Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Nasty Shock leads to New Resolve.

It was with a flutter in the heart that I heard via Twitter about a list posted on Alex Case's excellent TEFL blog, (a terrific labour of love and a great service to the ELT community) of 100 publications that most changed TEFL. I rushed over there as fast as my broadband would carry me and there it was. Rubbing my hands together with delicious anticipation, I scanned from the top. So where had he placed Potato Pals? Had he decided to put one or two serious methodological tomes above them? Had he decided by tossing a coin that Penny Ur's '5 Minute Activities' should occupy the tip-top spot ahead of Buddy and his subterranean chums?

Pulling up the blondes to let in the pale November dawn and sipping on my morning Nespresso, down the list I went. Ho Hum! Not in the top twenty? Thirty? Fifty? All the way down I went. The list even went to 113 but not so much as a Pringle let alone a set of cute stories that teach pre-primary to primary students simple sentences, basic vocabulary, and useful patterns through a unique system of picture cues using 16-page readers that feature appealing potato characters.

Some mistake surely, I thought, so I had a quick scroll back up to the top of the list. But I hadn't just missed them. The popular and innovative materials just weren't there. Absent. My eye was drawn to two more lists below the 'Major League'. The first was Not sure if they changed anything or not. Pleased not to have been on that one. The second was Could have/ should have changed TEFL but didn’t. 'Yes!' I thought. That's where you'll find Chip and his Cheeky Chums, the books that have yet to be recognised by a trip to the Lindsay Clandfield Hall at Buckingham Palace but no doubt soon will when OUP get round to bringing out the third series.

Again though, nothing.

Always the optimist, the rather exciting thought crossed my mind that Alex might be contacting me later in the day with news of some sort of a special section. An all-time winner. A lifetime award of some sort. Maybe I could even put a badge on my blog. Best Young Learners Material of the Century.

But stop. Can you imagine the horror, the absolute horror, the utter and absolute horror when my mouse sniffed out a lower section of the posting and another list. "Were meant to change the world but rightfully had little effect" and there, positioned next to a book described as 'a nice idea but crap content' was 'Potato Pals' (because you can never beat Spot the Dog and Eric Carle)written clearly, in black and white. Alex! Alex! How could you have done this? How could you?

Rightfully...had...little...effect. Rightfully!

I stumbling, dry-retching to the clifftops near my home swearing to end it all amongst the cormorants and spume below. How could Potato Pals have fallen from favour in the eyes of this industry guru who wrote so pleasantly and positively of the books in his review "Potato Pals: A Book I have Used" published in a leading journal only a couple of years ago. Why had he even taken that review DOWN from his blog as if to kick sand over the evidence of his previous flirtation with the tubers?

And then I thought. 'No, Patrick. It's Teachers' Day in Turkey. Remember Ataturk who said "As they have come, so they will go".

More so than the words of the founder of modern Turkey though I recalled the kind words of a Turkish teacher Ms. Esra who said "Teaching everyday language and daily routines are a part of our kindergarten curriculum in my school and I used to teach things we do in a day by using flashcards and TPR. Then, we started to use "Potato Pals" and everything is easier now. There are two sets of the books and each set contains six stories. The characters are very cute potatoes and are all colorful. There is a cue system which helps to repeat the language and my kids feel very comfortable with it because they cannot read but can read the pictures! At the first two or three lessons, we listen to the stories from the CD. The kids pay a lot of attention because there are some sound effects used before you hear the sentences and kids love these effects! The following lessons, we read the story, sing the songs and dance.(I have my own choreography for each song:)Then we play games out of the sentences/patterns we have learnt. My kids really enjoy "Potato Pals" and learn a lot from these cute friends!".

I turned from the precipice and walked slowly homeward. Resolute. Calm even. I knew what I must do and do it I shall. While there is breath in my lungs, blood in my veins and marrow in my bones I will continue to spread the word. I will live with the burden of having created a series of characters that OUP marketing legend, Oli Bayley referred to as 'Nobody really knows what they are". I will never rest until I have clearly explained to teachers the world over that these books can be used as supplementary materials or even the very heart of a young learners curriculum. I will walk the dusty roads singing the 'Good Friends' song until the shoes decay and fall from my feet.

I am Potato! Look me not in the eyes!

As a footnote, it would never have been possible to have pulled myself away from the cliff's edge had it not been for Sarah "Potato Pals changed my World" of The Daily English Show and Jason Renshaw of English Raven who immediately wrote in the comments section of his regard for the spuds. Further thanks to Devon Thagard of Super Simple Songs for bolstering Dean, Nina and Joy's confidence over an ale when he turned to me and said, "Patrick. We really enjoy the Potato Pals Series...I think it's very well thought out; distinctive characters, great illustrations, situations kids can identify with, and it's easy to use with kids of varying levels of English ability...readers and emerging-readers alike. The CD also makes it easy for children and parents to use at home, which I think distinguishes it from a lot of young children's English learning materials."

The Potato Pals can be contacted directly on their Facebook page and would love to meet new friends at this difficult time.


Alex Case said...

Well, I think I made sure that my own blog post wasn't influential with that little distraction!

Sorry about all that. Did you read my later clarifications in the comments? I guess the reason why I later changed my mind was introducing other teachers to both Potato Pals and to classic children's books, and seeing the difference in reactions of both the teachers and kids with the right versions of the latter. Of course, there are plenty of teachers who wouldn't be using any stories without your efforts in writing or publicizing the books...

A couple of inaccuracies here. Actually, all my reviews were taken down about a month or two ago because Wordpress protested when I reached 1000 pages, as explained in a blog post around that time. Hope to get them back up in a different section (and to cope with my changes in opinion about quite a lot of them in some way when I do so). Also, the list was always in alphabetical order

Alex Case said...


Why would anyone be insulted by being told that their stories weren't as good as The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Diarmuid said...

I'm with the taters on this one. But then, I have to confess to never having used the books, never having taught this particular demographic. It's just a case of standing shoulder to errr...shoulder...with the diminutive tatties. I'm not a big fan of lists like these - they really mean very little to me, yet my heart aches if I'm not on them. Lists *like* this - I had no pretensions that my blog would be ranked as one of the most influential publications in ELT!
In solidarity, I dedicate my potato poem to you. It got to the finals of a BBC Radio 3 competition (but then again, it might be that ANY entry made it through):

[clears throat]

Love and Potatoes

Did you know that our friends the Romans
Used tuber to mean ‘hump’?
My dictionary says ‘fleshy root’ and ‘organ’.
Even uses that word, ‘reproduction’.
To a Roman Tuberosus meant ‘full of knobs’.
Oh King Edward! I’ll look at you with different eyes.