P is for Postmodern method

13 05 2012

This comes from the teacher’s guide to a  well-known coursebook series: “By the end of Level 1, students will have learnt to express themselves simply but correctly in the present, past and future…”

And pigs will fly.

By the end of Level 1, any of the following might have happened: every Monday two or three new students of varying abilities will have been incorporated into the already diverse class; at least two students will have requested – and been refused – a level change; one student will transpire to be dyslexic and another will have hearing difficulties; three students will have dropped out;  eight students will have regularly used Google Translate to do their homework; two students will refuse to do pairwork together; one student (male) will always be the first to answer the teacher’s display questions; two of the students will have embarked on a torrid affair in which English is the lingua franca; one student will have memorised a 2000-item word list; another student will have attempted to read an abridged version of Sense and Sensibility; two students will be working illegally as kitchen staff where, again, the only common language is English; the teacher will have substituted several of the texts in the coursebook with photocopies of authentic material; one student will sit and pass her driving test in English; the teacher will have corrected the same errors a hundred times while completely ignoring others; during a flu epidemic a substitute teacher will teach the class nothing but phrasal verbs for a week…. And so on. You get the picture.

In short, whatever they have achieved, it will not be the ability “to express themselves simply but correctly in the present, past and future…”. Nor will the coursebook have had much to do with it.

Language learning, whether classroom-based or naturalistic, whether in an EFL or an ESL context, is capricious, opportunistic, idiosyncratic and seldom amenable to external manipulation.

Yet advocates of coursebooks and of syllabuses share a touching faith in their capacity to impose order on chaos, uniformity on complexity.  Predicated on a unitary view of language and of learning, the coursebook/syllabus is enlisted with the task of bulldozing a path through the diversity, spontaneity, unpredictability and general messiness of the classroom jungle.  In so doing, it will ride rough-shod over the delicate eco-systems that inhabit that jungle. It’s a bit like shooting an arrow into a flock of starlings. You’ll get one or two, but that’s all. And, in the end, there’ll be no noticeable effect on the flock as a whole.

In this sense the coursebook/syllabus is very much a modernist phenomenon. Just to remind you, the ‘modernist project’ holds that knowledge is unitary, stable, objective and disinterested, and that, by extension, learning  is ‘a one-way road from ignorance to knowledge’ (Felman, 1987, cited by Mann 1999: 38). As a tool designed to leverage uniform ‘improvement’ on systems that are inherently unstable, the coursebook/syllabus embodies a ‘grand narrative’ mentality, in which ‘development takes place through linear progression and contributes to the greater good, which is emancipatory in nature, and passed on from one generation to the next’ (Mann 1999:37 – 38).  You only have to look at the portentous titles in the publishers’ catalogues, with their promise of ultimate consummation, to see how the current paradigm is framed in ‘grand narrative’ terms: Headway, Success, Horizons, Solutions, Outcomes, Open Doors, Way Ahead, Achieve, and so on.

An alternative approach – one that aims at exploiting diversity rather than taming it – is proposed by Michael Breen (1999), in a paper which pre-dates Dogme, but which might well have inspired it.

In order to cope with the inherent diversity and particularity of classroom life, Breen argues that “the classroom group needs to be a dynamic self-organising learning community”.  He adds that “a postmodern pedagogy locates experience as a core starting point and constant focus of attention.  Classroom work builds directly upon learner and teacher experiences.  The focus is on doing things, upon action, and interpreting the experience of, and outcomes from action” (p.54).

Language, in this pluralistic, multi-vocal context, emerges out of communal activity, shaped by the need to render experience into words.  (In an earlier paper, Breen [1985] had written: “‘The language I learn in the classroom is a communal product derived through a jointly constructed process”.)  Whereas, from a modernist perspective, education is all about the reproduction of existing practices (witness the supremacy of native speaker models), in a postmodern pedagogy, “a major objective for learners would be to acquire new voices and new ways of articulating experiences and ideas.  The culture of the classroom group would need to place high value on such diversity and multi-vocality and to assert it as a key attribute of the language class” (p.60. emphasis in original).

Way ahead of his time, Breen argues the case for the ‘porous classroom’, in which the boundaries between the classroom, the school, the society, and the world are weak and permeable: “In such a context, access to what counts as knowledge and its construction and reconstruction is likely to be rendered almost infinite because of the availability of technology.  The language classroom ceases to be the place where knowledge of language is made available by teacher and materials for learners and becomes the place from which knowledge of language and its use is sought by teacher and learners together; the classroom walls become its windows” (p.55).

Rather than being a transmitter of knowledge, either directly, or knowledge as commodified in the pages of the coursebook, the teacher is re-construed as a ‘cultural worker’, not only forming and maintaining the classroom culture, but also facilitating a research process “resembling that of linguistic and cultural anthropology” (p.57). Through engagement in language-based activity, the learners become researchers of the language themselves, propelled by their diverse (but not necessarily divergent) needs and interests, “and this process occurs largely independently of the intervention of explicit teaching, not least because different learners move at a different pace and have different preferences in how they go about the task. The essential ingredients, however, appear to be an input-rich environment, enthusiastic persistence, and the learner’s search for understanding and the wish to share more and more complex meanings with supportive others” (p. 60).

Teaching, in this paradigm, is less about navigating the container-ship of the class through the narrow canal of the coursebook/syllabus than about shepherding a motley flotilla of little boats, in all weathers, across the open sea, in whatever direction and at whatever speed they have elected to go.

References:

Breen, M. (1985) ‘The social context for language learning – a neglected situation?’ Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 7.

Breen, M.P. (1999) ‘Teaching language in the postmodern classroom’, in Ribé, R. (ed.) Developng Learner Autonomy in Foreign Language Learning, Barcelona: University of Barcelona Press.

Mann, S. J. (1999) ‘A postmodern perspective on autonomy’, in Ribé, R. (ed.) Developng Learner Autonomy in Foreign Language Learning, Barcelona: University of Barcelona Press.

Illustrations from Hemming, J., and Gatenby, E.V. (1958) Absorbing English Book 1, London: Longman.

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68 responses

13 05 2012
Adam Simpson

As I was reading this, I got the feeling that we might as well throw out the classroom with the coursebook. If we recognize the problems of coursebooks, we should also see the lunacy of collecting a group of people in one particular room, often far away from their everyday lives, arbitrarily set aside for this learning experience. For me, the ‘porous classroom’ wouldn’t be a classroom at all. Dare I say technology might offer the solution?

13 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Hi Adam (as usual the first cab off the rank!)

Yes, there is a case for arguing against anything but individualised – or self-directed – learning (and this was the conclusion reached by the self-access movement of the 1990s), but practicalities – and economies – dictate otherwise. Also, since language is used for social purposes, it follows that maybe it should be learned in a social context. I have no problem with the idea of classes – in fact for many learners and teachers these can be less threatening than one-to-one stituations – but I do have a problem with the way that the group learning context is moulded to fit the somewhat artificial contraints of the absentee coursebook writer. That’s all.

