Random ideas for ELT people, plus guest blogs & travel notes

Here’s the second tranche of the ten things I think I know about teaching and learning. They may seem a bit obvious or lacking in gravitas. But they’re here because the thoughts expressed keep occurring to me.

6       Most classes are seated in rows.

Mr Osbourne, may I be excused? My brain is full...

I’ve mentioned before that I did most of my teaching at International House London, where classes of fourteen were seated in a semi-circle. I also worked part-time in a Central London FE College, where there were up to forty in a class, all seated in rows. It doesn’t take a genius to know that this is a much tougher situation for the teacher.

However, it wasn’t until I started sitting in on classes to research books that I realised what a tough situation it is for the students, too.

The whole process of observing classes is fraught with difficulty and potential embarrassment, particularly if you are watching a state school class of moody teenagers. You either meet the teacher beforehand or – much worse for her – you swan into the class with the head teacher after it’s started. The head is all smiles but still casts an eye round the room to see what state it’s in and leaves with a pointed look at the teacher not to give a bad impression of the school.

Either way, the teacher is already a bag of nerves because you’re going to watch her. She introduces you to the students, and you can hear the slightly desperate plea in her voice, the underlying message of which is: “Please don’t muck about today and make me look like a klutz.”

You smile, wave, one of the brighter sparks says “How are you?” in a loud voice and the rest snigger. And then you go and sit at the back of the class.

Only when the lesson starts do you realise what a ridiculous idea it is to try to conduct a lesson where everyone is looking at the back of everyone else’s heads. If you’re on the back row, everything you hear is muffled, and the effect is often made worse by the hoodies worn by most of the boys in front of you.

Memo to writers of internationally famous course material mainly used in PLSs: this is the real world of state secondary school teaching.

The row-by-row set up results in the bright ones sitting in the front two rows, the cool gang leaning their chairs against the back wall, and the rest sitting in between. The serious point being that it is very hard to hear what other people are saying and whole swathes of students are excluded from what’s going on.

Memo to self: always remind teachers about this in talks. Encourage them to ask the students at the front (usually the ones who answer all the questions) to turn round and repeat their answers to their classmates. And teachers – please don’t just repeat the answers. If  someone wants to know what another student said that elicited a smile and an excited “Good! Well done!” from you, tell them to ask the student directly to get the answer.

 7       Reading aloud is (mostly) a complete waste of time.

Still on the theme of ‘Notes from the back of the class’, I wonder why so many teachers set such store by having students read texts out aloud.

Observing classes, I’m often without a book. I don’t usually mind this because I like seeing how the class deals the material in front of them.

Sooner or later, there’s a reading text in the book. This is what happens.

Teacher: OK. Look at the text on page 26.  Piotr, read the first sentence, please.

Piotr:  Mount Evvnnn, nvvn .. fnnn, fnnnn, fnnnn, fnnn….Nepal.

Teacher: Thank you. Ania, read the next line.

Ania: (In a slightly higher pitch) The first  mmmmnnn, fnnn, fnnnn, fnnnn…Norgay.

And so it goes on. And on.

Why do people do it?  No one is listening. The rest of the class are just reading the text.

I always ask teachers why they do it and they give some reason or other along the lines of giving the class speaking practice, which is very hard to achieve.

Hm, up to a point, Lord Copper. ***(see end of post)

But the best reason I heard for doing it was this: if they don’t read the text aloud, then the class goes very quiet.

Right. Because people are reading.

If you REALLY think it’s important for there to be sound when people are reading, then choose a course book where the reading texts are on the audio tape. Like Smart Choice 🙂

If the reading text isn’t on the audio, I have a solution which I recommend at workshops: ask your best readers to stand up, face the class, and read the text. And tell everyone else to close their books. Yes, close their books. If the class don’t understand something, they have to put up their hands and ask.

But… but… surely now  it’s a listening activity. Groan… yes, it is at the moment, but it was YOU who wanted to have people read aloud.

