There is no spoon.

I have, for right or wrong, better or worse, been teaching maths to a group of 16-18 year old ESOL learners, and it’s been a bit of a ride, with a tricky bunch of students and Captain Laidback Softypants at the helm, with only a very vague idea of where to go with all this numbers n maths n stuff. It’s not been a total disaster, but neither has it been much of a success, and it occurs to me that rather than great teachers and educationalists, the role model I need is Keanu Reeves.

Do you think that’s really air you’re breathing?

I’ve spent 11 weeks killing myself with this maths lark. I am Keanu in the Matrix when he fights Morpheus in the dojo. I’m wearing myself out generating materials and lesson ideas, and really, I don’t have to. This is partly down to loose planning. Loose planning is fine if you are confident enough in your subject. (I’m not. I’ve been putting off division for weeks.) Loose planning is fine if you have a bunch of subject based activities you can pop out of the bag at a moments notice. (I don’t.) Loose planning is fine if you have a motivated and engaged group of adults who want to be there and are curious to learn and practice. (Yeah, right.) Loose planning is rubbish for a group of excitable young people who would, it seems, rather be having sex with or fighting each other than learning anything to do with maths: and let’s face it, who can blame them?

So this is something I have been tightening up a lot, and I’ve been going back to almost CELTA era timings (3 minutes: give instructions, five minutes do activity, 3 minutes check in pairs, etc.) and, of course, resource chasing.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m good at what I know. I can, I’m proud to say, take pretty much any given text and turn it into a passable lesson for most levels in ESOL. This very morning, in fact, I devised a reading task based on a sheet of tips on presentations, and knocked up a neat, smart looking handout, after a change of plan in the last fifteen minutes before the lesson. I can, and have, walked in with a bunch of Lidl store brochures and made a good fist of a level 1 lesson out of it. I’ve done a beginners lesson with nothing more than a pile of slips of paper and a chat about clothes. This sounds like boasting, but really, it’s just what I do. It’s the ESOL version of that bit at the end of the Matrix where Keanu Reeves defeats Agent Smith without even looking at him: you don’t think about it, it’s just a thing you do.

“Bloody wolves chasing me through some blue inferno”

The flip side of this, however, is that you forget there is a world of resources out there. So my mouth nearly hit the floor when a colleague came over with a book, yes a whole blessed glorious book of maths activities, carefully devised and tight through to practice various skills at the appropriate level. Then this afternoon another colleague, hiding very well the scorn I am sure she was feeling, pointed out that we have a whole shelf of books. A whole SHELF? Sure I’d seen the rulers, calculators, dice and so on, but books with photocopiable sodding pages?

It simply hadn’t occurred to me to look.

Suddenly, I’m Keanu in Dracula, mangling a British accent and being out-acted by everybody else around, even Sadie Frost, and wondering what on earth I am doing. I do this in ESOL too. Last week, I was teaching a lesson on understanding and giving directions, and the last thing it occurred to me to do was look in a book. Passives? Mangle-force a lesson out of a couple of passing passive sentences or select a nicely graded, focussed activity from a professionally written resource book or coursebook?

Guns. Lots of guns.

Sticking with Keanu as a metaphor, there’s a scene in the Matrix where he and Trinity set off to tackle the three Agents and rescue Morpheus. The time now is not only to rely on the self, but also on resources to support the self: in this case guns and a massive bomb. In my maths lessons, clearly, I need guns. Lots of guns. And then I can still roll with the lesson, to adapt and focus the resources to the specific needs of a lesson, but I also have the hardware, so to speak, to take out a class of 16-18 year olds with the educational equivalent of some slo-mo kicks and a couple of machine guns.


Letting in the Monster

On September 11th, 2001, I was coming out of a job interview when I saw the various members of staff clustered around the single office computer with a broadband connection, watching creaky early Internet footage of trails of smoke pouring from the World Trade Center in New York. I ran home and switched on the TV and spent a significant chunk of the rest of the day watching the horror unfold. It wasn’t the first such atrocity, and it certainly wasn’t the last: London, Madrid, not to mention countless others in countries and cities less appealing to the Western media.

Then,  last Friday, I was on my way to bed, and idly checking through Twitter when something about Paris caught my eye. Bombs?  Paris? What?

