To minimise or not to minimise

Nabokov once said that all you should have to read were quiet, the book in question, a good dictionary and a pencil (don’t ask me where he said it, I can’t remember, he may even not have said it, I may have made it up, but anyway…). The idea of the minimalist aesthetic is certainly appealing and for me goes a long way to creating the space (mentally and physically) that I need to learn something. But that is just me and I know plenty of people who thrive in a hectic cluttered environment with stimuli all over the place, and I think this for me is the point. The search for one learning/teaching style or aesthetic is largely pointless – people being individual constructs of their own past, environment, socio-economic state, character etc. they will all respond differently to different methods and ideas – perhaps more so in language learning which is a very organic process. I like dogme, I like its simplicity its counter culture stance on commercial material (methodology texts aside ), but that is just me. I also like technology because I like shiny new things but I would like to see more acknowledgement in teaching that they are simply tools – they won’t suddenly motivate learners or turn out grade A students. The dichotomy that emerges often is one of an increasingly individualistic age confronted with increasing didactic homogeneity. Tech is the answer. No tech is the answer. Coursebooks is the answer. No coursebooks is the answer. Perhaps, instead, we need to start streaming students not by ability but by the way they learn best? As for materials-lite, I feel more research is needed on the value of extensive versus intensive exploration of authentic texts, (someone once told me that Lenin learnt English by translating War and Peace into English and then back into Russian during one of his long stints being detained at someone’s pleasure). Is there more to be gained for some students by spending a long time on one or two texts rather than short periods on many texts? As I said, for me a text, a dictionary and a pencil work best for others they need to be plugged in to more sources/resources – a more tailored approach would probably benefit everyone. Finally, Nabokov also said that ‘there is nothing in the world that I loathe more than group activity, that communal bath where the hairy and slippery mix in a multiplication of mediocrity’. So what did he know!


About andrewpickles

Teacher of English in Germany
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