13 05 2012
Carol Goodey

Excellent! Thank you!

13 05 2012
Lexical Leo

Second that!
and I love the sea metaphor which I have often used it – not in exactly the same words – myself with my students.

14 05 2012
Daniel

That’s a beautiful sea metaphor at the end. This is definitely the best ELT post, on many levels, that I’ve read in some time.

13 05 2012
mbenevides

Very interesting, Scott, thank you. I gave a talk last year where I tried to show that the move from one-way, teacher>student traditional methods to a truly communicative approach can’t really be made in a linear fashion, from a Point A to Point B along the teacher learning curve, but like postmodernism, must involve a sort of rejection of many of the practices that had been taken for granted before–or at least an awareness that many of those practices are problematic. In other words, one can’t really throw in, say, a bit of a discussion activity at the end of a PPP lesson and call it a communicative lesson. Not any more than Justin Bieber could “do” punk simply by covering a Clash song, anyway. It has to be all or nothing, a paradigm shift.

However, at the same time, we have to bear in mind that there is much that is problematic with postmodernism itself. (And punk, for that matter!) It’s a great way to stir up the pot, but in the end is not exactly a fertile soil on which to grow a method, since it’s essentially a reactionary perspective. Once you’ve rejected the authority of the teacher, of the textbook, of the unitary quality of knowledge itself, what’s left? Literary theory backed itself into that corner in the 90’s. As enriching as it can be to explore in that direction, it is also in many ways a dead end.

It highlights problems with the status quo, which is good, but it presents very few practical solutions.

13 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Marcos, for the comment and the caveat!

In fairness to Breen, I credit him with more than simply reacting against the status quo, and over the many years he has been writing about methodology, his recommendations have been consistently constructive, even if not always practicable in all contexts. I’m thinking in particular of his case for a process syllabus “This type of syllabus identified negotiation about the purposes, contents and ways of working as a meaningful part of the content of lessons or series of lessons. A process syllabus therefore represents an orientation to how learning is done which deliberately locates the selection and organisation of the actual syllabus of the classroom group within the collaborative decision-making process undertaken by teacher and learners in a language class” (Breen, M., 2001 ‘Syllabus Design’, in Carter & Nunan (eds.) The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, p. 154).

13 05 2012
Scott C

Adam,

Robert M Pirsig would agree with you, I think. And so do I.

“…the real university is a state of mind, not a location, books, buildings or people…” – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Scott C.

13 05 2012
eflnotes

another thoughful post. the idea of being an anthropologist reminded me of the blog posts of Kevin Giddens (who has an anthropology background) and his inspiration for Do Nothing Teaching http://kevingiddens.posterous.com/pages/dnt-foundations.
ta
mura

14 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Mura! Yes, I’m aware of Kevin’s work in this direction – and in fact I cited it in a post a while back: N is for Not interfering.

13 05 2012
KBarrs

…and after the Post modernist classroom comes…
It is always fascinating to be unable to comprehend that what we are living at this moment, be it a fashion, a music style, a language ideology etc, will soon be pushed out by a new conceptualisation and the old way becomes basically derided…until eventually coming into fashion again. What comes after the post modernist classroom? Some people assert that technology will change the face of learning in extreme ways. But if we are honest about the impact of technology on learning, such as language learning, the impact is obviously there but it is very very slow in its progression to change the way we learn.

14 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the comment, Keith. I suspect that what tends to happen, in terms of paradigm shifts, is not so much a pendulum swing from one-day-it’s-in to next-day-it’s-out, but more a Hegelian dialectic, whereby a new paradigm, or ‘thesis’, provokes a reaction, or ‘antithesis’, which contradicts or negates the thesis, and the tension between the two is resolved by means of a ‘synthesis’. So, in answer to your qestion, what comes after the postmodernist classroom?, I guess it could be some kind of synthesis of a product- and a process-syllabus, perhaps – although how this would work would take better minds than mine to envisage!

13 05 2012
Derek

The Teacher as ‘cultural worker’ is an interesting way to view the role of a language teacher. In essence, we are doing ethnography in the classroom: the class that forms is the cultural group and by understanding the culture of the group (in an international group, the culture that emerges) from an emic perspective, from how the members perceive it, then we can better facilitate learning in the classroom.

As for a new paradigm, how do we bridge the gap between the current state we are in to a more non-linear, radically social constructivist model of learning? What are the smaller steps that can be taken that lead to a different way of processing content in the classroom? How can we promote change in the beliefs of teachers and educators, how can we develop awareness of the benefits of a ‘post-modern’ model?

13 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Derek, for the comment.

With regard to the question you ask: “how do we bridge the gap between the current state we are in to a more non-linear, radically social constructivist model of learning?”, I suspect we have to look no further than models of experiential learning that go back as far as Dewey, and which Breen clearly alludes to, in his call for “classroom work [that] builds directly upon learner and teacher experiences. The focus is on doing things, upon action, and interpreting the experience of, and outcomes from action”. This, in turn, suggests task-based (or project-based, or activity-based) methodological models – which, with the kinds of technological tools now readily available in most classrooms, seems much more feasible than it did 20+ years ago, when task-based learning was first mooted.

14 05 2012
Derek

Kolb’s model of experiential learning: Direct Experience, Description, Interpretation/Analysis, Application to new experience (what have i learned about self, content, etc and how will this inform my re-entry into experience)

Perhaps this last stage– the most crucial– is the one generally overlooked; this omission serves to reproduce the current paradigm. Careful and systematic reflection on experience with an eye on application of new knowledge of self, content and process would lead to a new way thinking about learning, wouldn’t it?

13 05 2012
Paraskevi Andreopoul (@pandreop)

PPP still holds well with levels of instruction, which, to my point of view, gives prestige and leadership to the instructor in the classroom- it is, I’d dare say, the safe route (a product syllabus to follow blindly) to satisfy the DOS’s and parents’ needs (if it’s a private language school) that the material’s been covered and the student is ready to move on to the next language level.

On the other side of the coin, it’s the students’ cognitive maturity ,personality and character traits that set the standards that will determine the direction of the learning process and “be a guarantee” for the continuation of the course or pre-determine its doom”…whether we like it or not, we ought to consider our students’ real life needs, socio-economic background, affordability (now with the economic crisis- if it’s a private language lesson) and cognitive skills / maturity, personality traits as the leading factors for substantial language learning….after all, glossy coursebook material and regurgitated CALL will have to be seen from us (teachers) as the means, not as an end in itself… “Problem solving is often an excellent basis for conversation” proposed by Lewis, M. & Hill, J. (1985,1992)( in Practical Techniques for Language Teaching,pg.120)

Thanks for the thoughtful post.

