Sunday, May 26, 2024

It’s great outdoors

Melanie Butler asks how EFL can take learning outdoors

November 5 is National Outdoor Classroom day in the UK, and it occurred to me that Outdoor Education is a natural fit for the Clil approach. Whether students are abseiling down a mountain or working in an international team to orienteer their way across the moors, there is a clear and pressing need to listen and to communicate in the lingua franca.

The modern outdoor education movement can be traced back to Kurt Hahn, the influential German educator who believed that children should experience triumph and defeat and be given opportunities for both self-discovery and “self-effacement in the common cause.”

Different countries have adopted different approaches: the forest nursery schools of Denmark, the summer camps of North

America and the French colonies de vacances run by animateurs: professional activity leaders for culture, community and leisure activities but not – as yet – for language learning.

In the UK, outdoor education has become firmly entrenched in the independent school sector where Hahn himself worked.

Take Concord College, an academic school with some of the best exam results in the country, and named by the Sutton Trust as one of the top 200 feeder schools to Oxford University. As well as yearly trips to outdoor centres, the college owns and runs its own ‘ropes course’ for new students. These courses have two elements: ‘low ropes’ where

teams of learners solve physical challenges and ‘high ropes,’ which involves crawling and climbing around obstacles up to 50 feet in the air.

The college’s belief in challenging students, “physically and mentally in an environment outside the formal academic curriculum,” is reflected in its English language summer schools, where leisure activities include caving, white water rafting and ‘high ropes’.

There is a clear trend towards ‘outdoor language education,’ as evidenced by EFL summer courses run by activity centre specialists like PGL, and the language awareness courses for activity leaders pioneered by Broadstairs English Centre.

How long before we see the emergence of the outdoor EFL specialist teacher?

Image courtesy of Ron
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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