I’m not going to comment on the whys and the hows and the what the… because there are greater minds than mine on that task. There was shock, a sense of disquiet and unease as I walked through a packed city centre railway station on Monday, followed by the awful reflection that if I lived in Syria, or any number of other countries, this unease, or worse, is how people feel every single day. When I arrived at work, however, I was confronted with the  nagging awareness that my planned reading lesson for my Level 2 ESOL class suddenly felt very trite. This was going to be the first time that group would meet after the attacks, and by the students would not have had much chance to talk about it with many people beyond their immediate families.

So what do you do with this? Do you ignore it, and move on with your lesson? Do you insist on tackling it, perhaps with a reading or a videotape based around the events? I didn’t like either option terribly much: both seemed to ignore the students feelings: the first through callous disregard, and the second through forcing an agenda onto the lesson. I had my planned lesson, so I decided to go in and see how things rolled.

There was a silence in the class. They’re a friendly but not naturally chatty group, but this time things felt distinctly like there was a great thing hanging unsaid in the classroom: not so much an elephant in the room as a glowering shadowy monster hulking in the corner. It was practically tangible. So where do you go with that? I thought. I bumbled and fluffed for a bit, realised that the thing was still there, and said, quite simply and openly to the class: “OK, let’s talk about it. Talk to the people near you about how you feel about the events in Paris.”

Let me set some context: level 2 is a level at which students are generally capable of most non-specialised interactions in English. They are not reliant on family or friends to translate or interpret news, or first language websites. In our discussions on this, the students and I were all equal, having read the same reports, watched the same TV news. This presence, after all, was bigger than the confines of a classroom and the triviality of maintaining student-teacher roles. The students are also, with two exceptions, Muslim, and clearly a lot of the upset was not only the shock at what had happened but also the shock, even anger, at the idea this could have been done in the name of their religion. I may not believe in any variation of god myself, but I could understand the outrage at how one’s beliefs, to your mind based in care, love and respect, could be used to justify such an action. Islam, they reminded me, means peace. Islam means peace.

No sooner had I opened up the classroom, then almost immediately came the sense of relief. All the students shared and discussed, and my role was merely participant and occasional language guide to enable expression. I’m glad I encouraged them to talk in small groups, because it meant everyone got to say something, and no one person could dominate the group. I held back from language analysis and error correction: there is a time and a place, and this wasn’t it. This was just a time to talk.

I let the conversations go on, until the energy faded, and group by group they sighed to a standstill. Normally I wouldn’t let it peter out, choosing a moment when, usually, most people have managed to participate fully in the discussions: the learning outcome for this type of thing is usually  “contribute to a discussion” or “acknowledge others in turn taking” and so on. But we did move on the reading task, which now no longer seemed so trite or meaningless, but which we could all tackle as students and as a teacher without the feeling that we had something we needed to say. We had cleared the air. The monster was there, still: I would hardly expect it to go; but the monster was owned and shared between us.

Maybe this is all a bit dramatic, a bit OTT for an English class. But there is another lesson here – it is tempting to forget that students have lives and concerns, fears and hope and all of those things and say “come to class, learn English” but there is a world of pain and love outside the classroom window and we would be not insensitive but downright stupid to try to ignore it. Let the monster in, as it were, and you can let in all the doves as well.


Wednesday night is a bad night for blogging. It’s usually my second late night, and I’m packed to the rims on a Wednesday. This means that anything I write on a Wednesday night is always a bit fraught and I usually delete it by Thursday morning. However, what I have got is thoughts going round and round in my head and if I don’t write it then I’m not going to relax and be a normal functioning human tomorrow. You see, the thing is, there’s a phenomenon which, up to know, I’ve heard about, but never really experienced first hand: observation panic, where your brain shuts down and you turn into a soggy, useless stuttering idiot. I’ve helped people with it, and this was probably what saved me, but still, happening to me first hand? Never before. 

This is what happened. This evening I had what is probably the least challenging and least unpleasant of all the managerial observations, the learning walk, and I’m very much au fait with the whole “it’s supportive, learning about what you are doing” and all that jazz. My observers tonight were two lovely and supportive managerial colleagues watching me as part of the learning walk, and the bit they got to see was, to put it mildly, a stinker. A stinky sucky car crash. 

