June 10, 2015 by helenwaldron
Whichever side you take in The Great Course Book Debate, surely one of the issues is that course books have something official (even officious) about them. Once a topic finds its way into a course book it becomes a Classroom Topic and we teachers are granted permission to teach it.
There is, therefore, something wonderfully subversive about books written for ELT which deal with the sort of topics that digressions are made of. Andrew Wright’s How To… books in the deep, dark past were like this. Jorge Sette’s Teaching English With Art series is too.
Okay, it isn’t exactly a course book, it’s a supplementary resource for the language learning classroom, but it’s still shocking in its wonderfulness.
Here in Hamburg, you can book English tours of the Art Gallery, and brush up your English while distracted by beauty (or ugliness). I myself have run seminars outside the classroom on the most delightfully irrelevant topics, but much as I love art (and that’s how I know about the Kunsthalle tours) it has never occurred to me to put artworks at the centre of my 90 minute weekly in-company English training sessions.
Though why not, I ask myself. Looking at a picture is as inspirational and conversation-provoking as any standard discussion theme, and shifting the emphasis from word to picture takes the pressure off less confident (and tired) learners.
I didn’t know much about Norman Rockwell. He was an illustrator and Great American Myth Maker, producing images that spanned the 1920s to the 1960s, often reflecting or deflecting from the issues of the times. In 1939, the year that war broke out in Europe, we learnt that “A Scout is Helpful” (nowadays, no doubt, Rockwell would be doing graphics on LinkedIn). When the USA entered the war in 1943, Rockwell produced four illustrations (“The Four Freedoms”) based on a speech made by President Roosevelt. One of these was the iconic (and almost ironically titled) “Freedom From Want”, showing a Walton-like family about to tuck into a formidable Thanksgiving turkey.
There’s lots to discuss here and Sette offers a warm-up quiz, the biographical information I have referred to above, and then ideas for activities for students from CEFR levels A2 to C1, which can easily be adapted to suit any learner’s interest and needs.
And this is the other wonderfully subversive issue about extra-curriculum learning: not only is it personalized and meaningful to learners, it is also realistic and frees us up from the pointless labelling that we have imposed upon our students for our own convenience. (Me? I’m still waiting for the day when one of my business learners stands up and tells the floor post-presentation, “I’m sorry I’m not qualified to answer that question until I’m deemed at least B1+ by my teacher.”)
Buy the set. They’re not expensive.