Ramblin Jack Elliot

Ramblin’ Jack Elliot is an American folk singer.  He is considered the link between Arlo Guthrie and Bob Dylan.  Originally from Brooklyn, Jack created an image of himself as a “rambling” cowboy singer, going from town to town, singing folk songs, relating to people from a stage through his music only. 

Using his music as a shield, Jack stopped relationships when they became personal, and hit the road, imitating the life of the cowboy.  He was never in one place for very long.  Jack is still rambling around the American folk music scene. 

How much of Jack shows up in our classes?  Do we leave a topic in a story too quickly, as Jack left towns, before it gets fully developed?  Do we fail to adequately personalize our classrooms, as Jack did in his own life? 

Most importantly, whenever he spoke, Jack “rambled” along.  People could never get a word in edgewise in conversations with Jack.  Do we “ramble” through our stories, never making sure that the comprehensible output we are offering is fully grasped by our students?

When performing, Jack “rambled” on about various topics between songs.  His audience had come for the music, but he talked halfway through his sets.  Do we do that in our classes, speaking English when our students had come for the target language?

When Jack talked, he talked at people, not with them.  Do we do that?

Jack is a perfect image of what not to do in TPRS.  By focusing more on the method, as Jack did on his music, we sometimes build a wall between us and our students, and then we wonder why our classes are not interesting and exciting. 

Jack could afford to focus only on his music, because as a performing artist he was separate from his audience.  We, as TPRS teachers, however, cannot afford to do that.  We are not separate from our students in the TPRS classroom.  We interact with them in class or we bore them. 

Students in a TPRS classroom form a complex web of personalities, and when those personalities work together it creates magic.  We, unlike Jack, cannot afford to “ramble” along in our classes, focusing primarily on the language at the expense of high quality Personalized Q and A.  When we do so we create incredible distances between us and our students. 

Until we learn to be effective at PQA, we are like a train full of faceless captive passengers, speeding down the tracks, thinking incorrectly that the train is more important than the passengers inside.  If the train approaches a small town, which in this image represents a potential scene in a story, we need to slow down.  We must invite the passengers in our trains to participate in those scenes.

Of course, the metaphor is clear to the experienced TPRS teacher.  Like Jack Elliot, all of us have approached potential scenes in a story at too high a speed, talking and singing about things of interest only to us, forgetting the need to personalize the classroom, to focus on the passengers of the train, to develop one scene instead of four. 

When the teacher forgets to SLOW down, many “could have been” scenes in a story are missed, all of their elements missed, because of too much speed, too much moving around from topic to topic, and not enough personalization.  Too much Jack Elliot.

We need to understand that there are people in the room, and that they do not understand the language we are teaching.  Thus we need to keep our train/story going SLOWLY, and we must always remember that there are passengers in the train, our students. 

Like the people in Jack Elliot’s rambling life, who always wanted him to slow down, our students want us to slow down and recognize and include them in our classes.  Most importantly, those passengers, our students, want to be acknowledged as people, not as an audience.


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