Andrew Wright’s six things from sixty years

A few posts ago I talked about my favourite Five Minute Activities, the much-loved resource book by Penny Ur and Andrew Wright. I had the honour of receiving a comment from Andrew Wright himself on the blog, partly in response to all the praise for his work. I was going to ask him to write something for me when he came out and asked if he could! It was a great pleasure to say yes, and share with you here Andrew Wright’s six things from sixty years of language learning and teaching experience.

1 I have been working in the world of language teaching for fifty years.  It has given me an opportunity to be with people and to have an interesting time and to travel to many places: about forty countries.  Furthermore, my fifty years as a teacher’s resource book writer have coincided with what are probably the last fifty years of resource books.  I feel I am very lucky to have been working during this last half century.

Sixty years?  Well, before that I was learning French at school or rather wasn’t.  Lead by Dr MacGraw, we, myopically, crawled along sentences looking up the words we didn’t know until, blinking, we came to a full stop or the abyss at the end of a paragraph.

2 Some friends told me that I have collocated with stories in the last twenty years before that I collocated with games and before that with pictures.  Stories is the big one.  I have become a story fundamentalist.  I believe that our minds are storied from top to bottom so much so that the way we eat and drink, work and die are all partly determined by the stories we have heard and which have constructed our life maps.  CNN once said something like: ‘The stories CNN bring you today make the world in which you live in tomorrow. ‘  Journalists are so open about what they are doing.  Not the news but ‘the top stories today are…’.

Of course, stories are for children but in the last year or two I have bought nine books about the use of stories in business (Internet: Business stories!).  Given that stories are so central to who we are and words are a major component in the way we story experiences then it amazes me that stories are not the main road we all take in language teaching.

3 I have always been a conference goer. I have had the good fortune to work with many brains,  feverish with creativity.  The tsunami of technology in the last twenty years is wonderful. So exciting!  But all these leading edge people and technologies represent a minute part of the world of language teaching.  Millions of language teachers never go to conferences and their only development, if any, is through the books or internet materials they use.  My belief is that the vast number of language teachers manage to teach according to their inner agenda whatever books or current philosophy they use or refer to.  A teacher I observed, in class, took the topic of sharing information about recent experiences.  Sounds very healthy and communicative.  A student told him, ‘I swim across Lake Balaton and do butterfly.’  The teacher corrected him, ‘I swam across Lake Balaton doing butterfly.’  He didn’t make a single comment or gasp and raise his eyebrows when he heard that the student had swum across the biggest lake in Central Europe!

He appeared to be a ‘modern’ teacher but he was an old fashioned grammar point obsessed teacher.  Like millions of others he teaches as he was taught.

4 The West gives great value to research and I believe research has a valuable role to play.  However, in my fifty years in language teaching I have experienced changes of value, perception and behaviour in society having far more effect on language teaching than research.  I am a creature of my times and in the late sixties I was influenced by the demand for concern for the individual (rather than global answers) out of which came the notional functional description of language by David Wilkins.  I conceived and helped to write with David Betteridge and Nicolas Hawkes, the first topic based course ever published, as far as I know: ‘Kaleidoscope’.  Macmillan.  And then, ‘What Do You Think’ with Donn Byrne, with pictures juxtaposed and no words, designed to poke thinking.  At the same time I was trying to support teachers in moves away from the rule of the text book by writing resource books, like ‘Games for Language Learning’, ‘1000 Pictures for Teachers to Copy’ and later, ‘Storytelling with Children’ and ‘Five Minute Activities’ with Penny Ur.  None of these books are based on research but on the gut feeling of a surf boarder with his feet on the driving swell of social change.

5 For fifty years I have done my best to promote the teaching of verbal languages.  But now I want to protest!  Words cannot exist unless they are seen or heard. Words are manifested by the non verbal languages of voice and writing.  The language of the voice is SO important.  How many ways can you say, ‘Yes’.  Can you say, ‘thank you’, so it doesn’t mean thank you?  Of course you can.  And consider the difference in typeface used by Rolls Royce and MacDonalds.  It’s not an accident.  Non verbal languages of voice and typography manifest words but also add their own meanings which may be harmonious or disharmonious with the words they manifest.  Its a duet and often the non-verbal instrument of voice or typography is dominant.

And then, add in the many non verbal languages which do not manifest words but accompany them.  Its a blooming orchestra: graphic design, furniture and interior design, architecture, body, clothes, car, house, film, and so on!  The world leader’s frozen hand shake and smile for the photographs.  The mock Tudor black wood struts on a million suburban houses.  The John Lennon glasses.

