Perpetual Motion: Keeping the Language Classroom MovingChristopher Kelen
csquared [at] netvigator.com
SKH Lam Woo Memorial Secondary School and the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Big class? Small room? Needing to regularly shift modes of interaction (groups, pairs, big circle)? Do you have trouble motivating students to actually move? Noisy scraping chairs? Are students getting stuck in cliques and clamming up? Or is your 'group-work' only in English when you are within earshot?
In any of these circumstances the panauricon could be the classroom management tool for you.
What Is the PanauriconThe panauricon is a teaching method which arranges students in the oral class in a rotating circle allowing them the opportunity to practice drills or conversations with as many different partners as possible.
The panauricon idea is an adaptation of Jeremy Bentham's in/famous eighteenth century prison design, much celebrated in our era by Michel Foucault. Bentham's model prison was based on the idea that prisoners could be controlled, pacified and reformed by means of constant and uniform surveillance from a central position: usually some kind of tower. The principle of Bentham's 'panopticon' was that the prisoner could always be seen and knew that he (sic.) could always be seen.
The emphasis of the panauricon is on establishing the teacher of an oral class in a central position where s/he can hear what any student is saying. To put this another way: the panauricon puts the teacher where s/he can, without moving, tune in at will to any conversation in the classroom. In contrast with the traditional teacher centred chalk and talk classroom where the teacher stands in the front, in the panauricon the teacher is literally at the centre of the classroom. But despite the teacher's physical position the panauricon should be considered a student-centred classroom because, after the giving of instructions or initial repeat-after-me drill, it is the students who do the talking. In the panauricon the teacher becomes a mainly invisible presence. The teacher's role is to listen and intervene in individual conversations. The teacher's role is to time and orchestrate the movement of the class, to 'organise' the maximum amount of oral practice from students.
In any classroom where oral practice depends on groupwork or pairwork the presence of the teacher - as model of and arbiter of correctness - may daunt some students. As the teacher circulates to monitor the progress of students s/he finds some groups clamming up, shy; others which had been silent suddenly performing, yet others switching into the target language just for the benefit of the teacher's appearance. In the case of the panauricon however the teacher's ubiquitous position renders these evasions futile. The teacher can tune in at any time merely by turning his or her head. The teacher has no need to move around the classroom. It is the students who do the moving. The students have the feeling that the teacher is always 'there'.
As in Bentham's panopticon not all of the students can see the teacher all of the time. Specifically the students in the middle (on the inside of the circle) cannot see the teacher but they do know that the teacher is behind them.
Nowadays one tends to associate Bentham's kind of contraption with the frightening forms of social control it sporned: eg the modern prison. A word is called for then in defending the panauricon. The panauricon is not about silencing people. The purpose of the panauricon is to generate as much talk as possible, to monitor talk so as to help students to improve on their oral production. The panauricon is not about pacifying prisoners. Its purpose is to create an active classroom in which physical movement is associated with practice and in which practice and movement (and fun) are associated with learning. Whereas Bentham's model was all about keeping prisoners in a permanent state of fearful immobility (about restricting movement and volition through surveillance) the goal of the panauricon is to encourage the movement of students, to ensure that all members of the class speak with all other members, to control and order that circulation of students in such a way that students are reassured (by what may at times be an illusion) that the teacher is with them and able at any time to cater to their individual needs.
Most importantly though the panauricon is a co-operative activity: a dialogic activity. In the panauricon students, who are perhaps more used to sitting in isolation at desks in neat rows, work to learn together.
Setting Up the PanauriconWhat you need is:
- a classroom big enough (to seat the number of students involved and to allow the free movement of half of them around the outside of a circle of chairs)
- moveable chairs or lecture chairs for each student
- ideally between twelve and thirty students although bigger groups are possible. (It could also be possible to set up two panauricon 'circles' in the one classroom.
