M is for Method

28 11 2010

I’m moderating a Diploma course discussion on methodology this week, so, for a change I thought I’d post a short video of me going on about it.

Seven key quotes on the subject of method, some of which I refer to in the video:

  1. “Methods are of little interest”  Kelly, L.G.  1969. 25 Centuries of Language Teaching. Rowley, MA: Newbury House, p. 2.
  2. “The development of language-teaching methods … has in fact been empirical rather than theory-directed. […] The fact seems to be that teachers have ‘followed their noses’ and adopted a generally eclectic approach to teaching methods…” Corder, S. P. 1973. Introducing Applied Linguistics. Harmondsworth: Penguin. pp. 135-6.
  3. “During the sixties and seventies several developments indicate a shift in language pedagogy away from the single method concept as the main approach to language teaching.”  Stern, H.H. 1983. Fundamental Concepts of Language Teaching. Oxford University Press, p. 477.
  4. “The widespread dissatisfaction with the conventional concept of method has produced what I have called a postmethod condition.”  Kumaravadivelu, B. 1994. The Postmethod condition: (E)merging strategies for second/foreign language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 28, p. 43.
  5. “Methods, however the term is defined, are not dead. Teachers seem to be aware of both the usefulness of methods and the need to go beyond them.”  Bell, D. 2007. Do teachers think that methods are dead?  ELT Journal, 61, p. 143.
  6. “I consistently use method to refer to established methods conceptualised and constructed by experts in the field ….  I use the term, methodology, to refer to what practicing teachers actually do in the classroom in order to achieve their stated or unstated teaching objectives.”  Kumaravadivelu, B. 2006. Understanding Languge Teaching: From Method to Postmethod. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, p. 84.
  7. “The concept of method has not been replaced by the concept of postmethod but rather by an era of textbook-defined practice. What the majority of teachers teach and how they teach … are now determined by textbooks.”  Akbari, R. 2008. Postmethod discourse and practice. TESOL Quarterly, 42/4, p. 647.

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39 responses

28 11 2010
Dennis Newson

Scott. Congratulations on going embeddable and using that great new tool – the short video.

” From this point on people began asking themselves – shall I write, or shall I make a short video?”

Dennis

28 11 2010
Mercedes Viola

I would say that many teachers follow textbooks and, somehow, that determines how they teach. However, I don’t think this is always the case.
Besides that, each teacher manages the teaching learning process differently based on his/her beliefs concerning teaching, the role of the students, the role of learner and the role of textbooks and materials. These beliefs tend to be culturally bound and formed fairly early in life. Reflection, experience and discussion with colleagues can change our beliefs.
“… one of the many facets that teachers bring to the teaching-learning process is a view of what education is all about, and this belief, whether implicit or explicit, will influence their actions in the classroom.” (Burden and Williams 1997: 48-49)

29 11 2010
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Mercedes, for your comment. I agree that the teacher’s beliefs (and values) strongly determine their teaching approach, and a teacher who doesn’t believe in, or value, an approach that they are nevertheless constrained to use (because of their institution, for example)will try to bend it to their will — either by subverting it, or ignoring it completely. I once watched a teacher using a fairly grammar-centric course, who had made a decision to ignore all the grammar in the book (she even showed me how she had scratched out the grammar sections using a highlighting pen). Her ‘method’ was not the coursebook ‘method’. Nor was it the institutional one, I suspect. Which raises questions as to the extent that institutions impose — if not a method — at least a kind of methodological culture, to which its teachers are expected to align. What happens if they refuse to?

19 06 2013
Bhanu Bhandra Joshi

agree with viola . I’m in the favour of adopting post method pedagogy. Therefore, I’m conducting a research on it recently. I’d be grateful to you , if would help to accomplish the venture.

28 11 2010
Glennie

I guess that those who would equate their method with the textbook they are using are those who do what is says in the teacher’s book.