14 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

And thanks for the thoughtful comment, Paraskevi. Yes, the idea that there is a syllabus of items to be ‘covered’ sits uncomfortably with the view that language learning is an emergent process – a process of ‘UNcovering’, in fact. Instead of asking the teacher what he/she has covered, maybe the DOS’s and parents should be asking: ‘What have you UNcovered this lesson (or this week, this term, this year, etc…)?’

13 05 2012
Kathy

“The language classroom ceases to be the place where knowledge of language is made available by teacher and materials for learners and becomes the place from which knowledge of language and its use is sought by teacher and learners together; the classroom walls become its windows.”

This sentence, in particular, resonates with me. A similar idea is expressed in a book I just finished, the “The Courage to Teach”, by Parker J. Palmer (1998). Here are some snippets:

To be in the truth, we must know how to observe and reflect and speak and listen, with passion and with discipline, in the circle gathered around a given subject. (p, 107)

If we want a community of truth in the classroom, a community that can keep us honest, we must put a *third thing*, a great thing, at the center of the pedagogical circle. (p. 119)

By “great things”, I mean the subjects around which the circle of seekers has always gathered – not the disciplines that study these subjects, not the texts that talk about them, not the theories that explain them, but the things themselves.” (p. 110)

I’m still absorbing the book (may need to read it again!) but it seems to offer some ideas for how to bridge the gap to a new paradigm.

A great post for Sunday morning reflection, again. Thanks, Scott!

13 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Hmm, this is new to me – thanks Kathy! It sounds a tiny bit like the ‘theme-centered interaction’ model for group encounters, developed originally by Ruth Cohn in Germany and Switzerland, and referenced in Legutke and Thomas, 1991. Process and Experience in the Language Classroom. Harlow: Longman. Following Buber, Cohn situates the ‘it’ (or the theme) as one axis of the I-thou-it interactional structure, around which, and from which, all communication flows.

14 05 2012
Kathy

Thanks for the further reading tips, Scott. The I-thou-it structure … sounds dead-on!

13 05 2012
phil3wade

Another goodie Scott. This definitely adds more fuel to my desire for an adaptive and intuitive materials bank instead of a straight A to Z syllabus or book. What I mean is having an online bank of all the elements of a typical book like grammar, vocab, texts etc but via your weekly feedback and participation grade entry it suggests suitable things for the next class. This kind of intuitiveness already exists for some tests so why not a course?

13 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Phil – and I wonder if the adaptive materials bank that you refer to don’t already exist in the form of the Internet? What’s desperately needed is the kind of search tools that make this materials bank pedagogically exploitable, and which – for example – automatically grade and process texts for language learning purposes – not something that you’d think would be a huge challenge for the likes of Google.

14 05 2012
Declan Cooley

Maybe this kind of thing could contribute to that:
It’s an extension for Chrome Language Immersion which works by switching select words on web pages into your target language.

“When turned on, the extension automatically translates parts of the web page into one of 64 languages supported by Google Translate (except for Japanese, though). Novice, intermediate, and fluent level settings control how much of the page is translated (on fluent, for example, entire sentences are translated, while on novice, only a a few phrases per paragraph or page). Rolling over a translated word or phrase lets you hear it pronounced, and clicking the translation turns it back into English.”

http://lifehacker.com/5907432/language-immersion-for-chrome-teaches-you-a-new-language-while-you-browse-the-web

14 05 2012
Declan Cooley

14 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Fascinating – thanks, Declan. Interesting use of translation software. Now, combined with some kind of voice recognition software that enable you to re-tell the story, incorporating the chunks you had learned, we might be getting somewhere!

13 05 2012
Rob

This is one of my favorite posts, Scott.

Breen’s barque, I would say, is among the fleet that includes Sir Ken Robinson, Freire, and Widdowson, among others.

I believe you’ve also touched on the important difference between training and education (Widdowson again), often conflated under the latter term, though with the former given precedence.

I remember that your fellow Reading alumnus, Jane Willis, has shown interest in collecting process syllabuses from teachers. If she asked you for one, created by you and a group of students, or ‘found’ elsewhere, what would you produce?

Rob

14 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

An example of a process syllabus – and the materials that were engendered by it – might be the Alternate Textbook project: http://www.njcu.edu/cill/vol5/kulchytska.html

14 05 2012
Rob

Thanks, Scott, for that interesting account.

I wonder if Jack Richards, for example, might consider The Alternative Coursebook a project syllabus. I also would be curious to know if Jane Willis has a less broad definition of process syllabus than does Breen.

Here’s a lit. review from Andrew Finch’s website for more on Breen’s process syllabus and related reading.

15 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

This doesn’t really answer your question, Rob, but while I was looking for an answer I came across another article by Breen, first published in 1987, called ‘Learner Contributions to Task Design’, in which — without advocating a process-syllabus by name — he argues that a task-based approach which attemps to engineer specific outcomes without involving the learners in the choice and design of tasks will come up against the same brick wall as (as I argued in my post) the narrowly defined grammatical outcomes of the ‘well-known coursebook series’.

Here is a sample from Breen’s essay: ‘Perhaps one of the most common experiences we have as teachers is to discover disparity between what our learners seem to derive from a task and what we intended or hope the task would achieve. Whilst the objectives of the task will have been reasonably precise, actual learner outcomes are often diverse, sometimes unexpected, and occasionally downright disappointing’.

One reason why, Breen argues, is that the way that learners respond to a task is individual, even idiosyncratic, and ‘will derive from that person’s concept of language learning, and the learning role with which this concept provides them… Learners will invest a task with an achievement purpose with direct reference to their perceived and immediate learning needs. Such needs derive, in turn, from learners awareness that they do not yet know something or cannot yet do something which they believe to be important for progress in the new language… A task will be given an achievement purpose to the extent that is interpreted by learners as directly dealing with the present state in their knowledge and abilities in the language, and the extent to which it offers real progress in clear relation to this knowledge and ability’.

The other reason that the pre-specified tasks outcomes are unlikely to be achieved is a social one: the task-as-workplan seldom takes account of the social ecology of the classroom: ‘If we see the teaching-learning process as a social event within which any task is embedded, then the more directly a task can engage in this social world the more likely it will harmonise with it and, in turn, provide positive contributions to classroom work in general.’

He concludes, therefore that ‘if sensitivity of task to the individual learners and to a particular classroom group is a valid goal, and if most pre-designed tasks are likely to be distant from the actual teaching-learning process in the group, then teacher and learners could together become engaged in designing their own language learning tasks through a task design cycle‘.

He then offers some proposals as to how this process might be implemented. But that’s another post perhaps!

