PPP Unanimous

PPP Unanimous

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The following are the notes found under the table at the Bobby's Jug Pub on Silly Wong Rd. Apparently they were written during a presentation made at the secret meeting of a subversive little group whose goals are not only to poison minds of its members, but also to challenge the whole English teaching establishment. These "revolutionaries" are out to destroy the very fabric of educational society by turning the tables against the fellow teachers and school managers. Calling themselves "PPP Unanimous" they attack the very core of our educational system and heavily criticize anyone who stands up for the traditional values. Please be warned that reading such subversive material could be dangerous for beginner teachers.

"My friends, let me begin this presentation by admitting that we are all hooked on a dangerous practice – in fact the same practice that provides us with our daily bread. If we succeed, it would be entirely possible that many of you will be out of your jobs as a sign of protest against PPP. Yes, the same PPP that has been THE bread and butter of every backpacker, turned English teacher, for decades.

While there are so many theories and methods in child education and so many schools run by people with foreign names – like Suzuki, Montessori, Emilia Reggio and Monsanto - all English language teaching schools ostensibly use PPP. Even if it has been rebuked at the highest towers of academia, down here, in the real teaching world of Asia , PPP rules.

Once you enrol in any TEFL course the first thing you'll be taught is "How to do a PPP lesson". That's when the brainwashing begins. Because they don't say the name yet, they just force you to swallow it without questioning. I must admit that this first PPP pill is coated in an attractive layer of cleverly disguised activities presented in such a lively and artistic manner that you are bound to be enchanted. For many it will be the beginning of their end. They get plugged into a Matrix, so to speak. They'll never see the real life again. They are doomed.

But some will survive, some will be able to wake up and see the light. So we are gathered here today to show YOU the light because YOU are the chosen ones. You still have the choice but YOU MUST MAKE IT NOW – take the blue pill and you'll never see the same world again, take the red pill and you'll never remember you've read this. It's your choice [everyone takes the blue pill and the meeting continues].

PPP stands for Presentation, Practice, and Production. The idea of presentation is that you present your lesson for today – either the grammatical structure (like Present Continuous), or the function (like a request: "Can I have...?"). You can do so in many ways: you can simply write it on the board, or you can "elicit" it from your students by setting up a context.

Let's look at it from the students' point of view. Let's say you've got the best PPP teacher - the die-hard PPP teacher, who can go so far that he'll stage a whole show for you (often silent). He'll make funny faces and he'll draw things out of the thin air, he'll gesticulate and sweat profusely, he'll go from red to blue. He'll grow gigantic hands or he'll shrink to almost being invisible. While you are watching this, totally fascinated, the magic words "Give a guy a Valium" will appear in your head. Actually not – the shaman, AKA the clown, or the teacher, will try to get "He wants to dance but he can't" out of your mouth. Have mercy, just play along and say it, otherwise the clown will never be able to speak again and might actually die on you unless you do give him a Valium.

That's how "presentation" works. Some teachers are a lot tamer and they'll just tell you: "Open your book on page 15 and read a dialogue" and it will work just the same, minus the show. The idea is to get you hooked on what the teacher wants to teach and that's where the fallacy lies – the teacher completely ignores your language needs. In the example above, half the class would go: "Can/can't – not again", and half the class would go: "Why's there -s on the end of wants?", and one fellow in the corner would go: "What's a dance?"

It's an axiom in education world: people learn one thing at a time and it should be just above their current level. "Presentation" ignores at least half of this notion. Though it is an attempt to teach a single item, unfortunately it's nowhere near what students need in most cases. A tremendous waste of effort. It's like you go to doctor and he says "It's Tuesday – removal of appendicitis" and starts making threatening moves like he wants to commit hara-kiri. You say: "But I've got a sore throat", to which he replies: "Look, I told you – Tuesday. Look at what I'm miming – it's clearly appendicitis. Not a throat. Sit down and repeat after me "appendicitis". That's how it would work in a hospital.

