No coursebooks, no texts, no “tasks”

no coursebooks

I must be the slowest blogger in the world. Is there somewhere I can get a badge for it?

Anyway, after several months I’ve just finished this post about what is maybe no longer a hot topic.

A lot has been written recently on ELT / EFL blogs mainly attacking, but also defending, general English coursebooks. However, both attackers and defenders seem to share the same underlying conception of how languages are learnt: input in the form of texts, written or aural, leads to spoken output. This transmissive view of learning is not the only one and is not the one I adhere to. (Read more…)

Learning to open a door

learning to open a door

A dog learning to open a door

On the 8th of June I watched Tyson Seburn’s video of his dog learning to open a door to get a toy.

A number of things struck me.

1) at first the dog, Lou, tries to squeeze through the gap but it’s not wide enough
2) however the door does open just a tiny bit more
3) at 0:31 the dog puts its forepaw on the outside of the door but doesn’t really pull the door towards itself. However, the door moves a little
4) then the man watching and encouraging the dog (?Tyson) moves the toy closer to the gap – 1:12
5) this stimulates the dog to greater activity and it puts its head through the gap, grabs the ball and retreats into the other room – 1:22
6) the man continues to call the dog which finally pushes its whole body through the gap – 1:42

How I interpret the dog story

Lou seems to be a young dog – possibly trying to get through a door left ajar for the first time. If it has had experience of other “gaps” they will not have moved in response to its trying to push through. Doors on well-oiled hinges are different – which we know from experience but a young dog doesn’t.

Lou works on the principle of “trial and error”: alternately patting the the wall and the door with its forepaws, jumping up at the wall near the door (in the inside room), pushing its nose under the door and maybe other things we can’t see from our side of the door.

By moving the toy closer the man both makes the dog more eager to get the toy and makes the task a little easier. Lou puts more energy into trying to get the toy than before and moves the door enough to get its head and shoulders through the gap.

Having got the toy, the dog loses interest in it – it drops it inside the room and returns to the door to try to get its whole self through. It does this quickly and easily – I would say, demonstrating a transfer from the first learning experience.

A cat learning to open a door

(Read more…)

A Dance Lesson

The following is a transcript of a moment during a weekend workshop for teachers, which took place on December 14, 1991 in Besançon, France.

N. B.
– Christiane Rozet (CR) attended dance lessons with François Malkovsky for about 20 years
– Glenys Hanson (GH) has no experience with this or any kind of dance.
– X, CA, RY and SB are other participants.


Can we teach a skill we don’t possess ourselves?

After a long silence and in connection with the subject of study (which was “Can we be a teacher in an area if we are not ourselves experts in the field”), Glenys said ” For example, could I give Christiane a dance lesson? ”


GH: Because when I was thinking about what I would do, what came to me was not “What do I know about dancing?” but “If I look at  Christiane dancing, how can I know where her problems are? What should I do to help her progress? ” I think she can show me the way.
X: Mutual trust is very important.
GH: Yes, and I felt ……

– After a break –

The problems

GH: So you said you know where your problems are.
CR: Yes, I know a number of problems, yes.
GH: So what are they? (Silence)
CR: I have to choose one. Something a bit general …. (long pause) Well, let’s work on the use of body weight and the shifting of the centre of gravity.

The right time

GH: And where is the problem?
CR: The problem is that in some exercises especially, but everywhere … I can’t or I do not know how, I don’t manage to… I know I have to do two things … to correctly displace my centre of gravity: either I don’t do it at the right time, or I don’t do it enough.
GH: And how do you know it’s not the right time?
CR: Because I get to the end of my gesture after the music.
GH: And you feel the gesture is not with the music.
CR: Because I have to make an effort I shouldn’t need to… (inaudible)
GH: And are there times when you do it well?
CR: Yes, I feel that it’s almost that.
GH: And when you see someone else do it, do you recognize it?
CR: Not always.
GH: But when it’s you yourself who do it, do you recognize it?
CR: Mmmm.
GH: How do you … (inaudible)
CR: If it’s in a turning movement, because I get dizzy.
GH: If it is not done properly?
CR: If it is not done properly.
GH: So your sense of balance tells you.
CR: Yes, because, as I said, I’m behind the music.
GH: I don’t understand.
CR: I have to make an effort to catch up.
GH: Ah! In another movement!
CR: I have to cheat, you see.
GH: Is it something that often occurs when you dance, or is it all the time,
or is it ….?
CR: Oh, it’s quite often.