But even, if you don’t, you are always going to be something of a prisoner of what is there on the printed page anyway- a prisoner of the content. Though I’m not sure just how much content necessarily has to determine method. I guess what is important is how the content is presented (how much the presentation constrains) and how much freedom you have to get the content out of the box it comes in and put it in your own box. Re-boxing is what I seem to spend an awful lot of time doing.

29 11 2010
Scott Thornbury

Nice comment, Glennie. I like the metaphor of re-boxing. This question of freedom is an interesting one — see my previous comment to Mercedes. Do methods constrain our freedom as teachers, or do they provide us with a safe framework within which we can customise our day-to-day teaching? And/or a set or principles which lends coherence to what we do? Diane Larsen-Freeman, for example, is fairly upbeat on the subject of methods:

“When methods are seen as sets of coherent principles that link to practice, they help act as a foil whereby teachers can clarify their own principles and beliefs, they challenge teachers to think in new ways, and they provide associated techniques with which teachers can experiment to come to new understandings.” (Larsen-Freeman D. and Cameron, L. 2008. Complex Systems and Applied Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 197)

29 11 2010
Glennie

I agree with the upbeat line of Larsen-Freeman and Cameron.

But first you have to be able to accept the fact that, like it or not, the content has to be what is glaring up at you from the page of the coursebook.

28 11 2010
Luiz Otávio

Well, if it is true that textbook is not tantamount to method, then most mainstream language institutes on the planet are teaching through the same method, since “modern” textbooks are remarkably alike these days: the topics, the syllabi, the sorts of grammar practice activities, the sorts of pre-skills work activities and the list goes on and on. It seems to me that the first edition of Headway (1987?), bold as it was at the time, sort of set the tone for what coursebooks would look like for the next thirty years.

But, honestly, I don’t think we can equate classroom practice with textbooks – or with “method” for that matter. It’s really the teacher’s belief system (more often than not rooted in her own experiences as a learner), I think, that will shape her classroom practice, whether or not this belief system is articulated (rather than intuitive) and grounded in theory.

So any given textbook lesson can be taught in wildly different ways by different teachers. I once observed a lesson by a teacher who was very skeptical of “grammar discovery” questions, but, for some reason, tried to stick to what was in the book (rather than do a teacher-led presentation, which I’m sure she would’ve done left to her own devices). As she was reading each question in the book, her intonation was so revealing that students arrived at the answers immediately, as if she’d been telling them what the rules were. So, in that lesson, the writer’s intent was rendered useless by the teacher’s own views on how grammar ought to be taught, regardless of whether she tried to “follow the book.”

What textbooks can do, I think, is impose certain syllabus choices on the teacher, who will, in turn, often get accustomed to a certain sort of scope and sequence and might have trouble envisaging other possibilities. This generates, of course, an endless cycle of “more of the same.”

Sad.

29 11 2010
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Luiz – one which echoes the point that Mercedes made earlier, i.e. that the teacher’s belief system is the major determinant of their methodology. Where do these beliefs come from? In part, from our previous experience as learners — either in classrooms, or in naturalistic situations. They also come from our training. But I think they can also be influenced by the books and materials we use. If, as you suggest, every coursebook we pick up is organised around a grammatical syllabus, doesn’t this predispose us to believe that languages are best learned according to a preselected, graded list of discrete items? In other words, while I agree that (many) teachers adapt and supplement their coursebooks according to their own ‘theory of learning’, I also think the theories of learning of (many) teachers are covertly influenced by the reigning educational paradigm – which, in many contexts, is grammar-driven rather than communication-driven. Of course, the publishers and writers of these coursebooks will say that they are simply responding to the needs and expectations of teachers, so what we get is a kind of chicken-and-egg situation: which came first? And, more interestingly, how do you break the vicious circle?

28 11 2010
David

Scott,

Thanks for posting something on this subject for us practicing teachers. Food for thought for sure. I’m writing an essay on student created content at the moment and will use a few of these. I wish I had a dollar for every time a student teacher of mine asked me what the difference was between a method and an approach! Same goes with method and methodology.