Reference:

Breen, M. (1987) ‘Learner contributions to task design’, reprinted in Van den Branden, K., Bygate, M., and Norris, J. (eds) (2009) Task-based Language Teaching: A Reader, Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

15 05 2012
Rob

Thanks, Scott. I might follow up on this over at that mysterious vault of archives known as ELT Dogme: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dogme/

Rob

13 05 2012
Dominique

Good evening Scott,
I am a new follower of your blogs and enjoy them immensely, especially your imagery.
As for “language learning [being] capricious, opportunistic, idiosyncratic and seldom amenable to external manipulation” – I couldn’t agree more…rather like the teenagers I teach :)

13 05 2012
Sari

Sometimes syllabus is just a smokescreen:

I’ve just started one of my typical “In company”-courses. Five students, level intermediate (whatever that means to the Personnel manager), instructions given to the teacher: “They need to study some grammar and talk a lot.”

Fantastic, I’ll just see where the group takes me; their needs, their ideas…but.
But. I needed to draw up a syllabus, and I’m also supposed to follow it (at least in theory), because the course is funded by a training provider that scrupolously monitors all the aspects; the students are signing their presence, for example.
So, I was going to explain HOW and add that WHAT depends. But.
The people who pay for these training courses, won’t care about HOW, they are mostly concerned about WHAT.

The easiest thing was to list some grammar issues, connect them loosely to some conversation topics, and voilà, my “Intermediate English” has a syllabus.(This is not the first time I synthesize 40 hours of training into a neat, one page excel sheet)
And I’ll see where my group takes me and my syllabus.

14 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Yes, Sari, I think both a syllabus and a coursebook confer ‘face validity’ to the teaching/learning process – like the cartoon doctor’s iconic stethoscope, they are the ‘tools of our trade’. And they lend a (possibly spurious) sense of accountability to the process.

14 05 2012
seadreamer

Hello Scott,

Thanks Scott,your books and posts always make me think about everything about the language learning and teaching.

Before I graduated from the university, I remembered that although all of the books we had read and coursebooks to be practised,one of the professors advised your books before entering the classroom and said “you need this book in order to teach English”. I have read your book Teach English-Cambridge many times and still read some of the chapters.

I agree with you about the diversity of the students and I think that students learn when they need something or interested in the subjects. So that we cannot teach the students anything,they would like learn it if they want to or need to. So some of the curriculums and coursebooks meaningless, just the plans of some of the people who really do not know what’s going on the classrooms. To be a better cook,the cook must be working and observing in the kitchen not dreaming about the best kitchen:)

Many regards,

14 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the comment, Yes, students will learn what they pay attention to, and they will pay attention to what matters – to them, personally.

I just posted this (from Leo van Lier’s Interaction in the Language Curriculum (1996)) on Anthony Gaughan’s blog, but I think it’s worth re-posting here:

“I have suggested that in instructional settings, attention-focusing needs to be fostered. … But this does not mean that we can or should predict what it is that will be focused on. …. Some teaching methods appear to assume that it can be decided beforehand, for every student, what is to be focused on, how, and when, and this is, I think, a very wasteful procedure. The emphasis should rather be on providing a rich variety of exposure-language, and to let the students pick what they need. It is not necessary to worry about the things that are not picked. To use Neisser’s analogy: ‘To pick one apple from a tree you need not filter out all the others; you just don’t pick them’ (1976:84-85). However, we must make sure that there are apples within the reach of all students (this is where access, in the form of comprehensibility, familiarity, assistance, and so on, comes in). This view of exposure as the provision of opportunities for engaging with language is, as I have suggested before, an ecological approach” (p.53)

14 05 2012
seadreamer

Also I think that a teacher should foresee the students’ needs or interests and be able to direct them to be better learners.But generally the teachers do not prefer leaving their secure environments or coursebooks and dive into the forest of unknown trees or experiences which would happen in a language classroom.

I work at a public school and our coursebooks are given by the state and the teacher have to follow them in the lessons whatever the level of the students are.I don’t understand the coursebook writers,they should come and practise their books in the schools before publishing them as a cooursebook or get feedback from the students or the classroom teachers.There is not such an evalution system but have to be.

14 05 2012
marktaban

“Classroom work builds directly upon learner and teacher experiences. The focus is on doing things, upon action, and interpreting the experience of, and outcomes from action” (p.54).” Yes!

In James Raths 1971 article “Teaching Without Specific Objectives” he identifies classroom activities which have inherent worth not dependent on specification of pre-determined objectives. These include: “All other things being equal, one activity is more worthwhile than another if it gives students a chance to share the planning, the carrying out of a plan, or the results of an activity with others.”

Mike Breen wrote an article with Sarah Mann, “Shooting arrows at the sun: perspectives on a pedagogy for autonomy” in which they write: “If I acknowledge that even a single decision which I unilaterally take deprives the learners of an opportunity to take responsibility, can I give up the feeling of being responsible for most of the things that occur in the classroom?”

I think that if we work with a jointly constructed process in the postmodern classroom instead of one steered solely by the teacher, then handing over responsibility for the planning of activities and their evaluation will provide relevant content, encourage student involvement and ensure that there is a coherence to language learning and one that is felt and experienced much more by learners than anything a teacher or a course book alone can do.

14 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Mark. I googled the Raths reference and now shall try and get hold of that article. For those interested, it’s

RATHS, J. (1971). Teaching without specific objectives. Educational Leadership, April, 714-720.

The abstract states that “To suggest that teachers plan programs without specific instructional objectives seems to fly in the face of many sacred beliefs–those dealing with progress, efficiency, success, even rationality. On the other hand, the proposal evidently does not fly in the face of current practices. In a program composed of such activities, the tasks of the teacher are many, important and difficult, but the functions seem less perfunctory and more challenging than those in a program based on behavioral objectives”.

14 05 2012
Zahid Sheikh

Hi Scott,

Thank you for a great post. It really came to me at the right time.

In my current professional environment, there’s a huge emphasis on following a curriculum with in-house, standardized tests that follow and mimic the delivery of the material. Because I agree with everything that you said above, this way of viewing language learning really turns me off. However, people on the other side of the fence argue, “How can we assess student learning if we don’t have standards (which presumably are based on a coursebook).” What would your response be to such claims?

It seems as though there are two ways of looking at things, the way that institutions and governments are looking at learning and its assessment and the way that teachers / researchers like yourself are looking at it. Am I mistaken? In other words, the former crave and seek standardization based on discrete point testing, and all of its similar manifestations, while someone like yourself (forgive me for putting words in your mouth!) might be more interested in producing language rich classrooms that don’t necessarily lend themselves to tests that can be used as a barometer to “who goes onto the next level, class etc…” In my estimation, the latter is where the learning takes place and the former gives the big shots the feeling that learning has taken place. Also, the former might actually militate against learning, but it supports institutional structure.

Ultimately, I suppose my question is “How do we bridge the gap between the two views above?”

14 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Zahid, for your comment. You ask how I would respond to the question: “How can we assess student learning if we don’t have standards (which presumably are based on a coursebook)?”

