises the target language:
Eventually he told us he was closing in five minutes, so he wouldn't be able to fix the window till the following morning. This meant staying the night in a hotel. And we had meant to arrive in Cadiz by 7 o'clock in the evening!

2. T recaps briefly every few minutes, putting key words or drawings on board as story is built up. These are used as prompts to elicit sentences about the story so far. Ss are encouraged to add detail if they like.

3. At end of story, T puts Ss in pairs to try and reconstruct story orally from key words on board. T monitors.

4. Whole-group feedback. T elicits back whole story, asking concept questions at points involving target verbs in order to clarify how infinitive or gerund give the verbs different meanings. T paraphrases these meanings in a column at one side of the board. Ss take notes.

5. T cleans board, then gives out gapped text telling story. Gaps force Ss to decide between infinitives and gerunds.


Task 3. Discuss the following, weighing up and comparing "to what extent" for the lessons given by teachers A & B, and considering what further steps might enrich the learning process:

1. Is students' memory challenged?
2. Are students engaged in buildup?
3. Might "teacher flair" be a factor here? Can the ability to "perform" influence the decision about the best approach to take?
4. Is the lesson easy to recap in future?
5. Is students' effort of an engaging nature?
6. Is student production likely to be faltering or confident?
7. Have students been empowered for future production?
8. Do students leave with a sense of satisfaction at having learnt something?
9. Does the chosen method suit both motivated and "reluctant" learners?
10. Do students leave with a useful record of something?

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