Pre-panauriconA classroom with a TPR (Total Physical Response) element will be an easier context in which to set up the panauricon than one in which the students are used only to sitting passively in rows. Warming up a panauricon class with some TPR instructions effectively eases students into the idea of movement as part of the language learning process. These methods are particularly effective with Confucian Heritage Culture (i.e. East Asian) students because these students do not associate movement or activity with learning contexts like classrooms. If movement and self-motivated activity are useful parts of language learning, if they are definitive of a difference the teacher needs to assert between the oral class and others, then why not begin lessons by asserting that difference, by getting students in touch with the realia of their own bodies? Such strategies help to combat the inherent unreality of the foreign language classroom, the classroom in which everyone is pretending that they have a need to communicate in a language other than their own. If you have control of students' bodies (via movement) you are a step closer to their hearts and minds.
A classroom in which students are used to following simple movement instructions is an easy classroom in which to implement the panauricon.
A Quick Warm-upStand in a circle. Turn to your left. Turn to your right. Face into the circle. Face out of the circle. Turn around 180 degrees, clockwise. 360 degrees, anti-clockwise. Take a step forward. Take a step to your left. Take a step back. Touch your legs. Touch your neck. Take two steps forward. Sit down where you are.
Beginning the Panauricon
For the Pairwork PhaseInstruct the students as follows.
Instead of sitting in a big circle (assuming they are used to that) we're now going to make a circle with an inside and an outside (you can call it the 'inside-outside' circle for reference). Here's how it works.An even number of students allows the teacher to stand in the middle of the circle. From this position s/he can easily tune into any pair interaction: ask students to repeat what they have said, ask questions, correct errors, fine-tune tasks and so on. An odd number of students puts the teacher in one of the chairs, in a pair with a student. In this case the teacher can choose to be inside the circle (to minimise his or her movement) or outside the circle (especially good when introducing the panauricon so as to model movement around the circle). Being in the circle gives the teacher the opportunity to closely monitor and assess students' performance. Where students are used to the panauricon, a student's absence will allow a variation from teacher-in to teacher-out of the circle mode. This kind of variation helps to keep the panauricon lively.
- Half of the people are inside the circle.
- Half of the people are outside the circle.
- Everyone inside has a partner outside the circle.
- Everyone outside has a partner inside the circle.
- Please take your chairs with you. We'll have our conversations sitting down.
- Any questions?
- Remember - everyone has to have a partner.
- Please do it now.
Once practice commences, be it a pre-taught drill of fixed length or a fairly free conversation (or anything in between), it is of course likely different interactions will proceed at different paces. Therefore it is good to wind down a 'round' gradually. If a round finishes too abruptly just because some people have already finished then some other students may feel that they have not had the opportunity to complete their practice. If a round drags on then some students may feel bored with waiting. Timing is everything in the running of the panauricon because it is an activity which enlists the members of the class as a single organism.
Having drawn a first round to a gradual end and then definitely asserted this perhaps with a phrase like stop speaking now, it's time to make the wheel turn and to give everyone a new partner.
Making the Wheel Turn
The instruction should be something like:People on the outside please stand up. People on the outside please move one position (or one seat) to your left.
It is often good to give people on the inside a new instruction about a variation in the drill or dialogue (for instance, swapping roles or testing memorisation by closing books, while the people on the outside are moving). Naturally if a dialogue is being practised as a drill it will be appropriate to reverse roles between those inside and those outside of the circle. Sometimes it is a good idea to rotate the circle before reversing roles as a way of ensuring that complete dialogues are practised regardless of where pairs got up to in the last round.
How regular to make the turns? No matter how innovative a classroom method - any procedure repeated without variation will bore students. Deciding when and how often to make the whole class move is a little like deciding what someone's pulse should be. The teacher-co-ordinator's job should be to harness the prevailing rhythm of the class rather than impose one. That said, attention to pace can breathe life into any classroom activity. Sometimes students race, sometimes students are sluggish. Changes in pace can shift attention from fluency to accuracy or vice versa, from sound to meaning or vice versa.
I recommend for most purposes not allowing a round to last more than about three minutes. There should be some new input in the way of instruction - change a condition, a tense, whatever - at least every second turn, so that students never perform an absolutely identical role more than a few times. For beginners or in the case of a particularly challenging dialogue (or if the panauricon is being used for the specific purpose of memorising dialogue for a play) it may be desirable to have many identical practices. But a rule of thumb should be that interest is a key motivator and that repetition is of its nature deadening. 'Repetition is the rust of sacred verses' says the Dhammapada (Buddha's teachings, p. 48, 1995).
