Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Monday, February 13, 2006


by AJ

"If you travel on an airline and they get your there safely, you don't tell anyone. That's what's supposed to happen. What makes it remarkable is if it's horrible beyond belief or if the service is so unexpected (they were an hour early! they comped my tickets because I was cute! they served flaming crepes suzette in first class!) that you need to share it. Factories set quality requirements and try to meet them. That's boring. Very good is an everyday occurence and hardly worth mentioning."

--Seth Godin

Your school uses a "good textbook". So what, everybody does. You do clever pairwork, groupwork, and games. So what, everybody does. You throw in the occasional role play. So what, everyone does. Your school has a whiteboard, neutral colored carpet, white walls, and flourescent lights... just like everyone else.

In the effort to offend no one, we sink into mediocrity. Bureaucrats and teachers often seem terrified of making anyone unhappy. They seem to prefer tepid acceptence to passionate engagement. As a student, I hated this approach.

As a teacher, I hate it even more. I am, in fact, bored out of my goddam mind by most schools. Im bored with timidity. Im bored with Oxford/Longman textbooks. Im bored with "meeting standards". Im bored with corporate decor. Im bored with the same old thing.

Id much rather try something remarkable. By nature, these kinds of attempts stir strong reactions.

A very modest example: Ive started using the movie technique with my class. The most common complaint of our students is that they arent learning "real English"... that is, English as it is actually spoken in America.

Well, they arent going to get it from textbooks. And so Im going to use the movie technique with them. For my students, its a new and somewhat strange approach. They are used to diligently doing the traditional BS: work through a textbook, practice the "target grammar" in pairs/groups, blah, blah, blah. Listening to, repeatedly reviewing, and "studying" authentic movies is a technique they've never encountered.

Not surprisingly, my students are polarized. Out of the five who attended today, three seemed to love the technique. They were on the edge of their seats, listening carefully... taking notes,.... asking and answering questions.

But two seemed to hate the technique. One left class (to another class that was using the textbook). Another complained that she wanted to watch the movie without pause or discussion... then she fell asleep.

What should I do? Conventional thinking suggests I should tone down the technique (compromise) or stop using it completely. After all, I can plod through the textbook and no one will complain. No one will be excited or passionate.. but no one will complain.

But I think polarization is the wiser path. The two students who hate my approach might leave. But the three who love it will stay. And because they love it, they are more likely to tell their friends about it. I dont consider the movie technique "remarkable"... but compared with the same-old-thing... its certainly a step in the right direction.

The important question is, "Is it strange enough?"