Wise Hat News
17th November 2002, #3
Patriotism is a pernicious, psychopathic form of idiocy.
The chilly, rainy,November wind is sweeping across the rice fields outside our apartment. Slashes of water fill up the muddy ruts giving the impression that the fields have been long abandoned. The bright green frogs that climbed our windows searching for insect food have long gone. Life here is lying low, sliding dormant. And on the other side of the world plans are being made to kill people.
Have you done anything to resist the US plans for war? Are you doing anything? Perhaps you believe in the 'war on terrorism'? Perhaps you see George Bush as a guardian angel commanding the forces of light against darkness?
The United States spends more on arms than any other country. The United States exports more arms than any other country. The United states uses more oil than any other country. The United States is planning a war that will give it control over the country with the second largest known oil reserves.
The policies of the United States kill. We can live in denial or we can do our best to do something. Yes, I'm singling out the United States. I know the policies of most, if not all states kill people. But the United States is the driving force behind repression, murder and death. Many other countries hang onto the bloody coattails of Uncle Sam. The United States calls the shots, controls the shooters and awards prizes to those that serve its interests.
If you don't agree you can write and tell me - I'll include your comments in the next newsletter.
If you are interested in doing something, here are some links. They aren't much, but perhaps they are better than nothing.
Act For Change - send an email to President Bush
End the War - a very impressive site with lots of links
True Majority - send a personal free fax to the leaders of all five permanent members of the United Nations Security
Vote No War - For United States Citizens?
You see things; and you say, "Why?" But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?"
What expectations do you have?
The first Peace as a Global Language Conference took place at the end of September. there were some wonderful presentations and I'm looking forward to the conference proceedings that will appear in CD format next year.
One highlight for me was meeting David Hough and hearing about how he deals with his University's requirement to grade on a curve (ration the best grades). He explains the situation to his students and asks them what to do. Options discussed include grading according to participation, competitive tests and blood type.
This is a good example of making the structure of a situation explicit and exploring ways to undermine it. I believe that is through identifying, examining and challenging structures that lasting change can come about. I also think that lasting change will be associated at some level with structural change.
For example, when I team taught at a private Japanese high school we had the same class all day, though the day was still divided up into the usual lesson lengthed chunks. The students were used to taking a break between classes (using the time between the end of one period and the start of the next period). This created a very 'bitty' feel with little continuity. So we scrapped all the 'mini breaks'. At first we introduced a half hour break in the middle of the morning, but later we made the total break time flexible by introducing an 'English only' break time. The potential length of the break was determined by adhering to the plan for the day. Students could earn break time minutes by completing tasks. The actual length of the break was determined by whether the students could remain in English. Sometimes they could and sometimes they couldn't. We were also flexible and ignored 'Japanese slips' or allowed them to be 'explained'. The feeling was very game-like.
The whole process was completely undemocratic. We changed the structure of the class and we didn't consult the students. We imposed the structure on the students. We did offer students the chance to opt out. We had two rooms available so when, for example, students wanted to sleep we'd invite them to use the other room. So I guess we were enlightened despots rather than cynical tyrants. But we were very much autocratic.
Democracy is a structure. How much democracy is in your classroom? Lately, I've become increasingly concerned with issues of democracy.
Behind co-operative learning there are some core values. These include respecting oneself and the group, tolerance, acceptance of diversity, honesty and commitment. Does democracy flow from these values or does democracy create them? Perhaps it's like the solution in Zen Comics posed to the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" I don't know, but what I am sure about is that democracy must be experienced to be understood.
I find it strange that if democracy is such an important concept, if it is integral to a humane, 'civilized' and 'modern' way of life it is so poorly implemented within most classrooms and schools.
Most children are told what to do and often how to do it. Even older children and teenagers have little control or say over their immediate day-to-day experiences. But as David Rovner wrote in a post to the savesummerhill list:
The way to ensure that people of any age will be deeply committed to the democratic Way is to make them FULL PARTICIPANTS IN IT (provide real-life experiences: making choices significant to their lives, exercising judgment in consequential matters such as school rules and discipline, choosing between alternative courses of action, and evaluating and discussing the outcomes of these choices).
This is an ongoing process. It is much more than signing a pledge or charter about behaviour when starting a class. It means taking action. It also means the teacher can not expect to automatically have authority. Authority may be granted but would remain temporary and conditional.
Some teachers in Japan complain about lack of participation. The root of this thinking is undemocratic. If a situation is created by group then the group will naturally be committed to it. Teachers who complain about lack of participation are imposing a structure upon the students. They are starting at the wrong end. The focus is upon the result even if the intention is to dwell on the process. Participation flows from commitment and commitment flows from creation and behind creation stands choice.
