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Curiosity Cured the Cat

Report and hand out from presentation at Jalt Junior, Shizuoka, Saturday, 24th November 2001

Sometimes my memory is like Lisa and Henry's bucket - it's full of holes. Or as Bumble, a character from one of the role-playing games I used to run used to say, "I've forgotten more than I ever knew."

I'm really writing this report too long after the event, so in part it's a statement about my current thinking on curiosity as much as it's a review of my presentation.

First of all, I remember I was very lucky with the room. It had three doors. One at the back allowed people who wished to escape to leave gracefully. The two at the front were on either side of the white board. This allowed me to create comic entrances and exists, twice as easy as with one door.

If you've never tried walking out of a classroom, I recommend it. Leaving the participants or students (or whatever you want to call them) alone for a moment has several effects:

  1. It gives you time to think about what you are going to do next!
  2. It creates a pause. This allows you to head of in a new direction.
  3. It provides a moment for reflection for everyone.
  4. It gives the people in the room a chance to conspire. They can come together as a group.
  5. It gets everyone wondering what is going to happen next. It can create focus.
  6. When you return to the room, all eyes will be on you! (Unless you stay outside too long)

Second of all, I remember that my plan worked! That is to say, that the order of events I had in my mind, and scribbled down on paper actually came into reality that way. So we began by choosing a warm-up song using the not really random Eanie-meanie-minie-moe method, After the song I revealed the secret of how to select someone using this chant. Following this we examined the contents of the Black Box and the participants divided into groups and used the contents to invent their own curiosity creating activities. I was particularly pleased that I didn't get to see them all…

One of the myths to dispel is that the teacher should or even can be the complete focus of attention. Channelling all activity through the teacher is a waste of the resources and energy in the room. We all have our own unique experiences and our own interpretations of those experiences. We can all share and pool our knowledge and skills. By creating a focus point and then releasing the learners to interact with each other through sharing the same focus point genuine creativity, joy and learning comes about. So the participants in the room taught, shared and learnt together. They made their own games, they created their own ideas. There was more learning going on in the room than could possibly have occurred if it had all gone through me. I would go so far as to say that in any classroom situation where there is a roomful of learners if the teacher knows everything that is going on then potential is being wasted.

Another myth that got challenged during the presentation was the idea that all students will receive the same learning from the same input. This is a fallacy based on the "me Confucius wise teacher, you empty vessel fill cup" mentality. Attention teachers! Students are not empty cups, even if they have jug ears. A cup and a human being are completely different. Even if the transmission of information is exactly the same to every student, it doesn't follow that each student will receive the information in the same way. And I haven't even mentioned interpretation. I know that all the participants left my presentation with their own meaning and understanding. This is as it should be, otherwise, people would be little more than automatons. So naturally, this report is my impression, and mine alone.

Third of all, I remember that the issue of competitive games was addressed. One of the participants asked to see a competitive game. This was unplanned but extremely beneficial. Talking to people after the event I realised the true stranglehold that competitive games have on the pantheon of Language Teaching and at the same time the yearning for release. Many teachers use competitive games but know, deep down that competition erodes the safe, nurturing environment required for language learning. It is possible to remove competitive games from the classroom. I feel that many people left the presentation with the will to so. The results are worth it.

Would you just notice that gross generalisation? People who attend my presentations probably already believe in the benefits of co-operative games and learning, and simply require know-how to implement their beliefs. Those who revel in competition are probably elsewhere (training and domesticating the next generation of sheep).

Curiosity Cured the Cat - Hand Out

Curious children are attentive. Attentive children learn. It follows that the more we can get children curious the more attentive they will be and the more they will learn. This presentation focuses on ways of stimulating curiosity.

Pace then lead: Children are naturally curious. Teachers tend to demand attention but we can get better results if we earn it. We can do this by first matching ourselves to the mood and feelings of the group and only then leading where we wish the group to go.

Choice: why dictate when we can use choice? Students that have choice are more enthusiastic and hence more curious. For example, it's possible to let students chose the running order of a lesson. Develop a repertoire of structures and give students a choice of which structures to use to practise particular content.

Chance: All choice and no chance makes Jack a dull cat. Why use choice when we can use chance? We can use chance to choose activities, select 'volunteers' create an order and create groups. Introduce a "surprise time" into some lessons and see what happens.

Games: Games create curiosity because the outcome is in doubt. In this sense co-operative games are preferred since if one team 'runs away' with a competitive game the curiosity about the outcome is lost. The challenge in any game should be appropriate to the players.

Room layout: Changing the structure of the room is not dead time. It can be turned into a game. Room layout has a tremendous impact upon expectations, ways of interacting and hence curiosity.

Teach Tools: help children acquire the language to express their curiosity. "What's this?" "Read this." "How do you say…?" "Look!" "Come here!" "Wow!" etc

Engage All the Senses: Remember touch, taste and smell as well as sight and hearing.

Manner: Voice, gesture, feigned emotion, acting and performing all create curiosity. And silence! Imagine the class is theatre - be both the audience and the director.

Dress: Odd socks, an inside-out shirt, 'strong' clothing, unusual headgear, squeakers are all natural attention grabbers. Treat them as normal. Not for the pompous or introverted?

Objects: Unusual objects create curiosity naturally. But everyday objects in an out of place context can be even more effective. Use a 'magic box' to store surprise items in.

Music: Short clips of music can change mood, especially to heighten energy. Linking particular pieces of music to particular structures provides anchors for the students' attention. Music can also be used to limit the duration of structures as well.

Magic: Occasional simple magic tricks are obviously attractive. But thinking magically can be just as effective. Magicians confuse, bamboozle and misdirect. Don't present information like cookies on a plate. Make it buried treasure to be fought for and discovered!

Entrances & Exits: Doorways are natural stages. Movable whiteboards can also be used. Disappear with one personality, reappear with another? Bring in material from outside. Remember that activities have entrances and exits too…beginnings and endings are important. Always leave them wanting more….

Stories: All the World's a stage and that's true for the classroom as well. We are all living out our own life stories. Stories are very powerful. Remind me next time we meet…

Chris Hunt

PS: As Doctor Spencer Kagan says: Structure + Content = Activity

Handout November 2001
Report Written January 2002

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