Monday, 19 November 2012

Doing it Methodically.

Being a thorough geek when it comes to ELT, one aspect of doing my DELTA that I enjoyed was looking at the weird and wonderful world of Approaches and Methodologies that our industry has spawned over the years, from Grammar Translation to The Silent way, from TPR to CLL, from (de-)Suggestopedia to Dogme. Reading through them, I realised that I had, in my career, incorporated techniques and ideas from all over the place, creating a motley weft of Approaches to different skills and systems in class. This presented a problem when it came to teaching a lesson using an unfamiliar technique, then writing a review for my portfolio. In the end, I plumped for CLL, which I'm pleased to report was almost, but not quite, an unmitigated disaster. However, seeking to adhere to its stricter rules as I circled a classroom of nervous students, some of whom would timidly proffer a piece of language for me to pounce on, I was afforded an opportunity to reflect on the efficacy or not of a particular method, and consider my own practice. CLL certainly has its redeeming features, not least of which is the way in which the class is entirely learner-centred, and in my post-lesson evaluation, I said that I would incorporate some of its features into my future teaching. And of course, I ,er, fully intend to. At some stage.
But here's an issue - I will incorporate it into my teaching practices, not run wildly into its outstretched arms, joyously weeping at what could be a Universal Panacea for language learning. In other words, I'm not totally convinced of it as a methodology. I have been teaching now since October 1993, and should be up for parole soon have been raised, as it were, within the wide realm of the Communicative Approach, but I have never found one particular Method to which I would willingly adhere entirely. So why is this?
I did some further digging during my research, and do you know that there is not a SINGLE piece of empirical research I can find that suggests that one method or approach in language teaching is actually more efficient or effective than another? There is nothing that says CLT is any better or faster at getting students to learn language than, say, Audiolingualism. There are lots of claims, yes; There is lots of anecdotal evidence, yes; But there is absolutely nothing that proves that one method or approach is any better than any other. You will find all sorts of studies that look at motivation, or teacher talk time, or ideas about language learning or acquisition, or how literacy is the key to learning, but you will not find a single thing that says, for example, 'Grammar Translation works better than Dogme. F.A.C.T'.
Why is this? Well, the obvious answer is that it would be incredibly difficult to run an experiment that directly compares different ELT methodologies. I mean, it's possible - I've calculated that it could be done by kidnapping sets of twins at birth, raising them in their birth languages under strictly controlled conditions with other sets of identical twins, then separate them at a certain age and teach them using two different methodologies, ensuring, of course, that they are regularly subjected to MRI scanning and Tomography to measure changes in their brains. Once they have reached a pre-determined level of proficiency, we should then be able to determine which method is more efficacious. Unfortunately, we would then also have to put down our subjects and dissect their brains, in order to ascertain whether there have been any true physical changes to the lobes that deal with language and vocabulary. And that wouldn't be the end of the matter: we'd also need to do tests on twins at different age profiles to see whether different methodologies are more effective in children or adults, plus double-blind trials in order to avoid the risk of statistical bias. Since we would, sadly, have to vivisect many of our test subjects, I suspect that we may run into one or two ethical and legal issues. We may also run out of money to conduct the experiment to its natural conclusion
Putting all that to one side, there is little enthusiasm to test a method rigorously - instead, an awful lot of time is spent on observations about how we believe people learn, which then leads to assumptions about how a method should work. There has been work done on ascertaining students' attitudes towards various class techniques, but again, these end up as essentially anecdotal and highly subjective - if the student had been taught the same thing in a different way, would he or she have learnt it to the same degree? Clearly, it's impossible to investigate whether someone who has, say, learned how to talk about daily routines via the wonder of Dogme could have learned it better had I been just shouting randomly at them while beating them with a cattle prod - after all, they've already learned it!
I sometimes wonder whether methodology is really about the student at all - instead, some of the things we do in class appear to be about keeping the teacher happy, simply because Stuff Is Happening. Quite simply, we believe this technique or this method works because we are using it, ergo it is good and effective. Let's face it, we teachers need a lot of audio-visual stimulation, and we get that in spades from watching happy student faces bellowing at each other 'You? What you job? Is good?' while running round with little bits of paper.
Here's a challenge for you: Pick a technique, or even better, make one up, and stick to it religiously for a week, keeping a reflective diary, and see if it has an effect on the learning and teaching in class.
As for me, I'm eyeing up the local Orphanage for Foreign Baby Twins........

No comments:


Motivation (12) ESOL (11) Methodology (8) Acquisition (7) Learning (7) Portfolios (5) Dip TESOL (4) blended learning (4) dogme (4) EFL (3) FE (3) language citizens (3) language commuters (3) language denizens (3) language tourists (3) learner attitudes (3) linguistic hierarchy (3) marking (3) technology (3) #eltchat (2) English (2) Hierarchy of needs (2) L1 (2) Maslow (2) Natural Approach (2) SATs (2) SLA (2) Silent Way (2) Speaker and listener roles (2) The Language City (2) Turkish (2) VLEs (2) attitudes (2) differentiation (2) elt (2) handling and manipulating (2) iPad (2) language and depression (2) language at intermediate level (2) language city model (2) lesson (2) lesson planning (2) moodle (2) phonology and phonetics (2) smart phones (2) speaking (2) teaching (2) ALTE (1) Arabic (1) CEFR (1) CLL (1) Cadbury's Creme Eggs (1) Classroom activity (1) Communication (1) DTLLS (1) ELT Unplugged (1) ETS (1) French As An Evil Language (1) GLAW profilies (1) Higher level students (1) L1 context (1) Language Interaction (1) Observations (1) P4C (1) Steve Krashen (1) Syllabus (1) TPR (1) actuive vocabulary (1) advice (1) affective filter (1) ambiguous language (1) approaches (1) apps (1) articulator (1) aspect (1) blockbuster (1) boardwork (1) bullying (1) childhood acquisition (1) citizen (1) citizenship (1) city guide (1) classroom techniques (1) cognitive tasks (1) conjunctions (1) copyright (1) creating content (1) curating content (1) diagram (1) digital literacy (1) dimension (1) disruption (1) distance learning (1) e-learning (1) easter (1) encoding (1) english uk (1) examiner (1) experiments (1) failure (1) fossilization (1) future forms (1) grade scales (1) grading (1) grammar (1) group work (1) handedness (1) holistic learning (1) integration (1) interlanguage (1) l2 (1) lesson ideas (1) lexis (1) listening (1) literacy (1) manager (1) meaningful interaction (1) mindfulness (1) mondays (1) neologism (1) online content (1) page o rama (1) passive grammar (1) passive vocabulary (1) podcast (1) politics (1) power law distributions (1) presentation (1) problem solving (1) provider (1) register (1) research (1) resolutions (1) routine (1) sentence structure (1) silent running (1) skills and systems (1) stereotypes (1) style (1) suggestopedia (1) teacher talk time (1) tense (1) tenses (1) total bloody genius (1) tutorial aids (1) tutors (1) twitter (1) using IT (1) validity (1) varieties of English (1) web profiles (1) world englishes (1) writing (1)