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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Brick By Brick the Tower is Built


Last night some friends and I were having a nice game of Jenga® which is always good for a laugh. If you've never played it, the game consists of removing blocks from anywhere in the tower using only one hand and then placing them on the top. The tower gets bigger and more unstable as you play and the objective is not to make the tower fall. Some players are more strategic and try to make the tower as unstable as possible for the next person whereas others tend to play safe. Why I am writing about this on my ELT blog? Well, I was thinking about making some New Year's Resolutions related to my teaching and most of them require a step by step approach, doing a little every day, recording and reflecting over time and this made me think of the game we were playing last night.

In fact, Jenga® has quite a lot to do with teaching and learning. One of my objectives for the rest of this year is to work on building up my students' knowledge and use of English, encouraging them to do a little each day, whether this is revisiting vocabulary, doing some grammar reinforcement exercises, sending me an email or watching a video on Youtube. I would also like them to reflect on their own progress, taking time to decide what each individual needs to work on - a bit like thinking carefully about which block to remove in Jenga® and then placing it on top of the tower of knowledge in order to move onto the next block (sorry about that cheesy metaphor there!) My point is that I need to try and make my students understand that in order to be successful at language learning, they must have realistic expectations of what can be achieved before working out what they can do daily to achieve these objectives. And that a little every day often goes much further than a three hour marathon session on a Sunday night or a frantic cramming session before an exam.

As for my other resolutions, they are related to both the classroom and my own professional development outside it.

1) Try to make use of more emergent language and allow the lesson to develop and evolve by itself. I need to loosen the reins a bit. That is not to say that I am going to go full-dogme and abandon the course book or the exam prep, but I would like to extend those dogme moments I have had towards the end of 2010 and let them take over longer parts of the lesson, if relevant.

2) During and after lessons, make a note of any problems, difficulties, and thing that didn't go so well and reflect on possible reasons and solutions or changes that could be made. This refers to materials themselves, the manipulation of those materials, dynamics, individual students, my own behaviour... and probably lots more! I intend to look closely at any problems and try to find logical solutions to them (something that doesn't come very easy to me - I am somewhat lacking in critical thinking skills!) I will try to take up Dave Dodgson's challenge, where he invites us to blog about things that haven't gone too well as well those that do.

3) Try to find the time to create more materials and to organise them properly on my computer... one day maybe I will have a small library of materials in which to dip into and adapt. Again, this is a slow and steady activity that I need to begin and keep up (another characteristic that seems to evade me quite a lot - especially where the gym is concerned!) and regularly update.

4) Continue working every day on my CLIL course (I will blog about that at some point), and when I have finished this particular set of materials, start working on the next age group. Yet again, a little every day is best, allowing my mind to rest in between - unless I have a particularly creative and productive morning. I need to be constant and make myself work on this every weekday, with no buts!

5) Go swimming twice a week. Yes, I know this has nothing to do with teaching, but I do have to try to fit it in with all the other things on my list, AND teaching of course! Also, if I publicly announce it on here, I might just feel an obligation to go! Please feel free to ask me if how many times I have been swimming each week, and don't accept all the excuses I will come up with!

I'm sure there were a few more things in my head before I started writing this post, but I think the ones I have mentioned are enough to be going on with. I really don't want to overwhelm myself with objectives and good intentions, after all, they do need to be realistic and accomplishable (is that a word?) just like those I want my students to set themselves.

Going back to Jenga®, if you think carefully about the blocks to remove and where to place them, if you take your time, you will build a decent tower. If you rush in and try to build up the tower too quickly, this is what will happen.
I'll leave you to think about the analogy with teaching and learning.

Happy 2011 and may you and your students all have a productive, creative, successful and fun year!
Me, panicking during our game - and no, I didn't knock it down once!
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