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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How do you do a jigsaw puzzle?

Sorry the text is so small - I've tried to change it but nothing happens! The spacing has gone mad too!

Thanks to liza31337 on Flickr
I wrote the title to this post sometime ago and then promptly forgot about it. I have just found it amongst the drafts that I never got round to finishing and posting. At first, I didn't even remember why I had decided to write a post entitled "How do you do a jigsaw puzzle?" and what it had to do with learning or teaching English, but then I remembered - I often get these flashes of parallels between day-to-day occurences and language learning methods, as in these older posts: Queuing in the Supermarket and Brick by Brick the Tower is Built. Having received a new jigsaw puzzle as a Christmas present (and taking ages to do it!), I got thinking about the different ways in which people approach things like jigsaws and how this is a reflection of a person's character, and consequently, their learning style.

I hate Science and Maths and Logic and anything else where you have to follow a procedure, step by step, methodically - boring! Now, I'm not a particularly creative person either, but I have always found it hard to think in a logical, ordered way. This is probably why I never really enjoyed Maths and Science at school. (By the way, you must read Brad Patterson's post Etymology and Dogme flies, 
where he talks about Science, Humanity and Coursebooks!) I prefer to do things in a slightly more random and ecletic manner. If I do have to solve a mathematical problem, for instance, I would try to work it out (in my head or on paper), but I wouldn't methodically work out the equation that could probably solve it much more quickly. I don't "do" equations! My partner, however, works out absolutely any problem with an equation - he believes this is the most practical, and the easiest way.

So, back to the jigsaw. Just as my partner methodically separates all the pieces - first the border, then all the other pieces according to colour (yes, in lots of little plastic tubs), I would rather do it more randomly. Ok, I do the border first, but I would rather not spend hours putting pieces into separate piles. On a larger section of colour, such as the sea in a map of the world, my partner puts all those pieces in nice lines, separated according to gender (in Spain jigsaw pieces are male or female, depending whether they have holes or sticking-out bits) and methodically tries each one in the space he is trying to fill. A jigsaw is supposed to be fun and for me there is no fun in this. In the past, we have done jigsaws together, and it's much better as we both have our own style. We complement each other in this way. However, I had to do this last jigsaw alone, and I found myself having to do some of it in exactly the way he would have done - trying out each piece one by one. This was mainly because I was fairly sick of it - it takes a long time to do a 2000 piecer on your own, and I really wanted to finish it.

Ok, you are wondering what on earth this has to do with anything. (Again!) Well, I think this can say a lot about how a student learns. As a language learner myself, I hated memorising lists and verb conjugations, and grammar rules. In fact, I never got to grips with the subjunctive at university - there are far to many rules to remember. And in any case, knowing the rules doesn't mean that you can actually use them. I learnt how to use the subjunctive by using it, by listening to people and reading. I picked it up. And I think this is reflected in the way I do jigsaw puzzles and solve problems. Other people prefer a more methodical approach.

So here we have two types of learners, although, of course, there are many more, especially if we look at Gardner's Multiple Intelligences. I think, as teachers, we need to be aware of this - that some of our students feel the need to know rules and have direct translations, and others don't. We often tend to stick to a methodology which encourages discovery and sometimes even glosses over the grammar, keeping everything in context (well, one context), but we always get at least one student who keeps asking "Ok, but what is the rule?" and "How do you say that in Spanish?". In many cases, I have seen teachers (and I have done it myself), try to keep explaining something with examples, refusing to either state the rules or translate, just because it was not the "in" thing to do. But if we really are trying to make our lessons learner-centred, surely we need to do things in the way that best suits our students? 

I think my main point here is really that "no one way is the right way". Depending on the students in a particular class, you may need to cover areas of language in more than one way. We could have reading and listening texts, even extensive reading, for students like me, who "find" language automatically with exposure. But we could also have more drilling and controlled exercises for those who need to separate their learning into categories. This is obviously very difficult to do in class, but for homework we could give the students several options. On occasion, we could divide the class up into two groups (according to learner type) and give them different actvities to complete. Or even, in pair work, put two different learners together and have one concentrate more on form and the other on the ideas.

So, how do you do a jigsaw puzzle?

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