The purpose of the panauricon is to liven up the necessarily repetitive work of language learning. Memorising a dialogue (any words in fact) is much more fun as a social activity. Within bounds one could say that the more people involved the more fun it will be. After all language is an inherently social activity. As with any method - however ancient, however innovative - good will is required to realise motivation in effective classroom practice. The most exciting of materials, the most thrilling of instructions, delivered leaden voiced will fall on perhaps not deaf but certainly uninspired ears. Likewise the most thrilling of tasks repeated without variation will not only become dull but will by association give a boring feeling to whatever is being learned.
So when and how (on what conditions) to make the wheel turn is really the key to the success of the panauricon. The beginning of each new round is an opportunity for the global adjustment of the game. Wheels are known for their tendency to inertia and the moment of movement (the teacher-centred moment) has to deal with whatever resistances are building up in the circle. The direction to move has to inspire students. It has to give them a reason to pursue the adventure to its next stage.
An ExampleTo see how this would operate in practice with something more complex than practice of a set dialogue - let's take for example an elementary level lesson about likes and dislikes, asking for and asserting preferences. One can start with some kind of dialogue to drill or even baldly with a few key structures. Drill the whole class:
- Which do you prefer, x or y?
- Do you prefer x or y?
- I prefer x to y.
- I like x better than y.
Then on each round, or as students become comfortable with the task so far, add more to the list of information demanded: eg throw in one or two new comparisons each time or throw in a cause question (Why do you prefer Coke to Pepsi? Because x is more/less z than y. Do you always prefer fast food?)
The rounds may begin to take longer or it may be possible to expect students to do more and more in the same time. Much depends on the prevailing level of motivation. With highly motivated students the exercise can be run as a co-operative speed game (Who can get through these questions and answers in one minute?)
The principle (as in the "Presentation - Practice - Production" teaching in general) in this kind of task building use of the panauricon is to move from simple to complex, from a slowed down model to a near native speed interaction and from 'someone else's' words to words which feel like one's own. Making the language used more real - that's the general direction in which practice moves the learner. Or at least by stages the teacher should manage to make the simulation 'feel' more real.
Shaking Things UpFor ringing in the changes there is no need to repeat identical instructions at the beginning of every new round. When there is to be no variation from one round to a next then a handclap or reversion to a musical accompaniment (paused during the discussion) would provide and adequate signal. On the other hand if students are enthusiastic about their discussions it can be difficult to rouse them. Mechanical signals (such as those of a clock or music) can help to reduce feelings of unfairness about the timing which some students might have if they finish earlier or later than the class in general. Timing is the key to maintaining a viable level of enthusiasm in the classroom. A musical chairs ambience helps to give the classroom a fun feel.
The panauricon really models in sharp relief an essential criterion of successful classroom practice: that is the constant necessity of achieving a balance between routine and innovation. Successful learning depends on the comfort of expectation - knowing what comes next. And paradoxically successful learning depends on having expectations disturbed - after all learning is about novelty, about the getting of new knowledge, at least knowledge which is new to the learner.
Apart from variations on rounds arising from changing instructions, varying conditions or circumstances, adding new problems, etc.; there are some other physical means by which the class can be shook up. The teacher moving around the outside of the circle would be such a change. The teacher taking a place in the circle - perhaps having a student give instructions from the centre - would be a truly teacher decentring way of using the panauricon. Asking students to physically swap chairs with their partners gives the people who were on the inside of the circle the opportunity to do some of the moving and in a long class could serve as a kind of half-time marker.
Shifting modes of interaction while still sitting in panauricon formation can again liven things - for instance the marked shift from repetition to freer dialogue, from pairwork to individual work (make your own individual list, make your own questions, your own topics, or even dictation: write this down), from outer to inner communication (a moment's silence for reflection or to hear a dialogue in one's head) - any of these 'digressions' from the main pattern practised will make that main pattern more meaningful to participants.
