philosophy of Education

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Ping Pong Method: An interdisciplinary frame for instruction

Monday, December 15, 2014

(By Masoud Niati)

This method accounts for and works on three basic aspects of language for suggesting a facility for teaching knowledge

1-      Linguistic

2-      Psychological

3-      Conceptual

As regards the first, linguistic dimension of it relies heavily on Levinas and Benevists’ theories of the “Other” and “I-You” polarity respectively. Psychological aspect of language used in this method extracts the behaviourist theory of stimulus-response circle as an inevitable medium between teacher and his students. Finally, representation of meaning in mind has been taken into consideration in this method. Ping Pong Method has an outlook on learning facilitation with a regard to holistic approach of learning and creativity. The method seeks to engage learners for enacting the language as a living identity and not as a universal entity or as a live tool for establishing diachronic system. Also, it tries to add the element of “Other” to the language with a focus on “We” and not “I Speak” but “we speak”.

This method is an endeavor to make a preliminary drawing on teaching knowledge, based on cognitive dimensions of texts, and consequently the meaning –hidden as meta-text- implied by  instructor’s style of teaching as a batter who stands at one side of ping pong table, and the student (s) as an another player at the other side. the method is a way to create “spatial context” wherein cognition of knowledge can take place in a more transparent way and also the opacity of parole might be reduced between instructor and learners.  In other terms, the major object of this method is an effort to make sure that the meta-textual meaning can be understood as clear as possible by both teacher and learner. In this case, after the establishment of a strong and clear-cut communication between teacher and learner, a further development of conceptualization would take place cognitively among learners and teacher as well. As a result of this observation during many hours of teaching to, mainly, teenagers and young adults, I came to this simple but important fact that there are mainly three vital elements which have a role in teaching and learning in EFL classrooms, which are A) transparency of given subject in terms of literary meaning of sentences produced by teachers, B) applicability and societal experience of a learned notion, C) farcical aspect of learned subject when it gets trapped in the circle of prediction and repetition. Another focus of Ping Pong method is diacritical which shows the learners’ lived and experienced relation to its surrounding and the world itself. This notion originates in the phenomenological understanding of structuralism in linguistics. That is to say, the historical meaning of a word does not play the role played by its present meaning.(Derrida). Further to explain, language, here, is a complete live phenomenon at the moment of speech. On the other hand, I found that the ball of teaching, at this point, the meaning transmitted by statements which act like a flying ball, should fall outside the imaginary cognitive table of teacher and learner as few as possible, and reach a brainstorm that can come from an intended formation of hermeneutic circle between teacher and learner. It should be said that the falling is inevitable in terms of either transmission or acquirement of a specific piece (ball) of information.

Cognitive table of ping pong method consists of three basic dimensions as follows:

      1. Length

      2. Width


Length refers to the very basic literary conception of sentences produced by teacher and learner anachronistically- enunciation- however, width is a reference to the width of subject taught in relation to other fields, creative ideas and learners’ background knowledge. Finally, height here is the diacritical presentation of language itself, and how deep it can travel in a specific context. That is to say, language is used here as a tool for thought since the meaning inquired from different elements of a sentence is different from its consisting elements.

The invisible net on the cognitive table of teaching-learning is the caution line and not a danger zone. This net is not completely cognitive but in regard with mutual respect and understanding. It acts mutually between teachers and students standing or sitting away the net. The whole class plus students’ physical, cognitive presence consist the invisible table. Number of players or participants are in groups of two or four or more than four. The ball used in this method is the language either auditory or visual. Teaching-learning ball (TLB) flies between teacher (s) and student(s) continuously. By a hermeneutic dialogue, teacher and student improve their understanding and increase the height and width of their knowledge. Length is also the amount of time spent in a class and during a course, but it can be increased to reach an ideal level to make sure that learners are above the standard level and analytically professional. It should be mentioned that the whole table is invisible but it exists on the legs of thinking and experience, and knowledge underlies the whole table. The minds of teacher and learner compose the table divided into two parts which get linked to each other by a net right in the middle of the table; one part of the table belongs to learner and the opposite part to teacher. Dimensions of this table are cognitive and conceptual that can be measured by performance and the amount of comments (by a reference to hermeneutic circle) made by learners after conceptualizing an aimed subject. Teaching –learning ball flies between teacher and learner continuously until it jumps to an unintended area.