Some possible answers: there are other ways to assess student learning than by means of discrete-item grammar and vocabulary tests – the kinds of tests that tend to be generated by discrete-item grammar and vocabulary syllabuses. There are performance-based tests, for example – although, of course, these are more difficult to set up and score than a nice little multiple choice grammar test.

The standards by which we assess student learning needn’t be pre-determined by a coursebook, or coursebook syllabus, but could be negotiated with the students themselves, and/or other stakeholders.

So – in a process approach (as advocated by Breen, among others): “Evaluation of the learning experiences would take the form of discussion involving both learners and teachers, and such matters as the match between methods and student learning strategies and techniques could be aired, and solutions to the learning problems could be shared… Through such discussion, both content and the processes of learning would become part of the language learning experience. At the same time, the learners would be assuming some control over the direction and methodology of the teaching/learning programme” (White, The ELT Curriculum, 1988, p. 101).

Nice work if you can get it!

17 05 2012
Willy C Cardoso

Such synchronicity that perhaps if I collated bits of what’s been said here, I wouldn’t need to research and develop the material of next week’s keynote in Istanbul.

But I have some doubts that weren’t addressed here:

Implied in the postmodern discourses is the de-centralization (or de-centredness) of the subject. Being most recent ELT approaches, in one way or the other, advocating more learner-centredness, how do we practice a pedagogy whose centre is not a ‘person’? Or better, not an ‘idealized person’, such as the self-actualizing, autonomous one envisaged by Humanism (and humanistic approaches).

Also in postmodern discourses is the understanding that pretty much everything we do has been commodified, and of the prevalence of aesthetic values over, for example, intellectual ones (in the modernistic sense). So the question is, aren’t coursebooks in their current ‘glossy’ forms the very product of a postmodern age?

::::
btw, Scott, starting the post with a long ironic list which aims at subverting taken-for-granted narratives is indeed quite postmodern! — super!

17 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Willy – great questions – which I’m not sure I’m equipped to answer. With regard to the first question, about the ‘de-centred’ subject, you might look at Claire Kramsch’s latest book The Multilingual Subject (OUP, 2009) – I don’t have my copy to hand at the moment, but a review of it in Applied Linguistics (Feb 2011) comments that “Kramsch vividly demonstrates how multilingual subjects deploy symbolic forms to craft the self and construct multiple subjective realities’. This seems to chime with a point made by Breen that “some postmodern thinkers assert the notion that the human condition at the present time is one of fragmented or multiple identities” (p.51).

With regards to the second question, and the design of postmodern materials, Breen celebrates the notion of ‘play': “If grand theory has failed us and, therefore, is to be mistrusted, alternative and diverse ways of thinking and acting become entirely acceptable, indeed preferable! Divergency, lateral thinking, creativity, and seeming anarchy are justifiable. In a word, mere theorising can be replaced by play.” (p. 52). He goes on to argue, therefore, that “play being a key characteristic of a postmodern pedagogy, learners will constantly indulge in language games”, for example “being recreative and inventive with language in its forms and uses” (p. 59).

Does this suggest that the quintessential postmodern language learning medium might be gaming? In his brilliant book What Video Games Have To Teach Us about Learning and Literacy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) James Paul Gee notes that, in gaming, “learning involves taking on and playing with identities in such a way that the learner has real choices (in developing a virtual identity) and ample opportunity to meditate on the relationship between new identities and old ones” (p.222). This loops back to Kramsch, perhaps.

18 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Returning to your question, Willy: “how do we practice a pedagogy whose centre is not a ‘person’?”

I’m now looking at the Kramsch book I mentioned, where she argues that the prototypical model of a post-modern subject is what she calls “the networked self”: “This model, with its emphasis on the social use of texts in social interactions, shifts from a focus on authenticity and authorship to a focus on agency and connection” (p.157). She goes on to quote MIT scientist William Mitchell, in whose book Me + +: Cyborg Selves and the Networked City (2003) it is argued that the virtual self has quite a different subjectivity than the self before the advent of networked computers:

In emerging network culture, subjectivity is nodular… I am plugged into other objects and subjects in such a way that I become myself in and through them, even as they become themselves in and through me… I link, therefore I am.

Kramsch concludes “hyperreality can liberate communication from the social and cultural constraints imposed by the real world and facilitate the acquisition and use of another language through encounters in cyberspace. This liberation can potentially foster the growth of a post-modern, reflexive subject they looks at language as well as through language” (op cit. p. 180).

Translate the “networked self” to a classroom context, and you get something which is not necessarily teacher centred nor learner centred, but language- or discourse-centred, and where language (both as message and medium) links everyone to each other as well as to the outside world. This is how Breen describes it:

The discourse of classroom is its languages, how they are used, how the culture of the classroom and its members are constructed and maintained by languages, and how discursive practices outside the classroom permeate these processes. Post-modern classroom discourse would need to be different from those characteristics of classroom discourse which we know from research and with which we are all too familiar. Instead of being orchestrated by the teacher to resemble a reasonably well structured dialogue or piece of music, the discourse of the post-modern classroom is more likely to resemble several simultaneous conversations or individual or small group compositions of spontaneous and seemingly discordant jazz, occasionally punctuated by agreed moments of collective harmony. In other words, classrooms are a place where discourse can be experimented with; where discourse can be inventive, creative or unlike discourse anywhere else. And such a discoursal play builds upon the close observation and analysis of texts and discourse outside the classroom in other settings and communities” (1999: p.54)

18 05 2012
Rob

Scott, Willy,

Kramsch’s notion of the “networked self” seems related to Block’s criticism of IIO (Input-Interaction-Output) models of SLA, and his reference to Neisser and Harre, who call for “a more ecological, context-sensitive approach to cognition”, which leads Block to the question: “[C]an SLA stand for both ‘Second Language Acquisition’ and Second Language Activity’?” (p.115)

Block goes on to cite Gass (1998) and others (Long, 1998) who “have suggested, is this a question of confusing use with acquisition”? (Ibid)

And I think that might be the question that Kramsch and Breen have to answer about their views, at least from an SLA perspective. Is it the subject-object dichotomy, inherent in modern views of teaching-learning, meeting the postmodern self?

Please tell me if I’m off on a tangent here!

Rob

Block, D. (2003). The social turn in second language acquisition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

19 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Not on a tangent at all, Rob. Although I’m not sure that Block’s ‘social turn’ is a postmodern development, not, at least according to Kramsch, who posits three models of language and, by extension, of subjectivity. Briefly, the first is the ‘modern’ or structuralist model of language in which “communication depends on everyone agreeing to use words to mean the same thing, codified within the standard language promoted by educational institutions”.

Model 2 “sees language as embedded in its social context, and communication as dialogic interaction… In this model, form and meaning vary according to the setting, the situation, the intentions, and the purposes of the language users… Conversation, or dialogue, allows speakers to construct for themselves a new subject position with every new interlocutor” (p.156). This seems to be analogous with Block’s ‘social turn’.

