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THE THINKING APPROACH: WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?





The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
(Edmund Burke)


- The speech was very interesting in terms of contents, however I don't think the author clearly formulated what exactly she wanted to reach as a result of the speech.
- But it was well-presented. Examples were quite involving.
- I'd say it was pleasant to listen to, still we can't say how successful it was until we know the presenter's aim.
- We think that the next time you should pay more attention to the preparation process. Formulate the function of the speech, think which resources you can use in addition to those of the material. For instance, the knowledge of the audience, various visual aids


What is it? An opinion exchange at a university seminar? An excerpt from a public speaking class? Or, hardly possible though, an English lesson at school?

You might be surprised, but the last answer is correct. Moreover, it is not a specialist language school, not even a typical English lesson in a usual secondary school. The above phrases belong to students who study English as a second foreign language and most of them are at their fourth year of learning. It is a usual lesson for them, as everyone here has to make a speech, which is then analysed by peers and feedback is provided.

That is one of the ways how these young people study English. If it appears attractive, this article will probably be interesting for you.



******


On the one hand, we need to think about how we can help prepare our students for the very different demands the future will make, the need to make rapid decisions and adapt, for instance. On the other hand, we need to look beyond the concerns of the language syllabus, and not simply drift the flow of post-modern development. We need to think about the concept and significance of our materials, the values and attitudes we project, the kinds of mental states we are fostering in our classroom - how indeed, we contribute to the way that people see themselves. How is the time to be shaping the future.

(Andrew Littlejohn, Language Learning Tasks and Education)


Learning how to approach and solve problems, and accepting that there is often more than one answer to a question or more than one way of dealing with it is a key part of both education and language learning. The ability to determine the essence of a problem, and indeed to see that there is a problem, is a vital ingredient in learning.

(Andrew Littlejohn, From the "A to Z of methodology" in Cambridge English for Schools1 )

1Andrew Littlejohn's articles are available from http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/A_Littlejohn



Nowadays, one can hardly find a progressive teacher arguing with the above statements. We need to think about the future and an ability to think efficiently seems to be one of the most essential characteristics of the future personality. The question is how to implement it all in practice. Thinking Approach to language teaching is an attempt to show the path.

This is not a theoretical article, that is why instead of presenting the methodology and mentioning the principles that underlie the approach, I will try to illustrate what exactly students are doing in the classroom. It should be taken into account, however, that these are just fragments of the course which aim at nothing more than just showing the direction.

Telling a story from another point of view
'It is necessary to withdraw from individual experience and peculiarities of personal perception of the situation.2 No strong thinking can exist until one reaches the stage when they are able to compose a wide variety of models of a fact or phenomena. This, however, is not as simple as it might look. If you have never done such a task, you may ask your students to tell a story from the point of view of one of the characters (not the narrator), and most probably you will see how many thinking and language skills have to be mastered before their story becomes more or less on the level. Is it generally possible? Judge yourself.

2 - This is just one from the list of thinking skills one may master. A full list of skills cab be found at http://www.thinking-approach.org



Example 1

(A fragment from the work upon the text Love Story - an excerpt from Love Story by Erich Segal 3. Telling a story from Jenny's point of view):
3 - This and all other texts mentioned in the article can be found at http://www.thinking-approach.org/ . At present there are about 40 texts available for download.

An ordinary day. An ordinary day full of ordinary work... Silly boys, where are you? I'm here and it's boring. Come here, I'm waiting! Oh, there you are. What a handsome one! Come! What? Oh sure, I don't see you, working, just working
"Do you have 'The Waning of the Middle Ages'?"
Exams, right? Now there comes my chance! First, let's make him angry!
"Do you have your own library?" I asked showing all the disdain on my face.
"Listen, Harvard is allowed to use the Redcliffe library" he said.
Offended, ha? Good. Even sillier than I thought! Now, let's wash your brain!
"I'm not talking legality, Preppie, I'm talking ethics." What will you say now? "You guys have five million books. We have a few lousy thousand."
"Listen, I need that goddam book."
Oh, my, do you need it so badly?! But anyway my delicate ears cannot take that any more.
"Wouldja please watch you profanity, preppie?" Ha-ha!
"What makes you so sure I went to prep school?"
"You look stupid and rich" my oh my, I'm playing so well! I didn't even look at him, yeah, boy, you don't even deserve my attention. No-no, you are hopeless!
"You're wrong, I'm actually smart and poor"
Ha, a good joke. Actually I like you, but it doesn't mean, I'll tell you about it!
"Oh, no, Preppie, I'm smart and poor."
He looks absolutely lost and offended. Poor child, he doesn't even understand, why!
"What makes you so smart?"
Now, that's the right time! Time for me to do everything I want! Right now he will fall for ANYthing

(Liya Arbuzova, Form 10)

Example 2

(A fragment from the work upon the text It Kills Me - an excerpt from The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger)

A person from the audience describes what's going on in Old Ernie.
The narrator: Lady Amanda Rosenberg, 74 years old.

