by Michael Reid
In the English classroom opportunities also need to be found for students to enjoy judging and defending those judgments in public. In writing activities, for instance, students can evaluate each other's work and discuss both the evaluations and the criteria used in making them. With experienced writers in exam classes it is particularly interesting to let them make their own evaluations of official benchmark essays before comparing their assessments with the official grading.
In every English lesson we come across descriptions of situations in the lesson material. There is ample scope here to pause briefly and ask students what they would do in such a situation (assuming that students are familiar with the second conditional), followed by the request to explain why. From one perspective this is just good oral practice, but for those concerned about an education for heroes this is good practice in being accountable for one's actions and learning to live more responsibly.
Another idea that is not at all new: teachers exercising self-restraint and, from time to time, choosing not to be the authoritative source of knowledge. Some of us delight in feigning ignorance, pointing students in the direction of dictionaries and grammar reference books and the like when they have a question. We also refuse to spoonfeed and discourage parroting, especially when it comes to essays. The students must come up with their own ideas and must find a way both to evaluate and develop those ideas. And why stick to the absolute minimum essay length required by the examination board? There are moral grounds – not just linguistic ones – for insisting on depth; and depth requires length. At an advanced level the same good moral reasoning bolsters the examiner's (amoral) insistence that essay writers "explore some of the complexities" of the matter in hand. The students' thinking (and not just their language) needs to become nuanced, and therefore more frequently peppered with phrases like "although," "having said that," "it has to be admitted that," "to a certain extent," "and yet," and "seen from the perspective of."
Of course, what goes on in the English classroom can only be a tiny contribution. Children need to do many, many other things, such as lying on a hillside on a sunny day with their eyes closed listening – really listening – to the songs of birds, and then perhaps going to the same spot after sunset and looking – really looking – at the vast expanse of the abysmally black night sky. There is a long sentimental education that cannot be advanced in our classrooms, but as language teachers we may be in a privileged position to influence the more intellectual powers of critique and judgment that could make the difference between a good-hearted accomplice and the kind of moral hero prepared to speak out for peace.
2 Franco, Z., Zimbardo, P., The Banality of Heroism. Greater Good, Fall/Winter, 30-35, 2006.
|Michael Reid is a teacher, author of ECPE Challenge and contributor to www.fullspate.net
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