Those of you who have been following  my activity online for a while, are well acquainted with the fact that I am a teacher, that I love my job, that I also run a blog for my students and what I usually do is teaching English as a foreign language or English Literature to Italian students.  What I want  to share and discuss with you today is something which happened to me on LearnOnLine, after posting a lesson  with video clips taken from BBC Robin Hood, addressed  to  a group of 15-year-old students to whom I teach grammar and language, as well as to a second group of 16-year-old students to whom I teach grammar and language but also "pills" of literature (from the origins to the Elizabethan Age). 

It was not the first time I used those materials, as I usually don't teach my younger students literature or history in a very academic way. My approach is rather  focused on what teenagers may like more than on the accuracy of information (which I respect as much as I can). I may be wrong, but this is what I generally do. They are not really interested in sound devices or rethoric figures at their age, they hate being forced to memorize facts and dates which they consider useless. They do like stories, legends, heroes and myths. They also like when the lesson is not merely listening to the teacher speaking or reading in front of them. That is why I use videos and music, multimedia tasks and sources quite often in my lessons.

That happened also in my lessons about the medieval popular ballads. I don't want to bore you, but I'd like you to understand before I ask you to join me in the discussion.

After reading one, Lord Randal, and after listening to a musical version of it, we summarized the main features of the ballad as a poetic form  in a spidergram on the board. Afterwards I briefly told them about the different types of ballads existing, and introduced them the Cycle of  Robin Hood, telling them that the original figure of the outlaw who stole from the rich to give to the poor, has been later on contaminated by new versions coming from authors and texts of the following centuries. Last but not least, we discussed fact that the Robin Hood they have in their minds, is probably resulting from watching modern films or cartoons. 

To discuss that and much more in English is not simple for Italian native speakers, but I do my best to give them real motivations to use the foreign language they are trying to learn. And I don't teach literature just to pass them cultural  and historical information but especially as a way to improve their language skills. 
As for skills, I am convinced that to become a good speaker,  you must be first of all a good listener. 
So, I often give my students materials to listen to, either in our lab at school or as their homework at home. Even with Italian subtitles, if they are beginner listeners. 
Here we are to the crucial poing: this is the goal of the activity I posted on Learnonline, which brought to me, this rare, welcome, but not very positive comment from a passionate bookish medievalist, who I totally respect.  Below it,  my answer.

What do you think? Is to motivate students a teacher's main goal or not? Should I use only historically accurate materials for my lessons instead? Does any of  you agree with Bookish Medievalist? Do you have any good suggestion to make my lessons interesting and accurate at the same time? I'd be glad to hear your opinion about this issue. 


lunarossa said...

MG, I'm not a teacher, but I was a student once and I have got kids who go to school and Uni. I think your approach towards language and literature teaching is absolutely spot on. As you well say, you need and want to motivate your students to listen an to learn, to talk and to be proactive. Nowadays books are not enough and fortunately we can turn all the media to our advantage. In most UK schools teachers make a large use of films, documentaries etc. to get the kids' interest and encourage them to deepen their knowledge. My son first developed his interest in politics after watching "Amazing Grace" about William Wallace. He knew it was "only a movie" but it inspired him to research that period sparkled his interest in the subject. I wish I had had a teacher like you when I was at school in Italy. Learning Shakespeare and Keats by heart was not so useful when I came to the UK for the first time and I could not understand the bus driver or the milkman! xx

Maria Grazia said...

I wasn't fishing for compliments, A. but thanks! I wish my students could really improve their listening comprehension and speaking skills, because they are really hard to develop with just a few hours a week. So I hope videos and movies can help them. Will they ever understand the bus driver or the milkman if they go to England? Fingers crossed!
Blowing a kiss as far as beautiful York! Got it?

Unknown said...