Now we are in the practice stage, where you start repeating after the teacher. The shaman will stick his hand out, wave it into your face, and start "drilling". Each finger will represent one word from the sentence. If the need arises, his hand will have seven fingers by the word count. While you are contemplating how this can be, and if you are taken for a ride, the drill thunders: "HE WANTS TO DANCE BUT HE CAN'T". It has to be repeated hundreds of times by everyone in the classroom like a voodoo chant. The rhythm goes into your heart, teacher's fingers flash before your eyes until you can't count them anymore. It throws a spell on you. You can't think, you can't feel, you are half dead because "HE WANTS TO DANCE BUT HE CAN'T". At this very moment the teacher injects his magic power of speaking into your zombie-like brain – "SHE, SHE wants to dance but SHE can't", then "She wants to SING but she can't" and so on. After manipulating your brain with this "controlled" and "less-controlled" practice for a while it's time to withdraw the hypnotic spell, time for a "free practice" or "production". It's when you don't need teacher's cues anymore and start contemplating your miserable life and crying to your friends all on your own: "I want to die but I can't."

That's how PPP lesson is done. The problem is that it doesn't work – students hardly remember anything once released into the wild. Students don't go out and magically start using the structure with their friends or in their e-mails. If the teacher cares to observe, it doesn't work even in the classroom – during the "production" stage students would skip half the chances of using the structure and if the conversation really starts flowing you'll never hear it at all. It will pop up in most unexpected cases, usually totally wrong, like after a "good" Present Perfect lesson all the verbs students use will be in Present Perfect for a week or two regardless of circumstances.

You should see what it does to children: well, actually nothing – absolute blank. You catch up with your students on the stairs and ask: "Where are you going?". "I go toilet", and you cry to yourself I've spent hours and hours teaching them "I'm going, He's going, They are going/ to the cinema/to the temple/to the market". All useless. But they did great in the test, didn't they? That's how the system controls your teaching – through the tests. That's how it works. See it now?

Look, PPP is the bread and butter not only for backpackers, it's a gold mine for school-owners. It's so easy to run a "PPP" school.

First, the curriculum – copy from the contents page of any course book – it's always the same. Then scale it to a given number of hours per course. Done.

Then find teachers. Easy: all TEFL course grads have been trained in PPP already. Lesson plans are also easy - every lesson has a goal: by the end of the lesson students will be able to... (insert the appropriate phrase from the curriculum). Every lesson is divided into three stages plus a "warmer". Force the teachers to be "creative" and "imaginative" during the presentation stage. Demand lively and energetic drills. Make them play games at the "production" stage: done!

Then final tests. Take the exercises from the book and change them slightly, by one or two words. Whether students will fail or pass depends entirely on how close the test is to the course book – both in content, the layout, and the kind of questions: multiple choice, gap fill, pair matching and so on. In fact all the teaching will depend on what kind of questions will be in the test so be careful not to make it too difficult.

If any commission ever comes to observe your school, all the paperwork is ready: curriculum, lesson plans etc. Teachers are teaching, students are studying. There are standard procedures for everything from testing to making photocopies. That's how schools get "ISO" qualifications – the same ones that are given to chicken farms or cookie factories.

And if students are not learning, all the better: the school has another course that will surely help them.

Do you see it now?

It's not like PPP doesn't have its place in the classroom – it does, as any other method. Adults, for example, often learn "structures" by actually analyzing them, trying them out in different situations and so on. They will generally get the idea of PPP lesson, even if it doesn't directly relate to them. Children, on the other hand, are a lot less capable of "studying". To them the structures make sense only in so far as the teacher would say "Correct" or "Wrong" in the end. They don't easily transfer them to the real world, if they ever do. But they are good at learning vocabulary "the PPP way".

One thing is sure: PPP is often abused. Because it's so easy once you get the hang of it, and because the whole school system has been based on it for ages. Even if the new national curriculum emphasises "child-centred" learning, neither teachers nor the administration will give up easily. PPP comes from the core principle of being a teacher: "I teach - you study. I know what is best for you so you'd better shut up and prepare for the test". It's not responsive to students' needs – that's the main problem.

Now go out, my friends and dedicate your lives to solving this problem. Preach this message far and wide. Only together can we overcome the darkness.

Now, have we got any new members today? Ah, yes, Bruce. Come on Brucey, don't be shy. Introduce yourself.

"Hi, my name is Bruce. I've been teaching for sixteen years but I don't think I've ever done a "PPP" lesson".

Everyone shouts at once "DENIAL".

Here the notes come to abrupt end and, judging by the blood stains over the usual coffee cup and beer mug rings, things got out of hand.

P.S. To the gentle reader. Monsanto method referred above is actually the name of a biotechnology company producing genetically modified crops. Has nothing to do with teaching. We were joking.