I tooka bit of a leap, for me, this week, and we did two sessions with my level 1 group using what is now an old resource, the Reflect for ESOL tree. The reason this was a leap was not the focus on the emergent and developing language in the context, but rather because I followed someone else’s instructions. To be fair, they’re not the most insistent or demanding instructions, but still….
Anyway, to those who aren’t familiar with the Reflect for ESOL pack, it was published in 2007, is freely downloadable, and uses a learner centred approach, based on Freirean principles of education as a mobilising, empowering force. The pack is in two halves: the tools – essentially learner generated graphic organisers used to explore issues – and then ideas on how to apply the tools. I’ve already used the River tool this year with some success, and employment and barriers to it using the methodology described in the pack looked eminently appropriate for where we are.
And my goodness was it ever terrific! Starting on Monday with a discussion to get the ball rolling, we had finished the roots (the barriers) and had managed to review a range of conditional sentences and causative clauses based on the ideas generated in the session. This fed really well into the session on Thursday where we picked up the posters and developed the discussion into the actions a person could take to deal with those problems (branches) and the benefits and positive results of gaining employment (leaves and fruit). Some groups, while cutting out the shapes, had created an insect like shape by accident, so I asked them to imagine what the insect might be. As a plenary, once the trees had been completed, I formed the group into two groups to think about outside influences on getting a job and to write these on an image of the sun and of a rain cloud (emphasising that they should be writing both negative and positive ideas – sun and rain can be good or bad for a tree). The main emergent language here was more around vocabulary, as well as providing practice opportunity for the language which emerged on Monday.
Why did it go so well? For one, it was a topic close to the learners’ hearts and which touched on a number of issues they had either experienced (being unable to take on work because of childcare issues) or could empathise with (disability discrimination). There was a clear structure to the work, even though there was plenty of scope for movement within that, which meant that they could see where it was going. I made sure there was a clear language development focus in the session: the learners could see that they were developing grammar and vocabulary as well as skills. And finally, it was fun. It tapped into some of their creativity in order to explore an issue which is serious and relevant, which really is the point behind the Reflect for ESOL approach.
I wondered perhaps whether I could have been a bit faster with the whole process: with less focus on dealing with the emergent language (particularly the conditionals) as it arose and saving it until afterwards. However, had I done so the learners wouldn’t have had that opportunity to put the language into place and practice it inside the task, as they could with the conditionals. The language would have become a cold artefact, distanced from the act of communication which generated it.
I downloaded and have been sat on the Reflect pack pretty much since it was published: back then I was a grammar McNugget lovin’ kid* barely out of Headway, and so my biggest regret is not opening it back then. Quite why I never did I’m not sure: perhaps my foolish career youthfulness (!) made me cocky and dismissive of “hippy stuff”, and I was very much under the spell of the teacher driven learning objective at the time. There are changes to be made, tweaks, of course, but that is true of every resource or idea book under the sun. I need to think more about how to fit this approach into a system which values the achievement of specified learning outcomes, and I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. But as resources go, I shall be returning for further exploration and refinement. I see a future of rivers, trees, matrices, body maps and learners using lots and lots of scissors, markers, paper and glue.
*31 year old, actually, but never mind.