Some thoughts on teaching and learning

Taking part in this weeks’ ELTChat ( on the future of coursebooks, has got me thinking, once again, about the seeming stand off between those that like and use coursebooks and those that hate them.

At the risk of sounding like Tony Blair ;), I’m sure there must be a third way. I’d like to explore this a bit further in subsequent posts, but to kick off I just wanted to share this set of images:

Imagine, if you will, that this first picture represents a teacher’s lesson plan. The steps could, perhaps represent the ‘target language’, the boulders and plants, other elements of the lesson that he or she intends to weave in.

This second picture could represent the experience of the lesson from one student’s point of view. They get so far up the steps, but not as far as the teacher anticipated, and one of the steps is partly missing. On the other hand, there’s a nice little collection of boulders and plants in there!

For another student, the lesson might be all about the language explicitly taught. They’ve doggedly marched up those steps- and haven’t even noticed that they’re in a garden.

And this student is enjoying the garden, but hasn’t noticed the steps. And maybe he (or she) doesn’t need to if they’re getting something out of that part of the garden…..

 Now, this metaphor has been couched in terms of a more traditional language lesson, where the teacher imagines (and I use that word advisedly) that they can decide in advance what the learners are going to learn. They can’t of course, because there is no way to stop the learners from wandering where they will in the garden, or even curling up in a sunny corner and going to sleep.

But, I would argue, even if a lesson is completely unplanned, organic and student led, it’s still going to be a different experience for every student in the class.

I wonder therefore if the key issue isn’t less about whether we’re using pre-prepared material or not, and more about what we are doing with it, or how we are helping the students to explore the material and take from it what they individually need?

Equally, teachers are all different and work in different ways and need varying levels of support. For some, I believe it will be very helpful for the coursebook to suggest what language could be highlighted in a text and provide clarification and practice. I know I learnt an awful lot about how to exploit texts from using coursebooks. But the coursebook certainly shouldn’t be used as a bible; at least I would hope any material I have written is not used this way. It’s a resource, pure and simple, just like any other resource, such as a newspaper or a recording. The only real difference is that someone has already thought about ways that you could choose to work with the material and, if you find it helpful, you could benefit from their experience and knowledge.

Use it, don’t use it, use part of it, use it in a different way… whatever you do the learners will undoubtedly be learning what they are ready to learn and what they choose to learn.


Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook

11 Responses to Some thoughts on teaching and learning

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! This post is like a breath of fresh air – I agree with every word. You are SO right to say that there is a third way and I have been trying to say this too, I’ve given it a name: Pragme, as you’ve guessed from the word ‘pragmatic’ which is surely a more positive word than ‘dogmatic’. And with your ‘garden’ analogy, and with it being such a nice spring day, I now feel like going for a walk down by the river. Great post!!

  2. Thank you for your comment and kind words. It seems to be an emotive subject, so hope everyone is as kind (though they don’t have to agree, obviously)
    Hope you enjoy your walk!

    • You might get some flak from the Dogmeticians…but I’ve had a lot of flak from them too which I counter with the old wise words: ‘All Things In Moderation.” Hard to argue with my granny! I’d like to push the ‘pragme’ boat out but not sure how to begin.

  3. Well, I think dogme is a great way to teach, especially if you are confident about language and experienced in the classroom. I just don’t think it’s the ONLY way to teach or even the best way in some circumstances.
    To be fair, unless he has changed his mind since, Scott Thornbury has also stated that he thinks there can be room for compromise, so I don’t think it does need to be a ‘versus’ situation, does it?

    • Oh I agree with you. I don’t disagree with Dogme, only the Dogmeticians who claim that it’s a complete solution. I use Dogme as much as I can in my classes, but you’re right in that it’s not appropriate in all circumstances, depending on the experience of the teacher, the level of the class and the resources/facilities available. I don’t see it as a ‘versus’ situation, all I want to say is that we can take the best from coursebooks and other materials, apply some unplugged teaching as much as we can and have a good, all-round solution. This is Pragme.

  4. I agree. Guess I must be a ‘pragmetist’ 🙂

    • Hey!! I ‘started’ a blog: but haven’t done much with it yet. Not sure if I will or even if it’s necessary. In fact my first ‘post’ is still in draft….wait and see I suppose! Enjoy the rest of your day 🙂

  5. I liked your garden and steps metaphors and how you used images to illustrate the lesson planning process. As someone who has never treated the textbook as the Bibile I also believe that there must be a third way and we can take a Dogme approach to the coursebook or as Listennow refers to it above “Pragme”

    P.S. Thanks for adding me to your blogroll.

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