Now that technology allows us to readily make use of these non verbal languages at a high technological level through video recording and editing programmes on the internet, surely it should become a central part of our teaching?  We would no longer be language teachers but communication teachers and in a very different sense.

6 I can’t retire.  I have never been able to separate my work from my personal life.  If we really believe that language teaching must be about more than learning a language then how can we separate our life from our work?  It would be a contradiction to do so.  Nevertheless, after fifty years of an unbroken production of books I have stopped working on ELT books.  It is wonderful to be able to spend more time on writing my life stories.  My theme is the individuality and the universality of all of us and the situations we are in.  It is my answer to MacDonalds.  I have a wonderful time listening to and sharing such stories with my students who, these days are mainly bankers and pharmaceutical engineers….well…people.

Forgive me please for not writing six useful things for the classroom.  I have spent my life trying to do just that.  This wandering and pondering on Lindsay’s six thing site is a little self-indulgence which I do hope you will respond to, with benign tolerance.

If you would like to see my stories then please visit:

www.andrewarticlesandstories.wordpress.com

If you would like to comment on my stories, then please do: as long as I hear tapping I will know I am still alive.

Published in: on October 31, 2010 at 8:50 am  Comments (11)  

Six merchandising gimmicks for Dogme ELT

The "Dogme Circle" - a very nice image but is it now time to expand to more tie-ins and collectibles?

The other day I was going through and clearning up some old folders on the computer when I came across a document called Teaching Unplugged Marketing ideas. It was a very short document, and had a few notes for marketing the well-known book by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings. As it turned out, Delta publishing had no marketing department (or budget really) at the time and so nothing came of it. But judging from the furore around Dogme and Teaching Unplugged (for example, here) I thought it was time to unleash some more ideas. I can see that this movement has some legs, so I figure why not try and make some money off it? Here are six bits of merchandise, with suggested list prices, to help Dogme reach a much wider audience and make me a wealthy marketing guru in the process!

1. Dogme Chastity Rings

The dogme ELT movement was launched ten years ago with a Vow of Chastity regarding materials. If you have taken the vow and are a confirmed Dogmeist then why not show the world? These little rings will identify you immediately as an unplugged teacher and come in a range of attractive colours.

Suggested price: 29.99 euros

2. Doggmie bags

All that focusing on emergent language generates a certain amount of detrius in the form of hastily scribbled notes, post-its and so on. Keep it all together with these ecological Doggmie bags! Made out of 100% recycled coursebooks.

Suggested price: 1.99 euros

3. Limited edition action figures

The Limited Edition Luke Meddings doll, without glasses version

You now can have a miniature Scott Thornbury or Luke Meddings with you at all times! These customized action dolls come with two changes of clothes (formal and informal) and, when you pull the string in their backs, they will utter classic phrases like “No more grammar mcnuggets!” or “I don’t believe in learner-as-consumer methodology”

(footnote: I actually found a site (here) that will make an action figure of you, and suggested it to Luke and Scott when we were about to publish Teaching Unplugged; I am still waiting for an answer)

Suggested price: 289.00 euros (they ARE limited edition after all)

4. Collectible Dogmemon cards

The very rare Karenne Sylvester trading card - with full Dogme challenge powers!

If you have children you may have heard of the Pokemon card-collecting craze. Now unplugged teachers can collect Karenne Sylvester, Jason Renshaw, Diarmuid Fogarty, Gavin Dudeney, Vicki Samuell, Jeremy Harmer and many other beloved characters from the Dogme universe. Play with them, frame them or trade them! Each pack comes with ten cards and instructions for gameplay. I’ve got a rare Lindsay Clandfield card to trade that I just can’t seem to get rid of by the way…

Suggested price: 9.99 for the starter pack, and 1.99 for individual packs of 5 cards.

5. The Official Unplugged coursebook

This attractive blank notebook is a must for any teacher. All you really need to teach any level, any length of course or any number of students is contained inside. You can also get the special Englishraven edition with the blank pages written by Jason Renshaw himself for 2 euros extra.

(footnote: I nearly did convince DELTA publishing to do this as a marketing giveaway to coincide with the launch of Teaching Unplugged, but it never happened in the end)

Suggested price: 4.99 (6.99 for Jason Renshaw authored version)

6. Pack of “Materials light” safety matches (discontinued)

This pack of safety matches comes in an attractive box with the Vow of Chastity engraved on the back of it and instructions on how to hold a “coursebook bonfire night” inside. This item was the product of an overeager marketing department that seized on a quip about burning books. Since Thornbury and Meddings have clarified that they are not really in favour of book-burning the item was quickly shelved. However, some copies are still in existence. Only for the most die-hard extremist dogmeist.

Suggested price: 499.99 euros (only 5 left in stock)

Please place your orders in the comments box.