I've mentioned it before and I'm sure this won't be the last time but choice motivates. Even giving students the simply choice of determining the order of activities will increase enthusiasm. This is something any teacher can do without giving up any authority or jumping into the democratic maelstrom. Moving to genuine democracy within a classroom is a gigantic leap, a cosmic shift. I'm not there and being in a private language school I have the luxury of teaching without the rules and regulations of the state. Currently I'm experimenting.
One format I have adopted with some children's classes use a limited 'lets' approach. I write out the plan on the board and number the sequence (yes, there is no choice here). Under the number plan I draw a dotted line and write 'Lets'. After we have completed the sequence anyone is free to make 'let's suggestions. "Lets have a snack!" and "Lets have a drink!" are very popular. One group, like playing Guess Who? (from Milton Bradley) and have been playing for every week for over a month. Some teachers might be concerned about the time spent on this activity (usually the last ten minutes of a sixty minute class), considering it a waste. In practice though, I've been able to introduce more specialised vocabulary (this week was eyebrows) as it is requested by the children. I think this is motivating. Freedom of choice definitely creates a need for language when the children choose to try to use English. For language classes choosing to use the target language is a basic requirement.
The 'let's' approach does require some group cohesion. There is an assumption that consensus can be reached. I saw one class fragment with individuals and pairs doing their own thing. In this situation the ease and convenience of using Japanese proved too strong and from a language teaching point of view the process was useless. On that occasion the students neither got the concept of lets or produced any English. Now I insist on consensus (my groups are very small). This is perhaps less democratic but more useful for language learning purposes.
I'll close this section with a hypothetical. If someone discovered a very effective way to learn language that involved inflicting mental and physical pain would you use it?
Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.
In the United States there are more shopping centres than high schools. There has been since 1987. I wonder about Britain, the country in which I was born, I wonder about Japan, the country that I am living in.
Is shopping your hobby? How many hours a week do you spend shopping? Apparently 93% of American teenage girls report that shopping is their favourite activity.
Where am I getting these facts from? Check here.
This year I wondered whether my students would be interested in learning about Buy Nothing Day. I began by creating a game. The object of the game is to not go shopping. Many of my students just accepted this as a game and played it without comment but some wanted to know why the aim of the game was to avoid going shopping. I ended up making a song. It should probably be light and airy, like a TV commercial but at the moment it's in a minor key.
If you are interested in using the game or the song check the What's New Section below.
What is your teaching style?
Mine is very personal.
Language is a means of expression. I aim to inspire learners to want to express themselves. I show facets of myself to learners and create a relationship with them. I use material that some teachers would describe as political because that is part of what I am.
I don't push and I don't expect learners to follow me or agree with me. I avoid imposing my concerns by making sure learners have choice. For example, earlier I mention the Guess Who game. This is competitive. The games I make and introduce into lessons are non-competitive. I don't ban competitive games from my classes even though I have strong reservations about them. So what I do is focus on the experience. If children end up arguing because of a competitive game I can encourage them to look for the source of their disagreement. I can encourage them to examine the process.
Targets might help people to attempt something. Targets might encourage people to start a process, but I think the learning comes through the process Structures determine the scope of the process.
I think this makes sense?
There are some more game ideas, some more articles and a song. Here's an alphabetical list of links with a very brief description.
|Beyond Repetition||An article fromTeachers Learning with Children|
|Beyond Words||An article fromTeachers Learning with Children|
|THe BND Game||A complete Board Game to download|
|Buy Nothing Day||A song - comments Please!|
|Co-operative Bingo||The name speaks for itself|
|The Education Revolution||Link: the Alternative Education Resource Organization|
|Hello||An activity that practices meaning through intonation|
|King (and Queen) For a bit||A game to practice commands - music available!|
|Parrot Parade||Use the power of mimicry with this musical activity|
|Touch||Take the competition out of 'slam' games|
|Uhuh||Intonation through logic? An activity|
|Wake Up!||An activity for young learners|
The Jalt National Conference is taking place next weekend at the Granship, Shizuoka over 3 days (Nov. 22-24). For a link to the official site click here. I'm involved in a joint panel discussion 'Activism in the language learning classroom/engaged pedagogy' (Saturday, 1.15 pm to 2:35 pm, Room 908)
Jalt Junior is a conference within a conference. It takes place on the Saturday and Sunday (23rd and 24th). It's aimed specifically at teaching children and there will be presentations in both English and Japanese. The fee for Jalt Junior is separate and much lower than the main conference. Jalt Junior costs 4,000 yen per day or 7,000 yen for both days. I have a joint presentation with Alison Miyake: 'The Yin and the Yang - team teaching made easy' (Sunday, 10:55 am - 12:15 pm, Room B-1).
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The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
(Quotes this issue by George Bernard Shaw)