I don’t write blog posts very often, so regular readers will be aware don’t exist, but I’ve decided to write one this morning as I’m feeling inspired. Is it the coffee? Is it the fifth movement of Mahler’s Resurrection still bouncing and floating around the hollow space between my ears? Could it be new neural pathways created as my taste buds sent mind-altering currents to hitherto unknown parts of my brain after Tim Hughes’ astounding leftover-chicken-and-stuff-in-the-kitchen curry last night? Who knows, for what does it matter to the workings of a world that just mapped Pluto?
It matters not, but I just wanted to share some joy. Heaven forfend! Some joy in a world of torment and disaster. But there are little lights, fireflies in the dark of night, uneven pinpricks of euphoria that come at me from time to time. And I’ve had a few of these recently. It’s not been the greatest time. There have been challenges: a relationship going through a ‘difficult phase’, a motorbike accident, a decision to leave my job and move to another country (again!), CELTA number 4,762 and ultimate acceptance that I will probably never play for the Scotland national football team in a World Cup final. But all these first world problems have got one thing in common: they all make me question what I do and who I am.
Now, as this is an ELT blog, let me make at least some reference to the field. All I’ve said above can be summarised in the more academically appropriate words of Thomas Farrell:
“Over their careers teachers construct and reconstruct (usually tacitly) a conceptual sense of who they are (their self-image) and this is manifested through what they do (their professional role identity)” (link here)
What got me thinking about this was a question from a recent CELTA candidate. I was asked about the need for teaching reading subskills (skimming, scanning, detailed comprehension, etc.). I replied the jury was out and that learners may simply transfer existing comprehension skills from L1 to L2, though there seemed no harm to me on working on scanning with lower levels whose L1 has a different script to that of English (my current context is Thailand – yeah, just try scanning Thai as a beginner). But after the session, I got thinking and started to ask questions about what I do.
I thought about reading lessons I’ve taught, what I’ve done with texts in class, and how I feel as a learner of another language. I revisited Russ Mayne’s excellent post (would you expect anything else from Russ?) on Skimming and Scanning (link here), gave Christine Nuttall a ring on my special red telephone and settled down with Swan and Walter. I thought about what subskills are, whether they exist, whether it’s more effective to think about processing than subskills; I reflected on what the difference between subskills and reading strategies is, the need to “pre-teach” and what cats do in the night (though I accept that’s not totally related). I ruminated over the point of reading for gist (see this webinar for more on that), whether scanning involves comprehension and what on earth is meant by “reading for detail”; I considered whether texts should be linguistic objects, what it is that makes people group reading and listening together, rather than reading and writing, and the need to focus on discourse to improve reading. I thought a lot. I constructed and reconstructed my professional ideas and identity.
And what were my conclusions? What paradigm-changing answer did I reach? Absolutely nothing. Not a conclusion in sight. A bit of anti-climax? I think not, because the definitive answers were not the point and are ones I can never reach without moving into primary research – something that is not for me right this very second – no, the point was the process, the thinking, the critical reflection and the absolute unadulterated joy of questioning what you do.
What on earth did I write this for? Good question – need to think about that.