If the above solution seems wrong (because the same students will always do the reading), put the class in teams and assign each team a reading text, all the way through the book. Tell them at the beginning of term that they are responsible for that text, and they should work on it every free moment they have. They should find out what the new words mean, and if there’s a new structure being taught, they have to work on it themselves, and be ready to explain anything new to their classmates.

Should put the fear of God in them, but BOY will they concentrate!

8       Most students don’t like talking to the whole class.

A teenage student who's just been asked to tell the rest of the class what he has for breakfast...

When editors and authors sit down to talk about a new course book project, the usual buzz words fly around – the new material has to be communicative, stimulating, motivating, etc etc.

One of the words that never seems to cause any argument is ‘personalisation’. It’s a sacrosanct fact that every unit of every course book must have something that will allow the students to personalise the material.

Before I say anything else, I have to say that this obsession with personalisation leads to some hilarious classroom events. I remember watching an elementary class in Poland where the language under scrutiny was have/has got. The teacher dutifully told the class to follow the instruction in the book which said: In Pairs: Ask your partner how many CDs and cassettes he/she’s got.

Leaving aside the fact that the instruction was written in language much higher than the students’ level (Don’t worry, the teacher will translate if there’s a problem), the end product was quite magically surreal, like a scene from a Samuel Beckett play.

This is what I heard from the two boys sitting nearest me.

A:  How many of CD and cassette you have?

B:  Uh?

     A translated his question into Polish

B   Uh… CD no idea, maybe threety? Cassette, no idea.

A:  Uh…

B:  You?

A:  Uh… same.

As the teacher had given them five minutes for this activity, they then proceeded to speak Polish until she came nearby and they repeated the earlier exchange.

I don’t wish to make fun of students in this situation. Being an elementary student of a language is plagued with frustration. There are so many things you want to say that you can’t.  But some of the activities we give students to do in the name of personalisation are basically a waste of time, as the exchange above demonstrates rather well.

But I have a bigger objection to the whole idea of personalisation being a desirable aim for ALL lessons. I believe that teenage students would rather talk about ANYTHING but their own lives in English in front of the whole class. At that age, there are things you want to talk about to your immediate support group, in your own language and somewhere where you feel comfortable. We’re asking them to say these things out loud to a large audience (which may include people they are really not friends with) in a foreign language.

Even the simplest information about your immediate family can cause embarrassment to a teenager. Most teachers are sensitive enough to avoid questions like ‘What does your father do?’ in a class where there are lots of single parents, or in a town where there is high unemployment.

But imagine being asked about brothers and sisters and finding you are the only only child in the class. Some people might feel pleased to be unique, but most teenagers hate being different from the herd.

On the other hand, if you ask them about the sports, music, video games they like, this is good safe neutral territory. (And also personalisation, I hear you say – but I’ve made my point about the personalisation activities I have a problem with).

I’ve only talked about three things! And already too long! I will save the last two for another post.

*** If you don’t understand the reference to Lord Copper, check out this link:   http://tinyurl.com/yjl5axh

Comments on: "Ten things I think I know (Tranche 2)" (29)

  1. Well, Ken….there is a part 3? Woohoo!
    Okay, now I’ll be serious from now on.
    About sitting in rows: for me, the worst kind of sitting arrangement in a classroom (sorry to sound so dismissive). That is how most public schools are in Greece (where I had most of my schooling), and oh, what a lack of contact among the students first of all (and being one of the shortest kids in class, I simply could not bear the thought of sitting at the back, where I couldn’t see anything). So I always sat at the front but then I was labeled a nerd. So nerds were in the first rows, semi-nerds in the second, the cool kids in the last ones…..categories, categories! But with a different sitting arrangement, everyone is equal in the classroom.
    About reading aloud, GREAT tips about having each student take on the responsibility of reading a specific text! I believe they will try much harder after that and everyone will have the opportunity to read in class – and everyone will improve.
    Now, point 8 is so important (and bravo for pointing it out): there are so many speaking models in textbooks with questions like the ones you mentioned (what is your family like, what job does your dad do and so on). I have always wondered, these ten years I have been teaching, have these people who wrote the books NOT thought that there are students from problematic families in almost every classroom? That topics like these are highly sensitive in class? So what if in some exams the examiner supposedly poses the question “Would it be okay for you to speak about this?”These questions for me are big no-nos to whomever they are addressed. Of course, as an educator, I have found it beneficial to ask the parents of the students beforehand if there is anything they would like me to know as far as the kids are concerned, but still you have to be very cautious, as some parents won’t own up to problems going on at home. So, it is best to avoid sensitive topics in general as you said!
    Ken, I am learning so much from you and you make me think a lot, so A BIG THANK YOU!!!!!!
    Great post as always!
    Vicky

