Category Archives: impulsive post series

An ELT play of sorts.

With very few lines from characters and an Act of Silence.

/note: all Acts should have been more logically called Scenes. But an Act of Silence sounds too good to reject it../

The People in the Play:
Teacher of English
9 university students

*****

Act 1 At the door

TEACHER: There’s a password today to enter the classroom. Think about our lessons, concentrate on your thought. Now in order to come in you need to complete the idea:”I think it could be a good idea to … in class.”

(whispers, muffled sounds)

note: each sentence from a student is followed by a reaction from a teacher, such as “oh, wow, great, thank you, I like that” + making a note of the idea. All students eventually end up in a lesson.

STUDENT D: I think it could be a good idea to watch short videos in class.

STUDENT Aboy: I think it could be a good idea to read books in class.

STUDENT Sgirl: I think it could be a good idea to listen to songs in class.

STUDENT V: У нас идеальные занятия, меня все устраивает и у меня нет никаких предложений. (We have ideal classes, I’m satisfied with everything and I have no suggestions.)

TEACHER: Sorry, thank you, but please think of some idea for the sentence. Thank you!

STUDENT Sboy: I think it could be a good idea to have a break in the middle of the lesson.

STUDENT Agirl: I think it could be a good idea to have fun.

STUDENT V: I think it could be a good idea to sometimes sleep a little in class.

STUDENT K: I think it could be a good idea to write letters to each other in class.

STUDENT B: I think it could be a good idea to discuss our problems with physics.

*****

Act 2 Perceptiveness

(all students are taking their seats and getting ready for class)

STUDENT V (to Teacher): Why are you sad?
(Puzzled look and a silly near-smile on Teacher’s face)

TEACHER: That’s a very good question. How do you know?
STUDENT V: I have this feeling.
TEACHER: I don’t know. I slept very badly and I hate this weather.

(In Teacher’s mind: very unusual and sweet that it’s this particular student who noticed change.)

*****

Act 3 Skipped, or On Fast Forward

(feedback conversation on students’ suggestions for class, organizational moments, questions, Student D brags about a white scarf very fashionably tied around neck, brief review of what reported speech is all about)

*****

Act 4 From Tales of the Unexpected

Synopsis:

Teacher hands out copies of Genesis and Catastrophe and invites to read the paragraph about the author preceding the story. Students learn that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is actually a book first. Teacher goes a bit exclamatory about Roald Dahl’s legacy and its fun and use for learning English. A couple of Students are noticed to take a note of the author’s name.

Part 2 of task: reading Page 1 only. The page ends with this line: “None of my other ones lived, Doctor.” Several Students make articulate and very recognizable “aaww”, “oohh”, sigh and wonder out loud (“Will he live?!”).

TEACHER: You’ll get the copies to read the story till the end at home, if you wish.

Part 3 of task: dividing the dialogue in half and working in pairs to transform it into reported speech. All Students are noted to be working, even those who normally openly sleep.

*****

Act 5 Act of Silence

(One student finishes very early, flips the page and goes on reading. There’s still 40 minutes of class left and a whole big, partly irrelevant point on the lesson plan to be done with.)

TEACHER: Please read the story when you finish with your work.

 

The 25-min silence that followed was broken several times by the following:

STUDENT D: Why is the text so sad??

STUDENT Agirl (the one to have begun reading first): He’ll survive.

STUDENT D: He shouldn’t have.

(in a while)

STUDENT Sboy (jumping off his chair and exclaiming almost in panic): This is about Hitler!!!!

(this outburst resulted in a lot of moaning, disgruntled remarks, hushing, blaming of “spoiler-ing” the story for those Students who were reading behind)

 

25 minutes of near absolute silence being engrossed in the story. Pleasant silence. Unhappy when broken. Unusual to all in the classroom. Filled with mute emotions on Students’ faces which were read from their, very different, changing expressions: shocked looks, raising eye-brows, laughing (??!), frowning, sighing, eyes wide open. Watching Students read for Teacher was most exciting and eye-opening. The reactions of certain Students, who might have previously been labeled for repeated lines in their behaviour, shook the world of Teacher’s mind.

