Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Friday, November 05, 2004

Context

by AJ Hoge & Kristin Dodds

More good stuff from the Tipping Point... this time in relation to Suggestopedia:

“When it comes to interpreting other people’s behavior, human beings invariably make the mistake of overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits and underestimating the importance of the situation and context. “

This is the central tenant of Suggestopedia... that by altering context (the learning environment) huge changes in learning effectiveness take place. I’m not an expert on Suggestopedia... and don’t particularly care for the actual language delivery technique they use (reading dialogues/scripts).... but the core of the method is environmental manipulation.

Suggestopedia adherents argue for a transforming sensory environment-- colorful artwork, mood lighting, relaxing &/or invigorating background music, relaxation techniques, costumes, elaborate props,.... what they are doing is profoundly affecting the context in which the student learns.

This is a widely accepted idea in social work, but strangely “radical” in language teaching circles. The basic tenant of social work is that an individual & his problems are part of an environmental web that includes the person’s family, social connections, neighborhood, socio-economic class, race, religion, geographic origins, physical space, etc.... “No man is an island” .... indeed. People’s abilities are profoundly affected by these factors....

A simple example. Its a well known maxim in Drug Rehab that the most important factor in relapse is environment. Addicts are urged to change their friends, neighborhood, hangouts.... their entire life context. Those who go back to the same apartment, the same friends, the same bars & street corners... invariably use again. Those who radically change their context: by moving elsewhere, finding new (non-drug using) social circles, etc... have a MUCH higher success rate. Even re-arranging their apartments can have a positive effect.

The details are not trivial.... they may be small... but can have big effects. Think of a European Catholic Church... or a Tibetan temple. Those environments immediately cause a dramatic shift in consciousness. The stunning colors, the candle light, the stained glass, the glittering brass & gold, the chanting, the inscence..... a powerful sensual feast.

By contrast, think of the typical classroom: plastic chairs, white/tan tile, white walls, grey-white acoustic tile ceiling, fluorescent lighting, pressboard desks,... white/tan blinds on the windows. Chairs/desks arranged in rows. Maybe a few posters on the wall... but otherwise a sterile sensory deprivation tank: butt ugly. That’s a description of every classroom I’ve had since leaving kindergarten (the older I got, the uglier the rooms got). I hate to pick on AUA again, but that’s also a description of their rooms.

What sort of context does this environment imply? Industrial. Office-like. Sombre. Boring. Uncreative. Regimented. Bland. De-humanizing. Rigid. And those are exactly the sorts of behaviors such an environment produces-- Rigid, uncreative, bland, somber, bored students. We, as teachers, can labor mightily to mitigate these effects (somewhat).... but it’s an uphill fight.

We should make our classrooms transformative, inspiring, creative works of art: temples & cathedrals of learning..... sensory feasts. Paint the walls. Drape rich tapestries. Fill the room with beautiful works of art. Create theatre sets. Turn off the fluorescent lights- mood light with incandescents, colored bulbs, and Christmas lights. Play classical music quietly in the background. Burn inscence or essential oils. Provide soft, luxurious seats... or cushions. Scour flea-markets for (cheap) textured tables, shelves, and other furniture. Create the kind of room that instantly alters the attitude & consciousness of the students.

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