I really think the word “consistently” should be part of any definition of a “method”. I also agree that content does to a large degree determine what methods are employed in the classroom, as Glennie above elaborated.

Number 6 seems to me bang on. Teachers nowadays really “mix and match” in the classroom and pick and chose from a variety of “methods”. However, I’m more interested in their methodology – what leads them to these decisions. I’m also curious why ELT seems to shy so much away from the term “philosophy” or “beliefs”? I find that we often shy away from “fuzzy” terminology and borrow more scientific terms when in fact teaching is anything but scientific. “Method” is another term borrowed from science and I’d prefer if we tossed it altogether and just talked about our teaching philosophy and approach.

My method is what works. Meaning, I’m not post – method but anti method.

David

29 11 2010
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, David, for the comment. It would be interesting to know the extent to which teachers really do ‘mix and match’, as you put it. Perhaps this is a luxury that many teachers do not enjoy, driven as they are by the need to get their students through an impending examination, and/or the demands of having to teach 30 or more hours a week. This is the point that Akbari was making in his TESOL Quarterly article: in his context, at least, teachers have no time nor training nor even inclination to break the deadlock of the coursebook. In fact, the coursebook, far from being a constraint, actually liberates them from the need to spend unnecessary time planning and worrying.

But I agree — ‘method’ has somewhat dated, scientific connotations, while most teachers know that teaching is as much art as it is science.

29 11 2010
Luiz Otávio

Scott,
I’ve been thinking about what you said.

I don’t know how a more “communicative” textbook (syllabus + methodology) would impact teachers who began teaching in the Headway era. Maybe (and I say maybe) some of them would “supplement” the book with lots of grammar exercises from grammar books – at least for the first few years – to fill the void, as it were.

I don’t know how this circle can be broken. About four years ago, a relatively small publishing house put out a book heavily influenced by a lexical view of language – you know, something Michael Lewis himself might have given a nod of approval to. Two years later, an “updated” version came out (TWO years later!) and it was, as I suspected, a watered down version of the first one, with grammar crawling its way back in and lexical phrases playing a far less prominent role. In other words, it probably didn’t sell.

I think if Headway had the sort of impact that it did in the late 80s it might (and I say might) have been because it was able to tap into an undetected need at the time – teachers’ collective unconscious, if you will. Maybe what we need right now is another watershed title that can do the same thing: break free from some of the current paradigms AND sell.

29 11 2010
Scott Thornbury

Interesting thought, Luiz, re Headway and the Zeitgeist! I have argued elsewhere (see here, for example) that Headway taps into a discourse that is essentially positivist and anti-progressive: there’s a lot of talk of ‘tried-and-true’ methods, a ‘step-by-step’ approach, etc, and the content (as John Gray convincingly argues in the latest Applied Linguistics) celebrates aspirational middle-class culture and new capitalist values.

The phenomenal success of the series suggests that it instantiates both a view of language learning, and an attitude towards English, that are entrenched, and unlikely to be toppled by anything that is radically different. Calls for change have almost always fallen on deaf ears, although this is not to deny that incremental changes — e.g. a greater emphasis on lexis, a rejection of ‘celebrity culture’ — have improved the ‘Headway model’ considerably. But we’re a long way from what Earl Stevick was calling for in the mid-seventies (here I reference the last thread in this blog), i.e. ‘materials for the whole learner’, in which “the author will be less preoccupied than we usually have been with the sequencing and presentation of discrete units such as grammatical structures and lexical items” (Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways, 1980, p.202). Stevick continues: “There is a place for these concerns, of course. But the first and central aim of the writer of whole-learner materials will be to say something — or better, to help the student to say something — that is worthwhile and interesting. Within that framework, but only within that framework, he [sic] will take care to see that the linguistic elements do not get out of hand” (ibid.)

29 11 2010
Luiz Otávio

Scott,
What a great article. Thank you!