"It was an excellent evening yesterday! It was probably the best evening in my long life!"

I've felt so lonely since Henry died, I miss him so much! These Christmas days I was alone again: Maggie couldn't come because her twins are ill (as usually, by the way).

Well, I was sitting in my study, near the fire, and was thinking about my life. It was horrible! And then I decided to visit my good friend (and ex-school friend!) - Ernie. Now they call him Old Ernie, because he owns a night club with the same name. I like the atmosphere in his club very much - it somehow reminds me of my old days, Henry, my youth I like Ernie, too - he's very funny and a brilliant piano player! When he plays, I always start crying - it's so.. touching!

That was a beautiful evening I observed all these young people who were laughing, telling stories, dancing They looked like Henry and me when we were young and in love with each other Ernie played and I couldn't stop the tears again. His music was so holy! The young people in the club were listening to the music and looked so inspired

I came home and started thinking about my life. I think I've done a lot and my life was one of full value" (Lady Rosenberg doesn't see the reality - she is living in her dreams, thoughts she's living in memories)

(Mary Dobrovolska, Form 10)

Script Writing

How would you react if one asked you to write a screen version of some literary text? Say that the person must be crazy? Politely refuse by mentioning you have never had any training in this? Or, perhaps, sit down and start at once? No matter how unbelievable it may sound, but try to choose the latter variant. Remember how many films you have watched for all these years. It is a huge database you possess anyway.

This activity is definitely more complicated than the previous one. However it justifies itself in the long run. Students are usually very well motivated and possibilities to practice various skills are almost unlimited. Some excerpts from students' works below demonstrate what you can reach.

Example 3

(A fragment from the script upon the text A Secret Slob - an excerpt from The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger)

Holden is writing his diary. Ackley is around disturbing Holden. Some time later Ackley leaves, Holden keeps writing, murmuring something about Ackley (about Ackley being a secret slob and all). He remembers the situation with Stradlater in the can. Holden sees the Year Book (close-up) thoughts about the past holidays when he was at home and showed the photo to his parents their reaction, 'Who is THAT boy?' () He keeps writing murmuring things about Stradlater.

In the can.

Holden's sitting there observing his fingernails and enjoying himself and his hunting hat. Stradlater's shaving. Razor (close-up). Stradlater is whistling

Holden keeps writing his diary. Thoughts about Stradlater - his whistling.

The atmosphere is the can is sleepy.

Music - something that doesn't distract. Something monotonous that makes people yawn (This shows that both characters are not very interested in each other). The music gets louder than conversation. So, we see that guys are talking but we don't hear anything. So, the emphasis is on behaviour. Stradlater finishes shaving and is observing himself in the mirror. He's enjoying himself. Suddenly Stradlater becomes 'active' - he's talking about his composition. Holden is listening but he isn't dying to do Stradlater a favor somehow Stradlater leaves the can keeping whistling something and Holden keeps sitting on the washbowl. ..

Holden closes his diary. Ackley comes again.

(Group of students from form 10)

Example 4 4


4 due to space restrictions you may see just the beginning of the work rather than the script itself. Pay attention to the approach, though. It is an well-organized activity when students understand what they are doing.



(A fragment from the script to the text America - an excerpt from Catch-22 by Joseph Heller)

Goals of the film (or what we would like to show):

1. America is not as good as many people were taught.
2. In order 'to live on one's feet' one should be flexible.
3. The difference between two generations.

Sub-goals:

1. To show different cultures (Europe vs. America)
2. To show how people can react in this or that situation or solve this or that problem
3. To show that one gets wisdom with experience.

(Group of students from form 12)

Translation Assessment

The kind of translation we usually ask our students to perform in the language classroom will hardly ever be compatible on the market. For all translation is selection: we choose from a range of possible expressions the one most appropriate to the context. In other words, we are engaged into problem solving. One may object that we are not training translators when teaching English. That is true. But does it not require exactly deep language knowledge to produce something as follows?

Example 5

(A fragment from the work upon Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery)
And now the second translation. Well, when I read it I understood what this famous phrase means, 'You don't notice a translation at all - till you get to read a BAD translation'

Well, I know 'good' and 'bad' are two very abstract and relative words, but a 'bad' translation is anyway a 'bad' translation:-(((

I don't know, judge it yourself - whether it's a good translation or not

  • (Chapter 1) "True Stories from Nature" sounds like " ". Is it understandable???
    A picture is called here "" , used as a synonym to ""!