From Pairwork to GroupworkThe panauricon gives the teacher a ready-made solution to the problem of cliques forming in the group-work classroom. Moving from a pairwork phase into a groupwork interaction mode (groups of four) is particularly easy from a panauricon set-up because students are virtually already facing each other in an appropriate formation. The teacher has merely to encourage groups of four to prise themselves a little out from the circle and, with a minimum of chair movement, the class is in groups of four. It is likewise easy to move back into the pairwork panauricon formation from a group set-up arrived at this way. Thus the class which is used to the panuaricon is one in which can move very fluently from pairwork to groupwork and back again. Likewise for whole class and for lecture style activities it will be easy for a group used to making the 'inside-outside circle' to shift into 'the big circle': the circle which has a single focus of attention - that focus often being the circle of participants itself.
How are groups of four in the panauricon any different from groups of four arrived at by some other method? Apart from the fact that they were easily arrived at, the panauricon set-up centres these groups around the teacher and gives the students the feeling of a continuity in the teacher's presence and availability, a continuity which carries across the classroom mode-shift. Groups which could turn back into rotating pairs at any time are ad hoc and depend for their success on spontaneity and the feeling of urgency which come from knowing that the group has a limited life. As with the pairwork panauricon students are motivated by having someone new with whom to talk and by sensing the teacher's presence and availability.
Rotating GroupsHow can you get the dynamism of rotation into the group discussions? Several methods suggest themselves. For a discussion worth repeating - bring the ideas from your last group to your new group - a simple method is to rotate the inside and the outside of the circle at the same time - everyone on the outside and the inside of the circle move one (or even two) places to your left. Thus completely new groups are formed. If it is desirable to keep some same members in each group (for partial continuity) one could choose to rotate either the inside of the outside.
Some Examples of Groups Discussion Techniques Based on a Panauricon Model.
- 1. Groups create topics on a theme, discuss their own and others' topics.
- Topics are collected. A representative of each group tells the topics to the whole class. The teacher collects (and in the process perhaps vets, corrects) and records these and then redistributes them to other groups. After a five (or however many) minute/s discussion the groups pass their topics on to the next group in the circle. This can be done until all groups have discussed all topics.
This would provide for instance for a class of 24 (i.e. six groups of four) six thematically linked discussions taking somewhat more than half an hour (given the need to give feedback, revise instructions and soon).
- 2. Groups create topics on a theme, discuss their own and others' topics.
- Same as above but groups are re-formed on each round by sending on 'ambassadors' - a person delegated by the group to take the topic just discussed and a summary of the discussion on to the next group around the circle. This allows new ideas and points-of-view (new personality) to be infused into each discussion. It gives the ambassador a new perspective on the topic s/he has just heard discussed. And, insisting on a new ambassador every time, after four discussions everyone has had a turn at being an ambassador. In this way everyone by turns comes to practice the skills of giving and receiving information and opinions, summarising a discussion and infusing new life into a group.
- 3. Combining the findings of various groups or combining topics to create new ones.
- Sending two ambassadors from each group in different directions would have the effect of creating a half-new group on each round. Such new groups could amend the previously held topic (now the 'majority' topic) in the light of both ambassador's contributions.
- 4. Auditing
- Groups could have or evolve 'home' topics to which they would return (for instance they could return to their original topic after it has circulated through all other groups). Using the ambassador system by the time of a fifth round of a topic the original group should have rejoined each other one group on. Groups could also at the same time send auditors around the circle in the other direction. The auditor would have the job of collecting notes from each group visited with the aim of returning to the original group with fresh ideas, having heard various topics on the theme discussed. The auditor's return to their original group would be the signal for that group to revisit its original discussion, commencing with the auditor's report. This combination of the ambassador and auditor roles would maximise an emphasis on getting and accounting for other points of view, for seeing a subject from the maximum number of angles.
