our class Quizlet sets
In the corner of I.H. Newcastle’s large, well-lit “Personal Study Program” room, the one with the slanting ceiling and at least one teacher always on duty, there is a couch. It’s not an especially fancy couch. It is, if I remember correctly, olive colored. The cushions look indented, like it’s been sat in and enjoyed for a while. It looks comfortable. It’s a place where students can sit and chat. It’s also one of the small details that Sandy Millin threaded throughout her IATEFL talk on the ups and downs of her school’s Personal Study Program.
Some of the other telling details included a list of Internet resources available to her students on the PSP computers. I’ve included a list of the sites that I currently use or think could be effective for my own learners, but which hadn’t really been on my radar:
I also learned that while a fair number of the PSP students use Quizlet, the most used internet resource in the PSP is the BBC iPlayer simply because it is the easiest, a kind of path of least resistance learning tool. And best of all, I learned later in the presentation that students can get stuck in a rut and use the same resources over and over. By best of all, I don’t mean that I think this is a Wahooo-I-Love-It great thing. I mean that I am currently going about instituting a similar self-study time and dedicated room in my own school. And I’m pretty sure that my students could easily fall into the one-and-only-one-resource-rut. It’s something I hadn’t really thought about before I watched Sandy’s presentation and an impediment to learning that I think I can help my students avoid now that I’m aware of it. I’m thinking about setting aside some mandatory after school time once a week for resource training. There might be a terrifying student uprising some grumbling, but it’s better than letting the students watch and re-watch the entertaining videos on Learning English Kids for an entire semester. So thank you very much Sandy for getting me thinking about “task variation.”
In fact, as I was watching, I managed to take three notebook pages with ideas sparked by Sandy’s presentation. From setting up specific corners in the room for conversation, reading and listening, to breaking the one hour study session down into 20 minute blocks to help students maintain concentration and make better use of their time.
Lately, when I attend a conference, I hear a lot of presentations which are given in a special tense I’ve started to think of as the highly probable conditional. It’s a kind of airy tense peppered with cans, mights, coulds, and mays. Or perhaps it’s not really a tense. Maybe it’s a genre, one that can be recognized almost entirely by what it lacks: an absence of direct reported speech from students, a clear indication if students enjoyed what is being discussed, and details that give the material a sense of specific place and time. No matter how good the ideas presented might be, I feel like I’m standing on a rocking train and trying to hold onto a subway strap made out of smoke.
I should probably admit that I’ve used this tense in my own presentations more often than not. I’ve also written dozens of blog posts in this genre. Usually because I have a desire to make what I do in my class, in my specific context, more useful for a wider audience. I’m worried that if I add in too many details about my class, teachers will shake their heads, shrug, and think, “Yeah, but my situation is different.” But the fact of the matter is, different doesn’t mean non-applicable. Watching Sandy’s presentation, I was struck by how it was the narrow focus on I.H Newcastle’s Personal Study Program which allowed me to contrast it with my own teaching environment and fill up page after page with notes. So in the future, I think I’ll go over my presentations and cut out as many of those auxiliaries of probability as possible and replace them with the kind of concrete details that made Sandy’s presentation so useful to me. Because sometimes an olive-colored couch is more than just a place to sit and chat. Sometimes it’s the spark of an idea for redesigning an entire program.