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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 6; Issue 2; March 04


1. The Courage to Teach

Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life

Parker J, Palmer, Jossey-Bass Inc, Cal, 1998

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This "review" will be almost entirely in the author's words, as his depth and eloquence tell their own story more than adequately.

In Chapter 2 A Culture of Fear: Education in the Disconnected World, Palmer writes:

" ….After thirty years of teaching , my own fear remains close at hand. It is there when I enter a classroom and feel the undertow into which I have jumped. It is there when I ask a question- and my students keep a silence as stony as if I had asked them to betray their friends. It is there whenever I feel I have lost control: a mind-boggling question is asked, an irrational conflict emerges, or students get lost in my lecture because I myself am lost. When a class that has gone badly comes to a merciful end, I am fearful long after it is over—fearful that I am not just a bad teacher but a bad person, so closely is my sense of self tied to the work I do.

My own fear is matched by the fear within my students, though in my early years of teaching I conveniently forgot that fact. From where I stood, exposed and vulnerable at the front of the room, my students seemed enviably safe, hidden behind their notebooks, anonymous in the midst of the crowd.

I should have remembered from my own experience that students, too, are afraid: afraid of failing, of not understanding, of being drawn into issues they would rather avoids, of having their ignorance exposed or their prejudices challenged, of looking foolish in front of their peers. When my students' fears are mixed with my mine, fear multiplies geometrically---- and education is paralyzed………."

Three pages further on Palmer asks:

" Why do we have so much trouble seeing students as they really are? Why do we diagnose their condition in morbid terms that lead to deadly modes of teaching? Why do we not see the fear that is in their hearts and find ways to help them through it, rather than accusing them of being ignorant and banal?

On one level the answer is simple: our conventional diagnosis allows us to ignore our failings as teachers by blaming the victims. But there is a deeper reason for our blindness to our students' fears and it is more daunting: we cannot see the fear in our students until we see the fears in ourselves. When we deny our own condition, we resist seeing anything in others that might remind us of who, and how, we really are."

Towards the end of the chapter on Fear, Palmer offers some idea of how he had coped with it in his own teaching work:

" As a young teacher, I yearned for the day when I would know my craft so well, be so competent, so experienced and so powerful that I could walk into any classroom without feeling afraid. But now, in my late fifties, I know that day will never come. I will always have fears, but I need not be my fears--- for there are other places in my inner landscape from which I can speak and act.

Each time I walk into a classroom, I can choose the place within myself from which my teaching will come, just as I can choose the place within my students towards which my teaching will be aimed. I need not teach from a fearful place: I can teach from curiosity or hope or empathy or honesty, places that are as real within me as are my fears. I can have fear but I need not be fear--- if I am willing to stand some place else in my inner landscape. "

Please do not understand these short quotations as an attempt to convey the full complexity of this second Chapter. There is much, much more. Hopefully you have tasted enough to want to read the whole book:

Chapter 1 The Heart of a Teacher: Identity and Integrity in Teaching
Chapter 2 A Culture of Fear: Education and the Disconnected Life
Chapter 3 The Hidden Wholeness: Paradox in Teaching and Learning
Chapter 4 Knowing in Community: Joined by the Grace of Great Things
Chapter 5 Teaching in Community: A subject centered Education
Chapter 6 Learning in Community: The Conversation of Colleagues
Chapter 7 Divided No More: Teaching from a Heart of Hope

2. Transforming Learning

Introducing SEAL Approaches (primary, secondary and adult)

Compiled by Susan Norman, Saffire Press, 2003
Reviewed by Mario Rinvolucri

If this article interests you, Pilgrims offers courses
in this area. Click here for more information.

SEAL ( Society for Effective and Affective Learning ) was born in the 1980's with the aim of bringing Lozanov's Suggestopaedic ideas to a broader public. But from the very beginning, SEAL has been open to wide swathes of humanistic thinking. I remember first hearing Earl Stevick speak at that very first SEAL Conference.

SEAL initially addressed itself mainly to language teachers but quickly reached out to a broader constituency, primary education, further education, the therapies, the "softer" end of the business world, the transcendentals. Today SEAL is excellently " broad church", which makes its conferences, every other year, diverse and thrilling events.

This book is an attempt to give a brief overview of some of the areas that SEAL ventured into and it is the first time that anyone has tried to map out the broad interests of SEAL members in a publication that aims at more permanence than the newsletters.

