Not Learning But Drowning

After spending the last few years ‘unplugging’ my EFL writing classrooms, I’ve finally gotten around to chronicling the journey.

For those of y’all who aren’t up on Dogme ELT (Teaching Unplugged), check out this site for a synopsis .

The title of this blog combines Teaching Unplugged with a work that is inspirational to my own writing. Richard Hugo’s The Triggering Town is a collection of essays on poetics that argues for poets to stop writing “what they know”. Instead, writers should explore their imaginations and seek out ‘triggering’ landscapes, themes, and language.  For Hugo, it is a foreign town (usually rural and run down) that triggers the imagination and music of the poem. Too often writers have an overwhelming attachment to relating our surroundings honestly and accurately according to our memories and experiences. Writing “what we know” is nearly impossible to write honestly and stilts the imagination. In Hugo’s view, we should be true to the language and not to the experience. This connection to the imagination and the music of words is what personalizes the language and themes of the poem.

I believe Teaching Unplugged in the EFL writing classroom provides the trigger students need to write personally and communicatively. Getting away from coursebooks that teach students the writing process, instead of creating their own process, as well as, the essay model, instead of discovering essay models, frees students to collaborate and develop autonomy in their writing. You might find a conversation-driven writing class to be counterintuitive; however, conversation is our primary discourse, and a majority of first language writing classrooms in the west tend to be centered in the discussion of language, themes (including the social), and ideas. Why do we deny this communal and collaborative dynamic from our EFL writing students? Finally, the focus on emergent language assists learners in developing study skills, increases motivation, and fosters acquisition. Hell, I don’t remember learning grammar or syntax from textbooks but from all the red murdering my first academic essays. Of course I hope our emergent language instruction is much more constructive than my professors may have been and hopefully a majority of the emergent language is focused on in class. Still, the point remains, current EFL/ESL writing textbooks teach grammar before composition when it should be the other way around.

Anyhow, this blog isn’t meant to be too academic. Rather, I hope it becomes a space where we can dialog about Teaching Unplugged and primarily its implementation in the writing classroom. I’ll be posting lessons and classroom experience hopefully several times a month, and I hope to hear your feedback. Cheers!

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2 Responses to Not Learning But Drowning

  1. Ceri Jones says:

    Hi, I’m intrigued. I came from an L1 teaching background and have used L1 creative writing tasks a lot in FL and L2 classes. I find they work for me and my students – and come so much more naturally than some of the so-called process writing lessons. Looking forward to the upcoming posts.

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