Here’s why: I’d overestimated the abilities of the students to extract grammatical structures (passive voice) from a handful of sentences, chosen bad examples of the sentences, failed to differentiate for the less able (as I’d mentally planned to differentiate for the more able) and it all flopped: pace, focus, my own ability to explain or elicit a sodding grammar point, all of it, went as limp as a three week old cabbage. And so I panicked. This was swiftly followed by awful gut-twisting embarrassment that I was panicking like a CELTA trainee in their second teaching session: “hang on, I can’t show myself up being this crap”. It took five, maybe even ten excruciating minutes for me to get my useless slug of a brain to come round and put into place a rescue activity to bring the lesson back on track (if I say it involved quickly drawing fish and fish bones, shortly followed by an empty plate with crumbs on, I’ll leave you to work the rest out). I was largely oblivious to the fact that I was jabbering away in the vague hope that someone might be able to pay attention, throwing questions to the wind, and aiming to get some sanity. The rescue task itself could have been far better, of course, but given how I felt about the whole sorry business, I’d say it was good enough for the job. 

But also, as is customary in these cases, after my colleagues had left, I managed to get the lesson back to something like on track, and amazingly there was some sense of the learning happening in the lesson. It was very telling, and somewhat terrifying that one of the students, grinned at me as the observers left and said “now you can relax.” Admittedly this particular student is one of a small group who has been with me since September last year, and know me fairly well, but nevertheless my discomfort was clearly quite apparent. 

What this all shows, of course, is that a) I am human, b) have a big ego, and therefore c) am supremely capable of fucking up. I’m also capable of salvaging a lesson, and, (whisper it) I’m not always comfortable being observed. Who’d have thought it, huh? 

Choosing not to strike

You’d have hoped things would have changed but no. FE is still being squeezed, pay is being frozen, and generally things are looking bleak. It’s no surprise, then, that my colleagues in UCU went on strike today. I chose not to, and as I was informed, somewhat spikily, by a committed Union member that the decision about going into work yesterday was a “moral” one, I thought I might explain why. 
For one, I’m not a union member, and as such I am a free individual without commitment to any politically motivated organisation. Therefore the decision, for me, is entirely personal. I owe no moral obligation to the union: I made use of their services on two occasions and did so as a result of my then fully paid up membership. I’ve never been a great one for arbitrary loyalty. I paid my dues, I received a service: simple. 

Back then as well, I was also younger and more idealistic and felt that going on strike would achieve something. So I walked out on several occasions, and all I had to show for it was a reduced pay packet when my day’s pay got docked. The trouble is, even if I were a member, I still would be walking into work today with my head held high. Not because I support the government on its approach to FE and FE funding: quite the opposite, in fact. I believe that on the subject of FE, and indeed many areas, the government is wrong, and that they have nothing to offer me or my family whatsoever. My household is entirely dependent on the public sector: my children attend publicly funded education, my wife works for the NHS, I am not in any respect a supporter of this government. To quote the mighty Radiohead, “bring down the government/they don’t speak for us.” 

However, I don’t think striking works. Downing tools and walking out works, for example, when you are involved in producing something quickly quantifiable. If I am a coal miner, then one day of me not digging coal will lead to a reduction in the overall quantity of coal, leading to reduced profit for the people in charge. Firefighters walk out and the government have to pay the army to come in. For someone in school education the impact is disruption: if all the teachers walk out of a school, that’s several hundred families who have to rearrange work, childcare, and goodness knows what else. This is also a direct, measurable impact. In post-16 education, however, we lose on both counts. To achieve the kind of direct impact that our friends in industry and school age education achieve is only really possible if we take action during a crucial assessment period, where students final results may be immediately and directly affected, and I, for one, would never do that to my students. It’s not, after all, their fault. So we have term time strikes which mildly disrupt lessons by, let’s face it, usually just pushing the scheme of work along a little and covering what you would have covered on the strike day later on in the year. Never mind the moral fact that whatever was planned to be covered that day should not be covered: that simply isn’t what happens. The students have the day off to hang around McDonalds or whatever, and enjoy the break. 

Is there, perhaps, a sense of a message being sent to the powers that be? I think that’s possible on a local scale where the negative publicity of a visible picket line might well work. Colleges, after all, are dependent on the good will of the communities they work in, so need to maintain a good local standing. But a national scale on a fairly technical issue of pay rises, then you are hardly going to engage the general public. Indeed, public sector pay has been spun pretty nastily against us by the government and is hardly something to appeal to someone employed in the private sector who hasn’t had any kind of pay rise for the last ten years either. So in the end, the strike becomes lots of noise and bluster, and, like a tantrum, is quickly forgotten. 

