[wisehat] Wise Hat News #1

  • From: "Wise Hat News" <news@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <wisehat@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 4 Apr 2002 23:41:19 +0900

Wise Hat News

Issue #1,  4th April 2002 (online version click here)


  1.. Welcome Back?
  2.. Curriculum Conundrums
  3.. Reports
  4.. What's New?
  5.. Wise Hat On Tour!
  6.. Administrivia

Welcome Back?

I had intended to write that April Fool's Day was, perhaps, an appropriate time 
to launch Wise Hat News, but somehow I didn't quite complete the newsletter in 
time and then I managed to lose the first part of it, so here it is, late 
before it has even begun.

I'm not sure how many of the sum 120 email addresses this is being sent to will 
'bounce' and I wonder how many people will be surprised to receive it?

Those of you who remember Now's Co-operative Newsletter may well remember the 
fancy formatting. The online version will remain formatted but the email 
version will be text.

Those of you who remember Now's Co-operative Newsletter will also probably 
remember my constant cajoling for contributions. No more! Contributions, 
questions and comments remain very welcome and will influence the appearance of 
Wise Hat News, but don't expect me to mention them. I'm writing Wise Hat News 
for myself. Let's hope it's enough...


Curriculum Conundrums

  One looks with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to 
those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw 
material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the 
soul of the child.
The great thing about a curriculum is that it provides structure. It is 
something from which plans can be made. It offers students a clear map of the 
material. It provides stability and security.

The terrible thing about a curriculum is that it provides structure. It stifles 
creativity and spontaneity. It locks teachers and students into a timetable 
that can become a treadmill. It reduces the need for listening and careful 
observation. It deadens and it dulls.

Consider - without a curriculum the teacher will be able and perhaps required 
to truly engage the students. The teacher will be able to create and select 
material designed specifically for the students. The needs and wants of the 
students will naturally come before the material since nothing is 
predetermined. The teacher will be bending towards the interests of the 
students rather than attempting to bend the students towards the interests of 
the curriculum.

It's a lot of work and can often feel like reinventing the wheel. Moreover, it 
can be very demotivating when there are no clear targets and nothing to aim at 
and it's very easy to roll that reinvented wheel into a bog since there is no 
road to mark where you are going.

Whoops, I've been jumping from one extreme to another. Perhaps there is 'a 
middle way'. Perhaps it's possible to develop a 'non-curriculum'. This sits 
well with my belief in 'non-teaching'. But what would a non-curriculum look 
like and how would it operate?

First I believe such a curriculum would be 'non-linear'. To lean on French 
film-maker Jean-Luc Goddard's remark about stories every course should have a 
beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.

The curriculum would be made up of chunks or puzzle pieces. There would be no 
set order to decide which piece would be picked up and used first. Pieces could 
be chosen by the learners and also presented to them randomly. In this way 
learning would be more game-like and learners would be encouraged to make their 
own connections about the material.

To take this idea further each piece could be a game or activity. At all times 
learners would be exploring or playing with the material - i.e. using the 
material rather than studying it.

Three howls of protest echo in my head. Actually, the first is more of a 
whimper - what's the difference between this chunk idea and the unit approach 
found in traditional textbooks? The second is louder - what criteria are used 
for creating a chunk? The third is vociferous - how is this practical! Let's 
examine each in turn.

The difference between chunks and units is size and execution. When I think 
about a chunk I'm thinking about a very small amount of information. Units are 
on a much larger scale. A chunk may require practise to be 'internalised' by 
learners but it is very discrete. A chunk would contain at most two concepts, 
and preferably only one.

Usually a chunk will require only a few minutes to practise. A lesson (or 
session?) would contain many chunks. Movement from one chunk to another would 
be done in a game-like fashion. For example, a list of activities could be put 
on the board. These could be numbered and a dice thrown to select one. 
Alternatively they could be ordered according to agreement by the learners.

I've already started to answer howl number two. Existing textbooks provide, of 
course, very useful criteria from which to create chunks. A non-linear 
curriculum will cover similar content but the way it does so will be different. 
Chunks will be focusing upon the concepts under-pinning the language, rather 
than the language itself. Information will necessarily be presented in smaller 
digestible bites. Yum yum.

Hoooowwwww! Hoooowwwww is this practical? How can a teacher prepare for such a 
class? Doesn't it mean having the whole course immediately to hand? Isn't it 
confusing and unsettling for the students? How can knowledge be built upon? 
Isn't the teacher abdicating responsibility to chance?

