This post is part of a challenge proposed by Karenne Sylvester on her blog . She proposed that every Thursday, for 10 weeks we blog in response to questions she’ll put up, in an attempt to take a deeper look at Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings’ Teaching Unplugged approach. The question posted for this first challenge was:
Materials-mediated teaching is the ‘scenic’ route to learning,
but the direct route
is located in the interactivity between teachers and learners, and between the learners themselves.
Learning is a social and dialogic process,
where knowledge is co-constructed
rather than transmitted or imported
from teacher/coursebook to learner.
What does that mean to you?
I’d like to start this post by saying that I am still learning about dogme and unplugged teaching, I am still trying to grasp the concept. All I know for certain now is that it interests me, it’s sparked something within my teaching beliefs and practices. I have ordered the book and hopefully it will be here by the end of this month (it had a 60-day estimated delivery). So what you’ll read here are much more thoughts and questionings, perceptions and feelings I have from the little I know about it. I hadn’t even heard of it until I joined twitter and started reading my PLN’s blogs. so here it goes:
A “Scenic Route” can be defined as “a road or path designed to take one past a pleasant view or nice scenery; the long way round, a deliberately slow path” (definition by en.wiktionary.org/wiki)
When relating that to teaching I am bothered a bit. First by the deliberately on it – are Coursebooks deliberately slow? I don’t think so. Learning takes time, it takes exposing the student to a new thing repeatedly, provide him with opportunities to experiment and use the language he’s been presented to. The other thing that bothers me is the pleasant view reference. Do we, as teachers, see the coursebooks we use as pleasant? Coursebooks, their effectiveness, how we should use them, whether they’re evil or not has been the topic of numerous discussions (it was an #ELTChat topic), blog posts, tweets etc… I haven’t made up my mind yet. Right now I think they’re not all bad – but basing your teaching solely on one handicaps you, restricts you. Because they’re pretty much a “one-size-fits-all” thing – and I don’t know about you but I am yet to come across a group of students who learn the same way, have the same level or motivation or share the exact same interests. Diversity is the word.
And when we restrict our teaching, we smother creativity, spontaneity. We miss opportunities of meaningful teaching given by our students when they demonstrate interest for something that is not on the coursebook’s agenda that day. The school where I teach adopts coursebooks (as all schools I know do) and teachers are expected to cover it thoroughly. We don’t necessarily follow the order proposed by the book – we have established benchmarks and paths that we see as more adequate to our students, changing the order and adding extra material where we found necessary. And teachers have flexibility to add / create activities to the classes they teach, as they see fit. And so the teachers have been doing – so I have been doing, ever since I started teaching, almost 17 years ago.
My first “face-to-face” encounter with unplugged teaching came as a response to a challenge (A challenge to teachers: Trying upside down and inside out) proposed by Jason Renshaw on his blog. (Note: As you may have noticed by now I have a problem declining challenges 😉 – Go figure!). I taught a whole class without planning – and then wrote a guest post on it in Ceri Jone’s blog. Suffice to say it was one of the best, most successful (and greatly enjoyed by the students) lessons I’ve ever taught. So that just added to my interest and curiosity to learn more about it. There was a lot of interaction, mostly student/student, a lot of students learning from each other. But that was not all. There was also teacher/student interaction, and there was no interaction (individual work). So in a way, my (so I think) perfect example of unplugged teaching disagrees with the quote posted for today’s challenge. There was learning that came from no interaction, individually constructed, by the student.
As a student, I’ve always been able to draw learning and knowledge from books alone. I do know that not all students do that, but there are those who do. And here is that word again: diversity. If we have student diversity, why not teaching diversity? why do we have to completely deny one thing in order to adopt another one? What tells us we can’t do both: coursebooks and unplugged lessons? Enough about that…
On a final (and more personal, free thinking interpretation) note, I’d like to make an analogy as to learning being a “social and dialogic process where knowledge is co-constructed. I love cooking. And I am able to follow the instructions on a recipe and produce something good to eat. But I’ve always prefered learning a recipe by watching someone do it, having someone who knows the recipe and has done it before prepare it together with me. When I learn a new recipe by doing it together I can ask questions, I see how it’s done from up-close, I smell it, I put my hands in it… I owe it. And I learn it. By doing. Co-constructing a dish.
Co-constructing learning, be it with another student, be it with your teacher is much more effective, faster and so much more enjoyable. Coursebook or unplugged, this is always true. Don’t you think?
And if you’re ever in São Paulo I highly recommend paying a visit to “L´Entrecôte de Ma Tante” where you can have some of that chocolate mousse ;-)!