My students do not know it, but today I am going to be asking them to make a paper aeroplane.
There is not much English content in paper aeroplane design (aileron, anyone? nosedive?), but I want to get them to think about iterative design. They will consequently be watching a short video (from the 2012 Better World by Design Conference) about how paper aeroplane design can radically change in just one hour of rapidly iterated designs. Here it is:
Innovative thinking tends to work not by leaps in the dark, flashes of intuition, so much as by endlessly varied iteration. Do something over and over, make small improvements each time, nudge, nurdle, coax; and after a period of time it is astonishing to look back over the irregular, error-strewn course and gauge progress. This is how evolution works (after a fashion, anyway), and how we got from Kitty Hawk (first manned, powered flight) to Apollo 11 in one generation.
How does this translate into the language classroom? Perhaps it doesn’t, except insofar as it is interesting in itself. But one of the greatest aids in language learning – habit formation – is also one of the greatest dangers. Once a habit is formed it is difficult to break, and it is as easy (and sometimes necessary) to form a bad habit as to form a good one.
So the language classroom can be a place, not where you learn to ‘do it right’, but where you can play around with what you know or think you know. Get it wrong, make a sentence that spirals and nosedives, and you can try again, try something different, see what happens. Tweak your structure and throw it out again. The language classroom, after all, is a safe environment. If you cannot try something new in a classroom, where can you try it?