Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce on his use of religious imagery in our latest 5-10-15-20 interview. (via pitchfork)
More Ariel Pink!
The case is settled, 4 months on, and resting quietly has soothed a scholar’s mind.
The books themselves emanate a sense of life lived richly inside, and a broad range of paths and trails taken. Abroad, these books take their reader home. A range so far, as to circle back home again, back to bridges and waterfalls, a chance reunion of rivermates. So far, as to make home abroad, and a bridge strong, not falling into water.
These books rest now at this bridge, their reader blushing at the thought of all they have seen. Rest, these books love rest, and their reader, resting, cannot help but agree.
I ran across an interesting body of thought recently, one that reminded me of all the better-minded teachers I have worked with in Taiwan. It is an idea, called Dogme Teaching, that seems to occur naturally to anybody with an appreciation for the communicative nature of language, which becomes especially noticeable when living in Taiwan. See, most people you run across in Taiwan have studied English, at least a little. However, the average level of speaking competence seems quite low, especially given the exposure to English media and the relative importance placed on English ability in the culture. In response to this apparent incongruence, one inevitably embarks on a quest for the underlying cause.
And then one enters the English language classroom. Ah, of course. One look at most textbooks will lead to straight to the problem. These books have so many quirks and oversights that they often totally defeat themselves. One major problem is that the books are often written as if they were teaching Chinese instead of English—a focus on Sentence Patterns and Repeated Conformity, rather than Communicative Effectiveness or Multiplicity of Form. Most English speakers would commend English for its diversity in form and creativity in employment, and to see the language reduced to what are essentially Sentences taught as Vocabulary causes serious intellectual pain.
After a glance at the textbooks, one looks around the classroom. Invariably, the paint is peeling, the A/C is set well above room temperature, and seats are overcrowded and the students are visibly mismatched by age, ability and maturity level. As focus is drawn more and more to the students, which is hard to avoid as the students are out of control, one notices a certain nervous tension. It is as if the children have been commanded all day long by every other adult to remain still and quiet, and they finally let loose once a strange supervisor has entered. In fact, this is precisely the case.
Once all these daunting problems have overwhelmed a new teacher, the last thing to be noticed are the teachers themselves. The utter lack of experience and training that exudes from the initiate teacher caps off all the problems, and luckily for the school owner, draws attention away from them as well. Yes, the role of the teacher in most Taiwanese buxibans is one of Circus Pony and Scapegoat. These individuals are purchased from a grab-bag of quality, and the owner is most aware of the risks this involves. However, responsibility for the ensuing problems is placed squarely upon the teacher. A student-centered approach is damn near impossible. I suggest any teacher in such a school find a better job, with a more professional, or at least independent, view of its instructors.
For those that are, the Dogme approach I discovered recently can feel totally refreshing. The main precept of Dogme is that instructors completely abandon textbooks, or other prepackaged learning material. Leave it up to your students to create language points. Facilitate discussions. And do not interrupt to make grammar corrections—rather, let the errors stand and remember them to bring up later during a separate grammar analysis/ practice session—the grammar points you focus on will be the exact ones your students need to improve upon.
I recently tried to use a book free, totally student-created lesson. Now these kids are 3 and 4 years old—so what happened was very exciting to me due to its large possibility for failure. I drew three boxes on the white board, and asked the students to tell me what to draw in them. The clever ones began suggesting dogs and cats, and trees, the sorts of things they have been reading about recently. I drew the animals crudely and quickly (cutely, too, they are 3 and 4 after all!). Then I asked the kids to tell me what to write under the picture. To reinforce the concept, I showed them a book we had read, and pointed out the picture, and the text underneath it. Immediately I got Dog! and Cat! shouted at me, and then I asked them to use A or The. They chose the, and I wrote The dog and cat for them. Then I asked what the animals are doing. They suggested standing. The dog and cat is standing up, came right out of their mouths. I wrote it, and prompted for corrections. A kid who had been quiet the whole time jumped on it and said ARE STANDING UP! Amazing! The kids were practicing grammar self-analysis using the acquired language from games and reading from their entire English experience. And they recycled a lot of recent material as well. The only drawback was that the activity sharply divided the class between Classroom Leaders and Passive Participants. I think breaking the students into groups, and forcing Passive students to develop some leadership skills, might be an effective way to spread the lesson throughout abilities.
So Taiwan ESL teachers…do not get lazy, and do not get jaded! You can create a subversive lesson that upends the McHess model, and puts the responsibility of language back on the student, and not on the book publisher! And imagine the business model of these schools in a system that totally eschews books!
Haven of colorlessness and wracking frigidity
Challenger to the finest appreciation of subtlety
What thousand-year leviathan has settled its weary burden upon your back?
What conspiracy of invasion has this time driven your timeless ways into the verdant hills and hidden creeks?
Have the intruders steeped your very leaves into utter dilution?
Has their heat squeezed out your last drop of sweat?
It seems that they could never.
And what of the backpackers, and the teachers, and the students? The expatriates and their bars?
And what of the politicians, and the bankers, and the newspapers? The generals and their soldiers?
Have these not also trod upon you? And emperors and governors, schools and post offices and hydroelectric dams?
Your words themselves now echo the dreams of ghosts dead hundreds of years ago and buried tens of thousands of miles away!
Yes, cadres rub their hands together and Secretaries-General stroke their sparse beards… They write the next chapter, do they not?
And what would your answer be, O Cliffsides and Gorges?
What path would you take, O Mountaintops and Templeviews?
With businessmen and rock-star would-bes?
Or the tattooed faces and the small-time tea planters? Potato Queens or Taro Tenders?
Is this choice at all ultimately for you to make, Nation of Greeters?