Ways of walking

GH: And the other times? Your centre of gravity is it where it should be?
CR: In dance, you mean?
GH: Yes.
CR: Yes, that can happen, yes.


GH: And when you walk normally, without dancing, where is your centre of gravity?
CR: Hmmmmm. I use it a badly.
GH: And how do you know that?
CR: I know that because I know I’m not in the ideal position, if you like, for the type of dance I do.
GH: What makes you say that?
CR: Well … I know because I’ve been told, I know because when I see myself walking, if I look at myself in the mirror, it’s awful. If I see myself filmed I know it’s not right, Three quarters of the time I walk without thinking about what’s going on, so I’m not aware of it. If I have an image myself walking.
GH: But what is it….. I’ve seen you walk and there was nothing specially shocking to me.
CR: But when Malko saw me walk, he would tear out his hair!.
GH: Let me see.
CR: Yes, but if I walk in front of you, knowing you’re all looking at me, I’ll change what I do.
GH: No, but what is there to see in your way of walking that you see and I don’t?
CR: My legs do too much work. (Silence) There’s not enough fluidity in my spine.
CA: But if you pay attention, is it the same?
CR: I can fix some things, yes. I know that if I walk into a dance class, I don’t walk as I walk in the street.
GH: (silence) How many ways of walking do you have?
CR: (silence) How many…, I don’t know … I have a way of walking empty handed, a way of walking if I carry things, a way of walking on days when things are going well, I have no discomfort, There’s a way of walking in a dance class, a way of walking because I have to move fast to tell a colleague about something … I don’t know, there are an infinite number of ways.

Movements of the centre of gravity

GH: Is your centre of gravity the same in all these cases? Can you describe how it changes?
CR: If I carry heavy things, shopping bags, there’s a blockage in my shoulders, in the movement of the spine. I move a lot less well. In that situation, I really walk with my legs, only with my legs. If I walk and I’m in a hurry, well, I use … (inaudible word) my centre of gravity, Otherwise I wouldn’t get there. If I’m in a dance class, I’ll be careful ……….. If I walk down the street thinking about something else … spontaneously, it’s not great.
GH: When you say “not great”, that means …
CR: That I won’t use my centre of gravity enough. I’ll let myself get blocked.
GH: Do you know people who walk less well than you?
CR: Yes.
GH: And what do they do?
CR: They’re even stiffer than me.
GH: Can show us how someone who walks less well than you does it?
CR: Than me? (Laughs) Like soldiers marching. (She demonstrates.)
RY: You do it very well, all the same.
(Inaudible: laughter and comments of the other participants).
SB: Do you see anything else in the process, other than your legs and your spine?
CR: Yes. The whole body is involved …….
SB: And in particular?
CR: In particular,  the situating of my centre of gravity, and then the fluidity of movement, ….. the functioning of all the joints.
SB: What are you present to …… where is your attention when you try to walk well?
CR: There at the level of the solar plexus (she points).
GH: And when you walk well, where your is attention
CR: When I walk well? I don’t know if I can walk well, let’s say when I walk less badly. I want to say it is centred there (she points to her solar plexus), but it’s …… everywhere.
GH: When you try, it’s more centred there, but when you succeed it is more diffuse.
CR:. …… (Inaudible) it’s  spread out. It resonates everywhere.