Kramsch’s third model is the post-modern one, “born out of media and cultural studies, it is concerned with signs rather than words and how signs connect with other signs”. She calls this model an ecological one: “This model, with its emphasis on the social use of texts in social interactions, shifts from a focus on authenticity and authorship to focus on agency and connection” — for a continuation of this section of the book, see above on ‘the networked self’.

19 05 2012
Willy C Cardoso

I’ve just finished a book on dialogic and technology which resonates with what you said above, Scott. Although dialogism has many elements of modernity’s attempts to create a grand narrative, it also argues for the multi-voicedness present in postmodernity. The author of this book, although not very eloquently, also says that virtual experiences are likely to open dialogic spaces; making the pre-web idea (and pursue) of identity rather outdated. Hence, my ‘loose’ connection between the two strands: dialogic and postmodernism.

Here are some citations with my notes in brackets:

[why see creativity as exception?]
“If, as we tend to, we think of everything and ourselves on the model of substance or identity then we produce a stable world of defined relationships between things within which it is hard to explain creativity. If with Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Derrida we ‘step back’ from the apparently fixed and stable surface of the world and explore how it is constructed and maintained, we discover that creativity is the default rather than the exception.” (Wegerif 2007: 112)

“To become more creative an individual or group has to learn facility in moving between […] the levels of identity and dialogue [identity: structured, goal-oriented, has socially accepted criteria; dialogue: unstructured, anything is possible], or the ‘what is’ level and the ‘what if’ level” (.ibid)

That, applied to pedagogy, can mean:
– creativity at the fore. Unlike most mainstream approaches which place the ability to create as a consequence of being taught. At a very basic level this can be compared to the difference between PPP and Dogme, I guess.
– providing more room for uncertainty and being okay with it. Not achieving answers prematurely for example.
– acknowledge that collateral learning is as important as direct/explicit display of learning prescribed items. Again, this dates back to Dewey.

Reference:
Wegerif, Rupert 2007. Dialogic Education and Technology: Expanding the Space of Learning. New York: Springer.

17 05 2012
Mustafa Yılmaz

Hi Scott,

With the invent of technology it has been much more easier to create very authentic coursebooks based Corpus-studies. And I have seen your video in NYnewschool, you have showed how the coursebooks have been evolving in time. However, you are definitely true with the use of coursebooks in the classroom. Each class is unique with its own students, like faces, voices or fingerprints. That is why we are present as ELT teachers. Diagnosing the problem and fixing it accordingly. Yet, my concern is the administrations of the institutions, because they push teachers on pacing, covering everthing in the coursebooks (because the students are assessed through the books) etc etc. They tie us up with covering the coursebooks, and kills our creativity in terms of teaching.

I guess post modern method will live for a while.

PS: Will you write about Bloom’s taxonomy?

17 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Mustafa – what you describe (‘covering everything in the coursebooks…’ etc) seems to be a universal condition. Interestingly, virtually all progressive educationalists – from Dewey, through Piaget, A.S.Neill, Steiner, Freinet, Freire, Postman and so on – rejected textbooks in favour of the learning opportunities that emerge out of collaborative work and play.

Not sure if I have a lot to say about Bloom’s taxonomy, but thanks for the tip.

17 05 2012
chiasuanchong

Hi Scott,
I really enjoyed reading this post and found myself agreeing with every single word of it!
The teacher as a ‘cultural worker’, turning walls of the classrooms into windows to the world, helping each learner to go in whichever direction in whichever way they choose. That’s simply brilliant!
I’m going to be quoting this post for a very long time! Thank you!

Chia

18 05 2012
ij64

Hi Scott
I must admit to being a bit surprised to hear that Dogme had jumped into bed with postmodernism – if, indeed, that was your intention. One of the main claims of postmodernism is that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Reality is plural, relative and very much in the eye of the beholder, who is conditioned by social “constructs”. What is real for one person is unreal for another; we cannot be sure of the veracity of anything and should distrust claims to the contrary.

So, what surprises me about labelling Dogme postmodernist is that – although Dogme appears to be somewhat dented after 10 years on the defensive – most Dogmeticians still seem to remain true to doctrine and are reluctant to any shifting of their paradigm. There are signs of jumpiness among the front-line troops, but for most principled eclecticism continues to be rather distasteful and the possiblity of entertaining some sort of half-way house is tantamount to selling out. It’s all rather binary for the dogmetician: good or bad, true or false, this or that – and there seems to be very little willingness to accept any Hegelian compromises which might resolve the conflict between coursebook thesis and Dogme antithesis. This is surely the cause of most of the irkdom among book-using teachers that people like Hugh Dellar refer to.

It is in fact course book users that seem to be the flag-bearers of postmodernity in English language teaching. The baffling complexity of language acquisition and the contexts in which it takes place have led them to a healthy skepticism of absolutist claims and a greater willingness to mix and match methodology. And it is this which would seem to make more sense from the postmodernist perspective. Crudely speaking, as you can’t be absolutely sure of what works and doesn’t work, if you do a bit of everything, there’s more likelihood of downing those damn starlings – instead of firing a arrow, shoot the b*ggers with a scattergun! ;-)

Where Dogme and postmodernism do share common ground is in the fact they both have a penchant for existensialist soul-searching – I think it was last year when we saw the debate about whether Dogme was a methodology, an approach or a way of life. However, one has the suspicion that the most important defining feature of both is their oppositional nature, which I suspect is half the fun! In fact, you sometimes wonder whether Dogme has condemned itself to be permanently on the outside, almost as a matter of choice. If Dogme ever became mainstream – its counter-culture becoming THE culture – it would surely implode.

I’ve been following your blog for quite a while now, and would just like to thank you for all your stimulating and thought-provoking posts! You are responsible for many a brain not atrophying! | Ian

18 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Ian, for that great comment.

It is timed quite neatly with a talk I’m preparing for a conference next week so I won’t give the game away completely, except to say that I think you are wrong :-) , and that, in fact, Dogme’s longevity (in relative terms) is due in large part to its chameleon-like capacity to constantly change its spots. Despite the dogmatic connotations of its (maddeningly adhesive) label, you only have to re-wind the posts on the dogme discussion list to see how it has been all things to all people, and is possibly a bit like Wittgenstein’s riff on the notion of ‘game': there is no single definition that captures all the types of games that there are – rather there are merely family resemblances. I think that’s true of how dogme manifests itself. And this, by the way, is one of its characteristics that most irritates its detractors – that it seems to be a moving target, constantly slipping and sliding like some kind of methodological ectoplasm. That’s why Hugh is so wrong when he lambasts Dogme’s claim to have a ‘monopoly’ on learner-centredness, or a ‘monopoly’ on scaffolding etc. Dogme has never been interested in making proprietorial claims of this order. In fact, from a postmodern perspective, methodologies cannot be ‘owned’, nor do they have borders or boundary fences: rather, they flow into one another, fuse, morph, leak, seep, even dissolve completely away.