The best way of showing you what the book is about is to offer you its Contents page:

Accelerated Learning
Mind Mapping
The Brain

    Basic Rest and Activity Cycle
    Triune Brain
    Right/Left Brain
    Brain-Body Dominances
Brain Gym
    Vision Gym
Non-Conscious Processing

Story, Metaphor and Visualisation

Multiple Intelligences
Learning Styles

Learning Theory

Creativity and Thinking Skills


The Heart




Learning Environment

Music and the Mozart Effect


There's more to learning……
    Appreciative Inquiry, Autogenic Training,
    Constellations. Drama in Education,
    Eastern Philosophies, Kinesiology ( Touch for Health )
    Psychodrama, Psychosynthesis, Personal Development Courses, Tetramap
Learning Difficulties

Early years

Alternative Schooling
    Steiner Waldorf
    Reggio Emilia
Humanistic Language Teaching
    Community Language Learning
    Total Physical Response
    Silent Way
    Michel Thomas Method
    Lydbury Triangles: a Global Approach
Neuro-Linguistic-Programming ( NLP)

Non-violent Communication (NVC)
Personal Development
    Spiral Dynamics
    Seven Levels of Consciousness
    Transactional Analysis ( TA)
    The Enneagram
    Myers Briggs Type Indicator
    Belbin Team Role Analysis
Problem solving
    Theory of Constraints (TOC)
    Solutions Focus

Rhizomatic Learning

Quantum Science


The breath-taking flaw of this enormous, tiny book is that all the above areas are "covered" in 81 A 4 pages! So, for example, Multiple Intelligences gets just 3 pages, which is a poor joke in terms of really introducing Gardner's clear but complex ideas to people who do not yet know them. A redeeming feature is that you are offered a bibliography of seven well-chosen books.

If you don't know anything about The Theory of Constraints you will only glean a skeletal idea of it from the 120 word description on P 77 However the website they send you to will tell you much more: www.tocforeeducation.com , as will the book recommended: The Goal by E.M. Goldratt The North River Press, 1984 ( Global Principles of manufacturing in the form of a novel.)

The way use this booklet is as a sort of richly annotated bibliography and web address list.

3. Stories

Narrative Activities in the Language Classroom (secondary and adult)

Ruth Wajnryb , Cambridge 2003
Reviewed by Mario Rinvolucri

If this article interests you, Pilgrims offers courses
in this area. Click here for more information.

Stories by Ruth Wajnryb is a useful addition to the many books on oral story-telling that have come out over the past 20 years in EFL and on its fringes.

It is against the background of these works that I intend to review Wajnryb's thinking, and here are some of them:

Morgan, J and Rinvolucri M: Once upon a Time, CUP, 1983
Wright, A Story-telling with Children, OUP., 1995
Wright, A Creating stories with Children, OUP, 1997
Taylor, E Using Folktales, CUP, 2000
Berman,M and Brown,D The Power of Metaphor , Crown Publishing 2000
Owen, N The Power of Metaphor, Crown Publishing, 2001
Rodari, G The Grammar of Fantasy ( first published by Einaudi, 1973)

The above list is far from exhaustive and it not by chance that so many authors have written on this area and found houses ready to publish them. The oral story is a natural way of presenting new language to the ear of the learner in both L1 and L2. The story is an I-thou form of teacher-student interaction. The text emanates from the heart and soul of the main L2 language source in the classroom, that is to say from the teacher. The text come from the teacher, not from third person source, such as a textbook listening passage. When you are using stories to teach an L2 you have all the power of L1 at your disposal. Let's try an experiment- let's assume that
Your L1 is English and your target language is Modern Greek:

Once upon a time there was this arkutha, and, yes, an arkuda is a bear…. Well, as I was saying, this arkutha was walking through the thaso… and a thasos is a place with thousands of trees. Anyway the arkutha was walking through the thaso, Yes, the arkutha was walking under the many thenthra that make up the thaso, when she looked up and saw that the yellowy brown fila were beginning to fall from the Thenthra. ………..

By the end of this bi-lingual telling you would have made a first acquaintance with around 30 target language words and collocations. The use of this sandwich , or bi-lingual technique allows the learner to slip from L1 into L2 almost without noticing they are doing it. The full magic of "sandwiching" is experienced when using the technique with 5-7 year olds.