  • The thing with heavy phrases:
    "I asked them whether the drawing frightened them" is translated like " , ". It isn't a tragedy, of course, but the first variant sounds better, I think: " , " It's also more understandable for kids, I think

  • In the English version the narrator 'drew a boa constrictor from the inside' but in the Russian one " "!!!

  • Another example, less horrible, but " ". A better variant is, " "

  • " " (Variant 2) or " , , " (Variant 1)/ That's what I call heavy phrases, you see?

  • " ". Imagine, you are about 6 years old. What do you imagine?

    These are just major things which made me laugh and weep at the same time. I didn't quote simple mistakes here - grammatical, stylistical, etc

    (By the way, the name of the genius who translated it is )

    (Mary Dobrovolska, Form 10)

    It may be said that Mary's writing is not academic, very informal, perhaps even frivolous for some. But isn't it the real language? Doesn't this work demonstrate a certain level of language awareness many experienced professionals call us to develop?
    5
    5- as an example you may see Rod Bolitho's article on language awareness in English Teaching Professional, Issue 6, January 1998, p.3-7



    Scene Puzzle (Focusing)

    Example 6

    (A fragment from the work upon Trainspotting by Danny Boyle)

    One more example concerning 'real life' in Trainspotting: take the moment when Renton is working - I guess, he is a real estate agent or something. Well, he has to show a flat to customers and he stands in front of that wardrobe so that the customers couldn't see what is inside - this mountain of garbage and all Well, that's also a very ironical smile of the director - something like the question to the audience, 'Hey, what do you call 'normal life'? Is it that?'

    By the way, one more tool how to draw a drug addict not too 'black': you just take another character (here it's Begbie) who DOESN'T use drugs but is much more disgusting (in my opinion) that the one who uses drugs. Well, as I said - take Begbie. He's an awful bastard in his actions and his attitude to people and he doesn't use heroine - like Rents

    (Mary Dobrovolska, Form 11)

    Example 7

    (A fragment from the work upon Fightclub by David Fincher)

    Tyler and Jack together for the last time

    First of all, it's nicely connected to the beginning, where Narrator only starts with his story. First time we see the office block scene - Tyler: "Any last words?"

    Narrator: "I can't think of anything."

    Second time we see the same office block scene - Voice-over: "I think this is about where we came in."

    Tyler: "Any last words?" Narrator: "I still can't think of anything." Tyler: "Oh flashback humor, very funny."

    Final fight is shown very beautifully/ Tyler hitting Narrator, but in the security cam we see only Narrator punching himself/real-unreal situation, with eyes of Narrator and with a material thing - camera

    (Antonina Adyutova, Form 11)

    One may wonder what for students are doing such things. Who needs all this filmic stuff? Let us look closer what exactly is happening. Students look at the scene as a complex solution to a bunch of problems and then trace them back to problems, seeing which problem were solved, how contradictions looked like, if the solution is close to ideality and which resources are involved.

    How Language is Learned

    Teaching techniques with representational materials go beyond reading skills; they bring in speaking and writing practice in discussion, debate and extension (written work), as well as encouraging extensive reading. They involve reinforcement techniques through occasional summary work, recall of previous reading, and the encouragement of cross-reference to an ever-growing range of texts.
    (John McRae, Literature with small 'l', p.96)


    "It's all nice, but we don't have time for this. We have to teach the language." Agreeing that there is often a shortage of language classes at school, let me point out that all the above activities do teach language. Moreover, if considered in a more careful way, Thinking Approach comprises development of all four skills:

  • Reading and re-reading a text to find information necessary for performing a task;

  • Listening to each other and the teacher while working upon tasks, presenting a speech and an additional listening practice while watching a film;

  • Speaking to each other while working upon tasks and presenting the result of work;

  • Writing to present the result of work.

    Besides that the above activities give us a chance for a systematic thinking skills practice.

    Our lives are lived at an increasingly accelerated pace, leaving less and less time for mature reflection and the exercise of independent choice. In the words of the red Queen,

    'Now here you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.'
    ()

    We risk becoming units in the service of a system we no longer understand, rather than vibrant individuals we are all capable of being.

    (Alan Maley, Surviving the 20th century. ETp Issue 10, January 1999, p.3-7)


    Thinking Approach to teaching English can be a possible way to reduce the risk.

    *****************************
    More information on Thinking Approach can be found at
    http://www.thinking-approach.org Thinking Approach project is open to all colleagues. If it appears interesting, don't hesitate to contact me at contacts@thinking-approach.org. I would be also glad to receive your feedback on the ideas expressed in the article.


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    14 Sep 2002