This is a sticky subject...I believe utilizing modern media to illustrate whatever you are teaching is a great tool, so long that discrepancies are discussed. Since you teach English, and not history ( as you mentioned) I would think these tools are excellent for ear training. Since English is not my native language, I can speak from experience...s through movies, tv and/or music I learned so much, not only about the language, but also the cultural aspects.

Servetus said...

I wouldn't use it in a history class (though I do use North & South), but in a language class whatever gets the students going is fine, I think. I probably know a dozen German women who wanted to read English better b/c of Jane Austen, which turned into video watching, and really improved their English. The only languages I speak well are those in which I found some reason I just *had* to speak the language.

Anonymous said...

To learn how to tell fact from fiction, you have to encounter both. Restricting your students to historically accurate materials would leave them worse off.

I'm a native English speaker, and the questions you set your students in Learn On Line are exactly what I was asked at school in 'English Comprehension' lessons. Our textbooks had extracts from newspapers, novels, plays and poems, and introduced us to texts we might never otherwise encountered.

Keep up the good work!
Charlotte Frost

Vava, A country dreaming mum said...

If I'd been a teacher I think my approach would have been exactly like yours. Motivating students is very hard and any aid which goes in this directions is welcome, I believe. Kids are not stupid, they know that legends are not always historically accurate, they know that most of what we know is a modern interpetation. I think, like the reader in the comment above, that once they like the subject thay can do more research of their own, but the main thing is to get them interested in it first, and that is what you are trying to do (with much success from what I hear). Keep up the good job MG. Ciao, Silvana

Maria Grazia said...

Wow!I'm back from school right now and look what I've found! Thanks old and new friend for dropping by and contribute your opinion.

Thanks to @Ester for sharing her experience. You are living proof of what I always tell my students. Watching original materials in English is fundamental to improve.

And, @Servetus, I know you teach in a real academic environment, to older students and especially to native speakers, so your teaching history or social issues can go to further levels respect to what I can do with my own students. Even those who study literature are not always proficient at writing or speaking, so I must simplify a lot and help them. I'm really grateful you passed by and commented!

Hello @Charlotte! I hope you are fine. Many thanks for taking the time to leave your comment here at FLY HIGH! You native speakers do exercises in reading comprehension? That's something odd but, yes, you're right we do the same with Italian. Do you mean my questions can be difficult for a native speaker too ? ;-)

Ciao @Vava! How are you doing? I'd like to be much more successful as a teacher, and that means to bring all my students to the expected proficiency but, unfortunately, the variables in the game of teaching/learning are so many! It doesn't only depends on me. Teenagers are not easily convinced to renounce their "congenital" laziness but I'm trying hard! I can be rather headstrong :-) Un abbraccio. MG

Monika said...

I got interested in history because of the novel "Desiree" by Annemarie Selinko, that changed my whole life as a teenager. And I learned a lot about the Regency period through Georgette Heyer, something no lesson only based on facts could do.
As long as you tell your students that what you show them is fiction - a way of telling stories - and not facts, that's alright with me, as long as you got them interested in learning new things. Then they will be open for more complicated facts, when they are older as was I, when I realized that "Sissi" was very different from the German movies I loved as a kid!

Maria Grazia said...

Thank you, Monika, for adding your good points to the discussion. I too owe my love for story-telling and good books to my teenage feverish reading activity. But I've learnt a lot since then and understood a lot, too. Anyway, I must admit, I'm more open-minded now than at that time.
What happens with my students is that, in order to try to discover what they like, I've started liking things I never thought I could :-)

Servetus said...

When I was in college there was this French teaching method common in at US universities called Capretz. Its lessons revolved around a soap opera involving a French girl named Mireille and an American visitor to France called Robert. The first year or two all the of the lessons had a video segment in which Robert + Mireille flirted themselves through the first two years of French grammar. It was really, really successful -- because the students got interested in the relationship and whether they were going to get together. It was much more interesting than our German lessons, which involved watching a German newscaster like guy talk about significant issues in German society ... Like I say, whatever works!