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Thanks, Vicky…

      some comments really stand out, and you have provided a brilliant one: “Nerds were in the first rows, semi-nerds in the second, the cool kids in the last ones.” Do you mind if I quote it? When you think of all the work that goes into course material, making recommendations about mixing the classroom format up a bit never seems to get mentioned.

      I wonder how many nerds turn into teachers…

  2. Anna Pires said:

    Love this series of posts, Ken! Here are some of my thoughts:

    6. We still do it in the true IH fashion…semi-circle!!! But a few years ago when I was teaching YLs in primary schools, it freaked me out the whole row thing. And worst of all, being used to the whole pair/group work, their primary school teachers would give me such a hard time whenever I asked students to work with a partner, which meant sometimes having to turn around. Teachers complained that the class would get too noisy! Hello! We’re talking about communicative activities…noise is good!

    7. I remember reading aloud being considered an absolute no-no when I did the CELTA. But it’s a great activity once the text has been processed for meaning & language exploited. Sometimes I do a bit of shadow reading with them before getting sts to read it aloud. I went to a workshop the other day where the teacher suggested sts substitute some words for absurd/silly words. Each group allocates a st to read out the text and the others have to shout out when they hear an absurd word & try to remember what the actual word was.

    8. When it comes to personalisation, I normally let them choose the questions they want to discuss from a list in their CB. But I do think we overdo it a bit when it comes to personalisation.

    Anna🙂

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hello…

      I expected a back-lash to the reading aloud comment! I thought about this a long time ago, and Jeremy H wrote an excellent article about reading aloud in Etp recently.

      These and other great ideas usually make it into the TG – and what percentage of teachers read those?

  3. Fascinating stuff, Ken. I am in wholehearted agreement with you about personalising themes for teens. In fact, the general standard of course-books aimed at teens seems to be lower than those for kids and adults. Either they’re the hardest group to write for or the books are aimed at impressing their parents and teachers first, rather than them.
    Anyway, I look forward to part three.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      I think every age group presents challanges to writers, but my experience of teenagers is that they are very difficult to categorise – and let’s face it, how weird would the world be if you COULD say for sure what teeenagers thought, liked or felt motivated by?

      On the visit to Poland which I quoted from twice above, I visited schools where there was a feeling of frustration and futility about the place, despite the best efforts of the teachers.

      It wasn’t necessarily to do with social and economic realities. On consecutive days, I saw a bored and listless group of students in an affluent suburb of Warsaw, then a group of bright, motivated ones in a small city with 30% adult unemployment. Then more bored and listless ones in the same town.

      More work needed on this one, I think?

  4. mark andrews said:

    “If you ask them about the sports, music, video games they like, this is good safe neutral territory”

    Have always wondered whether there is such a thing as “good safe neutral territory” in a communicative language class. Have experienced many classrooms when students are talking about music that they like “in public” and noticed other students laughing at them for their tastes and opinions. Have also seen students who don’t want their favourite bands turned into pedagogical events by their teachers for the purpose of learning English.

    Guy Aston argued once in an article critical of humanistic language teaching that it is unethical to expect and require learners to like each other enough to reveal personal information, opinions and feelings to each other as part of a pedagogical activity.

