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Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

The bane of POWERPOINT Presentations

Let me first list some of the virtues of conference presenters using PP as the skeleton for their talk:
- The linear sequence of what they say has to have an order:
- What goes up on the screen is usually clearly legible, even from the back of the hall. :
- There is some proof that they have at least prepared their thoughts and shaped them :
- PP helps dyslexic presenters achieve communicational clarity

In the few lines above I have used the typical PP bullet point approach, an approach taken from Anglo-Saxon business culture that aims to make things look clear and simple even when they are not. In a bullet point list you make bold and bald statements and much nuance and inter-relationship between the items is lost. :
This way of thinking is reductive and very unsuited to many sets of concepts that a presenter may want to express. Here, for example, is a PP version of the Lord's Prayer:

- Definition of relationship to God
- Location of God:
- Praise of God
- Definition of God as king
- Hope that God will prevail etc...

How does this compare, for you, with the original prayer/poem:

Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come……?

Powerpoint, and indeed the slide presentations that historically preceded it, presupposes that people take in information better through the eye than through the ear. This is odd, since auditory comprehension of language is aeons old, while deciphering graphemes is a very recent and secondary skill.
A complementary presupposition of PP is that by presenting exactly the same information twice in two different sensory channels you make it more attractive and memorable, more attractive and memorable. This leaves out of account the brilliance of the brain that abhors useless repetition and pleonasm.

Finally PP sanctifies the notion that the presenter has a fixed script from which he is unlikely to deviate, whatever the audience reaction. This state of mind and heart is death to a good presentation.
Will the interactive white board have the same deadening effect in classrooms that PP has had at conferences? In UK Tony Thatcher is pumping these devices into classrooms across the land in such numbers that, were I an interactive whiteboard producer, I would be tempted to make a large donation to the New "Labour" Party.

Much of the thinking above draws on the work of Edward Tufte in books like:

The visual display of quantative information , Graphics Press, 2001 Envisioning Information and Visual explanations: images and quantities, evidence and narrative


What's in this issue of HLT

I am happy to present you with a bumper edition!
You will hear voices from three generations in this issue:
a 14 year-old in Student Voices
a 19 year-old in Short Article 3 Culture shock
a person in her seventies in Readers letters 1: And you think I am too old to learn a language?

Do you sometimes have doubts about the validity and acceptability and boundaries of humanistic language teaching? If you do, then read Are language Students naïve…or what? Short Article 1 in which Alina Kolanczk suggests that adult learners have reduced defences and more wobbly boundaries when engaged in struggling with a foreign language than they would in tackling other subjects. She says that a skilled, humanistic teacher may well get students to overstep their normal boundaries and say things they would normally keep under wraps. A disquieting article written by a major psychologist who is also an assiduous student of English.

The September issue of HLT carries three pieces on learner autonomy:

Short article 8: Why Danes detest tests
Readers Letters 2: Student autonomy.
Short Article 4: Students teach each other literature

I don't think I have ever read a clearer statement of the Scandinavian respect for student autonomy than Poul Otto Mortensen's piece on why European mainstream thinking around testing is anathema to Danes.
I wish I had learnt literature as a lad in the open, questing way that Rosmarie Frick describes in her article.

I wonder if you have yet read Blink, the marvellous book by Michael Gladwell lauding our instinctive reactions and their brilliance? In Major Article 1 the well-loved, highly practical presenter at a hundred conferences, Paul Seligson, applies Gladwell's thinking to our job as teachers.

In Major article 3 Simon Gill attacks the idiocy of the taboo that bans L1 from L 2 classrooms. Despite all the recent attacks on this "direct method truth", attacks like those of Professor Guy Cook, my sense is that the taboo, in certain quarters, is still in good health. It is trained into the belief systems of new teachers in places like Germany and so is hard to shake.

Maybe a friend has told you about the Pilgrims teacher training courses and how thrilling they can be? If you are interested in coming yourself , then have a look at Pilgrims course outline, in which Jim Wright, Director of Teacher Training, explains how to achieve a grant from the EU institutions. A grant of 1500 euros is well worth a bit of timely form filling. ( The above is of interest if you belong to one of the 25 lands in the European Union, or if you are a citizen of Turkey, Iceland, Bulgaria or Romania)

Apart from enjoying this current issue, can I suggest that you also look through the whole archive that HLT has now become? Good thing to do on a grey, rainy afternoon! When you see the feast awaiting you, you will pray for overcast skies!

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