Fiona Mauchline wrote a post on Henrick Oprea’s blog that ended with two small challenges, the latter of which has had me doing some thinking. What ideas, people and events have influenced the way I approach ELT? Do I associate outside influences with my teaching philosophies? Why don’t I have instant answers as when asked about my favourite musicians? Shame, really. Influences deserve due recognition, especially when on such a colossal part of my life. Through a lot of contemplation, I’ve started to piece some together and shall introduce them and how they have an an effect on my teaching in a series of posts.
Influence #1: ideas : Pulp Fiction & Memento et al.
Being a teenager and young adult in 90s, movies of that era had a profound effect on my ideas with regards to learning and understanding. This is not to say that it’s only then that great films were made, but it’s then that I was at my most impressionable as a learner and as such, they are forefront in my psyche as helping to shape how I approach creativity–something that inevitably spills over into my teaching. It was around this time that two movies in particular, Pulp Fiction (1996) and Memento (2000), blew me away.
Neither movie is told in a linear fashion. Pulp Fiction jumps around the story through scenes pieced together out of order, leaving the viewer to make connections to previous scenes, determine how they relate to each other chronologically and how the characters are connected in a initially seemingly disconnected plot. Through a masterfully cut up plot, this unfolding puzzle kept my interest piqued and maintained my Gen X attention span. The characters also are atypical–the criminals and “bad guys” have relatable personalities. They don’t just shoot and go.
Memento took a similar, but also vastly different approach. It too is a puzzle, but its story is revealed through short chunks of plot ordered together in backwards chronology. This keeps the viewer building on what they previously saw, guiding them, step by step, into discovering how everything works together. With one 10-minute scene followed by 10-minutes that takes place just previous, this style also carefully replicates how the main character, who has short-term memory disorder, pieces together events in his quest to avenge his wife’s murder. Not only is your brain constantly trying to make sense of what you see, but you are figuratively identifying with the main character’s experience.
So, what exactly did I get from these movies (and a few others like it) of the time with regards to the approach I take towards lesson planning and teaching?
a) Learning isn’t linear. Just like how the story lines were presented, students don’t learn and then move on to the next thing. Learning requires making connections to previously practiced language.
b) Mixing up how you do things can build student interest and keep their attention. Having a formulaic schedule day in and day out might look good on paper, but it really prevents the opportunity to mix skills together. Plus, there’s a fine line between routine and rut.
c) Guide students into discovering. If I tell my students everything explicitly, they aren’t learning. They are memorising. Giving them clues to help them discover ideas and connections and rules themselves, eventually ending up at the desired conclusion, is much more effective.
d) Put yourself into your students’ place. It’s amazing to be forced into the main character’s point of view. It makes the movie so much more meaningful. Similarly, I need to keep my students in my mind when lesson planning and try to look at everything through their eyes before concluding that it’s a perfect lesson.
Coming in a future post, influence #2: people: The Smiths. Maybe between now and then, you can give your influences some thought. Let me know if you do.