Next year, next year, next year….
For a number of reasons, too complex and annoying to go into at this point, my teacher training next year will be limited to CELTA and a bit of literacy teacher training. Instead I am going to be lucky enough to teach a level 1 group three mornings a week, one L1class for one afternoon, and then a beginner / E1 group two further afternoons.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the last couple of years with fairly minimal ESOL teaching, but at the same time getting properly out and about in the world of social media stuff for the first time, getting involved in practitioner research properly, going to conferences and generally looking up from the nearby stuff, and looking around at what else is happening.
Which has meant a whole load of ideas and thoughts about teaching ESOL, most of which I’ve not really been able to put into place.
So this next academic year is when I get to do this.
In the last month or so I have been lucky enough to see Melanie Cooke and Becky Winstanley talking about participatory syllabus design using some of the Reflect ESOL tools. http://www.reflect-action.org/reflectesol
So this got me thinking. It’s interesting because in the last year I’ve read up on dogme for the first time, and, I’ve got to be honest, I’ve always avoided the Reflect stuff based on my own cynicism (sorry, but “the Reflect Mother Manual” from which Reflect ESOL is drawn is not a title to inspire me, I’m afraid) and on account of being a PDF of about 90 pages which I didn’t want to print. but I realised actually that my favourite bits of lessons, and indeed, my best lessons, have, for some time, been the ones which have been unconsciously aligned with these approaches. Indeed I think I have been going through a process of “alignment” for most of my career (since, I think, the day I first read a page from a course book and went “really? Come oooon.” probably in about 2002).
I have, of course, gone into both dogme/reflect with my usual scavenger head on: I don’t fully subscribe to either approach (too many questions, which I know is a little like committing heresy) but I agree with the main principles, which will do. So instead I flicked straight through the Reflect ESOL book to the main “tools” at the back, and thought that, having seen their use so effectively deployed at the NATECLA conference, I will pinch the cause and effect tree idea as a way of developing the syllabus: the roots as the ss writing about their backgrounds, the trunk as “the course” and the branches as the course content and finally fruit as perhaps longer term goals, and/or ideas for future lessoms. Assuming we then have a base room, we can have this on the wall to revisit and discuss as and when seems right. I’ll be intrigued to see what comes out at the top.
The second thing, then, is the idea of basing the course around a class blog. Having seen Richard Gresswell extolling their virtues at the Adult ESOL for migrants Seminar erlier this month, and having experienced them as tools in teacher training, I very much want to exploit them in class. We are supposed to be upgrading our VLE in the new year, so that could be a possibility, I suppose, although for what I have in mind for these learners needs to be learner led, and I’ve not seen a VLE which could realistically claim to be that. So a blog appeals to me at the moment. I’ll still use the VLE for something. Not sure what, but I’m aiming for learners to be confident and regular users of the internet, so would like to remove the barriers as much as possible, particularly with the lower group.
It would then be great to have this blog open to as wide an audience as possible and even better to have a blog shared with another class in another part of the country, or even of the world. That may well happen and would be very cool if it did. I really like the idea of the learners not just writing for me, or for some notional audience, but rather writing for themselves, and for a real audience.
I think I’d like to try a facebook page, for sure, as I’ve seen people do interesting things there and definitely will be encouraging mobile phones in class. I have a lovely image of some wizened inspector of the Wilshaw / Gove mould walking in and finding me and the students accessing Facebook on their mobiles. So my main idea for some practitioner research next year is going to be looking at the whole Bring Your Own Device movement, and what actual access do ESOL learners have to technology outside the classroom. I got quite annoyed at some of the “well, they can go to the local library” attitudes of some people at the JISC conference this year – mainly teachers of young people and adults in a mainstream college setting, so I will forgive them. It is just not that simple for ESOL learners. I might be proved wrong, of course, which would be fab, but that is the point of research.
I am reminded of an OFSTED inspector at the NATECLA conference referring to the fact that e-learning is more than just electronic gap fills. She was absolutely spot on, although undermined by the approach on the Common Inspection Framework that e-learning is basically about the VLE, which is, really, just a great big teacher centred electronic worksheet. Certainly old attitudes to the web and elearning place the teacher in control of the content and the structure of the learning whereas a social media structure to the learning online could make for a much for responsive and learner-driven course.
So I guess I’m looking at marrying up my two obsessions / interests here – materials light, learner driven classroom practice, and my interest I elearning and social media. They marry up nicely: learners an take control of their lives online and offline, as part of a wider English using universe from which learning opportunities could arise, and to maximise those opportunities, in particular using the web as users of English to do things, rather than see it as a cold “practising English” space.