What a teacher has in his mind is an aimed concept or meaning that he wants to transmit to his students in such a way that the transmission of knowing or piece of information is not to be lost partially, however, this transmission is bound to fall during a presentation sometimes because there are some factors such fatigue, boredom, absurdity of subject, lack of concentration that make the ball of information jump out of the table. Teacher roles are basically considered to be composed of a visual and auditory ones, teacher acts as a moving visual-auditory object for a student who is not neutral. Most of the learning process takes place in an auditory manner, because of articulatory aspect of cognition and teacher also acts as an auditory object for student, both of these visual and auditory dimensions of a teacher come to form visual-linguistic competence for student as an information processor, of course at this stage, and not knowledge absorber in its epistemological dimension. Epistemological dimension of the method comes to being when students start to bat the taken ball of information after they have conceptualized what was the aim of information presentation. On the other hand, learner standing at the opposite direction of teacher tries to obtain the sentences, conceptualize them and put the conceptualized meaning in order by an unconscious Gestalten mind. The simplification and classification processes are unconsciously managed by learners but consciously by teacher. For reaching knowledge, making students question the reality of information is necessary in order to keep the play continuing hermeneutically.

In a literary sense, the most important part of this method lies in this sentence “let’s see and let’s be seen” in a context of a class. Brainstorming and questioning the whole subject of lesson are two significant elements of non-positivist dimensions of this method. That is to say if the writer of a book is not honest with his readers, then the readers will not indulge on what was the purpose. If teacher does not even lose only for one time the thrown ball of a question by a student, he is a real master, but if he loses, he should accept that he is malleable and sometimes can be very fragile. 

Another aspect of this method is the release of energy both by teachers and students who are participating in this game of learning. Imagine two players who start playing a game, actually the first couple of minutes they are full of energy and sharp on what the opponent part does, but after passing quite a while, they start losing energy. By losing energy, either teacher or student make mistakes and lose the ball, and this is totally natural and should not be considered either by teachers or students as a great guff. What can prevent this misconception of making a guff is the invisible net of respect and love (the net in the middle of the ping pong table) cared mutually by teacher at one side and student at other side of the paly ground.

For most of the games there are some key roles, and here come the important roles for ping pong teaching-learning method:

1.      Concentration of both teacher and student in order not to lose the ball of information too often

2.      Fatigueless degree takes place if the knowledge goes in the hermeneutic circle of further meaning

3.      Practical probability dimension of a learned skill should be considered in the circle

4.      Absurdity level takes place when a meaning turns into a predictable ritual in a set of codes

5.      Emancipation or leaving the whole subject happens when a subject makes the players bored

6.      Analytic later thinking happen if a subject comes to a border of losing and getting an intended subject

7.      Creativity level is desired if it is a part of a beauty, dream and necessity

8.      Unknown feeling is sensed by both teacher and student at the end of the game (session at a classroom)

 The information transmission either by teacher or student can be considered in the following levels orderly:

1.      Superficial meaning of words, sentences provided by teacher

2.      Deciphering codes of information by learners in order to make their own rules

3.      Simplification of so-called information (based on Gestalt views)

4.      Trying to give a social meaning to tokens of data

5.      Getting and giving feedback by both teacher and learner as a release of energy

Literature Review

The transferring of information, scientific codex or already accepted knowledge to learners should be able to provide a way to reciprocate meaning, otherwise the one-way transfer of knowledge would probably lead to superiority of instructor and inferiority of learner. As Vanessa Rodriguez (2014) argues students should not be considered as “Receptacle boxes” which sit at their seats and receive information, or “teaching does not mean the transferring the already accepted knowledge to students.

