Squeezing the joy out of a thing

Darren Elliot, the blogger behind Lives of Teacher is one of my fave edu-bloggers but he was a complete meanie the other day - he told me, in his comments, that basically it wasn't cool  to keep being cool. 

So while I get the point (and don't think teachers should suck up to their students) I don't entirely agree and actually, fully intend on being über-cool well into my 60's (like our Sensei Jeremy Harmer) but what made Darren's comment worth blogging about, was that interestingly, it occurred just after getting home from class and recognizing that I'd way totally killed the joy out of something for one of my students...  

He's an adult though, so I really do hope not forever.

We blogging teachers do tend to have a habit of only posting up lesson tips and ideas which have worked in our lessons - I mean, that's why we share them, because they worked so they'll probably work for other teachers too.  
But what about the things that don't work?

The things we do that fall flat...
Aren't there lessons worth learning and therefore worth sharing in those things too?  Or do we blogging teachers want everyone in the big old world to think that we're perfect teachers with perfect classes and what we teach is spot-on all the time and the students just love what we do all the time?

Not terribly realistic or truthful, now is it?

Anyhoo, here's my story:

One of my absolute favorite sites is TED.com, the lectures are simply fascinating and very often there are short videos filled with incredibly rich experiences - sometimes I just go in there only to drown in the knowledge of others.  Of course, because the lectures presented  are often by important leaders in the business world, it also is a soucre of authentic content especially if you, like me, teach adult ESP students.

Phillip, the student of the dogme-in-tech-movie fame, has an i-phone so one of my tips for him on developing learner autonomy was that he subscribe to TED.

And he followed through on the advice. SCORE...

He followed through on it so much so that in the last six months he has now watched more videos than I have, shares his favourites not just with me, via email, but also forwards them on to friends and colleagues he knows.


Feeling chuffed to bits that I'd managed to share one of my passions with one of my learners, I said to him, "hey, why don't you write up a blog post of your Ten Top TED videos." (Good so far).  

But then I said:

"Maybe you can include a list of all the new vocabulary you learned."

His face looked a bit incredulous but I continued undaunted.  "Yes," I said, "and maybe you could write about how you see TED as a great learning tool, how you were able to pick up these words from context, how you are then able to transfer that knowledge into the language you need in the workplace."

"Karenne," he replied in a slightly bemused voice, "I just like the videos.  I don't know which words I learn.  I understand some and I don't know what others are.  I don't think about that I watch them on my way to work, they're interesting."

He shrugged.



OH crap.  I thought to myself - now why'd I have to go and spoil his new hobby?   Now, everytime he looks at his i-phone to watch the latest on TED he's probably going to think about my über enthusiastic  English-teacher-suggestion and instead of  enjoying his videos and soaking up some great  vocabulary subconsciously, he'll now be thinking about what he's "supposed" to be extracting.

A lot of trainers will probably tell you just how important noticing is (including me) but noticing that you're supposed to be noticing - ummm - well, it's probably a distraction and probably hits all the wrong neuro-transmitting-signal-thingies in the brain.


image credit: diet coke by nesster on flickr.com

p.s. Have you ever gone and accidentally squeezed the joy out of something your students were enjoying doing by making it a way too learning oriented task instead of a simple life-experiential language experience?  Ever brought something into the classroom which completely bombed because it was your passion, not your learners'?  

Useful related links
The video Phillip sent me that launched this conversation. You'll love it :)
My delicious bookmarks: TED videos for Business English
More video sites for Business English classes
If your teach General English: also see Larry Ferlazzo's Best of TED videos.

Interesting articles on failures/successes in the TEFL classroom
Darren Elliot's The importance of failure
Jason Renshaw on Lindsay Clandfield's blog:  Six signs that you are on the right track

(There's a poll going on the Lexiophiles site to determine a list of the best language blogs, see my post about that here and if you haven't yet voted and you don't this it's  tacky of me to ask, do please click and visit the site to let them know you rate my blog :-) thanks muchly).

Vote the Top 100 Language Teaching Blogs 2010

22 Responses to “Squeezing the joy out of a thing”

  • adam says:
    May 17, 2010

    The important thing is to remember. You were wise enough to gain from the experience.

  • Nick Jaworski says:
    May 17, 2010

    My all time biggest failure, at least to me, was when I was volunteering at a charter school. It was project-based, so I sat with students and helped them on their various projects.