- 5. Seeking asylum/incorporating territory
- On each round two ambassadors leave each group, each in the opposite direction. They introduce their topic to the new group and the new group decides whether to adopt the new topic or to stick with the old one. Hopefully the decision is made by consensus. If not then someone (the teacher?, the ambassador?) should have a deciding vote. Naturally odd-numbered groups would get around this difficulty. If the new topic is adopted then the ambassador becomes an auditor and returns on the next round with notes from the group s/he has just heard. If the new topic is not adopted then the ambassador is 'naturalised' as a member of the new group. (Note: this variation can be quite confusing, depending on how forthcoming students are about the position they are adopting!)
- 6. Spying/intelligence gathering
- In an activity, such as debate preparation where groups are working against each other 'in camera', groups could send auditors or spies to collect information and take notes about the other side's arguments and ideas. For instance in a class with six groups three propositions could be used for debating topics. Groups debating either side of the same motion would not sit adjacent to each other. In this way they would hopefully not directly overhear each others' deliberations. Each group would keep a chair for guests and as all of the propositions are related to the same theme, each group's roving reporter could legitimately sit in any empty guest's chair and listen to any of the deliberations. Of course they might be really listening to the group adjacent to the one in which they appear to be a guest. Groups which felt they were being spied upon would then have to take whatever action they deemed appropriate to evade the possibility of losing arguments to the other side. Decorum can be established to obviate the risk of direct accusations.
There could even be double agents involved if students were allowed to decide to sell out to other groups. Likewise certain activities might permit the simultaneous circulation of ambassadors auditors/spies.
- 7. Jigsaw exercises
- The panauric set-up can be useful for jigsaw-style exercises where students need to move around the classroom in order to gather pieces of information. It would be possible to divide the class into information gatherers and information givers; alternatively one could give every student both roles. Again information gathering goals could be individual or they could be the same for everyone. This could work as a kind of structure for what would otherwise be 'mingling' or even group forming activities. For instance if everyone is assigned a line from one of six four line stories they could move from group to group finding the other people 'in their story'. Order could be insisted on by allowing only one group-to-group movement on each round. The person privileged to move would then have the task of asking everyone in the new group for what they could share. Eventually the right people arrive together in the one group and are able to put together the text of which they each hold a piece. If everyone were assigned a line from a poem of six four-line stanzas then the whole class could work to arrange itself into six stanza groups in correct order.
- 8. Human Flowcharts
- Groups can be stationary positions through which students pass. There can be information stored, and which students collect or sift through, at each position. On the other hand information required by others could be, as in technique 7, 'vested' in individuals. Students then move from group to group to gather the information they need from a moving target. This technique could be used for finding out the correct ordering the stages of a process or procedure.
- 9. Processing ideas and arguments
- Ideas and words can be processed through various stages by assigning particular functions to particular groups and then cycling ideas or text, perhaps through the offices of ambassadors, through stages, possibly to completion. Stages of an argument are suited to this treatment which could be a useful exercise in debate preparation. The groups can simulate the functions of parliamentary committees or the branches of a bureaucracy through which a proposal must pass before being put into practice.
To simplify the process and achieve maximum functional diversity, the groups could be arranged such that one group argues for a proposition, the next group against it, the next group amends the proposition (for a specific purpose), the next group finds exceptions and caveats, the next group finds loopholes or means of subversion, the next group finds counter-proposals and so on.
Groups could maintain the same functions with regard to various proposals passed to them (thus simulating the work of a particular office). As the class becomes proficient in each of the critical roles demanded they should be able to juggle new functions and new topics at the same time.
- 10. Scribes and whisperers
- As in the game of Chinese whispers messages can be passed from group to group. To give everyone a job and to maximise the possibilities for message distortion (ie. the need for clarity in speech and good listening) each group can simultaneously be passing a whisper in both directions. Each group has two whisperers and two scribes (the roles could change from round to round to give everyone equal practice at both roles). Each group then begins with one spoken message and passes it in both directions at once. Scribes keep track of messages arriving but cannot show their written version of the message to anyone. They must pass the message to their whisperer by word of mouth before it goes onto the next group. The first warning bells should ring for the inaccuracy of delivery when the 'same' messages meet half way around the circle. If the message is the same then the accuracy of the match will be self-reinforcing. If the messages differ then scribes and whisperers have to make a decision (based on semantic/grammatical and pronunciation criteria) as to which of the versions to pass on. If the changes to the messages are sufficiently outlandish then it could be worth allowing messages to circulate around the classroom more than once. Tongue twisters are particularly good fun for advanced groups. This activity is an effective warm-up for the next one listed.
