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1. The Road Not Taken (Yet)

The beginning is always today.

Hello, there.

Sometimes things get mixed up. Sometimes things are a hodgepodge. At the beginning of this year I made a plan. I thought it would be good to lay a path through the year and set up some stepping stones to see me to the end. I imagined I'd be able to look back at the end of the year and see the way I'd come illuminated by the glory of my fulfilled accomplishments. Well, the year is three-quarters gone and my earlier desires threaten to turn into millstones to bow my head in shame. I think I'm going to be very busy - get ready for a flurry of activity and a little less sporadity. I've miles to go before I sleep.

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2. The House That Jack Bought

From the respect paid to property flow, as from a poisoned fountain, most of the evils and vices which render this world such a dreary scene to the contemplative mind.

It's here. The trailer home has arrived, weeks later than expected. There's no cow with a crumpled horn, though a cupboard door fits the description. There's no malt and no rat. There is, however, a wonderful wooden floor and the windows have curtain boxes which make great display platforms. One thing that I certainly didn't think about is the suspension. Sitting down on a sofa at the front end of the trailer one really notices movement around the room. It's almost enough to remind me of being in a ship. Curiously when standing up or moving the suspension isn't noticeable. I wonder if the suspension will effect how classes can be conducted. A bit back I was in correspondence with someone who was contemplating using a London Double-Decker bus as a school building. I wonder what the suspension is like on one of those.

After so many years of teaching for other people in various locations it feels strange to finally have a space that I can use as I would. What will turn out the same, what will turn out differently, and how can I make it so? Do I even know what it is that I want to make? I can write words - here are some:

Democratic English School

But what does this mean in practise? I'm still finding out.

3. The House that became a war zone

It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world.

Insight can come from any direction - when you let it. Just this morning I read an article about a house that was occupied by the Israeli army. If you like, you can read the article for yourself. This has got me thinking about the way I intend to conduct lessons in "my" new school.

The article describes how the house was divided into three zones. In zone one the family could maintain control, in zone two the family would require permission to enter. In zone three the family would be shot. This meant essentially that the family were confined to the living room. To cook or use the toilet they needed to ask permission. Upstairs was off limits. Without realising I had been intending to create a similar division in my lessons with children.

My idea was to divide a lesson into three parts. In the first part I would introduce new material. In the second part children would choose which material from past lessons to review. The third part would be a kind of overlap. What happened would depend upon the mood of the group on the day and what was appealing at the time.

I guess this approach may have merits over a lesson in which everything is decided by the teacher. As compulsory education stands at the moment children are required to show interest in what the teacher presents whether it is interesting to them or not. Tests are used to encourage or manipulate (depending upon one's point of view) students to comply. The curriculum may include some space for student initiative but this is largely a by product. Essentially the students must fit in with the curriculum rather than the other way around.

This is clearly undemocratic, but how to throw the model away? Very young children tend to respond to adults but are also gloriously self-obsessed, they are usually determined to do whatever they have a mind to do. In a way, older children, especially those who are schooled, are less self assure. They may not want to follow the teacher, but they expect that the teacher will be there to be followed. Also, with learning a language, how else can new material be introduced if it doesn't come from the teacher?

Given that classes at the trailer-house are not compulsory and that children really need to want to be there, I think the model I outlined has merit, provided it also includes the concept of teacher as partner. This means that rather than having a prescribed curriculum, a body of material to get through in a particular order, the teacher should be careful to note and respond to direction from the students. For example, I have a couple of new students, one of who is interested in fruit. So we did some activities with a stack of fruit cards. Being able to recognise the difference between a cactus fruit and a prickly pear might not be the usual fare for a first lesson but we ended up working with some exotic fruits.

I think it is not what we know that is important, but how we know it.

4. Passion Fruits!

A slavish bondage to parents cramps every faculty of the mind.