But if striking isn’t the answer, then what is? Mass has a power, and amassed voices have power, but I’m not sure that these voices no longer need subscription based unions to make those voices heard. I’m not saying Twitter is the answer, or that we form up a mass of blogs raging against the dying of the funding light but it’s a start. Politicians are frightened of social media, after all, with its immediate ability to pick up and shame even the smallest photoshopped poppy. What if every college lecturer in the country emailed key members of the government at the same time? Thousands of emails plopping into ministerial inboxes at the same time might get noticed. Even thinking more traditionally, online petitioning is gathering following, if not necessarily impact. The industrial action of the future is not physical picket lines, or withdrawn labour, or a united collective voice. Rather rather it is individual and diverse voices of every social and political stripe, coming together on an issue, repeating the same tune until it is heard.

And if you are a union member, and you are outraged or upset by what I’ve said, then think about this: what exactly is the union doing to persuade me to rejoin and get on board? If the union is keen on getting members it needs to do more than present its usual tedious polarised anti-management stance: the world is not that simple any more. It needs to learn to rely on more than simple faith and loyalty (my own reserves of which are cynically small, and reserved for those closest to me). It needs to develop recruiting techniques more effective than disapproving frowns and snide comments. For many of us whose politics developed under Thatcher and Blair, there is a nagging sense of “what’s in it for me?

But my respect to those who did strike yesterday. I admire your commitment to a cause. Just remember that my withheld strike is not a criticism of you, but of the methods you have supported. The world is changing and unions, and crucially union action must change with it, or run the risk of obscurity and irrelevance. Unions and their actions have been responsible for many many great things, but they need to do more than rely on past victories. 

Blended Learning MOOC week 1 #flble1

Look at that, I made it through week 1 of the Blended Learning Essentials: Getting Started MOOC and I’m surprised. Surprised I made it this far without giving up and surprised at some of my learning / reactions on the way.

Most of the first week was around what Blended Learning is and what it means in terms of impact on teachers and learners. I came to this slightly arrogantly, I think, although still don’t think that my reservations in terms of impact on learners has really been addressed. The definitions surprised me a little – there seemed to be a fairly arbitrary line drawn between what constituted blended learning and learning with digital technology which was basically over the complexity of the technology applied, rather than the interactivity of it – thus a straight set of powerpoint slides with words on would not count as blended and yet add a couple of diagrams and videos and suddenly it is. Students n an internet cafe making a set of powerpoint slides on a thing they’ve just learned icounts as blended learning, although this is still a fairly arbitrary distinction – technology here is not adding anything to my mind, merely making it look pretty, I’m not convinced by these at all, although I can see how some of the activities would count as blended – like recording workplace data using a smartphone, or using a virtual simulation before doing a practical task.

That said, I like that the definitions of the blend are more flexible than the usual one – that blended learning is basically “doing homework via the VLE to save money”, and also the assumption that there has to be an element of conscious teacher direction involved – it’s not enough for learners simply to be checking stuff out in their own time and off their own backs. This, perhaps, says more about the psychology of teachers that we feel a need to assert ourselves on students’ learning in this way, rather than identifying where this independent learning is happening and drawing it into the shared learning environment of the classroom.

The other big reflection for me was around the ways in which technology has changed classroom practice – this was one of the first tasks and this is what I wrote in a draft blog post at the time:

“How has technology changed teaching and learning? That’s an interesting question. it’s interesting because it focuses not on some unspecified future, but on the present. For one it takes as its opening assumption that technology is changing teaching and learning. This is a claim which some commentators don’t agree with, suggesting that the field of education (people talking to other people about stuff and learning from it) hasn’t really changed over the last 100 years when compared with fields which have always been comparatively highly technologised, like medicine and aeronautics. The latter is my favourite, even though I can’t find the link: to suggest that education and flying several tonnes of metal through the sky can be compared in terms of their technology use is frankly bizarre.

I do think technology has changed and is changing the way that we work. To take a very simple example, in the last 15 years or so for listening activities in a language class, I’ve gone from audio cassettes & VHS video to CDs & DVDs to MP3 files and now streamed audio and video through the Internet. It hasn’t necessarily changed the manner of that particular activity: you still play the recording and students listen to it, but there is a lot of great flexibility in the classroom: it’s far easier now, for example, to play just the audio of a video recording, and build activities round that: it’s easier too to control an audio recording using the slider control on screen, and so on. There’s nothing massively game changing to this sort of thing in and of itself, but these are all sorts of marginal gains, minor changes with little impact on their own, but when aggregated become quite dramatic. In terms of my own practice, it is only these marginal gains from the inclusion of interactive whiteboards in the classroom. The dramatic visual opportunities of whizzy graphics of the IWB is gimmicky and rather less impressive and practical than the ability to print and share the board, or do things like highlight text or complete gap fills reflecting student work in the class: small things but with far wider reaching possibilities than swish graphics, especially the usual deeply tedious getting students up to do drag and drop stuff on the IWB. That isn’t game changing, it’s just naff. If that was such a great idea why weren’t teachers doing it years ago with paper and bits of blue tack?”

