An Afternoon with Paul Davis. Enlivening the Boring and Towards a More Lexical Approach

reviewed by Alicia Kern, Helta Member

Who would have thought that beer-loving, cinema fanatic Paul Davis is also an expert and entertaining trainer with oodles of experience, an individual technique, an avid cyclist and aspiring chef.  Ok, so when discussing “technique“ I may as well be opening up the discussion “is Picasso art?“  However, Paul has as flair for making teaching an art: forget form, forget technique, teach!

Enlivening the Boring? Goal achieved!  We all know those grey, dull days, when motivation is low, and you feel the need for some animation, well, why not try some of Paul‘s techniques?  How about a speed-dating-style warm-up, a flamboyant handout dispersal method, or simply an atypical type of text?

A great follow on from Jim Maloney‘s “Learner Culture inside the Learning Environment“ this workshop built upon the aspect of classroom dogma, inviting a fresh breeze of freedom into the learning environment.  Paul proved that we already understand what is expected of us in the learning environment: the teacher provides the materials and the students read the text... right?  Ok, so perhaps a bunch of experienced EFL professionals make the “perfect“ learning culture, because that‘s exactly what we did.  Within two minutes of being handed a reading text, we were all quite happily reading it - no instructions necessary.  Would the same happen with a group of (pre-)pubescent, rebellious teenagers?  I‘m somewhat sceptical, but for those of us working in adult education, Paul made a point.

 The Pilgrims method questions standard teaching methods advocating a humanistic approach.  Loved by some, less by others, Paul demonstrated how this method can be incorporated into non-examination courses, or used for lessons after the exam.  Too much deviation from mainstream teaching methods may not produce the best ROI for freelance teachers, so be sure of your learner culture before changing your teaching style!  Still, certain techniques can easily be worked into a lesson plan without too much disruption.

The second half of the afternoon addressed teaching vocabulary.  He highlighted that for learners of different levels, it‘s necessary to use a different approach to vocab building.  In particular, he brought into awareness a statement by Michael Lewis that even native speaker‘s become foreigners in their own language when talking about unfamiliar topics.  Most importantly, he recommends teaching lexical chunks; phrases and common word collocations, rather than individual lexical items; words.  In this way, non-native speakers can still be understood even without forming a complete sentence.

The afternoon provided an eye-opening observation of Pilgrims “method in action“.  Paul created a social, interactive learning environment, and a social, communicative and fun atmosphere.  This unconventional method certainly sparked discussion from various points of view within the group: an indication of expanding views and increasing knowledge.  All in all, the afternoon provided the ideal climax on which to bring the HELTA social calendar to a close for 2013.

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