Indeed, the so-called Headway model is atomistic and linear, but so were most of the text books that came before it, I believe. Even the Strategies series (which I used as a LEARNER of English!), despite its boldness at the time, was really made up of grammatical entities couched in functional/notional terms, practiced step by step and drilled at the end (in hindsight, I think it was really the “oral exercises” at the end of each lesson that helped me the most. Go figure.)

If I were to approach this question from a smaller, less broad perspective than the one you’ve brilliantly articulated, I would say that Headway has brought (back?) to ELT, for better and for worse:

1. The use of metalanguage. I could be wrong, but wasn’t the very first unit of Headway Intermediate called “The Simple Present”?

2. Grammar discovery questions as the standard model of language analysis. While the intellectual engagement they can potentially generate has a lot to be said in its favor, a lot of these “inductive” questions perhaps engage learners in too much grammar analysis far too soon.

3. The return of gap-fill (and gap-fill type activities) as something to be done in class rather than at home (for consolidation only). In the Strategies series, for example, you’d be hard pressed to find a single “fill in the blanks with…” on any of the pages. So, in that sense, perhaps there was slightly more “text creation” than “text manipulation” work in ELT way back then. (Can’t remember who coined these terms).

4. The return of books that were meant to be followed fairly linearly, with pages containing lots and lots of text. I’m doing hardly any teaching these days, but whenever I teach a group, these are the books that tend to give me the hardest time. I don’t really like to plod through the different activities on a page and with 70% of the books on the market these days, in a way you, feel compelled to. The extreme opposite would be Peter and Karen Viney’s books, of course, though most teachers I work with tend to find that sort of flexibility and leeway a little unsettling, too.

5. A decidedly marginal role to functional language – in one particular edition, the formulaic expressions appeared at the end of each unit in a section called “post script”.

6. If I’m not mistaken, Headway was the first book to tackle the receptive skills systematically, with pre/while/post activities dealing with different microskills. If I remember correctly, they even used words such as “skimming” on the scope and sequence page. Even though the texts and listening were a bit on the long side, their systematic approach to skills development deserves a lot of credit, I think.

Interestingly enough, it’s really the American textbooks (not the adapted versions) that have been able to stray from the Headway model a bit. It’s in the American titles that perhaps you tend to find less gap-fill, more dialogs, more A-B exchanges, more functional language and less crammed pages. The Spectrum series, for example, had a remarkably long life span in Brazil – it was still selling like hotcakes well into the late 90s.

29 11 2010
Scott Thornbury

Just a quick note, Luiz – there’s an interesting discussion going on about both Headway and Strategies on Peter Viney’s blog here:
http://peterviney.wordpress.com/about/elt-articles/influential-elt-books/

29 11 2010
Philip Kerr

I was once interviewed for a teaching job (in a French-speaking country) and I was asked what ‘méthode’ I normally used.
Nasty, trick question, I thought, so I blathered a bit before eventually realising that the interviewer was asking about textbooks.
The idea that methods have been replaced by textbooks is an interesting one, but I’m not sure that methods have ever been, for many people, anything other than textbooks. The method you used was largely dictated by the ministry-approved textbook you were required to use (and by the expectations of inspectors … who were often the authors, or closely connected to the authors, of these textbooks).
Kumaravadivelu talks about the ‘post-method condition’ and the ‘widespread dissatisfaction with the conventional concept of method’. At about the same time (2007), there was an article in ELTJ by Martin McMorrow called ‘Teacher Education in the postmethods era’ and the same volume contained an article by Colin Sowden in which he wrote ‘In the present post-method situation, ELT has become …’ and then refers to ‘a retreat from methodology’. I am not aware of any firm evidence that we are living in a ‘postmethod era’, nor that there is any retreat from methodology or widespread dissatisfaction with the ‘concept of method’. My own experience in many European countries (in both universities and high schools) confirms the powerful influence that methods and ‘méthodes’ continue to exert. Why, I wonder, has the idea that we are in a post-method condition gained such currency? Is this perhaps another example of BANA / inner circle discourse?