    On the other hand at a conference that you and I were at 15 years ago at Brela in Dalmatia, Marian Vrebac gave a fantastic talk on teaching English in Sarajevo during the war where she talked about how much the students wanted to talk about very personal things in the classroom and in a subsequent article wrote this:

    “Students who have dodged Serb snipers to get to their classes do not want to talk about pollution, Third World poverty or how to save the whale. More lighthearted topics like food and fashion can also be difficult in a community where 70% of the people live on humanitarian aid. There is really only one topic of relevance in Sarajevo and that is Sarajevo.” (Jones and Vrebac ELT in Sarajevo)

    In the end I think it is all to do with whether or not you are able to or want to try to develop a culture in the classroom where you try to get students to listen to each other, respect each other and become good learning partners for each other, in which case all sorts of things may be possible. On the other hand it may be better in certain contexts to be less ambitious and adopt a model of teaching which recognises the realities of teenage classroom life and minimises the likelihood of personal humiliation. You are never going to get rid of that completely, I don’t think.

    Dick Allwright started a plenary talk on public behaviour and private learning in Korea 10 years ago by saying that:

    “As soon as we put people into classroom groups learning becomes a distinctly public matter, in the sense of people having to do their learning in the company of others, and therefore in front of an audience of some sort. It is now a highly complex social matter, with very many human relationships at stake, not just the teacher/learner relationship.”

    Thanks for bring this up Ken. It’s a really important topic and one that’s never going to go away.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Blimey Mark, you’ve really opened this one up!

      I have to say first of all, I am distraught to recall that I didn’t attend Marian Vrebac’s talk at Brela, a conference I remember well. I think I’m right in saying that the Bosnian ceasefire ended the day after the conference, leaving some of us stuck waiting for planes to take off.

      The fact of wanting to talk about these local and serious problems in the English class is something that has come up before. It begs the question of whether the students are getting the chance to air their feelings in their own language in other classes. I wonder if they are.

  5. Thanks, as always, Ken for a wonderful post. Please don’t ever worry that things are ‘obvious’. It’s these self same things which actually get overlooked.

    I’d like to comment on the reading aloud observation. As a secondary school student I was terrified of reading aloud. I nearly dropped English literature ‘O’ because of it. The night before an English Lit class I would learn pages and pages off by heart (and make poor poor old ma test me) because I hated reading aloud so much. And I’m a native English speaker! Similarly, my French teacher used to scream at the class that it was time to read aloud. The unearthly cry “volontaire ou victime?” will be etched forever in my head! I have HUGE empathy for second language learners on this point.

    Part of my training to be a Citizens Advice Bureau Advocate was learning how to read aloud (obviously I couldn’t learn every case in history). It is a separate skill and one that not many people actually need -so it’s doubtful if valuable class time should be devoted to it. But… if reading aloud is your blogreaders’ thang then your suggestions (and those of Jeremy Harmer in issue # 65 of English Teaching Professional) can be usefully put into practice. I think the crucial thing is to allow learners quiet time to read the text first. Certainly don’t force anyone to read anything substantial ‘cold’.

    Looking forward to more nuggets of wisdom!

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Laura, your school memory has made me remember – with a shudder – my first experience of reading aloud in front of an audience. Primary school assembly. An extract from the Bible.

      I was so terrified that I set off like an express train and had to be stopped by the head teacher, who walked over to me, took the Bible from me and read the piece himself. To make matters worse, he read about eight times as much as I’d been asked to read so I sat there in total red-faced embarrassment for an eternity.

      Maybe THIS is why I have a thing about reading aloud!

  6. Ken,

    I’m really enjoying your wisdom. I admit I have done things like this in my classes. I often have a moral dilemma with number 8 only because I know that English language learners who use the language will pick it up faster. I do pair activities and do allow passes when doing round robin discussions. However, I have had really shy students who don’t want to even speak during pair work. I think technology has really helped with shy students. I have some who will comment or participate more on online forums who do not usually participate in class discussions. However, I do believe face-to-face communication is key to acquiring a language because in reality the students will have to use the language in social situations. Of course, there I go again assuming many will speak English. Some like you mentioned in the last post will not travel outside their region and use the language at all. In fact, they are probably taking classes because they have to. I have been fortunate that all my English classes have been with students who will use the language and have to take my courses for that reason. However, you have opened my eyes not to making assumptions about the experiences of other teachers.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hi Shell,

      I take your point about technology being a fantastic boost to students who may worry about communicating orally (btw, saw an amazing documentary the other night about selective mutism, where children text messages to family members that they are actually unable to speak to).

