Let me edutain you, bam bam bam!

Well, sorry if you don’t know the Robbie Williams song and maybe you are sorry if you do but I couldn’t resist.

EFL is a  strange profession in that many people who say they are EFLers aren’t. For instance, some are ESPers, BEers, EAPers, ESOLers or even content teachers yet we are all put under the ‘EFL umbrella’. Yet, the differences still remain.

A while back when I’d had enough of teaching the same EFL courses for what seemed like ever I decided to move abroad where I suddenly became a ‘foreign expert’ whatever that is. Thankfully, a colleague took me under his wing and taught me the ropes. One of his first remarks was “I’m not an English teacher” the next was “I don’t teach them English”. He was rather intrigued about my EFL background and asked “so, what do you teach them besides grammar?”. This guy was not just a fly by night teacher out for a year off, he was studying a PhD, had an MA, had been a Cambridge examiner, had studied at top unis and had also worked for the embassy. He then explained that he had been in the country for 20 years and that students learn English for 15 years before they get to uni and then they still have grammar/vocab/pron/reading classes with local teachers. He argued that they need culture and outside information and knowledge but in English and as they are so tired and fed up with English they also need to be ‘edutained’ as he put it.

This idea helped me a lot, well, more than a lot actually. I had seen the ‘entertain approach’ with students running round or teachers telling endless jokes but it wasn’t for me. I tried the serious British lecturer approach but it didn’t work. His idea was to use academic ideas/topics but then have the occasional related joke or share an informal moment or anecdote.

His lessons/lectures were very very popular, so popular that his PPT’s became standard use for everyone in the department. His main interests were lecturing European cultures and history and even in his speaking classes he used the same ideas. In debate classes I finally understood his point when one day it hit me that “they aren’t saying their opinions because 1)they don’t know the topic 2)they haven’t got an opinion. So, my  classes started teaching western topics via texts/videos and it worked. Students really enjoyed the classes and learning about simple things that we take for granted but that they found fascinating.

So, edutain, what does it mean?

=to educate in an interesting and occasionally entertaining way

Or have a look at this version.

Questions

Do we need to entertain students?

Can we be considered as real teachers if we don’t?

Why are games and ‘fun’ so engrained in the typical TEFL approach?

How do you feel about comments like “he is a good teacher, he makes us laugh”, “his classes are fun” or “I enjoy her class because we do games”?

4 thoughts on “Let me edutain you, bam bam bam!

  1. A couple colleagues of mine wrote a post about teacher type-casting that has some reflections already of the questions you ask (http://www.mellyneducation.ca/classroom/teacher-typecasting/). I do like humour and enjoy using it in my classroom from time to time. It’s usually anecdotal or the occasional lost sarcasm.

    What’s funny is that I rarely use games in my class now. It stems from not seeming appropriate or expected by anyone in the higher ed context. I try, instead, to give pair and group work that is stimulating and involved critical thinking. This appeals to some and not to others. But I find your colleague right: I’m not really teaching English, per se. It’s skills that a transferable across disciplines more like. Language almost improves through osmosis, emergently, Dogme-ish… if I could be so brazen.

    • No games?Me too.No, they don’t seem or look appropriate for me either when classrooms next door are studying management or finance.

      I think you have it sorted with ‘stimulating’. I like to provide interesting lessons in a relaxed way and humour does arise and is shared but in the context of a serious lesson. If you are dealing with ideas and emotions then humour is one.

      The only doubt I have is when some students behave ‘silly’. For example, I did a lesson on The News of The World scandal which led to the portrayal of men and women in the media and how we have been brainwashed to expect perfect photos and images. This was pretty interesting as I challenged students and their beliefs and asked them to reassess why they think as they do. However, some ‘less mature’ members used ‘leaked videos’ as an example and found it hilarious. Now, used in a mature/academic way then this may have worked but not a giggling/nudging one. Here I had to set limits, perhaps what I should have done at the beginning of the course.

      Transferable skills are essential nowadays. For instance, I’ve taught IELTS based on speaking/discussion and/or just academic texts. Just because I don’t use IELTS books or teach ‘IELTS strategies’ directly doesn’t mean that I’m not preparing students. In fact, I’m preparing them from a content perspective of generating ideas. Writing/speaking/reading/listening is then a piece of cake. Some courses do it the other way around and that’s why students have no ideas.

      • Yes, my (our?) teaching contexts involves age groups susceptible to mature vs immature attitudes and behaviour. The giggling annoys me but it can also cause me a little self-consciousness when I’m not sure why they’re doing it. Sometimes I feel like I’ve turned from cool slightly older to quirky much older teacher. Somewhere along the lines, I aged.

        • Exactly. I don’t find having a laugh but sometimes students then start behaving like kids and swearing. That is not allowed in my class and I explain why. A contextual joke or shared amusing anecdote is fine if it’s in the situation/context we’re talking about but I don’t teach immature kids and I say it.

          It does feel like opening a can of worms sometimes in that if you show you are open to humour or have a laugh over something that comes up then some take it as an open door to hysteria. Tough one. I also find it uncomfortable when pairs/groups are laughing as I too get paranoid. I also try not to get into ‘EFL entertainer’ mode which I’ve seen many people do.

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