Jeremy Harmer is an extremely versatile man. He is a writer of ELT books —from methodology titles to graded readers— a teacher, presenter, seminar leader, a singer songwriter and a “performer of the spoken word”, as he defines himself on his website. He is the author of extremely ELT influential books, among which one could highlight The Practice of English Language Teaching, which is now in its fifth edition and has been a reference book for EFL teachers for over 30 years.
Mr Harmer is taking part in IATEFL 2015, and is talking about two main subjects, poetry in the EFL classroom, and assessment and testing. During this interview, he outlines these topics and the main points of interest, so I will now give you a quick summary of what he has already talked about and what he will be saying in his second talk. You can watch the full interview here.
Poetry in the ELT classroom
As regards the use of poetry with students, Harmer mentions the following considerations:
- It is essential to find the right poem. For it to be suitable for an English lesson, Jeremy highlights how important it is for the poem to be written in modern English, to have a suitable length (not long) and that it speaks to the heart, thus wholly engaging the learner.
- Using poems appropriately will provide learners with real language meaning and communication. And this, according to Mr Harmer, is much more motivating than just focusing on utilitarian language.
- As general guidelines for teachers, Jeremy highlights the following:
- All poems should be accessible, written in modern English. This will make it understandable and more attractive to learners.
- The type of activities chosen should not have right-or-wrong answers. Instead, they should force students to dive into the poem, to get involved with the message, to participate as humans, rather than as learners only. This will involve a great amount of language processing.
- Use many poems. He does not think poems are used much, and believes this to be a mistake.
- Be aware of the danger of killing off poetry for learners. The wrong choice of poem or the use of right-wrong answers can lead learners to dislike poetry for good. So apart from choosing the right poem, it is essential to foster poems as something with multiple uses and interpretations.
Assessment & Testing in the ELT classroom
As for assessment and testing, Harmer’s talk will try to open up a discussion around the ongoing debate of testing, especially so when it affects young learners. Mr Harmer will focus on the following topics:
- Good or Bad. Testing can be a good or a bad thing. This depends on who is testing, how and what for. Testing as such, in the wrong hands, can cause a lot of harm.
- Attitudes. The attitude of parents, children and teachers towards testing is closely related. Teachers are influenced by the attitude of the parents in that parents influence their children’s attitudes directly.
- The need for tests. Whether we like it or not, tests are necessary, as they are basically the only way of showing how well someone’s learning process is doing. In fact, it’s learners who normally want to know how they are doing, and testing can provide that.
- Getting involved. Whether you believe that tests are a good or bad idea, especially at early stages, you should get involved in the issue. Mr Harmer encourages everyone to do so, as it is a very complicated subject which requires a lot of thought and debate. It’s not enough to complain if you don’t actually do anything about it.
If you’d like to know more about Harmer’s and other interesting talks, visit http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2015 and browse the different video sessions and interviews, or watch the live stream to get all the info instantly.
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