My Map To Scale?
by Mark Wilson
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
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)
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!
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.
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.
T elicits items of recently-encountered vocabulary through
a variety of techniques e.g. "suspended sentences",
"oral gapfill", first-letter priming, explanation,
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.
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.
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.
A's Gerunds & Infinitives Lesson
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:
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.
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.
T draws attention to, and concept-checks, the different
meanings of the verbs depending on whether used with
infinitive or gerund.
Ss are given another handout beginning:
your partner about...
...someone you'll never forget meeting
...something you remember doing when you were five or
...something you forgot to do which caused a problem.
talk in pairs.
B's Gerunds & Infinitives Lesson
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
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.
At end of story, T puts Ss in pairs to try and reconstruct
story orally from key words on board. T monitors.
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.
T cleans board, then gives out gapped text telling story.
Gaps force Ss to decide between infinitives and gerunds.
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:
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"
10. Do students leave with a useful record of something?
Sequence 2: Limits Of Validity
teaching is not just a matter of assuming there are certain
"good things to do in the classroom" and then applying
them uncritically. It is a question of constant watchfulness
and decision-making, prioritising options for optimal effect,
choosing the most appropriate next step at each point. To
a large extent this can happen at the planning stage, but
to a certain extent it has to happen on the spur of the moment
in the classroom itself. Over time, the better I develop my
instincts for such decision-making, the less meticulous I
need to be in planning. These instincts can perhaps best be
developed by questioning the limits of validity of any given
Here is a list of things which are often regarded as "good
practice". For each of them, think of as many ways as
possible of completing the following sentence, then discuss
is/are valid for ....... but not if ..............
getting students to compare their answers
setting tasks and activities
getting students to predict
getting students to read aloud
getting students to explain language points to each other
using dictionaries in class
going over homework in class
the list can be extended, adapted and constantly updated.
It might take several sessions to cover all of it in satisfying
depth. Through such discussion, and perhaps by comparing with
results obtained from previous discussion groups, teachers
come not only to question their own practice but to feel part
of an emerging consensus as to what is and isn't valid in
their particular teaching context. And where controversy arises,
that too is part of the process: simply add a rider to the
framework-sentence so that it reads:
is/are valid for ..... but not if ......; but ..... or .....?"
then explore the controversy in their subsequent teaching.
practice, it is of course useful for the session leader to
have sketched out their own "suggested answers"
in advance, and then to seek an appropriate blend of elicitation
and guidance during feedback. If you would like a set of already
road-tested "suggested answers", contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
results of a discussion on the first item - brainstorming
- might look like this:
is valid for
getting Ss thinking about a given topic as a lead-in
to a task (reading, listening or writing)
- diagnosing how much vocab they already know in a given
- reinforcing/extending what Ss come up with by adding
a collocational element
it goes on too long
- teacher doesn't clearly distinguish between diagnosis
and input (i.e. assumes that what they come up with
is all they need)
- not challenging enough
- teacher automatically puts everything up on board
regardless of how new or useful
- teacher doesn't fix new items on board and get Ss
to copy in notebooks
- T doesn't check that what is written in notebooks
is in fact correct
- teacher doesn't check that all Ss understand (and
hear!) the items that come up
so on for the other listed aspects of classroom practice.
Task Sequence 3: Four Truths Of Teaching
Task 1: For each of the four statements below, discuss:
To what extent is it true? What should be done about it?
What you put in doesn't necessarily go in.
2. What goes in doesn't necessarily stay in.
3. What stays in doesn't necessarily come out.
4. What comes out wasn't necessarily put in.
2: Extend each of the four statements by adding "because..."
|Mark Wilson is a DOS and teacher trainer at International House, San Sebastián. He previously worked in the UK, Indonesia, India and the Dominican Republic.
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