IATEFL Poland: Jeremy Harmer on drilling

IATEFL Poland: Jeremy Harmer on drilling - hancockmcdonald.com/blog/iatefl-poland-jeremy-harmer-drilling

‘No-one actually talks about drilling much anymore (but it still goes on everywhere). Two questions: does it work, and how best is it done?’ After a very smooth room change to a 300-capacity auditorium that would accommodate us all comfortably, Jeremy Harmer set about answering these questions.

 He began by reminding us of the language lab, the only piece of technology designed to support one ELT methodology - the audio-lingual method. Language labs enabled all students in a group to repeat words, phrases and structures, the idea being that practice would make perfect. Whilst it certainly led to the development  of many different types of drills, for example, repetition or substitution drills, the procedure was thought to not to involve the brain and not to be particularly engaging either. And so, over time, drilling seemed to go out of fashion.

 Jeremy presented ‘the received wisdom of thousands of years of learning’: he took us on a whirl-wind tour of what ELT literature has had to say (or not) about drilling over the years. All the gurus were there, for example, Doug Brown, Patricia Hedge, Graham Hall, Penny Ur, his good self, Scott Thornbury, Jim Scrivener, Judy Gilbert and Claire Kramsch, to name but a few!

 It became evident that there is indeed a re-emerging interest in drilling, but nowadays people are talking about ‘quality repetition’, ‘re-signification of utterances’, ‘cognitive engagement’, ‘creative repetition’ and affect – that is ‘something that will make you feel warm and fuzzy’.           

 Jeremy’s message was that if students’ brains are switched on, they are engaged in the task and we provide some ‘wait-time’ then drilling is a very effective classroom technique. And, just to prove the point, he put us through our paces with various types of invigorating and challenging drills. He ended by presenting ‘Days’, a very short and deceptively simple poem by Philip Larkin. We all left the session reciting the poem to ourselves, and wondering on its deeper meaning.


Add new comment