The secret is in the structure. At any given moment only a certain number of 
chunks will be available. To return to the jigsaw analogy, perhaps the teacher 
will pre-sort out the corner and edge pieces, holding back the middle pieces 
until later.

Once the number of chunks is controlled the process is easily manageable. The 
teacher determines which chunks are available in any given lesson. To help 
learners and the teacher perhaps chunks could be colour-coded. The class moves 
from red chunks through yellow chunks to green and blue chunks in a rainbow of 

I've been thinking about non-linear curriculums off on and on for years. I 
remember when I first saw Finding Out and the pages with pictures of games. 
Children are encouraged to work out what is happening for themselves. I imagine 
an entire textbook like this. Children would choose a page, and discover a game 
to be played or an activity to be done. Language would be assimilated through 
the game or activity.

I haven't created a textbook yet but I'll shortly be conducting an experiment 
using some of these ideas. As part of the experiment I'll be dividing some 
children's classes into the following sections (in addition to any beginning or 
ending we might have):

  1. New Word Time
  2. Gameshow Time
  3. Worksheet time
  4. Story Time
  5. Out of the Hat Time
The sections provide structure. Within each section choice will exist. For 
example children will be able to choose which game they use to learn new 
vocabulary. They will go through the worksheets at their own pace. They'll be 
able to choose which story we will focus on. The final section will see us 
selecting games by drawing cards out of the hat. I'll decide what cards go into 
the hat.

I'll let you know what happens. 

I wonder about the structure being too tight. I also wonder about making sure 
that some part of the class time is unaccounted for. I believe having 'empty 
time' is important but I'm not sure how to fit it into the above structure. By 
empty time I mean more than a couple of minutes slack to account for sections 
over-running their time. I mean a solid chunk of time unaccounted for. Another 


  Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by his talk. 
  "It was too funny so I couldn't remember any English"
  "Let's play together again"
  "You are good at speaking English"
  "Use American English, it's easier"
  "Use more Japanese. If you have any questions we are happy to help you."
  "Why did you have that bird?"
  "I didn't understand but I enjoyed it because everyone else was laughing"
These are just some of the comments received from elementary school children 
after visiting their schools to give demonstration lessons. While I've taught 
at kindergartens for several years until last month I'd never been inside a 
Japanese elementary school. I was keen to discover whether it was possible and 
practical to conduct classes entirely in English and in particular, whether 
non-competitive games would work with large groups. Some time ago I was told 
that competitive games were a necessity inside elementary schools. I found that 
they are not. Class sizes varied from around 20 students to 130 (an entire 
grade in one room!). I team-taught, so I'll switch to using 'we'. We taught 
over 1,000 children in all grades. Most classes we met only once. We used 
roughly the same plan each time for each grade but went into greater depth with 
older children. It was fun and exciting and if anyone wants to know exactly 
what we did then ask and you shall know.

Curiosity Cured the Cat was a presentation given at Jalt Junior, Shizuoka, 
Saturday, 24th November 2001. You can read about it by clicking here. Handout 

Multiple Multiple Intelligences was another presentation given at Jalt Junior, 
Shizuoka on Sunday 25th November 2001. You can read about it by clicking here. 
Notes included.

Oops, perhaps the above should have been below...

What's New

Wise Hat underwent a major update on and around March 24th 2002:

  1. Each major section now has it's own introductory page.
  2. There are 7 game ideas listed (two new?)
  3. There are 6 articles/reports (three new)
  4. There are 7 songs/chants (one extra has been added)
  5. There are 2 stories (one new).
  6. There's a new Worksheet section with 2 phonics worksheets.
  7. There are 3 links pages (over 80 links altogether).
  8. This newsletter!
The Japanese Pages are currently unavailable. I hope they'll be working by the 
next Wise Hat News.

Wise Hat On Tour

Following on from the demonstration classes in Gosen, Niigata we'll be visiting 
some schools in Tokushima just before Golden Week and Tokuyama just after. I'll 
be giving presentations in Tokushima on Sunday, April 28th and in Hiroshima May 
12th. Then May 19th will see me in Fukui and May 26th in Iwate. I just need to 
find out exactly where...


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  Nothing worse could happen to one than to be completely understood.
  (All Quotes this issue by Carl Jung)

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