Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Unplugging (Again)

In my higher level class, we recently completed a 12 week vocabulary-focused program.  I really appreciated the opportunity to give so much attention to vocabulary -- it's interesting and learners like it.  We're still wrapping the program up, but  I hope to comment on it more sometime in the future.

One thing I really missed over the last 24 weeks or so has been ... unplugged teaching!   I mean, I steadfastly maintained an unplugged perspective  and took advantage of unplugged moments whenever they arose, but the lesson plans were fixed and that was that.

Root Veggies (courtesy of Muy Yum)
I'm afraid that when I was finally able to throw off the chains, I went Full Frontal Dogme on my learners, ha ha!  Last week, one of the lessons included the PARSNIP activity from 52:A Year of Subversive Activity for the ELT Classroom (Clandfield, Meddings).  Learners were really engaged, but it did seem kind of naughty to be examining the taboos of textbook-writing!  (Credit to this clever group: they did come up with all of the components of the PARSNIP acronym, though the second P came as a tossed-off joke from one of the Muslims in the class!)  It might have been worthwhile, though, to ease into things more slowly, shifting expectations gradually.

Thanks to CarbonNYC)
Near the end of our last meeting, I did comment about my teaching style and this set off a nice discussion. As is to be expected, several learners have a strong "right/wrong" perspective when it comes to language learning.  One learner stated what others may also have had in mind: that he needs to hear me speaking and to have me correcting him, otherwise he will learn "wrong" English.  I tried to assure him that he will hear me, the other learners, and himself and, if it's genuine communication (mostly comprehensible but with a few sticking points), his brain would work things out just fine. I would be listening, and my job would be to accelerate that brain process however I can.  Another learner mentioned the need for grammar points and I ask everyone how many years they had been studying English.  I speculated that, between them, they might know more about grammar than I do!  I noted that we would be paying attention to form, but it would be driven by the sticking points -- the situations that arise and call for attention to language -- and that we all needed to keep our eyes open for these opportunities.

I could see that some were skeptical but others appeared to be curious and inspired and that heartened me!  This is a well-educated and talented group and I think they'll enjoy this approach once we really get going.

(From Hani Amir)
You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. -- Jon Kabat-Zinn

I'd like to mention that I still have a lot to learn about teaching unplugged, so I'm thankful to all of the learners who've been trying it with me.  Lately, I feel as if I've moved to a new level with the whole thing.  I'll elaborate on that feeling in another post soon ...

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