- 11. Processing word and text
- As with exercise 9 the goal would be to give students practice at a range of text processing tasks. Brainstorming - drafting - editing - revising - finalising - proofreading. The easiest way to run such an activity would be to give every group a different writing task to begin with. The activities of each group can be kept in sync then as the texts-in-progress are passed around the class (i.e. every group is editing or re-writing at the same time, but processing a different text on each occasion. Matching the tasks to the time limits requires skill for this kind of exercise. Depending on the students' facility with the task one could make more realistic efforts to simulate particular editorial processes (eg. those applying to a news item in a newspaper or for radio). One could likewise throw in new information to hand or new editorial directives at various stages in order to keep any tasks from becoming mechanical. If it is an academic genre of writing which is being practised then groups could ask for (and deliver) embellishment, interpretation, justifications, responses to perceived theoretical difficulties. In the case of a policy document groups could ask for (and deliver) judgements on hypothetical cases, re-interpretations in the light of new data and so forth.
- 11. Progression on a theme
- Example: Groups are asked to list the best ten inventions in human history. Reasons have to be given for every invention proposed for the list. They pass their lists by way of ambassadors onto the next group which places the inventions in order of importance. Reasons have to be given for the order assigned (combining comparisons with reasons). Ordered lists are passed on by two ambassadors to groups in either direction. In this way each newly formed group will have three ordered lists of inventions to compare. Arguments can be (re-)asserted in favour of any particular order. Groups are asked to propose a new invention which would be better or more important than the others on the list so far (a device/machine which could/would...). Ambassadors would carry those hypothesised inventions around the room for comparison and priority ordering. Or this could be done in 'plenary' session prior to groups resuming discussion on the relative value of the other groups' projected inventions.
- 12. Some other possibilities
- Stages of creative production (for instance in design or advertising or storymaking), stages of policy development, diplomatic initiative could all be modelled by means of the techniques outlined above. Students by this means can be trained not only in teamwork but in the ways in which teams can work together or against each other.
A Note on Movement in the Language ClassroomTeachers often worry about mode-shifting from the point of view of an assumption that students will have trouble coping with a quick succession of arrangements, likewise that valuable learning time will be wasted in endlessly shifting from one mode to another. In fact the capacity of a class to see itself as a different kind of entity for different purposes is one of its most powerful learning tools. The self-conception capacity of a class is often underestimated, especially by education systems which, interested in preserving their own status quo, may have a tendency to stifle any kind of dynamism. This explains the neat rows I find in my 'communicative classroom' whenever the cleaners have had the opportunity to order the room 'as it should be'.
With a sluggish class there really is a danger that a lot of time will be wasted in shifting from mode to mode, that this will involve an inordinate amount of teacher talk and repetition of instructions. But where the will is lacking any kind of self-motivated activity will be difficult to achieve. At least if students come to associate language learning with movement, with something they do with their own bodies, there is the hope that they will break from certain 'spoon-feeding' assumptions which assure their passivity and limit learning potential.
The vague unanalysed feeling that things just ought to be the way they are is the enemy of progressive education. Just so, infectious entropy, to mix some metaphors, whether coming from above or below, really is the enemy of language learning. Intelligent students are able to conceive of their collectivity in varied ways. For the purposes of language learning it is often useful to shift quickly among these. Fluid communicative relationships between individuals, partnerships and groups in a class allow the members of a class to maximise the potential learning benefits they have to offer each other.
By regularly changing the membership of groups, by giving everyone the opportunity to speak with everyone else, we maximise the opportunity for students to develop a personality in the target language. This personality building process reifies the language for students because it gives utterances the opportunity to become meaningful rather than rote. It also acknowledges that the principal communicative resource in the classroom is the students themselves: their knowledge, their memories, their skills.
