Mike Harrison's Reviews

20 steps and the Art of Unplugged


Written on 11/04/2011 – 8:23 pm | by mikeharrison

Just about a week ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Luke Meddings give a talk twice in four days, first at ISTEK and then at the British Council.

This time last year, or maybe about 18 months ago, if you had said the name Luke Meddings to me the response would have probably been ‘Luke who?’.

Aside – I should probably give you a bit of background colour to explain that. 18 months ago I didn’t know so much about English Language Teaching. Then November, the Language Show, Twitter, blogs all started. I had Jeremy Harmer’s book, but didn’t really get it. I read about Scott Thornbury learning Catalan, and an article about a teacher in Spain teaching kids English with nothing but toy dinos. I’d taught a year in Spain, and was mid way through my 2nd year of ESOL in the UK. I thought dogme was a film starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

Anyway, back to the event. Luke gave a talk at ISTEK (a concurrent plenary in fact, up against Russell Stannard, Maureen McGarvey and Dede Wilson for our time, among others) titled Six Sketches for ISTEK. We were taken (and the room was pretty full) on a journey through 6 works of art, including one by Luke’s own dad, and invited to reflect on how different factors relating to the pieces could also help us reflect on our practice as teachers.

I’ve become quite a fan of taking a dogme approach in my classes; I just think it fits so well with ESOL students to not be constrained by a coursebook, and the fact is that the people in my class have so much more to offer (mostly!), they come to me with and for their English, and the basic need is often the drive to learn. So it was really great that so much of what Luke mentioned in his talk, about noticing, leaving space, and considering our approach to teaching chimed with me.

Brueghel's painting as a reminder to 'notice' what goes on in the classroom

Brueghel's painting as a reminder to 'notice' what goes on in the classroom

It was also great to see Luke in action, having gotten to know him a little bit via blogs and Twitter, as well as meeting at a Jamie Keddie seminar at the British Council. I really like Luke’s style of talk, very friendly and accessible.

It was at Spring Gardens, the British Council HQ in London where I saw Luke talk last Tuesday, where he presented 20 steps to teaching unplugged. Now, having bought his and Scott Thornbury’s book Teaching Unplugged last year, a few of the activities and the ideas that Luke spoke about that evening were not totally new, but it was great to see his spin on them, even including an in reference from the weekend in Istanbul in one of his slides. And there was a twist – a randomiser! To guide him through the 20 slides he had to show us ideas for teaching, Luke made his way following the numbers generated by a website random number machine (and later on, those numbers shouted out by the audience).

There were a number of ideas for activities that could be used in class, and Luke’s explanation of them was clear enough to suggest that they could be adapted to almost any level – a tenant, I think, of a dogme approach, in that the learners are largely responsible for what they put in/get out of a learning moment (it’s then the teacher’s job to MAXIMISE this). One that struck me was simply asking your students what they had for breakfast. How simple. And something that anyone, even those with limited language, would be able to do.

Probably not what Luke has for breakfast everyday

Probably not what Luke has for breakfast everyday

I won’t say too much more, because I think you should see him talk whenever you can (that is said in all honesty) and buy Teaching Unplugged!

Thanks, Luke, for a couple of great talks!

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