Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons 3

Subtitle: The Wrath of the Math.

“Huh?”

“Your points are 2 for taking a taxi, plus 1 if you told the driver where exactly to let you out. Then roll the D4. Add courage points to the D4. Divide them by 5.”

I should have seen this coming. How often do you see any English for arithmetic in EFL materials? Never. How many of these ladies at Ladies’ College of Suburban Tokyo (LCST) have played RPGs before? None, so the D4 terminology from the first lesson went in one ear and out the other of some students.

Next time I will provide a little bit of Focus on Form on the arithmetic terms and hope that our dining role plays go well, because other than the maths, it was a good lesson.

Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons 2


With last week’s descent into the ‘dungeon’ being somewhat gung-ho, this week was a wake-up call. The group at University Outside Tokyo (UOT) changed. Our one woman was absent along with two other male players. Perhaps this is what led to one player stepping over the line or testing the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable in the classroom. 

Our game at UOT is based on interacting with a non-player character (NPC) who is a foreign exchange student. This week we took him sightseeing (with our female player absent only our male NPC was in play). Unfortunately three of the players decided that a good place would be a massage parlour. 

There was part of me that was close to ranting and raving. However, I didn’t. Instead, I appealed to the group’s lack of impropriety and asked if this was acceptable to them. It wasn’t. We finished the game, and after the transcription stage I called bullshit. I pulled rank as both ‘Dungeon Master’ and classroom teacher. Yes, I played my ‘Don’t be a dick!’ and ‘I grade your work’ cards. Do I feel slightly uncomfortable setting boundaries with adults? Yes, actually. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely.

There is a public transport-themed game stage next lesson with this group. I don’t think this will provide opportunities for lewd outbursts. 

Omitting Others? A(nother) case for Dogme

During the last few months and to an extent the last year or so there have been a few bits and bobs about diversity in ELT. Two examples off the top of my head are:

The queering (or actually not) OF ELT materials by Angelos Bollas (talked about at Innovate ELT 2016 and this year’s IATEFL). 

Emily Hird’s post on diversity in ELT materials (by big publishers). 

All of this leads me to believe that one OF the best tools we have at our disposal as teachers is Dogme, going materials light. This gives greater opportunity to go to places prompted by the learners and teachers rather than hem in conversation by implicitly suggesting a norm in a textbook. 

A case in point would be the usual heteronormative, racially homogeneous family tree. One might get into hot water from bosses in very conservative institutions. If the work is learner centred, the basis of learners’ families is the basis of discussion. The way other families are portrayed on TV and in movies often come up in questions. How many learners have divorced parents? Step-siblings? Half-siblings? LGBTQ relatives that are married or living together? Heck, even straight people merely living together is risqué on coursebook land.  That’s just an example of what could come up when talking about one topic.

If you have a diversity problem in your materials, are you sure they aren’t overly simplistic? If they are overly simplistic in diversity, as well as language that learners may require  to meet their communication needs, why are we pussyfooting around the deficiencies of expensive dead trees and not instead boldly using our learners’ lives to teach real life. 

The Benefits of Being a Guinea Pig

Recently it feels like I have been taking part in a lot of research projects. I don’t think I have, not when I sit and count, but it feels like it. It could be a massive pain in the bum but I actually like it. 
For one thing, other people’s research about teachers and/or teaching is unlikely to align exactly with one’s current wondering about teaching. This is likely to cause one to consider one’s classroom practice, beliefs or CPD process more deeply than before. Another thing is that when you are stating practices or beliefs, you’re making it coherent because you don’t want to be “Well, I don’t know why.” Although I am sure that I have screwed up my face on Skype while searching for answers in the back of my mind. 

Next time you see a survey circulating on social media, why not have a go. Help build our body of knowledge. And help find the figurative lost bit of jigsaw puzzle of your mind from under the sofa. 

Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons 1

First day back at A University Outside Tokyo today. All new courses as I decided to rewrite the one course that was the same. 

Anyway, I have a course for repeating students. I requested this for the challenge and thought it would give me a chance to try new things to up motivation. 

15-week role-playing game based roughly on a Dungeons & Dragons-type game mechanic? Based on welcoming an exchange student? Let’s enter the dungeon. 

It’s very much a Role Playing course, with a minor game put in. It’s sort of a hybrid of Daniel Brown’s EFL RPGs and James York’s Kotoba Rollers framework. The students have (electronic) portfolios to submit, which should include audio recordings of role plays, transcriptions of part of that audio, vocabulary and grammar notes. 

It’s just the first week but the students seem relatively enthusiastic, especially with the 20-sided, 10-sided and 4-sided dice. 

The non-player characters (exchange students, parents, etc.) are not played by a Dungeon Master (teacher) but by the students and decided by values of dice rolls. There is a bit of task planning, task recording and task reflection, as well as focus on form reactively. 

I still need to work in more about the strength, courage, observation and stamina points more clearly in my mind but at least it wasn’t rejected point blank. 