Published in: on October 24, 2010 at 3:45 pm  Comments (27)  
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Adam Simpson’s Six pitfalls in making your own worksheets

 

You may want to think of a more effective storage system...

 

Yes, it’s that time again… bring on the guest posts! This time I am joined by Adam Simpson, the man behind the friendly and interesting blog One Year in the life of an English Teacher. He wanted to share some of the things he’s done WRONGLY in making worksheets. And I thought a bit of reflection is always a good thing. I’ve certainly made some of these mistakes in my early days too. So pay attention, and don’t do what he has done!

I like making my own worksheets to accompany course book materials, I always have done and always will. For whatever reason, I never fully trust the coursebook to do the job of getting the teaching objective across as much as I trust myself. Plus, I like making stuff. I’ve always been meticulous in my preparation of something I intend my students to not only use in class, but also to reflect back on at a later date. Nevertheless, I’ve made so many mistakes over the years that it’s almost funny. Here is a somewhat carefully, well thought out list of things for you to think about if you also like preparing your own teaching materials.

1) Purpose What’s the point? Why are you bothering? There just might be something stuck away at the back of the teacher’s book that does exactly what you’re trying to do; stranger things have occasionally happened. Alternatively, maybe someone at school has already cobbled together something that meets the objectives you’re trying to achieve. If neither of these apply… make sure you start with a clear purpose and work towards appearance, not the other way round. Here’s an example of how I went wrong at the start of my teaching career: I still remember the weekend after my first week of teaching. I decided to wow my students with a crossword for the start of our second week. After an hour of labour I’d produced something that looked great, but actually led to about five minutes of class activity. What I’d made was a triumph of style over substance that didn’t really do anything that the book already covered adequately. I learned pretty quickly form this experience.

2) Language I’m not talking about the language of the particular teaching point, I’m thinking of the language I use to make sure that the learners know what they are supposed to do. No matter how careful I am in writing prompts – and I am very careful – sometimes I just have to reflect on the fact that what I gave to the students wasn’t clear enough. So… Ask clear and understandable questions. Match your questions to the level of the learner. Use bullet points for clarity. There probably are worse things than having handed out an absolutely killer piece of material only to be met with blank expressions and total malaise, but it’s still really depressing. Trust me: make your instructions clear.

3) Design The design of your worksheet should enhance the content rather than obscuring it. To be honest, it took me years to truly get my head round this. Indeed, I’m still a stickler for making my worksheets look as professional and attractive as possible, but like I said, this shouldn’t be to the detriment of the content. What steps do I now take to avoid this? Limit the range of fonts you use I have literally thousands of additional fonts added to my Microsoft word, but I rarely use more than two or three in my worksheets. Funky fonts that look good but are difficult to read will only serve to frustrate your learners. Limit the visual aids I still look to put my objectives and instructions into a fancy speech bubble, but that’s it. Don’t overdo it with pictures and borders and other fancy stuff, or the learners won’t be able to see the wood of the learning objective(s) for the trees of the design feature(s).

4) Product What do you want to have created in the end? Is the message clear? How can you make sure that it will appeal to as many of your learners as possible? Keep a collection of all the handouts you produce and reflect on them periodically. Here are a couple of reasons why I think this is a good thing to do. You keep making the same kind of resource again and again Try to include a range of tasks that will appeal to different types of learner (perhaps consider different learner styles if you believe in such a thing). Even the best of us do this. I remember one of my DELTA tutors driving me to despair with constant jigsaw reading tasks. She had no idea of how often she was using this kind of task until I pointed out that that was all she ever gave us. Keep a record of what you make or you’ll find you repeat yourself more often than you might imagine. You make the same kind of resource, regardless of the purpose What is it for? This will affect what kind of questions you can ask the learner. Homework / individual / group tasks will all require tailored questions. Don’t do what I once did and ask the learner to discuss a set of homework questions in groups. I found out the following day that they had spent all night phoning one another to come to a consensus over their answers.

5) Trial It isn’t going to be perfect first time. Treat your worksheet as a draft to be improved. This means trialing it in class to see what queries / confusion it raises. Take a revisable version of it into class with you to make instant notes of necessary changes. Also, make sure you follow up your revisions on the computer, or whatever method you have of maintaining the original.

