Bridging the Gap

TimeMay 23, 2019 by ELT forum

Judit Feher work as a freelance teacher in Hungary, but she is also a teacher trainer and an experienced material writer. She has worked with both children and adults, but she mainly focuses on secondary school students. She is interested in creativity and CLIL.  We sat with her in a lovely coffee shop in Budapest and talked about Pilgrims, creativity and how to deal with future challenges.

How have the Pilgrims influenced you and your teaching style?

In many ways. I had a good background for Pilgrims, because my teacher, professor L…, had a lot in common with what Pilgims is, but didn`t have quite as soft, humanistic side as I would like and that for me was the first thing that I started to think more about. And Pilgrims helped me start thinking more about the students.

Not only about how they learn, but who they are, and how to connect with them, and after the training with Pilgrims the focus was very clear on that.

I was a very young teacher and I didn`t have a huge repertoire of different methods, and Pilgrims bothered that.

Also different approaches and theories that interested me a lot, like NLP or Task-Based learning, as we didn`t have a strong input on that as well as multiple intelligences, and the creative side of self expression, using the individual as a resource, and all of that was very much reinforced through Pilgrims, and I felt like I arrived home professionally. That was a very good feeling for both trainers and trainees alike.

How much creativity do we have to have in the classroom? How creative do we have to be in the classroom or during our preparations?

I don`t know how much and don`t ask me because I don`t know the time, and I don`t know the quantity. I don`t even know how much potatoes do I need when I want to prepare the dish for 6 people. And I don`t think there should be an answer to this because we have to think what are our aims, what are our students aims, how much are they used to the creative approach. Should we have little spoonfuls first or you can go full blast and do everything regularly, so I don`t really think that there is a 100% or 35% measure of creativity. But I do know some people who cannot learn at all if you don`t allow them to be creative, but there are people who can postpone or put aside their need for creativity for a long period of time and they are good functioning individuals and every individual can have different phases. You have to be there, that`s your job. To gear it to whomever you have around you.

You are one of the advocates of CLIL. How can we implement CLIL fully in the ESL classroom?

If you want to do it on your own, in the classroom as an English teacher and you are kind of isolated but you have a feeling that meaningful content will motivate the learners and will take care of necessary gaps in your classroom, and we can improve implementation of the opinion and the perception and that take care of lot of the gaps. And, it could improve the learners. What you can do is that you can use a more topic based or task based approach in your own lessons and look for more meaningful contents for your learners, and don`t teach a topic from the textbook if it has no interesting or useful information for the students. Just SKIP it and you can provide a text or topic that has that. So I think that kind of an approach, if you are an isolated teacher, can take you closer to CLIL.

And what if a group of teachers want to start using CLIL at the beginning of the school year?

If there is an interest to implement CLIL among the teachers, probably it would be really nice to have teachers who are teaching different subjects on CLIL. In CLIL you have a prosperity approach which is needed because the content and the language need to be intertwined and the language has to be sophisticated, so the language can support a specific subject and the subject can support language learning. And the learner can feel supported as well. And since the approach is so sophisticated, I suggest that you don`t decide on implementing CLIL at the beginning of the next school year. Give yourself one school year (ideally) and plan your procedure and prepare and adapt the materials which will take the most of your time, as it takes a lot of time to do all of the procedures. And what I often hear from teachers here in Hungary is: “Oh, but I don`t have time for this, or I don`t have time for preparations” which is sad because that is the KEY to GOOD TEACHING.

So, knowing this, and of course, there are a lot of ready-made materials that you can adapt just a bit, as you can`t adapt everything obviously, and it does take a lot of time and effort and you have to think about the school and the evaluation, as that is a big issue everywhere, and CLIL is also a very big issue. So, there`s a lot to think about.

Yes, a lot to think about. But, I wanted to ask you about the sentence you used somewhere: “Create the RIGHT gap and MIND the WIDTH of the gap”. How do we create the right gap? Does that depend on the learners or us as teachers? How do we manage not to miss the point or make it too easy?

It`s a very interesting question. Especially, because you can immediately say: “Of course, your learners”, as they are the ones who need to jump the gap obviously, but you as a teacher always have to be comfortable with what is happening, ok? I remember when I was a young teacher, I asked someone to take off their shoes because I wanted to show their sock, or stand on a chair and they were reluctant to do it. So, I just realized I have to jump that gap, as that is a gap, too. As that is something we don`t normally do in the classroom, so there is a gap and we change the normal paradigm of the classroom, so I just realized that I have to do it first. I have to be comfortable with this or I can`t expect them to be.

First thing, your learners have to have the language ability and social green light and these are the most important to be considered, but you, yourself, as a teacher, have to be comfortable with that.

It`s very important to know that the width of the gap is individual. If one person can do it, it doesn`t mean the other one can. It`s very important to think about that, too. When you have different learners, then you have different gaps for them.

Something that a lot of novice and experienced teachers alike are facing is, the problem of “being creative”. We often hear: “Oh, I am not creative!”- So, how do we change teacher`s minds when it comes to the problem of creativity?

I experience a lot of teachers saying “I am not creative.”

Well, you don`t realize when you are being creative, and a lot of the times when you go home, and you are tired and hungry, you open the fridge and see that there are some ingredients, and you just make up something without a recipe. When you lack a tool, you just use another one instead.

We cannot be human, if we are not creative, we cannot use a language if we are not creative. You are using a language – you are creative. Because you say a lot of things you`ve never heard before and that`s great and it means that you are human. You can be a parrot, but a parrot doesn`t really communicate. So, what teachers need to do is to notice when they are being creative.

You may have been conditioned to subdue your creativity, because your success did not come from that, it was not praised or you didn`t have the right challenge, and your success might come from following rules and doing the tasks like copying. But even if that`s the case, I simply can`t believe that you never changed anything. That you never went to your learners and said: “No, this is not going to work like this.” Or, “This says in groups of three, but no way can I have groups of three with the numbers I have.” Or if someone didn`t bring a book, or whatever. I am sure that things happen to you when you came up with something and decided very creatively without noticing it. Try to write a list of things that you did out of necessity or if you just wanted a change.

And what is the next big challenge that we as teachers are going to face in the future?

The biggest challenge is around us, I think right now, and it`s the digital learning. And I quote someone in Hungary, who is kind of a guru of technology and he says:”If the future of learning is digital, then it`s going to be a very boring learning.” And I think that in a way he`     s right , because there`s a lot of tendency of repeating tasks and we are using digital technology to put the most boring exercises on paper, the exercises that will not result in language learning. Because, there is this momentum where we believe that the students will be happier if we put it on a computer screen than on a piece of paper, but this is not going to last, that`s one thing, and this is not for a complex human being, and for such a complex thing as language and language use.

So, I think our biggest challenge now is to figure out how to use technology not as a limitation, but yet as another tool to make our lessons even more dynamic and even more varied, more dynamic and even more suitable for different kinds of learners. And to see how it enhances the experience. And to find ways how to use this tool in the classroom easily and reliably and creatively. For creative use and for real language use not just gap filling. The technology is still a bit clumsy and there are still a lot of issues around. We have to find a way how to humanize the digital learning.

author: Nevena Popovič, teacher at the Bridge

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