fruit-tree concept

– motivation in the EFL classroom

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Preparing visual inspiration…

Folder for idea inspiring pics

Today I have been busy categorizing pictures. After talking and writing about stories and graphic novels and teaching English via Art, I came to the conclusion that a photo or a painting can be considered a very short graphic novel. In fact all photo albums are illustrated diaries: every time we show anyone our photos, it is just to illustrate the narrative we deliver or it prompts an additional anecdote…a picture paints a 1000 words.
I have always used a lot of pictures in lessons as a way of prompting speech and have a box of collected postcards and laminated photos. However, this time I have collected pictures specifically with the Storytelling theme in mind and/or inspiring for Art production. There are fashion photos using fairytale themes, surreal pictures, thought provoking pictures about media.
I was over in England last week and was lucky to be able to sit in on some language lessons as well as Art lessons in a comprehensive school. The Art department in this school is fantastic and I found the visit very inspiring and hope to be able to use some of the ideas for my own work at school. At this point I realize that it would be difficult to introduce CLIL lessons into the English school system as most teachers only teach one subject (or two languages) but rarely a language and art or technology.

example of pictures found for example in the weekend illustrated “Zeit” magazine. I really like the almost 3-D effect of the hand on the folder cover above. It is so interesting the effects which can be created by switching between computer and photos/drawings and look forward to experimenting more in this direction.

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“Embracing Failure”

So it is holidays and there have been enough days doing other stuff for the brain to recuperate and start considering what can be done better in this brand new year. I have a year 10 coming up to the end of their time at our school but most need to be prepared for college  (years 11-13), so I have been thinking about how to improve higher order thinking (HOT) skills and read some articles on Edutopia, of which this is just one.

Indeed, I have a couple of students who are brilliant at revising (remembering) but are stumped when they have to start applying their knowledge to a new context which can be as basic as using recently learnt vocabulary in a sentence which illustrates the meaning of timg_1529he word, showing that he also does not always really understand the concept of the word(s). This young man does not embrace the concept of failure and shows signs of giving up, trying to blame the teacher for having something against him, not accepting that his methods of learning might not be ideal.

With these students in mind, I have also been looking at some articles and listening to podcasts about learning to learn and have summarized some of the methods suggested on the Cult of Pedagogy podcasts (No.58).

Whilst  browsing I came across  a  Video “Embracing Failure” on which was particularly interesting as it suggested embracing failure as a recipe for success and spoke mostly about working with the Arts:  “You’re going to make bad paintings,” says Gonzalez. “You’re going to make bad photographs. You’re going to fumble your way through it, and in fact, that’s how you learn. You need to make those mistakes.”  Which fits fantastically to my pic for today – and pulls in my particular area of interest: utilizing Art lessons not only for developing creativity but also for increasing EFL contact and for developing HOT.

Over the next weeks, I’ll be working on developing tasks for all age groups (years 4 to 10) in Art with a view to incorporating these principles of meta-cognitive instruction but, hopefully, without taking away the relaxed atmosphere which is absolutely important for Art lessons. For some, it is stressful enough that they are expected to speak English (EFL). I hasten to add that “relaxed” should not mean that the level of expectations should be low. I believe that we should expect a high level of engagement and nurture an environment in which critique and feedback is encouraged and welcome.

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Why storytelling? Why visuals?

Storytelling is important for several reasons:

a) It makes use of the unavoidable element of suspended belief ever present in the EFL classroom. Storytelling turns this around into making the language  authentic within the context.

b) The skills needed within storytelling are used everywhere – from making general conversation basically more interesting to selling a product. It allows us to use vocabulary and thoughts which may normally have no place in the classroom.

c) It aids problem solving skills by putting yourself into someone else’s shoes, developing the ability to be able to see something from another perspective which is, indeed, an important element.

Graphic novels aid the development of visual literacy, a competence which is becoming more and more important. We have to decode pictures and set them in relationship to the text: videos, film, photos, illustrations.

A visual could be used as a straightforward opportunity to speak. However, to simply request a picture description would mean a loss of many other opportunities for creativity: Prof. Holzbrecher (Fotos und Fotographieren im Unterricht: Oldenbourg Praxis: 6-2013, p.9) comments that there is mostly an analytical approach used in the school context whilst the translation of pictures into another aesthetic  form of expression leads to a deeper understanding of the relationships behind the image – or formed by the juxta position of images and text. Of course, for the less confident speaker/learner, images offer an opportunity to ease into the language – especially if the picture is a personal one which they would like to share. Visuals help to activate cognitive schemata.

Never before has it been so easy to document whatever is around us – heuristic function (Holzbrecher, ibid) – and to generate new ideas. Excursions can be documented and reported upon. A sequence of photos ( or other visuals) may lead to a greater degree of creativity than a film sequence as there are more gaps to be filled as there could be in a comic, the viewer having to guess the action between the panels.

Niki de Saint Phalle wrote short poems which she illustrated. The students filled the lines with their own visual ideas.



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Challenging upbringing strategies…”Millenials are hard to work with”

This may not have so much to do with teaching English via Art but it does deal with the question of increasing our expectations of students in the classroom. Both language teaching and Art lessons need a degree of practice before the student can reap any great fruits – there are no real quick kicks. It is important to get the praise balance right and certainly not praise lack of effort.
Simon Sinek on Millenials (27.12.16)