Visualising yourself

GH: (silence) Can you see that when you make a move correctly?
CR: Mmmm! Yes, more or less, not for all the movements, but for some.
GH: If you take a given movement, when you are visualizing yourself, are you visualizing yourself from the inside or the outside?
CR: (silence) I can do both ……. I’m pretty much on the outside.
GH: I used the word “see”, but can you evoke yourself in non-visual ways – such as sensations, the warmth of your body… Is it is the same everywhere in your body at that moment?
CR: Wait a minute. I’ll choose a particular movement and see what happens. (She does a movement.) Mmmm! It’s not the same. I get the impression that if the movement is successful there is more heat in the extremities, in the hands.
GH: Can you evoke the muscle tension in different parts of your body? In that same movement?

Cut in two

CR: (silence) It’s easy in the lower part of my body, from the pelvis to the legs ….. (inaudible).
GH: What do you do with your tongue? At that moment is it tense or relaxed?
CR: If the movement is successful, it’s relaxed.
GH: And what parts are tense?
CR: (silence) I’m really aware, in evocation, of the lower part of my body. It’s odd, because I have a problem in the lower back, as if I was cut in half, you see! The problem is there, I really feel cut cut in two there..
GH: You feel what? Is it tension, is it, …
CR: I’m aware of my legs, I’m aware of my leg muscles, I’m aware of the position of my pelvis, I’m not so aware of my trunk, a little of the arms, but I’m much less aware of the upper part of my torso.
GH: And if you visualize yourself from the outside, is it the same? Can you visualize better …..
CR: Mmm! It’s complex …… a while ago it was a bit more complex and much more … global. From the outside I can be everywhere at once.
GH: Would you like to do this movement now?
CR: Of course. This is the one. (She does a dance movement.)
GH: Is what you did exactly as your …….? (end of the recording)


Editor’s note:

Seven months later, we asked Christiane what was left of this lesson:

CR: I was very surprised to have made discoveries with Glenys which I never managed with Malko. In particular, I had lots of insights about my centre of gravity. Now I know the way to go if I want, for example, to succeed in the movement worked on during the lesson with Glenys.

Transcription of the French recording: Lois Rose
Translation into English: Glenys Hanson

© Glenys Hanson, Lois Rose, Christiane Rozet. The Science of Education in Questions, N° 7, June, 1992, Besançon, France.

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“A dance lesson”  is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Teaching Pronunciation Differently – 1

Professor Higgns teaches Eliza phonetics

Professor Higgins explaining some of the finer points of English phonetics to Eliza.
(from My Fair Lady, 1964)

If you’re a language teacher you’ve probably already seen diagrams of the inside of the mouth showing the position of tongue and lips when certain sounds are produced.

I’ve looked at them with interest but much in the same way that I look at cross-sections of car engines or volcanoes.

On the  12th of January, at the beginning of their EVO course Teaching Pronunciation Differently, Piers Messum, Arizio Sweeting and Roslyn Young presented us (the participants) with such a diagram but with a very significant difference. (Read more…)

A Silent Way lesson on syllable stress

The teacher’s responsibility and the student’s responsibility

syllable stress
In The Common Sense of Teaching Foreign Languages, Caleb Gattegno suggested that the aim of good teaching is to make students “independent, autonomous and responsible”. Elsewhere he claimed that the role of a teacher is to force awarenesses. These two statements are in no way contradictory. A sensitive teacher who does what is necessary for a student to have new insights does not remove or replace that student’s own responsibility for his/her learning.

Sometimes it can be useful to make it clear to a student that they need to mobilise their faculties themselves.

I was very much struck with this a few years ago when I was observing a colleague, Andi Biero, teach a “false beginner” class. The teacher was trying to focus a student’s attention in such a way that an element of the language that the student was unaware of would become apparent to her. I don’t now remember the exact order in which the teacher tried different ways of doing that, but otherwise what follows is pretty faithful to what I saw.

One of the students, Danielle, had said something in which she had put the stress in “today” on the first syllable.