  Therefore, one of the main focuses of this method is reciprocal establishment between teacher and learner with a regard of language used at classroom, its meta-textual meaning, quality of grammatical structures, and meta-linguistic presentation happening between teacher and learners.

The language used here as a medium or ball of information between teacher and learner, is not about what is said but the “saying” ( Levinas, 1998) which not only involve literary meaning of sentences but representational of what is said by both teacher and learner. As Levinas points out that “saying” is not about presenting signs, it is of disclosure and a kind of exposure of an individual to the other. Furthermore, the differentiation, proposed by Levinas, between “the saying” and “the said” is also of importance in applying Ping Pong method in where there is a struggle to make the individuals in classroom expose themselves to the other students and to the teacher as well.  The epiphany of comprehension, according to Levinas, and consequently language itself gets out of its logic presentation and moves toward illogical “infinity”. Simply, this exposure happing in learners and teachers take place out of the hidden “Other” among them. By this, Ping Pong method strives to trigger this “other” to happen.

Considering “the Other” suggested by Levinas ( 1961), the embodiment of ethical relation also established in classroom between teacher and his or her students. As Levinas puts forward t the Other emerges not as a universal law but alongside with others, Ping Pong method tends to rise the element of the Other by establishing classroom ethics between and among instructor and students. Establishing this ethics is presumably as important as exposure to language.

Another dimension of theoretical frame of this method can be supported by the I-You polarity proposed by Emile Benevist suggesting that language as a vehicle of subjectivity which is promoted by this polarity. These two elements of language – subjectivity and I-You polarity – account for the background framework of Ping Pong Method.

Hermeneutics in classroom

Figure 1 Horizontal lines represent auditory, interlocutory competence of visual and linguistic dimensions of an aimed concept that is going to be transmitted by teacher and received by student. Vertical lines show the depth of aimed conception, as it is obvious from the picture, the length of either horizontal or vertical lines of teacher is longer than those of the learner. Hermeneutic circle is formed only after the aimed conception is formed in the mind of learner, and the learner starts thinking, taking notes, asking questions and finally brainstorming. Blue Lighting line is a manifestation of a sudden brain storm which stands above the cloud of hermeneutic circle. If the brainstorm does not happen, the absurdity level of conception starts to form invisibly and the whole class goes to the next level of boredom, at this stage, the next stage of emancipation of this absurdity comes to the mind of teacher and students unconsciously and the whole session (game) should be cancelled. Language, either visual or auditory, acts as the paddles for both teacher and learner. The yellow multiplication symbol is a misleading conception. 

Figure 2 POGOL stands for process of cognition of language


What I have tried to say here simply lies on the power of language and how by a several philosophical arguments and reasoning we as teachers can trigger the engagement of students in different fields and make them use the power of their reasoning to come up with new forms of language structures, conceptions and finally creative ideas in a dynamic exciting way. The power of language and the energy coming out of the hidden synergy pave the road for teachers to not only teach in a better way but a more creative way. The knowledge and also dexterity of teacher himself plays a vital role in using this method. As Jim Scrivener says, “teaching is not learning”, it seems that one of basic tasks of teachers, in the future, would be related to this simple fact that learning should be secured by a variety of methods manufactured by scholars and teachers as well so as to the number of drop-outs would be minimized because of lack of knowledge and understanding different subjects popular either in social sciences or engineering sciences.


Beneviste, Emile (1971), problems in General  Linguistics, translated by Mary Elizabeth Meek, Coral Gables, Miami Press

Levinas, Emmanuel (1998), other than being, or beyond essence, trans. Alphonso lingis, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, sixth printing 2006

Rodriguez, Vanessa; Fitzpatrick, Michelle (2014), the teaching brain, an evolutionary trait at the heart of education, the Newspress Publications, New York

Scrivener, Jim (2011), learning teaching, Macmillan Publications

Masud Niati

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