At the same time, I think you are right about its oppositional nature. If, overnight, the profession suddenly rejected coursebooks, dogme would probaby fall in love with them. [Insert winking emoticon here]

18 05 2012
Rob

Scott, Ian, let’s not confuse the tone of the dogme narrative with the substance of that narrative, which indeed reflects the postmodern mind as described here by Tarnas (1991):

“The postmodern paradigm is by its nature fundamentally subversive of all paradigms, for at its core is the awareness of reality being at once multiple, local and temporal, and without demonstrable foundation. The situation recognized by John Dewey at the start of the century, that ‘despair of any integrated outlook and attitude [is] the chief intellectual characteristic of the present age’, has been enshrined as the essence of the postmodern vision, as in Jean-Francois Lyotard’s definition of postmodern [original in italics] as ‘incredulity toward metanarratives.’ ” (p. 400).

As long as Dogme remains elusive yet alluring, ie shakes off attempts by well-intentioned proponents, or dismissive detractors, to corner and capture it as a ‘metanarrative’, – language is a cage (Wittgenstein) – the unplugged approach retains its integrity as a way, and ways, of playing the ‘game of pedagogy’.

Let the games begin!

You can read more of Richard Tarnas’ brilliant chapter on the postmodern mind here: http://tinyurl.com/7bkqoxu

PS: A word of warning, Scott – Tarnas also cites how cases of new cultural vision are associated with ‘symbolically resonant trial and martyrdom of some sort…suffered by its central prophet” (p. 395). [Insert tongue-in-cheek]

Tarnas, Richard The Passion of the Western Mind, 1991; Ballantine

Rob

18 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

PS Dogme’s shameless embrace of technology is just one example of its capacity to morph. And to irritate. ;-)

19 05 2012
Willy C Cardoso

Interesting comment, Ian. But I see some of your claims or questions in a different way.

Having myself only encountered Dogme a couple of years ago (I guess), I haven’t seen much stiffness in its conversations. Maybe because I had no expectations towards it, nor anyone trying to influence me to do it. In any case, I started to engage in some conversations, mainly through blogging, without reading the ‘archives’ first, and what I found was actually a lot of room for exploration, experimentation and more than anything a group of people who were a) willing to develop the idea beyond it’s triadic tenets, b) not trying so much to reach consensus, as to create conflict (in the positive sense of the word), c) challenging the normative, commercial and taken-for-granted aspects of your field, which is in itself a good thing.

I agree with you that sometimes the binary way of thinking behind some Dogme advocates may be counterproductive to the debate. This is perhaps what is preventing it to become more widely legitimate, in modernity’s terms though.

If book-users are facing any kind of irkdom in this matter, I can only think that:
– job done! No-one said Dogme’s aim was to reach consensus.
– they should, if so annoyed, respond in less binary ways themselves.
– for arguments such as Hugh Dellar’s, I’m sorry but I don’t think these teachers have ever taught Dogme; hence, I don’t think they’re equipped to diss it like that. It’s like those arguments of teachers who don’t believe in the power of technology without ever playing a YouTube clip in the classroom; i.e. more grounded on some sort of ‘religious’ belief than on a sensible degree of at-the-chalk-face pragmatism. [For a coursebook stakeholder's view on Dogme, take Simon Greenall's as an example of a measured, clear, non-hyberbolic point of view - and you'll see there's actually some sort of dialectic]

Moreover, and on the topic of dialectic and your demand for Hegelian compromise (which I believe not to be postmodern at all); also back to the postmodern slant:

“Is legitimacy to be found in consensus obtained through discussion, as Jurgen Habermas thinks? Such consensus does violence to the heterogeneity of language games (…) Postmodern knowledge is not simply a tool of the authorities; it refines our sensitivity to differences and reinforces our ability to tolerate the incommensurable” (Lyotard, 1984: xxv).

Maybe it’s time we come to terms with the fact that what we do is incommensurable?

19 05 2012
Rob

Willy, could we say the finite (eg, standardization) is not commensurable with the infinite (eg, creativity)?

Rob

21 05 2012
tłumacz angielskiego - Warszawa

That approach I liked most! Very funny and true – in my teaching practice I witnessed the same, unfortunately.

22 05 2012
ij64

Scott, Rob, Willy. Thanks for your interesting comments. Been a bit busy lately, so couldn’t respond earlier.

Scott, you’re right! I haven’t delved into the Dogme discussion list, so am admittedly speaking from ignorance. I will definitely have a butcher’s hook now and again, although I’ve probably already missed the best bit ;-) Willy, it is indeed good that Dogme is not as stiff as I had imagined, but I would also argue that course book users are not as rigid as often made out. Looking on the brighter side of life, I’m sure none of us really believe they eat methodological babies in the opposite trench.

But, I still have my doubts about whether Dogme should be playing games with postmodernism. Postmodernism’s relativism seems to lead Dogme up a one-way street. A long while ago I read something on one of postmodernism’s best-known stand-up comedians, Michel Foucault (although I think he actually denied being a postmodernist). If I recall correctly it was an article about his not exactly veiled support for the persecution of opposition movements shortly after the islamic revolution in Iran. He basically denied more modernist thinkers the right to condemn the atrocities being committed there because the torturers/murderers applied different standards from those in the west. Apparently, they had a different regime of truth which people in the west could not comprehend or judge. Although it would be the furthest thing from my mind to throw “postmodernist dogmeticians” into the same morally-corrupt sack, if we apply the same logic to methodology, it could be said that course book users also have a different regime of truth: a truth which can only be understood and judged by themselves in their own setting – so basically, we’re back to anything-goes eclecticism again, and not necessarily principled either! Personally, I’m still very much in favour of empiricism, modernity and universitality (don’t think that’s a word, but you know what I mean), whatever methodology it leads us to adopt – talk of “incommensurability” or “indemonstrable foundations” just makes my head spin.

So, please, please, don’t do any more flirting with postmodernism. It is the last refuge of the desperate, or of those whose discourse has been partially adopted by the “hegemon” (yuck) leaving – “dogme moments” are the all the rage! It is also a sure sign that any movement purporting to be revolutionary has reached the end of the line. Once the revolution is spent and can offer no more, the temptation is to cover it all up and descend into the meaningless fog of postmodernism, usually expressed in obscurantist meta-claptrap. In politics, this is more or less what happened to the New Left in the 60s and 70s, and I would hate to think of it happening to Dogme.

I reckon Dogme is not so much at a crossroads as at a roundabout, and its future will probably depend on taking the right exit. There seem to be three choices:

a) continue going around the roundabout
b) take the first exit and drive off into the postmodernist wilderness
c) take the second exit and “morph” with the mainstream.