      I don’t think you need to feel dilemmas about point 8. You’re a NEST working with motivated adult students – I wouldn’t expect the classroom circumstances to be anything like the state school situation I described.

      Thank you for calling these thoughts ‘wisdom’. I call them ‘nagging doubts’🙂

      • mark andrews said:

        What you call the nagging doubts Ken has prompted me to post: “Nagging doubts: Confessions of a teacher trainer. Ten things I don’t know or am not sure about training teachers to teach English.”

        http://markandrews.edublogs.org/

        This one is number 9 in response to your reply about whether students are getting the chance to air their feelings in their own language in other classes.

        9) In fact, I’m not even sure any more that in secondary schools, the English class is the place where important issues such as career decisions, racism, climate change and caring about the world in general are best taught.

        Ken Wilson in his reply to me yesterday said “The fact of wanting to talk about these local and serious problems in the English class is something that has come up before. It begs the question of whether the students are getting the chance to air their feelings in their own language in other classes. I wonder if they are.”

        Maybe this is what we should make sure happens. Might it not be that the English class is the place where we concentrate on the nuts and bolts of the language, the place where we explore how the language works, where we help students to learn how to learn, where the grammar and the functions of English become the focus?

        This would be a difficult one for me as language teachers in schools have more freedom than any other subject teacher regarding the content and potentially it’s a place for exciting and interesting things to happen, BUT If social factors inhibit people expressing their views on the more serious and controversial issues anyway, then why raise them in the first place? On the other hand, if our learners, as a group, express a keen interest in discussing a certain topic, fine by me!

        As always Ken, thanks for hosting these great discussions and getting us together to explore these issues. As I did last term, I will be getting my teacher trainees to check out things on your blog and all the other interesting blogs that there are around now on teaching English. If they have hit ELTJ for the second time after a four year break then they should be an integral part of teachers learning to teach as well!

  7. Peter Fenton said:

    No. 8 was the most interesting for me and certainly got me thinking. Perhaps a better way of motivating teenage learners is to think in terms of relevance rather than personalisation. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a fair bit of material that doesn’t seem remotely relevant to most teenagers.

    Another problem with personalisation tasks for teenagers isn’t just that they don’t want to talk about themselves but also, in all probability, the average 14 year-old hasn’t actually had that many experiences in their life to talk about anyway. They haven’t had a job, they probably haven’t been abroad and are still learning about their own culture, let alone knowing anything about anywhere else in the world.

    However, I don’t want to stereotype too much about teenagers all over the world. In the end, it comes down to teachers knowing their students and what is and isn’t appropriate in the individual circumstances. After all, in many countries, teenagers seem to be quite happy with sharing a lot about themselves via social media such as Facebook etc.

    As ‘knowing about things’ is the theme of this topic, I’d like to comment on it a bit further. I mentioned how knowing about students is important, but of all the coursebooks, methodology books, articles and materials written for ELT, how many of the writers have actually taught in the state school sector for any reasonable length of time?

    That is after all, as point no.1 clearly states, where most English classes take place. In fact, I think every point you’ve made comes back to this and is relevant to the state school sector in some way. So what makes a NEST who has only ever taught in the cosy world of IH, other private language schools, universities etc. qualified to write a book for teenagers in a country and context of which they have almost zero knowledge and experience? And when methodology books are written, how many of the authors have state school contexts in mind?

    That’s not supposed to be a criticism of anyone or anything in particular, just something that made me wonder out loud.
    It seems to me that for all that has been written for ELT, the reality for most teachers and students is sometimes lost somewhere.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      I th
      Hi Peter,

      I think your point about the lack of life experience of the average state school students is a very important one which hasn’t been made so far in these notes. I also completely understand your reluctance to generalise about teenagers all over the world, but I do feel the point is very valid. (Can something be ‘very valid’? My collocations go at this time of night?)

