Sort of unplugged, but then again sort of not.

In which I chose not to explore a very rich tangent about which the learners were incredibly passionate.

I know I said my classroom door is always open but this isn’t quite what I had in mind. I may just remove my classroom door altogether, or at least install a revolving one, for over the course of my lesson on Monday I had the amusing experience of being observed by five separate people: a colleague doing a peer observation, two CELTA trainees, and two of our management team doing walk-through observations.

Anyway, this wasn’t the reason I chose not to explore the tangent. There was nothing personal at stake with any of the observers, after all. Indeed, if anything I wanted to prove the point that you could do an awful lot with the learners as a resource, with minimal resources, and so a tangent would have been brilliant.

To the lesson: I had very non-commitally written in my scheme of work that we would be doing a number of activities which would work towards the learners giving presentations and/or writing a short article about things they liked in their local area, which was then going to springboard into a “What’s wrong with Dewsbury?” discussion task.

These, I have to say, did go out of the window. There will be presentations and articles, of course, but these will be on the problems rather than on the positives, so I have room for a lesson on “My Favourite Place in Dewsbury” later down the line. So the lesson as described below went off what I had written on my scheme of work completely and we were very much heading off down Scrivener’s jungle path.

After an initial ILP review at the start of the lesson, as an “in” I got the learners to work in groups on social issues in general. This brainstorming itself was wildly rich: learners did come up with some interesting ideas and fascinating discussions, around poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, drug abuse and so on, with some learners getting out a leaflet which had been pushed through their door: a photocopy of a local news article about the theft of of Christmas food parcels for local people from a nearby Salvation Army charity depot. I noted the source, but chose not exploit that text at the time, as I wasn’t sure how widely interested the group would be on this.

I foolishly took the decision to get each group to feedback to me while I scribed onto the board. I did try to keep the pace up, but as is so often the case, any kind of whole group to teacher feedback like that is inevitably going to have a negative impact on pace (and my other idea, getting learners to write the ideas up themselves, would have had the same effect). On reflection I am asking myself if that was an entirely necessary stage at all: after all I was aware that all the learners had a good list of social issues which were needed for the next part of the lesson. I could have done a neat discussion of any key new or interesting bits of vocabulary, then moved on. I have to say this is probably what I would do next time, especially with a class this size (18 learners): the impact on a smaller group would be less deleterious as it would be harder for individuals to hide and not participate.

However, the group to teacher feedback did throw up a further tangent. One of the issues which was raised was around health, but not, as I had imagined, around issues like general healthcare, obesity, cancer, AIDS, unwanted pregnancy, and so on, but rather around the local NHS decision to close certain services at the nearby hospital and move them to 6 miles away Wakefield. The learners, as you might imagine, were distinctly passionate about this: there was a genuine hum of engagement and interest with even the quieter and shyer learners expressing quite vocally their displeasure with this.

This was a decision moment. Do I carry on down the plan which I had formulated during the brainstorming, and explore language of suggestions, and modals of obligation, or do I abandon this and give the learners free rein on this? We could have researched the topic online, made posters, discussed pros and cons, written letters to hospitals, signed petitions and so on.

I chose the former, and this is why. For one, I am not a resident of Dewsbury and so wasn’t in a position to comment or to be able to signpost any online research. However, the main reason for me was that in this case I felt that the topic deserved a more complete exploration, with a bit more teacher guidance and leading forward on what was going to happen with this. The learners had negotiated health as the next “theme” on the course, so I felt that this could safely be marked as “rich vein of lessons in mid January” before moving on. The ideas I have for the next week or so should provide a first opportunity to engage with those language tasks (articles, presentations, discussions, letters) which we could effectively review using the hospital closure topic. This topic is complex, as well, and needs time and planning in order to make the best of this for the learners.

We identified a learning opportunity in the moment, for sure, but this particular learning opportunity needs more than a moment to explore.

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