30 11 2010
Scott Thornbury

Yes, Philip — in Spanish, too, the notions of method and coursebook tend to be conflated, ‘el método’ standing for both. I remember being confused by an interviewer in Argentina, asking me to describe ‘my method’, where in fact she meant coursebook (in the days when I did that kind of thing!)

As for the ‘post-method’, I think there is some truth in the assertion that we have moved beyond an obsession with methods, of the type that prevailed in the 1960s and 1970s, where a rash of methods competed to fill the black hole left by the demise of audiolingualism. As I said in the video, the term ‘approach’, with its less prescriptive connotations, supplanted ‘method’, at least in the applied linguistics literature. But in the rhetoric of marketing the term still persists: a Google search for “award-winning language learning method” yielded 2500 hits, and ” new language learning method” nearly 150,000!

30 11 2010
Philip Kerr

What intrigues me, Scott, is the ‘we’ in ‘we have moved beyond an obsession with methods’. You qualify the ‘we’ by adding ‘at least in the applied linguistics literature’, but I seriously wonder to what extent the applied linguistics literature impacts on the work of most high school teachers. As a coursebook writer, I am always being asked by teachers for prescriptions, and my rejection of prescriptivism is very often met with disbelief.

30 11 2010
Scott Thornbury

A fair point, Philip — I guess I was using ‘we’ royally, aligning myself with other writerts on methodology, such as Jim Scrivener (2005), who makes a similar claim, i.e. “Many teachers nowadays would say that they do not follow a single method. Teachers do not generally want to take someone else’s prescriptions into class and apply them. Rather they work out for themselves what is effective in their own classrooms” (Learning Teaching, p.40).

On the other hand, Bell (1997) — on the basis of interview data and discussion board postings with a range of teachers — found the method concept alive and well, even though his informants used the term fairly loosely, more or less synonymous with methodology — that is to say “techniques which realise a set of principles or goals” (p. 141). he concludes, “Post-method need not imply the end of methods but rather an understanding of the limitations of the notion of method as it is narrowly defined and a desire to transcend those limitations. In this sense, the evidence here suggests that teachers have always been ‘beyond methods'” (p.143).

The reference is: Bell, D. 2007. Do teachers think that methods are dead? ELT Journal, 61/2.

30 11 2010
Training ELTeachers

While we can say “I have a method because I use a such and such a textbook” the reality is not the case. I have written text books and watched them used by teachers in ways I never imagined or intended when I wrote them. Textbooks only work in the way we expected if the teacher has been properly trained in a particular method. ‘Using’ the text book in no way guarantees a ‘method’. (And I don’t think writers of such textbooks would ever claim they can.)

30 11 2010
Scott Thornbury

Thanks John – it’s good to have the perspective of both a trainer and a coursebook writer. Out of curiosity, do your trainees ever ask you ‘What is the method you’re teaching us?’ Likewise, as a coursebook writer, do you ever get challenged to identify the method you subscribe to? Or is the whole ‘method’ thing a distraction?

1 12 2010
John Hughes

Trainees at pre-service level never ask me what the method is called as such. Some of them might know we are doing something loosely referred to as Communicative Language Teaching and that’s probably what I’d call it if asked (Terms like a ‘post-method method’ or the ‘principled eclectic method’ don’t seem very helpful at this stage in a teacher’s training!) At a higher level like Diploma then trainees obviously ask about methods but at that stage the trainer’s job is to present them and the trainees make up their own minds. I’ve never had Philip Kerr’s experience above of being asked for prescriptions as such though I’m aware I’m possibly guilty of offering such things when giving presentations (it tends to be the nature of one-off conference talks that we do to present a prescription – like tidy sound-bites but not the whole picture)

Again, if I’m asked about the method in my books I’d refer to something loosely known as CLT. But my experience is that teachers will often go with their own ‘method’ or ‘approach’ regardless of what the course book or accompanying teacher’s book says. For example, I can write a rubric like: ‘Work in pairs and discuss the following questions’ but plenty of teachers working with class sizes of more than thirty will ignore this and do a lockstep where they ask individual students the questions while the rest of the class listens. Similarly, if I write in the teacher’s book to ‘Drill’ some sentences in the student’s book, I’m sure that some teachers will ignore this classroom technique. Maybe on methodological grounds (they disagree with drilling) but also because they have never been trained in how to drill.