      Re authors knowing about their markets. When I get round to writing it, point 10 of my 10 is about this.

      In the meantime, to give (some) ELTauthors credit, if they are planning to write a book which will be used in monolingual classes in a particular country, or group of countries, if they do their research well enough, they should be able to imagine the classroom realities of the people they are writing for.

      I did this all over Central Europe for my Prospects series, in the Middle East for Move Ahead and in China for the New Standard English. For Smart Choice, I worked on the basis of a series of classroom, student and teacher profiles provided for me by the excellent local staff at OUP offices in Asia and Latin America.

      It’s hard to get the cosy PLS image out of your mind when you’re writing, but it can be done!

      • Hello again Ken (and Peter, whose post I wanted to reply to specifically)

        I agree that teenagers

        a) often don’t have enough ‘life experiences’ to draw on,

        and

        b) certainly don’t want to share their intimate details with the rest of their peers, plus a coffin-dodger.

        I think the second shows up a dynamic that dictates almost all of teenage life – the intense struggle for popularity and the huge value of status among peers. I recall plenty of paranoia during my teenage years: I suspect now that ALL of us thought we had a weird, embarrassing home and family that was best kept away from pals.

        Having been thrown into a summer course last year with 13-16 year-old boys from a religious association, the only useful thing I drew from it is that student-generated material works. And not ‘close to home’ material either. My kids seemed immensely more comfortable with nonsense, fiction or fantasy than ‘real life’.

      • Ken Wilson said:

        Thanks, Alan, well expressed general principle – student-generated and not close to home.

  8. Teaching in a post-secondary school business college with a fairly homogenous groups of students, I find that news-oriented topics (controversial or not) often stimulate discussion more than contrived personalized “conversation questions.” But the students’ relationship to each other and the entire school curriculum are elements to take into account.

    Some of my students spend three years together in the same classes and after a month or two, personalized questions become quickly irrelevant because they know each other so well.

    However, they don’t have many classes focused on current affairs, technology news, cross-cultural issues, etc. In my situation, English class is a good place for these topics — I love it when I hear “not only do we speak English here but we also learn a lot of other useful stuff.”

    Then again, they are generally at least pre-intermediate level, and some real discussion and debate is possible…so much depends on the cultural and linguistic context, doesn’t it?

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hi Betty,

      very good point about how well they know each other. New school year, new English book – find out about your neighbour – hm… we’re 16 years old and I’ve been in the same class as her since I was seven!🙂

      Your other points about topicality point to one thing – if materials want to compete with the mass of information avaiable online, they need to have an online component which is regularly up-dated.

      Ooops…. I hope none of the publishers read that – they’ll have me on a rack about it!

  9. Just to sign up for follow-up comments, sorry.

  10. Hi Ken,
    Regarding sitting in rows…I have the luxury of having a harkness table in my classroom http://www.harknesstable.com/. I teach 7th and 8th grade language arts, and this single piece of furniture has added tremendously to the way that I teach my classes. All of the students have a “front row seat”, and I am at the same level that they are. What does this do? It facilitates discussion, encourages thinking, and makes the teacher a guide rather that a dictator. The only problem? Group work. Often, you’ll see my kids sitting in groups on the floor working together…actually…I think they might just like that better than a harkness table or desks in rows! Great post…you made me appreciate the huge chunk of wood in the middle of my classroom!

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hi Megan, and welcome to you as a first-time visitor here, I think😛

      the Harkness table looks fabulous, lovely warm piece of furniture. But how many students do you have? I was trying to imagine the 70 students in the Chinese high school class I visited sitting round a table like that.

      I don’t think the rows can be easily changed in most classes. What CAN be changed is the default situation of teachers routinely repeating answers that they hear, so the need for students to listen to and the possibility of them learning from each other is lost.

