These four walls…
This might come across as cliché to those of you who read this blog. I mean, one of the best things about blogs and twitter is that we are able to find people who are willing to share. This is the main advantage I can see in this “new” media. Many teachers do tell me that they can’t see why they should be on twitter, or that there’s no time to waste with it. I can even understand the time issue – I myself have been struggling with time this semester – and I do try my best to listen to and understand the reasons why people think this world of twitter and blogs is nothing but a fad and a waste of time. However, there’s one thing I cannot put up with – people who can’t listen to what others have to say. And it gets worse than that… but this is not a rant; a praise it is supposed to be. A praise to twitter, blogs and what it has got to offer to teachers.
This week, as I was teaching a lesson on approaches and methods in ELT to a group of post-graduation students, we finally got to the point of discussing The Lexical Approach and Dogme. This is the second time I teach this course, but it somehow feels different. A couple of years ago, when I first taught it, I wasn’t that involved with twitter and blogs, and the fact that I’ve joined this group has made a difference in the discussions I hold with the students. Someone said that these two tools have leveled the play field in the world of ELT. It certainly helped me to go beyond the world of academics and authors that I used to read before. Thornbury, Harmer, Puchta, Nunan, Ur, Meddings, and Brown (to name but a few) are still required reading, if you ask me. However, there are just so many other great people out there who can now be heard regardless of a publishing contract that it’s made our lives a lot easier. We can now read what Karenne Sylvester, Jason Renshaw, Shelly Terrell, Cecília Coelho, Willy Cardoso, Mike Harrison, David Warr, Dave Dodgson, Sabrina de Vita, Richard Whiteside, Sara Hannam, and many other people that know what they’re saying and whose posts are consistently good, have got to say. Maybe they were already part of your readings, but I only started reading these people after joining twitterville. Those were the days when publishers and editors chose who we had to read. But it’s done a lot more than merely allowing content to be spread and commented on.
On April 26, while I was talking to my students about Dogme and teaching unplugged, I couldn’t help but remember some of the activities that had been shared online by some of the bloggers I read. Among these activities, I briefly demonstrated Jason’s The Wandrous Whiteboard Challenge. Obviously, it generated some discussion in class and we started coming to some conclusions. “Oh, if only I could get Jason to participate in this class…” did cross my mind. However, as this was something that had sprung up out of a class discussion and I hadn’t really planned to have such a long discussion about these activities. A whole bunch of coincidences happened at this point. First, I had already talked to my students about both #eltchat and #breltchat. Second, it was a student’s birthday, and her friend had asked me if we could have a short break as she had bought a cake. During this short break, some of the students asked me again about twitter, and when I opened my tweetdeck, I saw that Jason had just tweeted something. I immediately tweeted him back, telling him that we were discussing one of his activities. Jason asked which activity we were discussing and this is what followed:
We ended up having a fantastic skype session, as Jason was really kind to make an impromptu appearance in our class. This was absolutely amazing, as students had the chance to ask questions to the person who actually had written the text. If I could get Luke and Scott to skype while we were discussing about Dogme, Richards and Rodgers to talk about approaches and methods, and Harmer to discuss CLT, my job would pretty much be to bring the computer to class and call them on skype.
The four walls of any classroom have been brought down. Those were the days when the teacher was supposed to be the only one who knew everything in class. We can now share the load – it’s much easier to do what we preach. Get students to learn, not memorise. Get them to discuss points, to reflect. Invite other people to enrich the discussion. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to invite the person whose activity I was discussing at that very moment, and one whose knowledge I learned to respect. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The four walls around us no longer exist, but only as long as you don’t want them to exist. If your co-workers are not willing to discuss ELT issues in a way that fosters growth, never mind. Twitter has become the largest staffroom ever. Oh, and everyone there is willing to share, learn, and discuss. I’m sure you can learn how to use it effectively, and, once you do, you won’t regret it.