And now back to Ruth Wajnryb's book. Her book is useful because of the old ideas she has put back into circulation and here are some of them:

Brilliant Old Ideas

EFL teachers back in the 1980's made good use of the Dungeons and Dragons idea of picking your own path through a narrative structure. Rupert Hart Davis published Joni Farthing's Business Mazes and Heinemann had a book by Marge Berer called Action Mazes.

Ruth devotes 20 pages of her book to a branching story of this type ( P.39-59) The student reads the first of the 74 story cards which sets out this situation:

Your were living in a small flat in your town and you had a poorly paid and boring job. You went for a few job interviews and you were successful in all of them. You had the choice between:

  1. a sales position for a computer company. There was retainer but it offered a 50% commission on anything you sold plus a car.

  2. A poorly paid but rewarding job helping people.

  3. A job with average pay that required you to leave your town.

If you chose:

  1. go to card No 2
  2. go to card No 3
  3. go to card No4

When the student, or small group of students, goes/go to the chosen card they find a new situation which offers them three new options. They then proceed through the story maze, jumping from card to card, until they reach an " exit " . On the way they do plenty of reading, thinking and small group discussion.

Back in 1980 Heinemann brought out Towards the Creative Teaching of English, edited and partly written by Lou Spaventa. The last section of this book featured an exercise Spaventa called Teacherless Tasks, and which Ruth ( P24) calls Sorting and Sequencing. The students sit in circles of 5 to l0 people, depending on the number of segments the story has been divided up into. Each student gets a morsel of the story.

Working exclusively orally/aurally they have to sequence their sentences to reconstitute the story. Wajnryb offers four stories ready for use. Loads of teachers who have never heard of books produced in 1980 are streaming into EFL and will learn the technique from this up-to-the-minute 2003 publication.

Back in 1983 Morgan, who was very interested in students and the teacher collaborating in telling stories, launched the idea of students writing a story that included elements proposed by the teacher. On Page 148 of the book under review you will find Finish My Sentences….. Here is one of the example texts Wajnryb offers:

Teacher dictates: Angie was shopping alone in…….( Now you, the students, write a description of where she was shopping and what for)

Pause of 2-3 minutes, while students write.

Teacher dictates: The reason she wanted to buy…..( Write why she felt this way and what she decided to do about it)

Etc……At the end of the writing process each student will have their own story only minimally guided by the teacher.

In picking out three classical exercises which this book seeks to put back on the modern EFL map I am not indulging in snide criticism. I feel that in our profession we all too happily wander away from ideas that have given our students learning-rich lessons, sometimes abandoning them for more recent and less good techniques.

Excellent New Ideas

Stories has taken on board the discoveries about how the narrative genre in conversation works, discoveries made by Carter and McCarthy. A good exercise that brings this out with clarity is Story-telling as a Social Act ( 161) in which Ruth contrasts a "bare bones" story with the way it gets told in a typical conversation.

Bare Bones ( the first bit)

The man was fat and he was worried about it, so he bought a keep-fit book and went jogging. He looked funny and a lot of people laughed at him.

Conversational version:

A: Oh, talking about losing weight, did I tell you about my uncle John?
B: No, don't think so.
A: Well, you see, my Uncle John's quite a bit overweight and he's always worried about it, so erm….the other week he decided he was going to do something about it
. B: Uhhuh….
A: So anyway, he got himself a keep-fit book………

Once the students have had a good look at how a minimal plot gets "conversationalised", they have a go at turning a "bare-bones" story into a normal conversational narrative with the listener showing their skills at what McCarthy calls "listenership", or the right grunts and rejoinders.

I think this is the first time I have seen conversational story-telling and story listening being offered to students as a clear exercise.

A major contribution of Ruth's book is get students telling all sorts of stories that do get told as part of conversation where the main point of the story is the enhancement of the relationship between the teller and the listeners, rather than any great importance of the story in itself.

She gets students telling

    false stories
    incredible stories
    wedding stories
    complaining stories
    short anecdotes
    tall stories where plenty of things get exaggerated.

In this book you will not find many magic stories of the sort that abound in the books mentioned above by Gianni Rodari and Nick Owen. Come to this book for a rich vein of day-to-day realism.

If stories are an area you work in then this is a book to have on a handy shelf.

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