Panauric 'ambience' ensures an attention to tasks through the dynamism of regular movement and the teacher's seeming ubiquity. Thus two of the main and most difficult conditions of communicative Langauge teaching are met in classroom practice: the students really communicate with each other, the teacher is really available to help them.
Establishing a classroom which shifts easily and fluently from one mode to another (big circle, inside-outside circle, groups of four/ whole class, pairwork, groupwork) is useful in a number of ways and for several related purposes.
In this kind of classroom it will be easy to interrupt discussions with drill which is realised as individual practice - and not merely an everyone repeat after me routine. Thereby a teacher can make and give individual practice for global corrections and adjustments for errors or solecisms committed by the class in general. In this kind of classroom it will be easy to convert oral practice into creative production, thus helping students to take the key step towards internalising new structures and vocabulary in their own language practice
Movement and balance between fluency focused practice and accuracy focused practice will be easier to achieve and easier to maintain. There will be less likelihood of getting stuck in any particular mode or with any single focus at the expense of others.
From the point of view of developing students' logical and argumentative skills, the panauricon is a good way to encourage students to look at many different aspects of a topic, to extend vocabulary and structures associated with or useful for a particular theme. Cycling related discussions through groups can help students to think more broadly and more deeply about issues and their inter-relationships.
Where students are practising for an examination in which these kinds of thinking skills are required of them, the panauricon can help to simulate in practice with classmates the thinking which the student will have to do on her or his own in the examination. In this way friends can help each other in the exam. Each only has to remember the kinds of things that the others would have said, the personality which they would have brought to the topic or question.
The panauricon is also good for interrupting discussions with conversation drill and/or practice. By shifting from group to pair mode one can give students 'instant' practice at a difficult structure or exchange and simultaneously form new groups. Likewise a shift from group to pair mode can facilitate the separate contribution of ideas to a discussion, helping to ensure more equal contributions by group members.
By means of the panauricon expectations of movement are established in the classroom. A feeling of perpetual movement gives students an expectation of meeting new partners. Students come to expect of the classroom the kind of dynamism which fosters communication and communicative task-based learning, the kind of dynamism which characterises immersion in a context where things need to be done by means of the target language.
The panauricon is a useful technique for a variety of purposes. It allows teachers to frequently re-focus divisions of labour in the classroom, it is an effective mode shifting device and it helps to break cliques. It is an effective - because arbitrary in operation - device for shaking up whatever people dynamics may prevail in a particular classroom. In sum, the panauricon is useful for practice and production (drill and variation from drill), for pattern making and pattern innovation, for extending pairwor, for splitting students off into groups of four, for splitting groups of four back into pairs, for frequently creating new group, and in general for instilling a movement ambience into the classroom.
The Panauricon is Good for MemorisationDespite argument as to value of memorisation or the degree of emphasis which should be placed on it, it remains undisputed that learning a language does involve a great deal of memorisation. Memorisation, often unfairly characterised as involving exclusively 'rote' methods, does demand repetition - of lexical items, of grammatical structures. Techniques which allow that memorisation to be painless, to become an unconscious process, must be of comfort to the learner. Any tool which makes repetitive practice more interesting or makes it seem more varied must be of use. Any method which brings material to be memorised to life through simulating its use in real or novel situations must likewise be of value.
VariationsCan the panauricon be done without a circle? Can it be done in a classroom with immoveable chairs? The author has had to do this often. This involves having students moving up and down two rows in a classroom, the two rows simulating a circle. Once this conception of the classroom is established then students can be moved by a simple instruction such as "Everyone on the left please stand up. People on the left please move one position forward."
Another alternative where space is a problem is to set up two rows of chairs facing each other at the front of the classroom. Students then move along the row until they come to the end. One advantage of this method over the panauricon itself is that it is relatively easy (though unnecessary) to have students on both sides of the gauntlet moving simultaneously on each turn.
- Buddha's teachings (from the Dhammapada), trans. from the Pali by Juan Mascaro, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1995.
- Dewey, John, Dewey on Education, New York: Columbia University Teachers College Press, 1959