Old lingo, old thoughts. Let’s jazz it up!


January 25, 2011 by Willy Cardoso

picturable moment I

Are you w(e)ary of  buzzwords?

Do you ever think expressions like learner-centered or communicative approach have gone trite?

I do feel like that sometimes… weary and wary of some jargons, accronyms, metaphors. For example, I’m tired of hearing ‘the map is not the territory’ when refering to lesson planning and ‘the teacher should be a facilitator’ when the other hats are worn out.

The latest big yawn for me has been ‘Teachable moments’ … [jɔːn] … as though learning could be limited to certain moments, or worse, as though we could see it beckoning and we could identify this moment as a great opportunity to ‘teach’. Is that notion learner-centered at all? Is there such a thing as learnable moments? Chances are I don’t understand exactly what is meant by ‘teachable moments’, let’s google it.

A teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity that arises in the classroom where a teacher has an ideal chance to offer insight to his or her students.A teachable moment is not something that you can plan for; rather, it is a fleeting opportunity that must be sensed and seized by the teacher. Often it will require a brief digression that temporarily sidetracks the original lesson plan so that the teacher can explain a concept that has inadvertently captured the students’ collective interest. source: http://k6educators.about.com/od/educationglossary/g/gteachmoment.htm 

Is this what you think it is?

Not that bad, but still weird to me. It’s like acknowledging that teaching is mostly boring and ineffective, BUT, hey! it has its ‘moments’.

By reading some other definitions I saw that ‘teachable moment’ is THE thing to aspire. If so, I have two questions:

– Are teachers trained extensively and/or given the opportunity to identify and seize these bits? If so, how do they learn that? If not, why not?

– If it’s all that good, why don’t these ill-termed ‘sidetracks’ become less momentaneous and more of an integral part of the lesson?

picturable moment II

If we still insist on using many terms from the point of view of teachers, do you know what sounds good to me?

Teaching as occasioning.

I read about it a couple of days ago and will paste it below for you.

In its original sense, occasioning referred to the way that surprising possibilities can arise when things are allowed to fall together. The word is thus useful for foregrounding the participatory and emergent natures of learning engagements as it points to both the deliberate and accidental qualities of teaching. Davis (2004:170)

What do you think?

It might not seem that different from the ‘moments’ thing. However, it is suggested that occasioning is essential in teaching, it is an aim. Here, we find that the accidental is as important as what is planned. Plus, it resonates well with ‘complexity thinking’. 😉


Back to the bromidic learner-centeredness, let’s take a look at the following.

A much paraphrased Freirian thought is that there shouldn’t be a difference between teacher and learner. I understood this mostly in terms of hierarchy and what comes along with it, authority, respect, control, etc. But that’s not only it. The main difference is that there’s not just one person in charge of teaching and the others supposed to be learning; everyone teaches – everyone learns. The teacher is not a facilitator, in the way usually put across these days. The teacher is a participant, just like the learners.

By the way, I just remembered something that I tried to discuss on Twitter, but that didn’t develop much.

I asked (tweeted), “who do you think learns the most in your classes?”

Because everyone seems so ‘developed’ online, I really, really expected most people to say, me – the teacher. And then comes this weird thinking, if teachers are the ones learning the most, something must be wrong. What’s the point of those we labelled learners when s/he who learns the most is the teacher?

So we come back to the Freirian thought above. Learners should teach more, because we can and do learn an awful lot by teaching. Teacher-learner and learner-teacher. There shouldn’t be much of a difference. Or should there?

Thinking about it now, why learner-centeredness? We teachers deserve to learn too.

Why not learning-centeredness instead? You know, not focused on persons but on what happens when they are together, participating, when that occasioning as described above happens. That emergence. (which is kinda becoming a catch-word these days and will soon be corrupted, unfortunately – oh man, imagine that coursebook blurb saying Focused on Emergent Language©)

Learning-centered.          I like it!

I think the next step will be to remove the ‘centered’ thing…

picturable moment III


5 thoughts on “Old lingo, old thoughts. Let’s jazz it up!

  1. UK TEFL Jobs says:

    “Occasioning” sounds much better than “a teachable moment”, and the definition resonates a lot more too. All buzzwords loose their meaning and become cliched after a while though. Trying to encapsulate all ways of working and all ways of being into buzzwords and sound bites is a bit too 1984 for me!

  2. Richard says:

    Interesting point about your attempted Twitter discussion re: who learns the most in class?

    Could we say that good teachers have a heightened awareness of how learning takes place and also a real desire to learn? This metacognitive ability allows a teacher to learn better because they are aware of when they are learning something new and how this new information should be treated in order to maximise learning. An individual occasions the learning through this metacognition, therefore we could argue that the students’ metacognitive ability needs to be developed in order that they can treat new knowledge in the same way. The learners can then understand how to participate more effectively, from a personal perspective, and therefore if facilitated effectively for this purpose, a class can afford learning centredness and learner centredness.

    Does that make sense?!

    • It does make sense.
      However, I’m not sure because I said ‘learn the most’ and you said ‘learn better’. My point is the quantity, although I’m not sure that is really a point. (hmm, maybe you confused me ’cause I said two not-sure’s already)

      But yes, it summarizes well my argument that for this metacognition to be fostered we (teachers) need to let learners teach more. I have argued elsewhere that learning to learn is as important as learning a subject, or a language for that matter, and I think we should have more of it in our curricula.

  3. Richard says:

    Hi again,

    I agree with the importance of learning to learn. I think this should be the crux of the idea of ‘transformative learning’. If a student knows how to learn better and can therefore maximise his or her potential, then they can achieve far more than if they are given information to learn. In terms of language teaching I think a big part of that is encouraging students to do as much of the learning by themselves. They need to do more than just come to class and in fact, if they’re motivated, organised and capable enough, they don’t even need to come to class at all.

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