Little things. Of all the posts I have written for the 30Goals Challenge, this one will probably take up the most space. Because, you see, happiness very often comes in small and unexpected fragments that build up to something greater. In the several different learning environments we step into each day, we are given the chance to draw happiness closer. It isn’t always easy, we might have to trick it into approaching us. I like, however, to think that there are little bits of joy everywhere and all we really have to do is help them come forward.
Younger learners are a tough crowd and that’s because they’re open and honest; unhindered by the do’s and dont’s which regulate our adult lives. Their happiness though, once achieved, cannot hide and is contagious beyond measure. I don’t get the chance to work much with young learners these days, but there have been so many memorable moments of laughter that I still carry with me (and hope they carry them too).
Whether it was a finger puppet appearing, determined to put a smile on everyone’s face, or the practice of adjectives and adverbs through a game, or even ‘being mum/dad’ for a day to share our understanding and feelings for our parents (an activity I love because it equally engages learners and their families). Or just being happy and sharing it.
Step into the teen world and be prepared: laughing comes with rules, which are broken more often than not (but not by you), since teenagers have a unique kind of reasoning, a worldview of their own, a dogma cut in the shape of them. Time for me to admit teens are my favourite age group to work with, I guess.
The first time I walked into a class of teenagers, I felt very much a teenager myself still. Just because you feel like a teen though doesn’t mean you are. You cannot fake adolescence. At the moment of despair, of awkward and troubled sideways looks , humor is a powerful weapon and my best advice would be to immediately stop taking yourself too seriously; actually, do that anyway.
From starting a lesson with ”If you want to catch a squirrel just climb a tree and act like a nut” written on the board (I also printed that one and others on shirts actually, since tutoring led me to board-less environments), to giving assignments in emoticon & sticker language or by using Blabberize and other similar tools, to individual and group readings of ”The Dork Diaries” and ‘The Diary of a Wimpy Kid’‘, to acting out their favourite sitcom, to being determined to finish that level in the game despite the roars of laughter at your screaming when zombies appear from every corner of the screen. You are not supposed to be a clown, nor a comedian. But you should be open to fun the way they see it, it’s your best and most affordable chance in professional (and personal) development.
And what about adult learners? A whole different zone, where you are perceived as somewhat an equal, with similar routines, troubles and aspirations. Most of my adult students have described our lessons as some kind of therapy, a break in their usual days, and very often we spend some of our time together to discuss whatever has come up. It certainly helps them and I find it an excellent way to improve speaking skills. Little jokes and puns always find their way in and I was surprised once to hear one student say that ‘‘those funny lines every now and then make me feel like when I get an endorsement on LinkedIn; they don’t mean a lot but they make me feel better”. It is the laughter. Short or extended. We feel better when we laugh and we bond much more easily.
In an effort to keep that good feeling going, how about introducing a laughing competition at the start or the end of the lesson? Hard, but possible and only takes one to start it; then it spreads. Some random acts of fun also help. Inspired once last year by an overjoyed woman singing to herself on a bus, I walked into a class humming the tune of SpongeBob, only to be almost immediately joined by six professionals. You can’t plan these moments.
Above all, I find that using comedy clips in our teaching is truly powerful. Not only as an extension to our lesson, but as a lesson itself. From a single clip to full comedy shows, there is so much authentic material we can use to engage adult learners, to provoke thought, to encourage language to emerge. At the beginning of the year, I used a recent stand-up show in English with a class, put together by a Greek comedian living in the UK. What they related to was not the fact that she was Greek, but that she was honest. We reviewed, discussed, wrote about it. We discovered that our perception of language and lessons is not all that different from others and that there is really one culture of people in spite of stereotypes trying to prove otherwise. Later that month we arranged to visit Gazi Comedy Club to watch Katerina Vrana perform her stand-up. What I didn’t tell them, was that this time it would be in Greek. Can you guess the results of our comparative study afterwards?
I know (and people I’m close to know as well) that I’m held together mostly by serious bones and a couple of unnecessarily cynical ones; there are a couple of funny/silly ones though somewhere in that me-structure and those seem to be right at the foundations.