＊extra points if you can place the title
I am a sucker for an analogy. Only this week I got contorted in a lengthy comparison of the plight of Southampton Football Club, starting the season on minus ten points but now powering up the third division, to a student who had missed the first few lessons and homeworks but had buckled down and caught up. I sense it went somewhere north of the head of my American colleague but no matter… I’m with George Lakoff when he claims that pretty much all human thought is expressed through metaphor.
It’s time for the mid semester reflections, to look back on what we have learnt, to reassess goals from the beginning of the semester and to galvanise for the final push, and I’ve been organising my materials ready for class. One of my favourite questions, and most enlightening, is the simple metaphor tester I open with. “A teacher is…. “, a “A learner is….” and “Language learning is…”. Unlike Dede Wilson (whose excellent article just dropped through my letter box wrapped up with a bunch of other good stuff in English Teaching Professional) I give the students no options, nor guidance. Nevertheless, regardless of level, the students have no problem grasping the concept and running with it … metaphor is a universal, after all.
Oxford et al. came up with a detailed taxonomy for these metaphors, but I’ll place them into just three categories. These are all common examples from previous classes.
1. Nuturing. Teacher as gardener, parent etc. Student as flower, child….
2. Controlling. Teacher as dog trainer, god etc. Student as dog, disciple…
3. Utility. Teacher as map, encyclopedia etc. Student as traveller, researcher…
There are a few things we can do with this. The first is to see which students match with our own metaphors as teachers, and which don’t. How are the students who see things differently performing? Are there discipline issues? Can we adjust our teaching to meet the needs of those students, or offer them support which fits with their beliefs about the learning process? I speculate that there is a strong correlation between metaphor choice and learner autonomy, for example.
But deeper than that, I wonder if the beliefs or the metaphor are the driving force. Can we, simply by reframing a metaphor, adjust the learners whole approach? If nothing else, it is the most immediate and direct method of raising the learners’ awareness of their own inner feelings about what they are doing.
Lakoff, G. ＆ Johnson, M. (1980) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Oxford, R., Tomlinson, S., Barcelos, A., Harrington, C., Lavine, R.Z., & Saleh, A. (1998). Clashing metaphors about classroom teachers: Toward a systematic typology for the language teaching field. System 26(1), 3–50.
Wilson, D. (2009). Learning language is like… English Teaching Professional 65 (November), 18-19.
(and if you still want to know what a gift from a flower to a garden is, meditate on this)