Day I fell into the age gap

7th March 2008 at 00:00
You're usually pretty good at staying aware of the life templates your students use and you're a good team player, passing the ball back and forward effortlessly. You grow accustomed to inhabiting different worlds in different classes.

You protect your class of retired people from careless acronyms like: "I'll just DTP that for you." You withhold from your class of sweet 16s that you favour Facebook (for oldies) over Bebo.

And it's not just age groups you need to be sensitive to in FE. You're also switching twice a day between a wide spread of units and levels of achievement. That's my excuse, anyway, for what happened.

Michelle swivelled round from her position in front of her computer and her restricted response questions. "People say I look like Anne Hathaway," she remarked, out of the blue.

"Anne Hathaway? Do we actually know what Anne Hathaway looked like?" I asked, in that slow and learned way academics use when they sense a really good teaching opportunity popping up.

"'Course we do," she said, jabbing the keyboard. "There she is there."

And she clicked up a photograph. "Oh, that Anne Hathaway," I said, and then compounded my folly by adding: "I thought you meant Shakespeare's wife."

Sound of ball bouncing on floor. Ah well. It's not as if Shakespeare and his marital arrangements are always in the forefront of my mind. Usually it's as full as the next person's of the latest celebrity gossip or of Tesco's latest Bogof offer.

My excuse is that I had been teaching Macbeth's "Tomorrow" soliloquy in my morning class, and by the afternoon I was more inclined to think of that second-best bed than The Devil Wears Prada.

Of course I know that the actress Anne Hathaway is one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world, yeah? I just didn't make the right connection.

Finding the right connections, the right buttons to press, is what teaching is all about. The more disenchanted the learner is with traditional teaching and learning methods, the more creative you need to be.

Student-centred learning is all about discovery, ownership and valuing the student contribution.

My sweet 16s aren't ready to sit at Shakespeare's feet yet awhile. They're carving out their own pages on Bebo, creating their own language when texting, and I know they need to inhabit their own space when it comes to education too. They don't want to camp out in someone else's world.

The writer Alan Bissett says that when he goes into schools and colleges, he enjoys the surprise on the students' faces because he is not what they expect. And when the first sweary word pops up in his reading, they look at the teacher to see if it's OK.

His books are seized on, because they offer young people especially an anarchic language that fits their world, and it empowers them.

So, no chance of a bit of Shakespeare with my sweet 16s yet. But I might sneak in Carol Ann Duffy's "Anne Hathaway". That's the poem about Shakespeare's wife, not the one in The Princess Diaries, mind.

Carol Gow lectures in media at Dundee College.

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