So I have to make some assumptions about the methodology and classroom practice when writing but I certainly can’t assume everyone will be informed by my choices. I have to say though that the more I observe teachers using my books around the world the more I try to broaden the methodology in my writing to suit -for example – the teacher with a class of 50 kids who has received very little training. And certainly there is role for teacher’s books to help teachers more and more with training. (You see this occuring as more TBs include methodology sections and in a recent series I worked on I included DVDs of teachers working with the material to offer access to at least some self-training.)

However, to answer your final question, if my books have a methodology it tends to be more and more based on what I see teachers doing in different parts of the world mixed in with what I think is good practice. But I’m not sure that I’m representative. I’m aware of other course book writers who hold much stronger beliefs in terms of their books having a strong methodological agenda and influence. Maybe this discussion needs to hear from one them?? But in my case, the more I see teachers working in different places, the less I feel I can talk about a ‘method’. Many teachers do what works for them and their students with remarkable results (especially given the circumstances they are working in). They are able to achieve this without defining their ‘method’.

1 12 2010
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, John for that comprehensive response to my questions. Your point, that teachers tend to ‘customise’ their coursebooks so as to fit their own personal theory of learning/teaching, chimes with my own experience of watching teachers, too. A teacher committed to real communication will turn even an old-fashioned coursebook drill into an opportunity for personalised chat. However, this assumes a degree of autonomy and, perhaps, experience. It would be interesting to research the degree to which novice teachers closely follow the coursebook, compared to more experienced ones. Is there a correlation between coursebook use, experience, and, even, teaching effectiveness?

3 12 2010
Tim Banks

Not completely answering your questions, but hopefully relevant.

At the British Council in Thailand, we’ve recently been doing some research into how teachers here are using coursebooks, and the impact of this on ‘student engagement’ (i.e. how involved they are in different activities and stages of the lesson).

A team of teachers observed around 50 hours of lessons, split roughly evenly between teachers with CELTA level qualifications and Diploma level quals (giving some indication of experience).

The data was split into 4 main categories:

book used – open: 42% (of observed lesson time)
book used – closed: 5%
activity adapted from book: 18%
book not used: 35%

There was very little difference between teachers with higher or lower qualifications. On average, though, the CELTA qualified teachers achieved higher engagement when using the coursebook.

3 12 2010
Scott Thornbury

Fascinating, Tim. Dare I ask how you measured ‘student engagement’ (or would that spoil Darren’s presentation)? Body language? Vocal participation? Attitudinal questionnaires?

4 12 2010
Tim Banks

It was a fairly subjective assessment by the observer of the level of interest and enthusiasm the learners showed through the different parts of the lesson. We surveyed students (and teachers) as well about their attitudes and preferences about coursebooks – but not after each observation.

3 12 2010
John Hughes

This is really interesting Tim – are the full details going to be published anywhere in the future?

3 12 2010
Tim Banks

My colleague Darren Clarke is doing a presentation on the results at IATEFL this year, and hopefully we’ll publish a report on it at some point next year too, but nothing definite so far.

3 12 2010
Mike Chick

My interests lie in pre-service teacher education thus, for me, this is yet another fascinating discussion on a wonderful website – many thanks to all!

I’d like to comment though, on what I feel is the next logical step in this conversation. If we assume teachers customize coursebooks / materials to fit their own personal theories (beliefs), should this not be an area of greater emphasis on initial teacher education courses?
In other words, should there be more focus on getting pre-service teachers to articulate their beliefs about teaching and learning in order to illuminate how they “fit” (or clash) with SLA research and with current views on best practice in language teaching? It seems to me that a teacher can only be committed to “real communication” if this fits with her personal theory – making the addressing of beliefs a pretty important component in developing effective and flexible teachers.
I guess the point is to what extent initial teacher education can / should address these issues.