 

As everybody were leaving the classroom, after a brief sharing of  opinions regarding the title of the story and the shocking impact, the following lines were heard and noted:

STUDENT V (to Teacher): Goodbye. Don’t be sad.

STUDENT Agirl (to Teacher): Sleep enough.

Everybody leaves. Closing curtain.

*****

This class happened last Thursday and the notes used to write the post were made during the lesson itself. The decision to give the time to read in silence in class was impulsive. We didn’t do planned things. Reading literature is not part of our syllabus (and these are Physics students). I’m not ready to analyze how effective this move was and how much they learnt in comparison to what they could’ve learnt had we followed the plan. I can’t know or measure the impact of the decision I take until I take it and see what happens. As Josette LeBlanc used this word in her post once – fluid – it’s become one of my favourite words. Looks as if it refers all around my understanding of teaching at the moment. If the day/group/mood/ whatever other conditions had been different, this wouldn’t have happened, wouldn’t have been my choice.

And there’s no further analysis to this Play, just a funny post factum observation that we did read in class as one of the students had wished to do at the beginning of that lesson. =)

 

Thank you for reading.

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On Capote and motivation in broken logic.

I’m learning lessons from every situation that gives me a tiny chance at learning something, that is everything that happens with me, everything I do, every consequence and reaction that follows. This post is a perverse version of the original impulsive blog post I drafted a couple of weeks ago, during and right after I watched the movie “Capote”. All this time has allowed impulsiveness to subside. I will now try to work on the draft, in cold blood. I know it will be a bizarre piece of writing, but I can’t keep thinking about having this in my drafts as a very heavy burden anymore, so let me have it out.

*****

As I allowed myself to blog the way I want or see fit for the moment, I’m writing an impulsive post again after I watched “Capote”. In an odd way that is so typical of me, I both enjoyed and suffered watching it. This is exactly the kind of film (not only a film, but a story too) that makes me tick and also gets me have a lump in my throat. This time it was powerful on several levels.

Aside from the non-fictional In Cold Blood story itself (which is one of the books that affected me greatly, as TC character said it would), my mind couldn’t but keep being focused on the writer. That is, on the image of a writer that Philip Seymore Hoffman was picturing for me and which I was closely watching, noticing, paying attention to, getting emotional about.

I see the writer’s pains and torture that lead him to create something extraordinary.
I see how different a writer at a social gathering is from the same man working at his desk.
I see a writer as a sly and tactical man who knows he needs to manipulate people and their emotions for the sake of his art.
I see the way experience has to be lived and suffered through to become real.

For me all these random observations in the flow of the story line, which is a real story line of one particular writer, open up a thinking direction. How knowing or trying to grasp the author’s individuality, intentions, reasons, idiosyncrasies can help me review and re-visualize the image of his writing I have. That idea, I very well understand, must make little sense, for which I apologize and move on to another part of these musings.

*****

I realize it can be seen as absurd to bring together TC writing and students essays or whatever other writing you get them to do.
But maybe – just maybe – … I want to think ELT and just see what happens.

To track my line of thinking this should be helpful:
It wasn’t a plan (it never is) to get myself to write something after I watch the film. On some other day, I might not even finish watching it. But now that it is happening, I’m looking inwards and question myself: how did you get motivated to make these notes in order to later put them together in some more readable form? Zooming this inward look out, the next question is this: how do you motivate anybody to have ideas? Bringing the focus onto my class: how do you find a way to impress each and every student in such a way that they are truly motivated to do stuff?
You can’t know what would make them tick. Even if you think you do (O. likes football and P. is keen on arts and music), you have no idea, in fact.

***** broken logic line *****

Think writing again – just how utterly frustrating it feels to have limited vocabulary. I am fed up with the words I keep using again and again. That just makes me think of students, any level really, who have an idea they want to express immediately – and feel for words as if they’re drowning, and while doing that (I’ve seen it plenty of times) they get distraught at how long and how much effort it takes, so they give up. They either give up on expressing their point, or on their mission to search for a word which would convey the sense of their thought more accurately (possibly never as precise as it is there in their mind).
I’m right there with them, these students. We are none of us Truman Capote.

