Whether on the scaffold high or the battle field we die, sure what matter when for Dogme-dear we fall?
The quote by Meddings & Thornbury this time is:
The teacher’s primary function, apart from promoting the kind of classroom dynamic conducive to a dialogic and emergent pedagogy is to optimize language learning affordances, by directing attention to features of the emergent language; learning can be mediated through talk, especially talk that is shaped and supported (i.e. scaffolded) by the teacher.
Teachers have long argued for the use of scaffolds in the classroom. Not all have been very benign demands. But today we are talking about other scaffolds – the kind that help in the building up of things rather than the dropping down of others. And our gallant Dogmetician likes nothing more than a scaffold. As a scaffold-maker, the dogmetician is often to be found asking questions. My favourites are, “Eh?” “What was that?” “What do you mean?” “Sorry?” These are essential in any scaffold-maker’s classroom workbag. And there are few other tools that can draw attention quite as effectively to features of emergent language:
I just don’t find youth in the 1776 revolution’s CV. Sid’s a fool!
You get the picture. Slowly, but surely, we co-construct meaning from what originally seemed to be a pile of rubble that the learner’s bulldozer had reduced the English language to. It takes time, and, as with any site clearance, a lot of sweat too.
So how do we optimise learning affordances? We talk to people, but more importantly we listen. And question. That, in my oh-so-humble opinion is how we earn our bread. We’re not just optimising learning affordances for Them either. We are optimising learning affordances for Us. So a simple topic such as time can end up teaching us shed loads about how different cultures measure time and dates. It can lead to heated debates about who invented time. It can look at different designs for helping us understand time. And everyone goes home with some new knowledge. And by what tool was such knowledge created? By the tool of the English language. How did the human brain mediate this knowledge (where mediate means something like interact with)? By employing the tool of the English language. And, as Old Vy said, our choice of tool will change our world. The knowledge created is shared by all and it burrows its way into our consciousnesses using The English Language Burrowing Machine.
But even the most robust burrowing tool can come a cropper if not used properly. So the teacher is on hand to guide the novice in its use. There’s no point in consigning a heap of nonsense into your noggin. That sort of stuff only worked for Jimmy Joyce. If it is to burrow deeply, it needs to be making sense. Now the traditional way to help people make sense was to hit the learner round the head and model it correctly. The learner understood that the correct way to talk about the eastern prevalence for the lunar calendar over the Europeans advocacy of the solar calendar is by babbling away rapidly…well, that the correct way was not for them. An alternative to the traditional way is to feign misunderstanding and help the learner construct something that is likely to mean something both to them and to others who might care to listen. Of course, the Holy Grail is to create a situation wherein the very learners themselves are expressing incomprehension and working towards a shared understanding of what their colleague is rattling on about. No! The Holy Grail is when the learners themselves are interrupting the teacher and asking him/her what the hell s/he is on about [that's your cue...]
BUT…comrades…why the preference for talk as the mediational tool? What is dogme’s obsession with talk? Are not coursebooks also mediational tools within the society of the classroom? Are they not also mediational tools within the culture of the classroom? Why doesn’t dogme advocate the usage of coursebooks then? Why is it all about talk?
Because dogme holds that the learners’ lives are more memorable than the materials that are to be found in coursebooks (and I’m trying hard to walk a very narrow line here, in order to avoid offending any more people). Dogme believes that if people talk about what is happening, has happened and might happen in people’s lives, they will be more likely to feel motivated. After all, what’s most people’s favourite topic of conversation?
And, in the rush to get this finished before teatime, I want to put forward a recent occurrence for your delectation: it occurred to me that all motivation falls into one of two camps: the motivation to add to and affirm the personal myth that we have built for ourselves or the motivation to defend our personal myth from attack. In other words, everything we do we do either to confirm the image we have of ourselves as Masters and Masteresses of Our Own Universes or to protect ourselves from a potential threat to this image.
I cannot decide how offensive I find this theory of motivation. I have a horrible feeling that it probably makes me no better than Margaret Thatcher – but it’s an emerging theory and one that I might need help in scaffolding. Would you do me the honour?