1) The teacher indicated that there was a pronunciation problem.

First, the teacher just said, “Pronunciation” to indicate that there was something wrong with the pronunciation of this word. This produced no response.

2) The teacher made a gesture to indicate the stress.

The teacher made a gesture in the air with her hand to indicate the stress. Danielle looked blank.

3) The teacher tapped the word on the:

Caleb Gattegno - Silent Way US English Word charts

Caleb Gattegno – Silent Way US English Word charts 1977 © Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Then the teacher pointed to the written word “today” (she was using the Silent Way word charts – it’s on bottom of Chart 10) and tapped lightly on “to” then forcefully on “day”. Danielle said the word again with the stress on the first syllable and also pronouncing it as “too”.

4) The teacher used the colour code on the chart to indicate the schwa pronunciation of the first syllable.

The teacher showed her (by covering up with a finger the khaki coloured “o” of ‘today” and by gesture virtually changing it to yellow, the colour for the schwa /ə/ or neutral e) that the vowel in “to” should be pronounced the same as the vowel in “the”. Danielle now said “TUHday” instead of “TOOday”.

5) The teacher tapped the rhythm on the student’s hand.

The teacher took Danielle’s hand and tapped the rhythm of the word in the palm of her hand. No result.

6) The teacher and then the student tapped the rhythm on the desk.

The teacher tapped out the rhythms “DAH di” and “di DAH” with her hand on the desk and asked Danielle to repeat each tapping. After a few attempts, Danielle was able to do this but still said “TOday”.

7) Some students tapped one of the two rhythms and others said which it was.

The teacher asked other students to tap out the above rhythms and had Danielle (and other students) say which was which. The class had fun doing this and Danielle became able to recognize the different rhythms but she couldn’t transfer this to “today”.

8) The teacher asked the student to put the stress on “to”.

The teacher asked Danielle to deliberately put the stress on “to” and then to put it on “day”. What Danielle produced was always the same.

9) The teacher wrote the word with the stressed syllable in capital letters.

The teacher wrote “TOday” and “toDAY” on the board and asked other students to say one of the two but without indicating in advance which one they were saying. Danielle (and other students) had to say which one she heard. This was obviously an enjoyable activity for the whole class and after some mistakes at first, Danielle managed to do this accurately. But she still said ” TOday”.

10) The teacher got the student to “walk” the stress.

The teacher asked Danielle to “walk” the word with her, stamping hard on the “day”. This had no result.

11) The teacher gave the student a shove between the shoulder blades on the stressed syllable

The teacher stood behind Danielle and when she (Danielle) said the word gave her a firm shove between the shoulder blades on the “day” syllable. She did this two or three times but with no result.

All this time, Danielle had co-operated with the teacher’s suggestions and remained relaxed.

12) The teacher made the “palms up” gesture.

Finally, the teacher calmly made the palms up gesture, looked at Danielle, and said gently in French (Danielle’s native language), “I’ve tried everything I know. Now, you are the only one who can do something.”

Danielle looked away from the teacher, paused, and said “toDAY”.

My conclusions

Language teachers observing a Silent Way class for the first time often feel that an inordinate amount of time can be spent on one small problem, “So what does it matter if she does have the stress wrong in today? She’ll be understood anyway?” The point of the above lesson was not principally to get Danielle to pronounce today correctly but, on one level, to help her to build up criteria for recognising and producing differences in stress – essential in English though of little significance in Danielle’s native language, French and, on another level, to gain awareness of her own actions and, therefore, control over them.

For various reasons, Danielle dropped out of this class but enrolled a few months later in a complete beginners class I happened to be teaching. She never once blocked in this way over pronunciation or anything else. Maybe during the experience described above, she had learnt more than just how to pronounce “today”.

© Glenys Hanson 2001-2015. Originally published on the Une Education Pour Demain website.

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“Working on syllable stress in a Silent Way class” by Glenys Hanson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.