“I know what “exacerbate” means…there’s not a word or a sentence or a concept that you can illuminate for me.” (quote from the film)

*****

So I keep wondering … how motivation that gets me to write is different or similar to motivation that can get students to do their homework, write in their notebooks in class, listen to what their groupmates say in a class, care to write an assignment on their own. I keep wondering if it’s in my power (or if I need to care about it that much at all) to look for and find this something that can motivate them to think. Even if English is not their most favourite subject, not anything they’d readily spend hours doing, even then. Motivation seems to be a shallow, insufficient term to help this.

I believe there is a lot of confusion for both learners and teachers who are, or crave to be, aware of their learning and teaching.

*****

At the end of this mess of a post I’m thinking 3 words. Move. Motivate. Manipulate. That’s what I’ve seen Truman Capote do in the movie. And here’s what Truman Capote himself said in a film-interview here (I hope you watch this till the end, it’s quite interesting and on another level stunned me with the portrayal of TC that P.S. Hoffman did).

I always have this theory… That if you want to move someone else as an artist …you yourself necessarily must have been deeply moved by what it is that you are writing. But you must keep exploiting that emotion in yourself over and over and over and over till you’ve become completely cold about it… I mean so that you no longer laugh, say, about whatever it is that made you laugh… You see it like it was some extraordinary specimen, but you know that it had that effect on you, personally, so that you know that if you can reproduce it you can make it have exactly the same effect on someone else

*****

The lesson I’ve learnt is to never mix different film genres on one day. The Big Lebowski is a hilarious movie clearly deserving blog posts written about it, but its effect on some impulsive posts has been proven destructive.

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16 question marks and a soundtrack.

I’ve read it somewhere that getting students to talk about their lives makes them more motivated in learning a language in general and quite excited about your class in particular. I’ve read it, somewhere, many times.

Disturbing moments, anyone? I raise my hand.

Set-up. Mood: feeling calm, confident, expectant.
I thought it’d be so cool to do this activity from Teaching Unplugged, “Up and Down”, in which you get your students to sketch a mood diagram to talk about how they felt during some period of time you choose to talk about (a weekend, a longer holiday). It’s speaking about my learner’s recent personal experience, it’s going to be practising adjectives and participles to describe events and feelings about them. I’ve done it before. Nice one.

Development. Mood: feeling suddenly less calm and more suspicious; the air is getting tense.
I’m so great, my choices are amazing today. I decide to record this activity to later on think about it and analyse. Press the button.
At that point I could have sensed something was going wrong when I glanced at the page and saw that sharp decline. This could have prompted me to stop this, or twist it, or be careful. But the ball had already been set rolling. In the flashback of the moment, now, I am sure I noticed the eyes becoming watery. I didn’t say a word but I could have (Did I have to? Did I need to? Would you?) Is it in fact a point to be concerned about that I could’ve prevented the bad feelings for the student? It was apparently something looking for a way out, for an excuse to stream out like that.

Peak point. Mood: feeling… uneasy? uncomfortable? damaged? psyched? I wouldn’t mind somebody teaching me some words to describe this state.
I hear myself asking “Are you scared?” And I’m pretty sure now I was asking myself. Hectic racking of the brain, but not for what’s in my activity sandbox… Do I have a box of ready-made emphatic solutions? Some plans maybe, worksheets, activities explaining step by step how to fix this. It’s an extreme emergent emotional reaction which I haven’t read in books how to deal with.
Apparently, it was an unhappy vacation.

From that point on something was happening but it’s all more or less a mess in my head now. In the end, the best of all choices I made at that lesson (probably) was choosing to read aloud. My luck to have one of Kevin Stein’s short stories with me, and the one that the student could relate to. Heart thumping subsides. It’s all fine in the end, it seems so, but I only know what I feel and that’s only 50%.

*****
Post-lesson notes made 10 minutes after the class in an unstoppable flush of extreme emergent emotional reaction of a sensitive teacher. Random, of course.

