In this series of interviews we talk to teachers, ELT writers, visual artists and researchers about the importance of using literature in the language classroom. Together they have over a hundred years of experience in teaching and writing so they can definitely give us plenty of advice and insight into the best practices.
This month we talk to Jane Revell, who tells us about her reading experiences and shares her ideas about mindfulness and reading. She also gives us tips on practising mindfulness and recommends books to read more about it. She shares strategies to include more reading and story-telling in our classrrom teaching.
Jane is the author of our resource book Energising Your Classroom and co-author of Jetstream, our series for adult learners. She started out as a volunteer teacher in Rwanda more than forty years ago, and since then she has taught English and trained teachers all over the world. She has won the ESU Duke of Edinburgh Award for her ELT courses and books for teachers three times, and she has also written readers, children’s stories, BBC radio and video materials as well as innovative personal development books for teachers, including the acclaimed In Your Hands and Handing Over. Jane is also an international NLP trainer, a stress management consultant and a Pilates instructor.
Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): What are your most memorable reading memories from your childhood?
Jane: The first book that I remember really well was a book called Jenny the Jeep written by Jack Townend in 1944, and recently re-published – see the V&A website. It was about a little pink army jeep who was horribly bullied by all the other -bigger – green jeeps, but who finally wins through and, in the end, becomes a flourishing ice-cream van. No shortage of symbolism and messages there!
HRB: What kind of books do you like reading nowadays?
Jane: I read a lot of crime fiction – for example Lee Child, Sara Paretsky, Jo Nesbo – and also historical fiction: The Last Kingdom series by Bernard Cornwell about the time of Alfred the Great, for example; great tomes on Napoleon and Wellington by Simon Scarrow; and I love Ben Elton’s writing, which is both very funny and really serious, especially Stark, which is one of my favourite books ever, together with the amazing Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.
HRB: In your new resource book, Energising your Classroom, you describe activities which help us with mindfulness and meditation. How can reading help?
Jane: Well, in one sense, reading is the opposite of mindfulness, because it invites us to dissociate from what is going on around us, whereas mindfulness is a lot to do with being present to the moment and paying careful attention with our eyes, ears and feelings. But it’s also true that precisely because reading can captivate us, it can help us to switch off and escape from present reality for a while. So we ‘come back’ refreshed and in a good state to focus and be ‘mindful’. What I think this tells us for the classroom is that we teachers need to provide quite frequent opportunities for students to switch off (or over?) – either through a short reading task or some other brief activity – so as all the better to be able to switch on again!
HRB: You are co-author of our course for adults, Jetstream. How can reading become a regular part of the classroom/coursework?
Jane: For me there are two major ways: searching for information online and story-telling. I tend to give my students fact-finding projects for homework on a regular basis and we suggest these in Jetstream too in various ways. Basically they involve finding information online and then reporting back to the group, comparing ideas, sharing photos etc. All this involves a fair amount of reading: reading for a purpose, and reading which is – in part at least – student-initiated. Getting students to read stories regularly can also help. Adults as well as children. Not necessarily fairy tales … any kind of short stories: personal anecdotes, jokes, newspaper articles etc. Students then use those stories to create their own stories.
HRB: You meet a lot of students and teachers around the world. How do you think the role of reading has changed over the years?
Jane: I’m really not sure. I think the sources of information have certainly changed: we are more likely to read information online than go to a library to use reference books. And though people seem to read actual books and newspapers a bit less, they still seem to be reading them in other forms. And as English has also emerged as the dominant international language for technology, there is a growing need to read and understand it for technical information and support.
HRB: Do you have any book recommendations for teachers who’d like to fight stress, relax and learn about mindfulness?
Jane: Gill Hasson’s book, Mindfulness, was one of the first to be published on the subject. Since then, there have been many books, but Alfred James series called Pocket Mindfulness together with Mindfulness Exercises, seems interesting. And teachers might also find the ideas in Energising Your Classroom useful, not just for their classes, but also for themselves, especially the mindfulness exercises and also the last chapter, which is called: ‘Ten Tactics for Tired Teachers’!
HRB: How do you manage to stay focused and practise mindfulness?
Jane: I don’t always! But I do have strategies which help when I need them. I sometimes do breathing exercises; I sometimes stare at a mandala and focus on my breathing; I go walking and try to pay careful attention to what I’m seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling … I don’t always succeed totally, but it still helps: and – as a Pilates trainer – I do Pilates.
HRB: Thank you for the interview, Jane!
Check out Energising Your Classroom here.