I am critical of the sometimes slack-jawed awe that people have over technology use. It is only a bunch of pixels on a screen, and if the essential idea is rubbish, then the finished result will be rubbish regardless of the medium of delivery. 50 dull powerpoint slides is still 50 dull powerpoint slides. Not the best tool for the job. In another post I drafted earlier this week I reflected on how the best tool for the job of taking my family the 350 or so miles to Devon for the half term week is a car but for navigating 6 miles of traffic clogged city streets then the best tool for the job is a bicycle. Using tech for the sake of using tech is like driving a stupid 4×4 through a city centre at 8am – pointless, inefficient and you look a bit of a knob as it rarely works quite as you wanted.  As a teacher you look at the full range of resources available and choose the most suitable one for the task in hand. That may be something as low tech as cuisenaire rods or mini-whiteboards, but these can be a far more effective than a higher tech equivalent in terms of immediacy of use, reliability and impact. On the other hand, online learning curated and developed by a teacher and presented through the VLE can be an excellent way of extending and building on the work done in a face to face setting in a way which simply wouldn’t be possible in a non-technologised manner. Of course, the low technology options are not considered as “blended” at all, but that’s a much bigger and longer discussion – given that I’m over a thousand words in, I’d better stop.

Anyway, looking at the week ahead, I think the question around evolving pedagogy is going to be addressed, so I think I will definitely leave it there. Fingers crossed I can follow this through!

The curse of literacy?

Last Thursday was the fifth of November, notable in the UK as bonfire night, when the British randomly celebrate the execution of a religious terrorist who, in the event, failed in the attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in order to kill the King. Hardly a great example of British Values, so instead, with my beginner ESOL learners, we did some work around telling the time, numbers, and verbs of the daily routine. We only touched on the daily routine stuff, but it was a nice class nonetheless.

What was nice about it? It is a small group, by current standards, and this meant that there was time to support individuals properly with feeling like the rest of the class is just waiting for you to come and set them up for something else. One of the things about beginners is that there is often little or no mental downtime for the teacher: in a high level class you can very often set a task up and it simply runs, allowing you to quickly check everyone is on task, then set up the next activity or whatever before heading back out to monitor student activity, give feedback and so on. In a beginner group you have to play it a bit tighter: you have to really carefully make sure everyone is clear about the task (and often there will be one or two students who aren’t, no matter what you try) by which time, really, the students need checking and monitoring. And then you’re straight onto feedback. There are rarely places to hide when teaching beginners.
One of the crucial and, for a beginner class, unusual things about this lesson was that I told the students to not write when we did the vocab work. For many beginner sol learners my writing is often the major issue in their development and their perceived priority. As a result, there is a tendency to copy and write everything. While there’s nothing essentially wrong with this, it can lead to a lack of focus on the systemic features of language: grammar and vocabulary. Of course, to a non-specialist native speaker, and indeed to many language learners, grammar and vocabulary is writing because this is most commonly how this is discussed and analysed in our educational backgrounds. But from a language learning perspective, grammar can be learned without any writing at all: indeed the vast majority of people learn language orally. Writing helps, for sure, but it’s an artificial imposition on the process borne out of social training.
So it came as a bit of a mental shock to the class when I told them not to write and to out their pens down. I’m glad I did too: it created a much more open and cohesive conversation, with high levels of humour and interaction. Rather than the usual beginner literacy panic about letter formation and writing on the line, the learners were able to concentrate on interacting and engaging with the language. There was a real sense of “oh that’s what you call it” which sometimes can get lost in the focus on developing literacy using known language. 
It also levelled the playing field a little. Some of the weaker writers, for example, are stronger speakers, and some of the stronger writers are less strong at speaking and overall it averaged out. More importantly, I think, there was also a greater sense of the group coming together as a whole because there was a greater focus on shared communication and negotiating meaning. There was a much more clearly developed sense of mutual respect, as well as practice in the less measurable skills of turn taking and listening in a conversation.
This may just be me, but there are times when I think that beginner teaching gets a little over obsessed with beginner literacy. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be addressed, of course, because it is crucially important, and is certainly one of the key restricting factors that stops learners from progressing. This importance, however, does mean that it’s tempting, even necessary, to focus a disproportionate amount of  lesson time on the literacy element, rather than the language learning element. I wonder how a level 1 class would react if you spent half the lesson focussing on reading and writing only familiar words in comfortable contexts. I do wonder if there are times when learners get fed up of the relentless focus on phonics, handwriting, spelling and the rest at the expense of essential spoken communication. I know I would probably reach a point where I would want to shout “enough with spelling my address and bloody CVC words! I want to be able to speak!” 