      • Hi Ken.
        I teach at a small, Independent School in PA. We cap the class size at 18, so we all fit around the table. Note…I said “luxury” in my response. I have one section of 7th grade with 12 students and another with 13. My 8th grade classes are a little higher. I am very lucky that my class sizes are so low…I can do incredible things with them. This is one of the reasons why parents choose to send their children to private school. It is kind of like we are all at a big dinner table engaged in discussion…without the turkey, of course!

      • Ken Wilson said:

        Well, Meg – you’ve certainly taught me something i didn’t know. I will definitely order a Harkness table before this year’s Thanksgiving. That way the whole family can enjoy their turkey & work on their laptops at the same time.

        The only problem is the table looks about as big as my kitchen, so I may have to move house first!

  11. lclandfield said:

    At last I get a chance to read through this. I really liked this post, Ken, more than the last one in fact.

    I think you’re abosolutely right to talk about and bring into question the whole personalisation thing. I too, as a writer, have found it to be sacrosanct these days. More personalisation, more personalisation. However, it does lead to some strange or downright awkward situations like you mention.

    In your case, writing mainly for teenagers and young people this is more problematic perhaps than for adults but in both cases I think we could step back and possibly ask ourselves if too much personalisation is really a good thing.

    At IATEFL 2008 there was an interesting session by John Kullman on Coursebooks, therapy and learner identity. He identifies this trend in coursebooks asking learners to focus on particular aspects of identity and how their contributions are pushed in certain directions. I’ll leave you with a quote that really hit me: “(the) contemporary British model of identity dominates global coursebooks and little account is taken of different understandings of the self”. I think this ties in with what you are saying about teens talking in front of the class about themselves.

    Gosh, I could go on and on. But thanks for bringing this up and airing it. I personally have found your material refreshing in precisely this respect.

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Thanks, Lindsay,

      yet again I’m indebted to my reader-comments to find out that there is stuff out there that I should have read, attended or at least know something about. My constant theme of ‘this is all from my personal experience’ may wear thin for some people soon, so I’d better do some reading to catch up.

      Mind you, I find I learn a lot more now from blogs than I ever learned from proper books!🙂

      • lclandfield said:

        Not at all Ken, I think your wealth of personal experience is quite valid, especially as it is being reflected upon elsewhere.

        I too get quite a bit of my news and views now from blogs. I wonder what this means in the long run for publications like ETP and Modern English teacher?

  12. So you have been noticing a requirement for personalisation in materials for teenagers? How perplexing! Where has this been coming from? Is it publishers, the learners, or the teachers?
    As I understand it, a key way in which andragogy varies from pedagogy is that the learners’ experiences are generally employed as material to build on for learning in the teaching of adults. So in business English teaching for example, lots of folks (including me) would advocate a lot of personalization and drawing on the learner. It’s very hard to engage adult learners without it in my experience, and many decades ago when we used to teach business English with general English books, the lack of opportunities for personalization was a real headache.
    But why would personalisation be so important in teaching teenagers? What’s the pedagogical validation for that? It has me puzzled.
    Where is this request for personalization coming from? If it’s publishers, perhaps they need reasurance about a fundamental (and well documented) divide between pedagogy and andragogy. But if it’s teachers and students, is there something else going on?

    • Ken Wilson said:

      Hi Vicki,

      I can’t wait to play the ‘andragogy’ card the next time I’m sitting round a table talking about a new book.

      But really, it isn’t a question of whether I’ve been ‘noticing a requirement’ for these personalisation activities. Flip open any ELT book aimed at teen learners, and there’s a section called ABOUT YOU or something similar. And to modify what I said in the post itself, I don’t even think teens are that happy to talk about their favourite music or leisure time pursuits, either. Still open to ridicule from your enemy on the other side of the room.

      In my random experience of working with teenagers, mainly doing activities in classes that I observe, I find that you are better off trying to tap into their world knowledge. I think students are quite proud if they are the only one who knows that Lima is the capital of Peru, or that African elephants are the ones with big ears.

      But the absolute SAFEST thing to do if you want a spoken response is to just let them use their imagination.🙂

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