I wanted to pay tribute to the opening of the Bible (John 1:1) in relation to the upcoming No Pens Day initiative in the UK. I wanted to go back to the roots, to the origins of what we consider to be the beginning of all knowledge. I wanted to be original and once again go back to where it all begins: the word.
On the 28th of September children and teachers across the UK are being asked to put down their pens and focus on speaking and listening. No Pens Day is aimed at developing a number of activities that encourage communication and develop students’ imagination, thinking, discussing, negotiating, exploring, evaluating and arguing. (http://www.hello.org.uk/get-involved/no-pens-day-wednesday.aspx)
I very much welcome this initiative for several reasons. Firstly because I think this is a good cause. I believe that many children and many teachers will benefit greatly from more listening and speaking and more interacting and communicating between each other. Interacting means understanding and learning, it means respect and admiration, it entails education and to progression as individuals.
I admit that from a selfish point of view, this initiative brings reassurance that what we do here at Oxbridge
is going in the right direction. In the beginning we chose to take a different path in English teaching. We built a road that leads to students actively using the English language. We prepare activities that make this approach happen from different perspectives. Structures, vocabulary and topics in Oxbridge
are practiced orally, ensuring active usage of the new target language.
Maybe I also like this day so much because I realise that we are not alone in the attempt to change teaching into interacting with students in a way that teachers would project their knowledge to the students and students would respond immediately to these stimuli. Both students and teachers would enrich and learn from each other.
And maybe because I feel that initiatives like this one can change the education system and demonstrate the difference between active and passive learning.
Can you imagine how much students worldwide would benefit from this simple change of focus if we took this approach in English teaching? Believing that learning without pens and pencils is not only possible but highly effective and rewarding. And have you thought how much you would learn from your students as well?
I’ve often wondered when and why exactly English teaching methods became more concerned about reading and writing rather than listening and speaking. When did school teachers decide that it was more important that our students know how fill a gap in a sentence without being able to express their ideas naturally in a conversation? When did we forget the first and ultimate principle of learning a language: language competence starts with speaking in that language?
As teachers we have learnt how language works and we want to pass on that knowledge to our students and even if we know that acquiring a language is not a linear process we insist on teaching one structure after the other. But as users of the language: do we really structure our speech or does it flow freely following an inner logic without an order sometimes but always with a purpose?
Let me here mention again Stephen Krashen’s ideas about input
being vital for a second language acquisition. Input should not be grammatically sequenced. Krashen claims that sequencing, as found in language classrooms where lessons involve practicing a “structure of the day” is not necessary and may even be harmful. Output
is the other side of the coin. If your students are encouraged to talk and use the new target language, they are putting in practice one of the pillars of modern language learning. Output or hearing yourself using L2 helps learners with feedback, makes them concentrate on the form of what they are saying and helps them automatize their language knowledge.
No Pens Day is just my excuse for an invitation. Let’s empower our students with the only weapon that is worth building day after day: the word. The word is powerful and knowing how to use it makes us all confident and strong. Using it in another language adds more value to our skills as individuals and professionals. We can win dialectic battles only with the word and convey the message we want to in order to explain, ask, transmit, convince, debate, negotiate, talk... Speak!
Imagine how powerful we can be if we know how to use words correctly. In our language, in the target language, in any language!
In the beginning and at the end is the Word and the Word is with God, and the Word is God.
Krashen, Stephen D. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition
. Prentice-Hall International, 1987.
Krashen, Stephen D. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning
. Prentice-Hall International, 1988.