Having just read this from Paul Blake, in which he suggests learners who are ‘confidently wrong’ are more likely to correct their responses in subsequent questions, I’m reminded of an example from my own classroom. It concerns the roasting of cats.

This potentially catastrophic cure for quinsy (a severe throat infection) is my most favouritest of all when discussing mediaeval medicine:

“Take a fat cat and flay it well, clean and draw out the guts. Take the grease of a hedgehog and the fat of a bear and resins and fenugreek and sage and gum of honeysuckle and virgin wax. All this crumble small and stuff the cat within as you would a goose. Roast it all and gather the grease and anoint him [the patient] with it.”

Now, in the way I tell it there’s a pause and a question just after gather the grease, where I ask the class, “And what do you think happens next?” They invariably all reply, in one grossed-out but confident voice, “Eat it!”, to which I pretend to look disgusted.

“What?! Eat it?!”, I mock. “Are you lot mad? Noooo, you drink the drippings of course!”

“Ewwww!”, they squeal, desperately looking around at one another for confirmation of the pukiness abound.

They all remember, though. They all say, when asked, “You’d think they ate the cat, Sir, but actually they drank it because it was for a bad throat.”

I wonder if there might be some use in gathering these sorts of questions, these hinge-points? I suppose many of us do this sort of thing quite normally, and that it’s now in our tacit repertoire. The trick is to make it implicit.

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