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Give ‘em Scraps!

In the midst of a typically lengthy and enlightening comment thread on Scott Thornbury’s A-Z blog (post “C is for Coursebook“, guest-written by Lindsay Clandfield), Patrick Jackson dropped a link to a very interesting book from Perceptia Press in Japan.

Scraps, by Brian Cullen and Sarah Mulvey, might sound like an odd concept at first: A scrapbooking textbook for oral communication classes. It is, however, a brilliant idea–and as far as I’m concerned, one of the very few truly task-based books on the market.

I haven’t used the book myself yet, but from what I can gather from the sample unit and other available materials on the site, the course fulfills some rather important criteria:

  • It has a clear, non-pedagogical end goal: Each student creates their own personal scrapbook by the end of the course. Language goals exist, but these are clearly secondary to the making of the scrapbook pages.
  • The main task or project is authentic: Making a scrapbook is a real-world activity–indeed a hobby–for many people. The recurring unit-level presentation tasks seem genuine as well, as anyone who has ever sat with a family member and a photo album will attest to.
  • The text is focused on fostering and supporting genuine communication: Students, in the process of creating their scrapbook pages, engage each other in conversation about their ‘scraps’ (photos, concert tickets, CD liners–indeed, anything that can be glued or taped to a page).

It also follows what is essentially a themed syllabus, something I have come to consider crucial to developing engaging and effective content. Even though students do switch between loose topics from unit to unit–School, Music, Family, etc.–the core project provides coherence to it all, and it is easy to imagine that much of the vocabulary and language forms used both in preparing and presenting the pages would naturally be recycled and reinforced.

The importance of a unifying theme becomes clear when one considers the first page of the sample unit. It contains several random seeming photographs from “Frederick’s” life, and instructions to listen to the audio and answer some questions. Standard textbook fare, right? Not quite.

In the context of a scrapbooking theme, these photos gain deeper significance, as does Frederick’s explanation of them. The character comes subtly alive in a way that textbook characters, even those based on real people, almost never do. This is because textbook characters aren’t usually written to be characters at all; they are mere language-pattern delivery devices. But in Scraps–in any themed, content-led book–the characters are delivering more than language; they are seeding topic ideas, modeling a story that the student wants to hear on a more meaningful level because they, too, are engaged with shaping their own story.

In the comment thread to his blog, Thornbury states that Scraps seems like the closest thing to a dogme coursebook you can get; ┬ámy own reaction is that it’s a great example of a task-based book. But perhaps Scraps is both: a blank form upon which we all can imagine our own perfect lessons. Well done, Brian and Sarah!

2 Comments

  1. Hi, If this is any further help to teachers who might be considering Scraps here are some ideas about how I used the thing I posted as a comment on Daniel Kirk’s blog (http://yokkaichi1.blogspot.com/)some time ago.

    “Anyway, Scraps worked a treat. It’s all based on topics that the students know and care about…basically stuff about themselves! Although the book is flexible, I used it as follows. Students spent two weeks doing the activities (listening, vocab pre-teaching etc) while preparing their presentations at home and doing some other favourite activities on the topic I had built up over the years.

    I had 40 students per class and divided them into ten groups of four.

    In wks 3 and 4 we had presentation time. This involved showing and talking through an A3 page (there is space in the book to stick stuff but I prefered to give them a bigger sheet) on which, scrap-book style they stuck photos, tickets, brochures, whatever helped them to tell their stories.

    Students did their 2/3 minute presentations to every other group and the other 3 students had to
    1. listen
    2. make a comment
    3. ask a question

    This meant that they did their presentation 10 times in a row! Sounds like too much but they loved it and by the 10th time had obviously internalised a lot of the language as well as having interacted with every other student in the class.

    I did sessions on presentation skills, listening skills, and how to give feedback. I was able to collect in their presentations and give them some feedback. Occasionally I would spin around with a camera and video them too. That was fun to watch together afterwards. We had them vote for the most popular presentation that they wanted to see again and that student got to go in front of everyone, really proud but really nervous. I could spend the time doing what I liked to do best which was basically go around encouraging the presenters. In retrospect it would have worked very well as a student-blog supported thing too but we didn’t get around to that.

    I would have no fear about going into any similar class now with Scraps (or the ‘Scraps Method if I didn’t have the budget to buy the book or had truly cast off textbooks.).

    Here’s the link to their page
    http://www.perceptiapress.com/books/scraps/student.html

    Check out the slideshow of my lovely students using the book…sniff sniff.

    and here is the legendary Matthew Bowden modelling the book…LOL
    http://tinyurl.com/nj3hzy

    Finally, although I was using a prototype version of the book that had a few imperfections (these have apparently been ironed out in the Second Edition out now), it was the only year I felt that my students really, actually DID enjoy the materials they were given at the beginning of the year.

    The comments I got back from students in their annual survey confirmed this as did the amount I got to know them and the way they got to know each other. These were first year students fresh from the nightmare of high school English. I always felt a major part of teaching this level was more like rehab!

    All four classes I taught (160 students, 40 groups) had a real buzz about the them”

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 07:32 | Permalink
  2. MBenevides wrote:

    Thanks for the details, Patrick. I was going to end the post with a call to anyone who had used the book to do a guest review post, but it slipped my mind. Love the rehab reference, by the way–first year is definitely all about breaking bad habits and earning their trust! Hm, that gives me an idea for a 12 step series… ;-)

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 14:46 | Permalink