I wanted my students, to take ownership of ‘how’ they use English in their presentations, instead of just focussing on bringing content across any-which-way. As master students the class are all professionals, used to present and speak in front of peers. However, translating this confidence into a different language is challenging—I am speaking from a ‘been there, done that’ place. So when planning this morning, I tried to find a way to enable my students to take control and ownership of presenting in English and explore mechanisms of the language.
We are lucky in Glasgow (Scotland) to have free access to all public museums. The Gallery of Modern Art currently runs a powerful exhibition by Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925–2006) featuring prints, some of which done for the bicentennial of the French Revolution. The prints are an interesting mix of language, forms and colours. It had the students intrigued.
Using BYOD strategy I told the students to use their mobile devices, all of them had cameras but not all had internet access, so I could not make the students tweet. I brought some clipboards and paper with guiding questions the students could use instead. I have to say, the clip boards were ignored and the mobile phone cameras went to work.
Seeing the students’ interaction with the art was amazing. Initially I was not sure if they would like it, but found that within 5 minutes, the group had dispersed into huddles around different artwork. After about 45 minutes we met up in the antechamber of the exhibition and debriefed on the experience. The artwork had the desired effect. My students engaged with language and its use.
One observation, from a student pointing to an abstract painting with dispersed blue letters all over, was that this painting did not make any sense. I asked if he had read the description next to the painting, which he of course denied. The statement offered a great prompt for me leading the discussion towards the importance of contextualizing content, and the different levels of context that need to be provided depending on the audience.
When the students wanted to know, if it would make sense, on occasion, to not give the context when presenting, I used the example from today’s session. I said: look you were wondering why we would meet in front of a museum, linking to how this engaged their curiosity and thinking about the purpose of the activity, that meant I had their attention. The students began focussing much more on rhetorical tools now. Discussion points involved the way of presenting information, some of the language that was used in the art work, and how all this relates back to the presentations the students are to give.
I am grateful for having students who are willing to embark on my somewhat unusual methods, and engage, with good humour and sincerity.