Putting a name to a face (or a term to a method).
(AKA – You don’t need to know the name to be part of the movement!)
For three years I have been teaching a class of three middle-aged men at a large company. I began the course with a needs analysis; realised they didn’t need English at work at all. And then I set about “fixing” their grammar.
Yep, looking back at my records of work it seems that my sole intention each Wednesday at 8.30am was to batter as much goddam present perfect vs past simple into them as humanly (inhumanely?) possible.
Needless to say, I failed.
Each 90 minute session was hell: Desperate cries of “We’re too old for this!” and remorseless replies of “Fine, but remember – when referring to a finished past situation, you can’t say ‘have been’. Ok?!”
And the tests, oh the tests…! I wrote them, set them and marked them, all the while rather annoyed at the woeful marks my students achieved. Those tests were truly horrific displays of what a grammar hungry teacher can do to a room of full-grown men. I once caught one of them trying to cheat by copying vocabulary onto his desk notepad before I got to class (he timed it wrong).
I was coming to the end of my tether. So were they. I was on the verge of quitting the class when I thought to myself that maybe, just maybe, the problem didn’t lie with the people in the room; it lay with the “stuff” in the room. Namely, the stuff I was bringing into the room with me – the coursebook material. Eureka!
I turned up that next Wednesday (about two and a half years ago) a tonne of paper lighter and without that grammar-induced scowl on my face these men had come to know and certainly not love.
I had a better idea: I started this first lesson of our new method by handing them each three pieces of paper and asking them to write down topics they wanted to talk about. We put these 9 pieces of paper into a plastic wallet and they selected one at random for us to discuss. The topic was The Best Ever Inventions. As we discussed, I fed in new language and put it on the board. If a specific grammar point would help them say something better, we focused on it briefly and then got back to the conversation. We have continued this process every Wednesday since. Every time the plastic wallet gets a bit empty, I hand out more scraps of paper for them to write on and we continue the pattern. Some of the topics have been particularly complicated (e.g.: 25/05/11 – Is it the people who make the policies or the policies who make the people?); some have been so simple but have lead to 90 minutes of thoroughly interesting, productive and educational discussion (26/01/10 – “What is your job?”).
The students choose the topics and I support them in their quest to partake in such conversations in English. It works. It’s fun. Wednesday mornings are no longer something to fear, in fact I look forward to them. It has been incredible to see how these three men and I have travelled through topics, discussions, arguments, opinions and laughter that I honestly didn’t imagine was possible before.
And you know what? The progress they have made is amazing. I notice that they are using forms that I certainly haven’t focused on with them, so they must have got this from being active in a conversation with a native speaker on topics that grab their interest, no? If not, I don’t know where, as these men all admit to not using English at all out of our lessons.
They even use the present perfect accurately nowadays (almost)!
So, to the title of this post – I started this new approach before I had heard of the word “Dogme” or the idea of “unplugged teaching”. Once I came across these terms, I was actually already a devout follower; it’s just that now I had a name for it!
Have you ever discovered a method you were using was actually already in wide use?
What lead you to using it? Did that change your approach?