Best Laid Plans

So I set off with the fairly reasonable plan from my last post, all updated and ready to deliver supported by VLE – bonus side effect of VLE based lessons – no photocopying so when you are running late (anyone who has encountered the roundabout at Horsforth  at 8 am will know what I mean, and if not, well here is the traffic on the day the google car went round, probably a Sunday you don’t have to do any! Anyway, I  went in clutching iphone, logged into two PCs – one for the IWB and one for the lesson plan on the blog, and leapt boldly into the runing waters of the lesson.

Well, it didn’t quite go like that. Discussions arose about the confusingly worded question about qualifications on the Census form, and whether they should count themselves as full time students (technically no to the latter). Soo-oo we embark on a brief and entertaining tour around the National Qualifications Framework leading to a wide discussion, provoked by the learners, about how to go about getting to university, why does ESOL stop at Level 2, what are the other options, what does vocational mean, etc etc etc. By the time we have discussed this, as well as a further tangent on wugs and gutches (cast your mind back to first language acquisition if you don’t know what this is about) and how children learn language, the benefits of bilingualism, approaches to bilingual education as carried out by learners in the group, etc etc etc.

But as with all such lessons, sometimes learners have axes to grind. So how to close down the axe grinding without alienating the students who wish now to dominate the class because they have their thing to say and no, no, Sam, I just want to add one more thing…. ? This was kind of interesting – firstly working out what the axe was so that I could check the grinding in good time, the second is to (this is level 1) explain, in not so many words, that you have had your turn now, and that in the interests of equality (!!) it’s time for the other learners.

This had limited success, so I was a touch (not much, being a bit of a wuss) more forceful and went for the “not appropriate right now, and lets get back onto the main subject” approach. Of course, now being so far off the original subject, it was rather a long trek back and it was, in fact, break time.

I should add that this is a very brief summary of a range of interesting and diverting discussions which involved all the learners, so don’t panic, and we developed and practised several new collocations, a few idioms, and got to do a brief revision of the phonetic reasoning behind the /I/ in buses, buzzes, watches, wanted, needed, etc. (don’t know why? Go read a book, find out what alveolar fricatives, affricates and plosives are, and no I didn’t use that terminology).


During the break it occurred to me that first thing Monday morning the group all like to talk. This has been a common pattern where reading has been subsumed by discussion, writing has been dominated by speaking, etc. So I figured it was better to do something with this.

So back I went with a proposal. I fired up a Word document on the IWB and set off. “How’s this for an idea,” I said, “Every Monday until 10.30, let’s have a discussion lesson. What do you think?” general positive mutterings. “We’ll have a topic, and I’ll set you some background reading for that topic, and then you can have ten minutes prep and I’ll devise a discussion task for the first 85 mins.” Nods, smiles, hmm, that sounds good.

“But we need a contract! We can’t have one person dominating the discussions” hmm, ooh no, no. “So what rules can we have?”

The first one was “Respect other learners”. The second was “Listen to each other.” The third was “Say what we think, but see rule 1” (I am paraphrasing here). I added my part and we had a discussion plan. We have a little pile of votes for topics, although I have laid claim to the first week – Equality & Diversity and Discrimination. So I can shoehorn my plan in!

I guess there were moments of greatness in that lesson, but also moments  I would gladly consign to the dustbin of forgetfulness. I rather suspect, however, it will be the good bits I forget and the “bury my head in my hands” moments which will haunt me forever!! (Incidentally if I may finish with a spiky moment, any teacher who tells you they only do great bits should be tarred and feathered for being a liar, or locked away for immense self delusion.) But for me the fact it has sparked a bit of a change in the whole course, and a change which the learners have had input into, counts for an awful lot. Just have to go and redo the scheme of work ready for the Inspectors next week.



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