    One day I walked over to a girl to see if I could help her with something. She looked at me and asked, "Why do you want to look at my project? Just so you can point out all the things wrong with it?"

    I took it pretty hard. I had always tried to include positive feedback as well, but I realized after her comment that with at least her there had been too much negative criticism.

    After that I was always more careful about including more positive feedback than negative.

  • Greg Quinlivan says:
    May 17, 2010

    Perhaps part of what we are doing as teachers is not just squeezing the life out of something, but wanting something the students don't necessarily want themselves.

    When I think about myself I realise that I am also occasionally guilty of wanting an outcome, wanting closure, and wanting it NOW.

    Those are my needs, not theirs.

    The child sloshing around with their water paints, the one pulling apart a bug, the one playing tea parties, and the one tinkering around on the piano are each doing things that meet their needs.

    How do we react? We tend to rush around finding equipment to clean up the mess, we tell them to get serious, we tell them to play OUR tune, and we tell them to hurry up so that our needs are met. But, are they really?

    As you say, we run the risk of throttling the life out of their imagination, their creativity, their curiosity and their thoughts, which are precisely the things we want them to develop.

    Finding space for this in a crowded curriculum and with conflicting expectations from others in the learning community will not be a simple task. But, it will be worthwhile for building the drive for life-long learning in those entrusted to us.

    Thank you for reminding me of the care I need to take as the intruder in the classroom.

    May 17, 2010

    @Adam - bit by bit, we try :)

    @Nick - thanks so much for sharing that story. I like these moments of honesty between student and teacher - so often people are passive and don't let you know what they're really thinking or experiencing so you just continue blindly on. But when they tell you straight, you get the opportunity to change direction.

    May 17, 2010

    Hi ya Greg,

    I know the feeling! And sometimes they're not even "our" needs but the prescribed needs of others on what the student "should" be learning and when.

    Have you seen the Ken Robinson video on creativity? (it's on TED) :-) - also the link video that Phillip sent over, it's of a young girl who talks about adulthood and responsibility - blew me away, really!

    Thanks for commenting on my blog, by the way, I hearing from new faces and names and enjoyed your contribution!


  • Darren says:
    May 17, 2010

    I'm sorry Karenne! I didn't mean to be mean! I guess that's my failure... I squished the fun out of eminem for a top edublogger...

    But actually, Greg's words above resonate with me. I am trying to help my three year old with reading and writing in English (basic letter recognition and pen control, of course). He CAN draw a line from the "C" to the "Car", which is what daddy wants him to do, but he would rather just colour it all in....

    I can't think of an instance with paying students (!) off the top of my head, but that's not to say it has never happened...

  • Marisa Constantinides says:
    May 17, 2010

    Hi dear Karenne,

    Your story was a great one to share and you're right, we don't report failure as much as success, in the same way that teachers often focus more on success than failure to learn in the classroom.

    There is a lot to learn from failure whether this is squeezing the joy out of something, making a great activity fall flat on its face or boring a class to tears with something you thought was going to be soooo exciting, only you were the only one thinking like that!

    To me, that's what I do for a living, building on failure and turning it to success, so I guess that's why I don't write about it.

    But you are absolutely right! Reading your reflection was fabulous, and thought provoking and I think you're about to set a new trend!!! :-)

    OK, here's a story of my own. It's not about squeezing the joy out of something, it's about boring the pants off my trainees for quite a while, and always getting negative feedback on a worthy but boooooring session on textbook evaluation and selection.

    Noticing that this always got the pits at the end of a course forced me to think of some other ways to design it, make it more interesting, more fun and get it to receive thumbs up on all our recent course evaluations.

    I hesitate to bore the pants off you and your readers by writing about what I did, but suffice it to say that it involved lots of bits of paper being shuffled about and other stuff that was even more fun, like roleplaying an evaluation from different angles - lazy teacher, nerd, money-grabbing school owner, etc. - that made the session totally memorable to my trainees.

    I really enjoyed this post!


  • Vicki Hollett says:
    May 18, 2010

    You were right! I did love the video that Phillip sent - Adora Svitak: What adults can learn from kids. Thank you!

