Reflections on authenticity in teaching and learning
Following on from my last post regarding my workshops in Brno at Masaryk University, these are the questions I left you dangling on tenterhooks with…
So…What did they write?
Did it match what I had imagined?
How did the rest of the day go?
…the PhD students pretty much outlined what I thought they might have: giving presentations, conferences, language for tutorials…but…the focus was very much on them as tutors (we’ll come back to this later). There were also strong personal (not professional) motivations. Here are common ones. The most recurrent one was the last one.
This was a surprise. Or…was it? Really? Yes, there were professional reasons for being there:
but at least half of the ‘wants’ were personal.
So what would be a great way to break the ice between the participants, have the authentic purpose of meeting new people and provide useful EAP related language? Think on your feet Emma…
I asked them to imagine they were at a conference: Where is it? What city? What time of year is it? What time of day is it?
They creatively suggested it was a conference in Denmark in the summer just before lunch. I loved this, they really got into the idea. The creative aspect took any potential seriousness out of it and they relaxed into it, thus creating a good vibe in the room for meeting new people. We then broke into smaller groups and made the most of the flipcharts dotted around the room to generate useful phrases for networking, such as What did you think of the keynote speaker? Have you been to this conference before? Are you here with colleagues?. As language emerged from them, I milled around and filled linguistic needs, edited some suggestions to make them sound more natural (Which university do you come from? -> Which university are you with? /Are you going to present something? -> Are you presenting today?) and provided a few useful ones based on my experience of conferences (Would you be interested in working on something together? ) . This was then followed by people going around and making notes of phrases they found useful, thus sharing their knowledge (and there was a lot in the room, my main contribution was in making the phrases sound more ‘natural’/idomatic). We then ‘activated’ the conference with the aim of meeting 5-6 different people and exchanging details (if the action naturally arose).
For me as a teacher, this activity worked well because I felt I wasn’t guessing what language they might not have known and filling a presumed gap in advance of knowing what the gap was, but filling a real one based on emergent language. I could have arrived with a whole set of prepared phrases and I reckon they would have known most of them so I would have had to adapt anyway and thrown the plan out of the window. And, to be honest, because I was responding directly to what they were suggesting ‘in the moment’, I think I responded more naturally and thoughtfully. There was a buzz in the room that felt real. I feel the success of this activity is clearly related to the ideas a) learning is a social and dialogic process and b) ‘rather than being acquired, language emerges: it is an organic process that occurs given the right conditions’ (Thornbury, 2005).
Which leads me to another of the day’s activities… functional language for seminars.
Thornbury, S. (2005) Dogme, Dancing in the dark? Folio 9/2.
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