Mike Harrison on exploring to learn

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Mike spoke of the importance of experimental practice (EP) for a teacher’s professional development, and he developed the topic through the metaphor of exploration and travel. He began by showing my (Mark Hancock’s) Map of ELT as an example of this kind of spatial metaphor, but explained that his own presentation would be less analytical.

He began by suggesting how we can benefit from travel: in other cultures, we see how the same things we do at home can be done in a different way, and we see how things that seem very ordinary at home may seem extraordinary in a new context. Travel refreshes perception. Mike went on to consider what might put someone off exploring: namely, the fear and insecurity of the unknown. But with respect to this, he insisted that exploratory teaching doesn’t mean doing something noone’s done before, it means doing something YOU have not done before. Which means you can benefit from reading up on other people’s trials and errors before you set out on the journey.

Mike pointed out the importance of awareness. Teachers are experimenting all the time, yet may not realize that they are doing so. But being aware of the methods you are using liberates you: knowing where you are enables you to move on and try being somewhere else.

Mike went on to suggest that EP should be non-random. We should explore new territories for a purpose. Here, he used the holiday metaphor: first we pick something to explore (read guidebooks, study maps). Then we observe and record it somehow and get feedback (take holiday snaps). Then we reflect on the experience and share (talk a friend through your holiday snaps, tweet, blog etc).

Mike’s final slide was a scrupulous acknowledgement of sources, including all of the images used in his powerpoint show, which were taken from ELT pics. It’s common practice among conference presenters for us to spice up our presentations with images and video, but we don’t always acknowledge our sources: we are only gradually becoming aware of etiquette and legality in this regard, and Mike’s was a good example to follow.


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