    May 19, 2010

    Thanks! It sounds like a great activity - I agree that we learn so much from negative feedback from our training sessions and should always aim to turn these events into opportunities for more tinkering! Do blog about the activity change so I can have a look and learn!

    Yup... I've watched it three times now. She's a little superstar isn't she. As Phillip noted she is so professional in her delivery, wish I could learn how to lose my nerves in a big audience like her!

    I forgive you. I learned something. :) Now - paying students to learn, that's an interesting concept!

  • Tara says:
    May 19, 2010

    Oh yes...and I've done this with my own children most of all. It's a teacher trait, and sometimes we teachers need a reminder. I just got mine. A huge thank you and hug. (My kids thank you too.)

  • Greg Quinlivan says:
    May 20, 2010

    Hi Karenne,
    Thanks for your supportive feedback. You are right, the two TED videos you mentioned are inspiring.
    Best wishes in squeezing no more than the tedium out of a thing. Greg.

  • Clare says:
    May 22, 2010

    Great post and comments.

    I particularly like the one from Darren about his kid just wanting to colour the car in, as it reminds me so much of my Italian high school students.

    Often, the lessons that go down the best with them are those where there's something a bit more than just vocab / speaking practice.

    The last one was where I asked them to draw a picture of a typical holiday postcard, then got another pair to write the postcard based on the picture. What I thought would be a 5-minute quick sketch (so we'd have enough time to do the writing, error feedback - y'know, all the teachery things) of course they wanted to stretch out much longer so they could do pretty pictures. I felt horrible chivvying them along, especially as they get so little in the way of art / non-academic lessons.

    So how can I engineer an "English through Art" curriculum? I'm only semi-joking, but I fear he school / paying parents would have a fit...

  • darren says:
    May 22, 2010

    Yeah, I'm a soppy dad.... but you can see Ibuki in action here...


  • Clare says:
    May 22, 2010

    Ahh - he is a cutie, isn't he!

  • Mike Church says:
    May 23, 2010

    Nice blog ;)

    I enjoyed your piece very much, Karenne. And, yes, TED.com is a quite wonderful resource for teachers and students alike. I feel somewhat out of step with other posters here, however, as I have only ever talked or written about my *failures*. I think it's that British self-deprecating instinct, you know, "Everything I do is rubbish", "Nothing ever goes right", and so on.

    Anyway, whatever, this is a lovely blog - honestly - and I wish you well.

    May 23, 2010

    You Brits and you're really I'm just awful philosophy! Just had a look over at your blog & you're super funny: one to watch!

    C.Raphead's Corner

    May 23, 2010

    @Clare and Darren - last night after getting home late you both gave me such a giggle. You know what I felt like... like a host of a party and my guests were busy making nice on the couch with small talk.

    You have no idea how warming that is - I know it has nothing to do with the post above (my comment) but I just wanted to say that, thank you both!

    May 23, 2010

    Always a pleasure!

  • Clare says:
    May 25, 2010

    @Karenne - it's because you attract such top-quality, class visitors to your blog ;))

    Besides, who wouldn't melt at the pic of Darren's little boy - and I'm not even a particularly maternal person...

  • Eric says:
    July 23, 2010

    Months later, let me join the conversation.

    You made what I consider a classic good mistake,and you learned from it - and shared the lesson with us. Sometimes we do unintentionally "kill the joy" of our students by focusing more on "you could" and "you should" than just appreciating what they have already done.

    TED.com seduces intelligent students into learning English, authentically, partly because they don't think they are studying English. They are just exploring. That's one reason that I expose students early on in the semester to TED. If they write one review and share it, there is an excellent chance they will go back and watch their classmates' choices too.

    July 23, 2010

    Eric, that's one of the things I really love about blogs as opposed to sites like Twitter - you can always continue the conversation whenever you like!

    Agree with your thoughts on sharing helping others to explore fave vids!


  • Learn Indonesian in Bali says:
    January 19, 2012

    This blog is great, I learn many things from this blog. I teach English in Bali-Indonesia. Foreign languages are very difficult to be learned in Indonesia as the native language has simple grammar and has no tenses at all, so many students often find difficulties. I agree with Greg: When I think about myself I realize that I am also occasionally guilty of wanting an outcome, wanting closure, and wanting it NOW.

    Those are my needs, not theirs.

    Learning a foreign language in Indonesia takes long time, so as a teacher I must realize it.


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