One of the dilemmas of working with children is that they may be unduly influenced by parents. A parent may have desires for a child and the child may unable to separate his or her own desires from those of the parent. Sometimes it is obvious that a child is being sent to learn English and the child has no interest whatsoever. In such circumstances one must side with the child, refuse to teach and counsel the parent that they should not take the child elsewhere but be honest and take a more child centred approach. But what to do about the child who is ambivalent or passively disinterested?

From the point of view of being economically viable it seems to make sense to accept child with little or no passion. Those who actively dislike lessons are another matter. They can end up driving other children away so even on tawdry economic grounds it makes no sense to accept them.

However, I wonder whether accepting the ambivalent is truly worthwhile. In my experience children who make the most progress at learning something are the ones who are passionate about it. I think the same goes for adults as well. Moreover, I think that the world would be a much better place if the workplace was filled with passion. Too many people accept jobs that they dislike and I think it can be argued that this creates a kind of universal malaise. Perhaps a school should refuse students unless they can demonstrate enough passion to get in?

Alternatively, perhaps passion is something that rubs off. A child who is ambivalent may be inspired by the passion of another. Perhaps a more important task is to figure out what, if anything, encourages passion, and what works against it. Is it possible to create an environment that encourages passion? I aim to find out.

5. What's New (and Old)

Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist of creating out of void, but out of chaos.

The site now has its Autumn look, and judging by the table below quite a few new pages:

Co-operative Quiz A co-operative quiz structure
Find The Penny A game of bluff
Halloween Up And Down A variation of Snakes and Ladders
It's A Job An article on teaching occupations to children
Maze Challenge A Co-operative Logic Game
A non-competitive jumping game
Now's Co-operative Newsletter #01 A little on game design.
Now's Co-operative Newsletter #02 Bits and pieces on Christmas.
Now's Co-operative Newsletter #04 A little on lesson planning.
Now's Co-operative Newsletter #05 Young Learners and more
Now's Co-operative Newsletter #06 Toilet Escape
Now's Co-operative Newsletter #07 Competition Revisited
Now's Co-operative Newsletter #08 NLP and The Flashcard Game
Now's Co-operative Newsletter #09 NLP and Jenga
Now's Co-operative Newsletter #10 Enola Gay
Now's Co-operative Newsletter #12 Halloween Ideas
One Step Forward A form of trigger tag
The Time And The Place A Think Tank Article on Politics and Religion

Now's Co-operative News was the forerunner to Wise Hat News - for some reason issues 3 and 11 never got made.

6. Democracy Defined?

Every political good carried to the extreme must be productive of evil.

I wonder to what extent a lesson conducted in a foreign language can be democratic? Especially with children. There seems to be a contradiction. On the one hand I think to maximise language learning opportunities the class should be conducted solely in the target language, i.e. in English. But given that Japanese children have very limited means to express themselves in English this does not seem conducive to democracy.

Another difficulty is that everyday school experience for children has them submitting to the teacher rather than working together as equals. If it quacks like a duck and smells like a duck it probably is a duck. Similarly if it looks like a school and smells like a school then it probably is a school.

One reason for conducting classes in a trailer-house is precisely because this does not look like a usual school space. I came up with the idea of dividing a class into three parts to further erode the usual concept of a lesson. There is no substitute for children being able to make their own decisions. One thing I am going to do to help them do that is to provide a graphic for each game and activity. In this way it will be possible to plan a lesson by choosing cards. It will be a little like making a storyboard for each class. Actually, I was recently advised on the AERO listserve to avoid thinking in terms of lessons and perhaps to use the notion of sessions. This was something I, myself, had written years ago in an unpublished book/CD set, What's Next? It was odd to have my own words returned to me in such a fashion. Perhaps the idea of story is even better than that of session. It sounds more communal. Perhaps democracy is a shared story that we all take turns in contributing to? This concept of a class as a story is something that has just occurred to me. I can see me returning to it again.

More soon?

Nothing contributes so much to tranquillise the mind as a steady purpose - a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.

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And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in my heart.

(Quotes this issue by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley)

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