~ Sometimes at my weakest moments I just feel doing a safe coursebook would spare me (and students) the embarrassment and pain.
~ Is it indeed so very exciting to talk about personal experience?
~ How emphatic do you teacher need to be? Is there any assessment of this ability? Is there anything I can do to learn it? Do I need to learn it? I might not be so sensitive as to cry in front of other people myself, but I feel the pain of others acutely and I’m not at all sure I know how to manage these moments.
~ What did the student learn? It honestly doesn’t matter to me, since the thin fabric of the psyche of my lesson cracked in seams and caused trouble.
~ Now talk about students remembering the knowledge we teachers give, not the teachers themselves (or moments).

I’d like to make it clear that this one is the second post in my impulsive blog post series. It is not about how I handled this particular situation (and a couple of similar ones that I’ve had in my teacher life). It is a story of how we can unknowingly trigger a reaction we are not prepared for, and not necessarily know how to deal with. I think I *half* failed this time.

*****
The weirdest thing about all this is that I now have 45 minutes of this lesson recorded.

And here is the promised soundtrack.

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I hated that fellow (c) C.G. Jung

This is an impulsive blog post. The idea came about after (during, in fact) watching this interview which this article linked to.

Story #1

Carl Gustav Jung was going through training to be a doctor and was writing his thesis. Once a certain teacher was discussing the papers of his students and took the best first. Jung’s paper was the last on his table. That’s what the teacher said then (these are all quotes from the video, watch the first part of it):

“That would be by far the best paper, if it hadn’t been copied. You’re a thief!… and if I knew where you’ve stolen it I’d fling you out of school. You are a liar!”

Jung’s comment on this, many years later: “I hated that fellow.  And that was the only man that I could have killed, you know, if I had met him once in the dark corner…”

Story #2

My friend was studying at a university here in Moscow. Once a certain teacher was announcing the grades (supplying these with comments) for the papers the students had written and he/she took the best first. My friend’s paper was the last on his/her table. What the teacher said then could repeat the words of a certain teacher of 100 years before. It looked to be the best paper but it had “surely” been copied.

While in fact my friend was the only student in that group who had written it by himself.

Story #3

I was teaching a group of insurance specialists, all ladies 5-7 years older than me. Once the task was to write a review of some film we’d watched. One of the students, actually the brightest one in that class and the one who always liked to “test” me (I was 23 then), handed in a page with printed text which didn’t sound like her writing. I checked online and found the text of the review down the first link in Google. I pulled myself (and my courage, and my sense of fairness) together and scribbled a message for her on that page, something saying I knew she could do better than that. Next class she brought a good review she’d written herself, and I never felt any slightest hint of disrespect again.

I know my students copied and stole for their writing tasks. I always (??) know when that happens. In most cases I make a personal note on that paper. Sometimes I ask to speak about the topic. Sometimes I call the student out on the cheating. There have been moments I can’t be proud of, when I thought the student had copied but he/she hadn’t in fact. There have been worse cases I can’t bring myself to tell about here.

Here’s what this all leads to for me, in the end.

What’s happening in a classroom relies a lot on the choices I make as a teacher. The kind of choices is not limited to picking materials, methods, tasks, tools, management strategies, considering learner types, acting on emergent language and reflecting in/on action. These, and everything else that matters in a classroom (and we know by some blog titles there are the other things that matter), constitute the flesh and bone of a lesson. In a lame attempt to tie Jung in here, let’s say that there’s also psyche of a lesson. Maybe it is the choices we are making (as humans), which are not necessarily rational or right all the time. We are making impulsive choices (ok, maybe I am making impulsive choices, not you). Some of them are intuitive and correct, others can be..well, not disastrous but leaving me feeling awkward, even ashamed at times. 

For all we know there could have been lethal consequences to poor choices teachers made. This exaggeration doesn’t serve to prove anything.

I apologise to those who don’t find psychology enthralling or connected to this post. It’s night time writing again!

Let me know what you think, if there’s anything here to think about. Thanks!

*****

UPD, because there IS something here to think about. Thank you for this.

Plagiarists and cheats – a blog post by Graham Stanley

The Cheating Art – a blog post with a lesson plan, by David Petrie

Digital Plagiarism vs Digital Citizenship: a war of words – a 2013 IATEFL Hungary talk by Sophia Mavridi, shared by Bethany Cagnol in her post-like comment below

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