I, for one, hope dometicians take this last option! Why not “play games” with us? … but don’t play so hard to get, we could make beautiful music together! ;-)

22 05 2012
Rob

Made me grin to see Foucault called ‘one of postmodernism’s best-known stand-up comedians’, Ian. Does that make Chomsky the straight man (stooge)? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WveI_vgmPz8 I see this debate in a whole new light! :-)

I can’t claim to be so much as a doorman for postmodernism, myself, but it is all around us. Your invitation for Dogme to come play has me recalling the text messages sent between the latest Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty characters. Very sinister indeed. :-)

If not postmodern, then perhaps Dogme is simply post-grammar, as described by Scott in this piece, which includes a reference to the Clarke (1994) article Scott mentions and maintains that:

“grammar represents the imposition of order and the maintenance of power, both at the level of the global culture of ELT, and in the culture of the ELT classroom.”

It’s a good read, but do cover your eyes if you’re a fan of Headway, or the “hegemon”. :-)

http://www.thornburyscott.com/tu/Power.htm

Rob

24 05 2012
Ian James

Thanks for that, Rob! Just read it on the train.

Although it most definitely provoked my thoughts, (probably needless to say) I don’t really concur. It sounds a bit like putting 1 and 1 together and getting 3. I think Scott might have spent too long out in that postmodernist desert I mentioned before – one starts seeing things that aren’t really there. Btw, I hope he’s got a bottle of water with him, there ain’t no taps out there. Of course, water does emerge now and again, but sometimes it’s much more practical to take your own … or failing that, drill for it! I have a great book with step-by-step instructions on how to sink your own well if you’re interested – alternatively, tell him to try divining or poking around with a stick.

Would love to respond at greater length, but exams start tomorrow so I’ll be on a power-trip for the next two weeks!

Yours (in jest, of course) :-)

Ian

25 05 2012
Rob

Envious of your train reading, respectful of your arguments, and a bit thirsty at the moment…

Rob

25 05 2012
Svetlana

Dear Rob, thank you for including the link to watch the debate. It may surpise you but I agree with both — Chomsky and Foulault. Their views do not contradict, rather they are within different dimensions. When Chomsky talks about freedom of creativity, in terms of language acquisition he agrees with the Creative Construction Hypothesis, which claims that SLA is “the process in which in which children gradually reconstruct rules for speech they hear, guided by universal innate mechanisms which cause them to formulate certain types of hypotheses about the language system being acquired, until the mismatch between what they are exposed to and what they produce is resolved” (Dulay, H. and Burt, M. K. 1974). Freedom of speech in terms of allowing the learner to make mistakes, encouraging him to employ it as a learning strategy is a necessary prerequisite for successful language acquisition. A teacher equipped with Grammar-Translation deductive rule-based accuracy practice can completely block the creative process of constant language reconstruction. This is the extreme end of grammar-obsession or “grammar abuse of power”. ( that’s what I struggle hard against). But the other extreme is grammar-phobia, i.e. rejecting grammar completely, which is dangerous too. In the long run, grammar is just a tool to achieve precision in expressing a thought. Besides, those regularities of a language, be it phonology, or lexis, or discourse, are extremely interesting to research and investigate. Linguistics is an exciting field to study, Grammar is part of it, students do benefit from it, either implicitly, or explicitly, it doesn’t really matter, as long as the learner is doing it on their own will. What Foucault means is that any educational system serves the governmental policy, the political system in a country, a classroom is a mini-reproduction of the state system. As long as the teacher is striving to motivate learners to learn, but not oppressing them to learn, by executing her power to make them learn, the classroom is a safe place. Enforced imitation is where the danger is. Vygotsky calls it “formal education” It produces an obedient crowd which is ready to follow the leader blindly because they have been tamed to suppress their will.
Thank you for reading it! What do you think?

25 05 2012
Rob

It’s been a while since I watched the debate, Svetlana, but you’ve summed it up nicely as I remember it. Chomsky really does serve as the straight man. He can’t help himself. :-)

Rob

24 05 2012
Svetlana

The postmodern method reminds me of Community Language Learning and the principles behind it. Wouldn’t you agree? In my own classroom I am doing my best to adjust my teaching to their learning, letting them learn at their own pace, building the lesson around things that interest my students, managing group dynamics to keep them at the performing stage, resolving conflicts, having reflection sessions and involving students in course and lesson planning. Is that within the postmodern method or not? Yet another association that comes to my mind is John Lennon’s “Imagine” — Imagine there are no school carricular, no proficiency tests, no entrance exams, no parents’ expectations, no EC Framework for languages! These are the “borders”, “religion”, and “possessions” that John Lennon calls for destroying in an ideal world. I would say that the idea of postmodern method lies within wishful thinking, again it is some kind of “fringe” methodology, that can never become a mainstream trend in education.,

And if this “understanding” (or let me call it Aha-reaction) is so subtle, airy, ethereal to define to be somehow measured, and that’s what we call an act or a unit of learning, then an act of teaching becomes even more obscure. Ok, the teacher can recreate rich exposure to L2, can stimulate interaction with this exposure and among students, But what else? How much interference in this unique, individual process of learning can we afford without “causing pollution and destroying the environment”? If we consider any interference harmful, then teacher’s job becomes obsolete. Just say to the student, go to the country where the language is spoken, you’ll learn it. Or just the other way round, no interference at all, isn’t it a moral crime, too? isn’t it like depriving the student of an opportunity to learn? What is an act of teaching, how do we make sure it takes place, and how do we stay “green”?
I wonder if anybody is facing this moral issue, too and how you deal with it.

Thank you!

25 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, once again, Svetlana. I’mm not sure if CLL qualifies as being ‘postmodern’, although I see how it does fit in with Breen’s appeal for a methodology that endorses ‘multiple voices’.

As for your second point – about intervening vs interfering, you might like to (re-)visit this post: N is for Not Interfering.

24 05 2012
Tyson Seburn (@seburnt)

Scott, this has to have the biggest collection of some of the best lines about coursebooks ever. I very much enjoyed the read and the way you’ve put together a post on a topic oft written about and discussed.

25 05 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Tyson … who would have thought there were still good one-liners ot be had from the pro- and con- coursebook debate! ;-)

22 08 2012
MARÍA DEL PILAR CASAS

It is very important teaching a foreign language through the immersion to the students in the culture, because it allows us to understand what is the real purpose of the language, that it is to communicate with others using the real content of the language in different contexts, where education is all about the reproduction of existing practices and taking into account a major objective for learners would be to acquire new voices and new ways of articulating experiences and ideas, because culture also facilitates a research process because learners become researchers of the language themselves, propelled by their diverse, trying to understand how beliefs, traditions, religion, ideologies are involve inside a learning process giving us more understanding about what knowledge in society means.

14 10 2013
Philip Quick Republic of Moldova

Foucault in his theory of power would have loved ‘dogme’ but actually power structures seek to include and incorporate things into its prevailing system. So watch out and never say you do a ‘dogme’ lesson or syllabus, keep it quiet!!! That way you’ll be FREE!!!

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