I’ve a little confession to make. For my Level 1/ Level 2 evening class, I left a gap in the forward planning of my scheme of work. It was just a week, and I had a vague idea about something halloween-y, but that was about it. Everyone does this, surely? They have weeks or sessions where you end up leaving it empty because you can’t think exactly of what to put there, or because, as in my case, you’d run out of oomph for a particular topic, but because half term is coming up, you don’t want to start a new topic for it to be interrupted by half term. 

Now, anyone out there reading this who teaches a vocational course leading to a fixed qualification is likely to be thinking “er, no. I plan my schemes well in advance during the summer break and then tweak it to fit the students when term starts.” In which case I hate you. An ESOL course takes as its starting point the, er, starting points of the students, which is something you can never know until they roll up in your classroom on your first day. And given that a) there’s enough in a teacher’s workload at the best of times, and b) learning is neither a linear nor predictable process, it is simply unworkable to suggest that forward planning goes on more than about six weeks in advance. This is why, where I work, we ask for no more than this. It’s quite a straightforward process: once diagnostics and whatnot are done, you plan in six weeks, plus some notes and thoughts about what. Isn’t follow as and when they occur to you. Then every couple of weeks or so you go back into your scheme and add another couple of weeks. Repeat until exam time, and then abandon everything in a flurry of exam practice and mocks. 

The beauty of this, of course, is that if a news story pops up of interest to your class, or something happens locally or in college, or whatever, you can simply throw in a lesson or two on that subject. The course plan then shifts down a week or so, and you have an opportunity to use real, living, exciting events as a jumping off point for language development, rather than relying on the tedious “real life” so beloved of deficit-model ESOL materials writers. Even planning six weeks in advance, the whole thing will be a week or so out by the end of it, if you are a halfway decent teacher who recognises that there are people on the classroom apart from them, and listens to them, learning about their developing needs as the course progresses. (There are some teachers out there, of course, who think that setting some SMART targets and a learning styles assessment are all you ever need to know about your students, but the less said about those sort of people the better.) 

So anyway, this does mean that the planning can go awry, or that, in my case, you get the odd week where you think “I’ll come back to that later” but never do until the week happens upon you. I was looking for something on a creepy ghost story theme. Which is when I found this lovely resource for the British Council. For the first lesson I did more or less the “pre-reading” element as it stood, and for the second, having noted some issues with adjectives, I launched into an adjective task where I got the students to research online for information about different aspects of adjectives (comparatives, superlatives, adjective order, etc.) before sharing. 

I wouldn’t say it bombed, as such, but it didn’t zing as I had thought it might. It sort of pootled. Ambled and wandered. One or two people got lost. Another one or two got a bit bored. As a result I had to work bloody hard in the lesson to make up for the shortcomings, and bring those people back into the lesson. To take the ultimate observer line, I would say that learning of a sort happened, but it lacked structure and dynamism. What went wrong, I think, is that the decision making process, in terms of content and theme was y responsibility, and I misjudged. The activities themselves were fine, and for the most part my management of those activities was fine in terms of set up and final checking of understanding. However, in the second lesson I sort of abandoned the stronger students confident that they were able to manage the research task, and focussed instead on the weaker students, which weakened the process somehow: if nothing else I think students like to know you care about them. 

So yes, the basis of the problem in this lesson was around the long term planning decisions: trying to do too much for some students in terms of language to be covered, not enough thinking through of the gaps in the learners’ interlanguages. It was my lesson, my topic, my themes, not one for the learners. I chose the text based on my agenda not that of the students. But I’ll find out what they think of the story after the holiday, and whether we want to explore it more. If the students see more opportunities in it, then we will, but if not, then a single lesson to close things off and then move on. We’ll see.