6) Storage This is still my biggest fault. I can’t stress enough the importance of storing paper copies methodically for easy retrieval. Consider how you want to do this carefully, be it a filing cabinet (I hear these still exist), in-tray system, or ring binder with plastic pockets. My advice is to mark a master copy using a particular system so that you don’t lose it (I have a teachers copy with ‘Adam’s’ emblazoned across the top with a blank copy of the original stapled to it in a plastic folder separate from all other materials). Try to do the same with computer files; be as specific as you can when naming them! Go on, admit it; how many files do you gave on your computer labeled ‘grammar exercise’? Do yourself a favour and give your file a very specific name. The last file I created was called ‘L3 U1 I3 exercise to follow up on writing definitions about education’. OK, it took me ten seconds to name the file, but I’ve a pretty good idea of where to find it from the name next time I need to do a follow up exercise on writing definitions about education for the third input of Unit 1 of the Level 3 course book. I’d love to hear what other ideas you have, problems you’ve encountered and how you resolved these issues.

Published in: on October 13, 2010 at 5:37 pm  Comments (5)  
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Six writing analysis tools

 

Warning: this post might seriously waste your time!

 

Another day idly watching my twitter stream go by… I came across one of those links that analyze your writing for you (I can’t remember where from now). It’s fun to know about your writing, and some of these might even in fact have a pedagogical use too.  This is a short little post but that could end up wasting a LOT of time 🙂

1 Vocab Profiler – This is a great site of more pedagogical value. Paste in a text, and it shows you through a system of colours the frequency of the words. In their own words “Vocabulary Profilers break texts down by word frequencies in the language at large.” I used this tool quite a bit when writing low level texts or adapting texts for lower levels (I used something similar for a graded reader I wrote which never in the end saw the light of day… but that’s another story). I think this tool is a favourite of Scott Thornbury‘s too, or at least it was!

2 I write likeThis website says the following: “Check which famous writer you write like with this statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them with those of the famous writers.” Then it gives you a little badge you can put on the blog. When I pasted some of my text I got the following. Cool! (or should I say ‘spiffing’?)

I write like
P. G. Wodehouse

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

3 OFaust – This site does the same as I write like, but you can also enter your blog url to analyze a larger sample. According to oFaust, I have a slight similarity to Lewis Carroll on my blog (a 22% likeness!)

4 Gender Genie – This one made the rounds a little while ago. It analyses a piece of writing and tells you if it’s more masculine or feminine. It seems to have become a bit more sophisticated recently and you can specify the genre. When I entered some of my writing I came up as Male (195 score) but a high level of female there too (105 score). I guess that’s because I have a girl’s name…

5 Text Content Analyser Getting more serious again now this site seems a bit more like a simplified Vocab Profiler (from above). It gave me the number of words according to numbers of letters which didn’t feel that useful. But it also gave information about lexical density, and something called the Gunning Fog index, which tells you what level of education (American education) your reader needs to have to understand. My writing requires a grade eight education to read which is either a testament to my clear and incisive prose or shows that I’ve been writing simplified grammar exercises and texts too long perhaps.

6 I actually write like

If all this is going to your head, then the last site brings you back down to earth hard. It also analyzes your text and lets you put a badge on your blog like the one above. Here’s what I got…

 

I actually write like
a moonstruck lunatic possibly actually wearing a straightjacket

I Actually Write Like Analyze your writing!

Published in: on October 7, 2010 at 12:54 pm  Comments (6)  
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Six “hidden gems”(?) on this blog

Hello everyone!

I have never been one to turn down an opportunity for an easy blog post, and I’m a sucker for blog memes. So  I’ve decided to meet the challenge thrown down by Jason Renshaw (the English Raven himself) and show you some hidden gems here on Six Things (he suggested this idea, and shared his own gems, at this post). I think that Darren Elliot of Lives of Teachers made a similar suggestion a while back. Anyway, if you’re a regular reader you may remember some of these, but if you’re a more recent visitor to this blog then these are some fun little posts that you probably have missed!

My regular blogging will resume very shortly. Meanwhile, this should tide over anyone needing a six things fix! 🙂

1 Six famous writers who used to be language teachers If you’re working on the next great novel then don’t give up hope. These six people all escaped ELT to untold riches and fame!

2 Six wildly popular lists in English language teaching. The list of lists. How many can you guess?

3 Six bits of Latin that make your English look smart . This IS a hidden gem, judging from the few hits it got. But reading it will make you sound so much more sophisticated!

4 Six very original what if questions. Tired of talking about lotteries and winning a million dollars in your conditional classes? Here are half a dozen great alternatives.

5. Six highly provocative quotes in ELT. Seeking a topic for an MA thesis? Seek no further! Any one of these would serve as a great starting point…

6. Six drinks for an English Teacher’s New Year’s party I still dream one day that someone will tell me they actually held an English teacher party with some of these drinks. How sad is that?!?

I think of them as hidden gems, but of course you may have your own favourites (or simply think these aren’t really that good!). Leave a comment if you feel inclined…

Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 4:16 pm  Comments (5)  
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