Hyperreality: The failure in the park didn’t happen

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The title of this post harks back to my BA Film & Media Studies days at Sunderland, when we were assigned a reading by Jean Baudrillard about how the media portrays (or just doesn’t report) events has ramifications upon the perception of them.

What the hell are you talking about, Marc?

Bear with me, because hopefully it will be worth it. I organised the ELT freefor(u)m Tokyo on Saturday thinking I might bring about a little bit of knowledge sharing and a little bit of solidarity to language teaching. Of course it was a bit daft to think that some people would turn up to the park on either a day they are working or a day when they are off work with families or friends. It seemed to have a lot of support on Twitter. Elsewhere. Not in Tokyo.

Now, if I had dressed this up as a rampant success, would this have made the next one (and there probably will be another one after I have a really long hard look at myself in the mirror and listen to Denzel Washington’s “it takes a wolf” speech from Training Day or something) be even more successful and less of an outlandish prospect? I don’t know. I do know that Anna’s Reflective Practice group gets more than zero people going to it, but that’s after work. My after work is usually ludicrously late, and my not at work is the start or middle of other English teachers’ days.

Anyway, what I did do was be honest: it was not even a one-man-and-his-dog audience (actually, audience is a misnomer because this was supposed to be a crowd thing, in person, and grassroots and other hippie-centric words). It was the flipside of every cool, loner fantasy. Sitting in a park, with a sign, hoping that people would come. I gave it an hour and then buggered off to get coffee and read without needing to wear a jacket. It was less successful than a freeform jazz odyssey. I licked my wounds and sulked.

So, the point, Marc?

The point is that if you have harebrained ideas that involve people you need to get actual commitment from them, and you know, you could dress it up and not have a failed project in your results when people Google you, or you could try and learn from it even though you get massive bruises on your ego and feel like an arse for wasting your time and energy.

I got loads of feedback from my lovely Twitter network, including some awesome, detailed feedback from TaWSIGgers – and maybe this idea has legs, maybe elsewhere, maybe another day or time. If it doesn’t, well, even though the first Gulf War never happened, everyone is quite aware that the second one did, aren’t they?

So, what’s next?

Keep on with this, I think. I’ve been told not to give up, so I figure, if there’s still absolutely nobody by the third try, it’s not going to be me doing it. I need help; help might even be on the way. So although I deleted the ELT freefor(u)m blog in a tantrum, it’s not quite as moribund as it might seem.

 

 

Positive Steps (Vanguards Wanted) 

I’ve been, and still am, disillusioned with the industrial side (as opposed to the professional side) of English Language Teaching. This includes lack of professional development, overbearing influence of coursebooks and the massive global ELT publishers, deskilling by publishers and large chain schools and precarious working conditions. I’ve always tried to avoid being a naysayer in that when I’ve said ‘nay’, I hope that there’s at least one alternative proposed. Being that I believe action is necessary, I am going to propose action that sympathetic parties may wish to follow up on. 

Work in loose, broad-church, accessible Special Interest Groups (SIGs) 

IATEFL and TESOL International do not have the monopoly on operating SIGs. There is TaWSIG but other than that there are others that are SIGs by nature if not by name. The Dogme in ELT forum was such a thing. TEFL Equity Advocates is another. There is also ELT Advocacy Ireland, the Women in ELT group on FacebookThe C Group, and I suppose what we at #TBLTChat have been trying to do and what TLEAP are doing. 

Realise it’s a broad church and many people do a range of things with varied experiences and dialogue can help us grow through shared practices, ideas, stories and knowledge. This then creates a culture. What do you care about? What are the itches you’re not getting scratched? Are there people who’ll do this with you? You don’t have to have a lot of people to start with; summoning shared energy shouldn’t be a problem. 

Don’t Like Something? Make Something Else! 

Don’t like textbooks? Try materials light teaching or making your own materials. Tell others. 

Are listening materials rubbish? Could you make your own website? Tell others. 

Do you hate this blog or feel it neglects things things? Make your own. Tell others. 

We can, and I am reluctant to dictate but we should try to make the world how we would like it to be rather than settling for how it is. This change will not come easily but nor will it fall in our laps automatically without any kind of effort being applied. 

We are all polymaths. We all have other skills and interests that can be brought together to build a better environment.


Commit but See Other People

You have your ideas and interests and you are what you are because of them. With other people’s knowledge and skills you can build further and better than you might otherwise do alone. Your loose, broad-church SIG can only benefit from outside knowledge and expertise. 

Some of this, at least initially, may involve working for free

However, the beneficiary of this free work is you and your community, so you aren’t slaving away for someone else. You may even be able to make money from it later because people don’t mind paying for things with value, they just mind being ripped off. You then have a model, with this work, of how things could be. This might take reiteration. Keep looking, even if there are faults. Someone, somewhere might benefit. 

Hopefully this is good for thought for some of us about our place in the world and gives us a more positive idea of where we might go next. 

I’d love comments here, especially if you use the comments to build your own SIGs.