Creativity in the language classroom

The excellent TeachingEnglish.org.uk website has started a new series today, the first of which is Creativity in the language classroom.

Among other questions the first article raises is why creativity is important in your classroom, including:

  • The fact that "some people cannot learn at all if they are not allowed to be creative. They do not understand the point in doing a language activity for its own sake, for only practising the language without a real content, purpose, outcome or even a product"
  • "(…) most people become more motivated, inspired or challenged if they can create something of value"

Apart from creativity, another thing which is important for teachers is that we continue to question what we are doing, and don't just settle into a routine. "Am I creative?" the article asks us, "Are my students ever creative in my classroom?"

It looks like an interesting series…

Updates

>> Article 2, Features of creativity
>> Article 3, The essence of creativity
>> Article 4, Creative Environment

Good teaching

Oh, no! It's Monday…! A good teacher, they say, makes children glad it is…

A good teacher, good teaching… There's an article here that has 10 "requirements" for what good teaching should involve

  • It's about not only motivating students to learn, but teaching them how to learn, and doing so in a manner that is relevant, meaningful, and memorable.
  • [It's] about listening, questioning, being responsive, and remembering that each student and class is different.
  • [It's] about not always having a fixed agenda and being rigid, but being flexible, fluid, experimenting, and having the confidence to react and adjust to changing circumstances…

No mention of "technology", no mention of "computers" (or "grammar", for that matter!)… but there's still a lot there that would apply, no matter how much technology you might be using in your classroom.

What (doesn't) make a good task in the computer room?

Image, right: Barcelona, as seen on satellite image provided by Google Earth

In a previous post, I provided links to three articles on what makes a good language classroom task.

There ought to be a lot of overlap between that and what makes a good task if you are taking your learners to the computer room, and I think there is.

Here's an example of a task that I think is poor, which comes from the Winter 2006 issue of a magazine I like a lot, iT's for Teachers (which incidentally has a lot of good things online).

The task (the fourth for a lesson plan that began by looking at five aerial photographs of historic sites, including the Great Wall of China):

Get your students to use Google Earth to search for places around the world, including one or more or the places they have seen in the photographs. Can they find an aerial picture of their school or home?

What's wrong with that as a task…?
My doubts are as follows. I provide only questions — if you want to suggest answers, that's what the "comments" feature is for…

  • What is the aim of the task?
  • What language are they going to learn or practise in doing the task?
  • What are they going to do with what they produce?
  • What's the return on investment?

I'd ask pretty much the same questions of most computer room language tasks, and one of my answers to the third would almost invariably be "Well, I guess they could blog it…!"

Image right: Barça's Nou Camp stadium, pictured via Google Earth. Wow…! But what language do they learn from it?

Technical note
Google Earth requires (free, easy) installation: note that you might not be able to do that on your school's PCs.

And — again, importantly — does the amount of language they are going to learn from the task really compensate for the time it's going to take to install?

What makes a good task?

What is a task, anyway? A task is "any language learning activity that the students do in their classes" (game, comprehension questions, gap-fill exercises, etc), says this article by Andrew Littlejohn.

I like some of the questions the article poses:

  • What is the aim of the task?
  • Where do the ideas and language come from?
  • How personally involving is the task?
  • What happens to what the students produce?

We might also ask who the ideas and language come from — from the teacher or the learners?

In a second part of the article, Making good tasks better, Littlejohn suggests that we can "improve a task if we can increase the amount of ideas and language that the students are expected to produce" — in other words if it's not the teacher providing all of it.

In a third article on Language Learning Tasks and Education, the same author asks other questions that I think we should ask ourselves when designing classroom tasks.

What should teachers know?

Interviewed in the Spring 2006 edition of It's for teachers magazine [website], and asked "What should English teachers know to be good at their jobs?", Melanie Williams answers:

They should know about the language they are teaching, they should know some different ways of teaching language, they should know about learners and how they learn. They need to know about lesson planning and how to manage the classroom to make learning as efficient and effective as possible (…) and they need to know about resources and materials they can use in class.

In the same piece, her colleague Mary Spratt adds:

"Knowing how to have an open mind and a willingness to learn are very important, too."

From many years of experience in English language teaching, I can say that I wholly agree with all of that — if anything particularly with the addition Mary Spratt makes.

What about technology?
Technology doesn't get a mention — and I think it should.

Assuming that technology does make your life easier (for example to find materials, to store them…); assuming that it is used to its full potential, in order for your learners to communicate… then I think you should know how to use technology.

It it doesn't, forget it — let's not bother adding it to the list.