3 12 2010
John Hughes

I used to moderate pre-service training courses for an exam board and would see courses where the various methods were taught at pre-service level. My feeling is that trainees came away with a historical knowledge of where they all fitted in but no real understanding of the thinking behind them. These were 4 week courses so that’s really not surprising. Without a fuller period of teaching practice and chance to reflect a new teacher isn’t in a position to establish their own beliefs about methodology. I’ve also lived in the States and seen MA TESOL courses with pre-service teachers. Even on these longer MA programs, teachers would look at methods and approaches over a term without having done any teaching practice – their misinterpretation of methods and their application was really apparent. So, I guess I’m saying a teacher isn’t in a position to really address beliefs about method until they have some years of teaching behind them – and this needs to have been teaching accompanied with guided reflection/development. Note that I’m not saying pre-service courses shouldn’t encourage the critical thinking skills that teachers will eventually need to be able to address such beliefs.

3 12 2010
Mike Chick

John,

Many thanks for the reply. I’ve just visited your blog for the first time and found it so useful that I’m sure I’ll be visiting it frequently.

I agree that having a number of years of experience behind you is, of course, all important in developing as a teacher. However, I’m also pretty sure that trainees arrive at teacher education courses with certain beliefs about the teaching and learning process (as opposed to beliefs about particular ELT methodologies) and it is these general beliefs that I am referring to in my earlier mail. For instance, when a teacher is in her first or second year of practice and is customizing the course book tasks in ways that were never imagined by the author, what belief / theory is she drawing on in making such adaptions?
The importance of teacher cognition has been highlighted frequently over the last decade. I don’t have the answer to how beliefs could be addressed on a one month course but am curious about their role in decision making by both newly qualified and more experienced practitioners.

3 12 2010
Scott Thornbury

There is a fair amount of literature in mainstream education on teachers’ beliefs and values, and how these impact on their practice, and also how these are shaped by experience, and will differ from novice to expert. But there is less so in our own field (although see Teacher Cognition in Language Teaching: Beliefs, Decision-Making and Classroom Practice, by Devon Woods, CUP). Your suggestion that pre-service teachers should articulate their beliefs reminded me that, when we used to interview candidates for the CTEFLA (in the old days), they were asked to choose a simile for a language teacher from a list (a teacher is like a coach/guide/social worker/ entertainer etc) and elaborate on their choice. This provided an insight at least into how their belief system might predispose them (or not) to the course, and the subsequent career. It occurs to me now that it would also have been interesting to subject the trainers to the same ‘test’, to see to what extent they shared a similar set of beliefs. I think we all assumed that the kind of training we were offering was not constrained by one particular set of beliefs or ideology (and did not therefore qualify as a ‘method’) but, of course, it was – the exclusion of any use of L1 in the classroom, for example, was one significant indicator that we subscribed to a particular set of beliefs and not another.

6 12 2010
Mike Chick

Thanks for the recommendation Scott – I do have that book by Woods.

I guess what I’m thinking about is a little more than articulating their beliefs at the start of a course. Rather, using the addressing of beliefs as a means to encourage critical thinking / reflection. Quite a bit has been written in TESOL literature that in learning to reflect on what we believe and what we do, we are better able to identify entrenched (possibly erroneous) beliefs. Freeman and Richards (1996) discuss how beliefs can have a strong influence on how and what is learnt on teacher education courses and Simon Borg (2003, 2009)has also researched and written a fair amount on the relationship between what people believe and the ways in which this affects what they do.

As I said before, this really does seem to me to be an area that could well be worth focusing on during pre service training but for the time being, thanks to anyone reading for allowing me to muse aloud in this format.

Borg, S. (2003). Teacher cognition in language teaching: a review of research on what language teachers think, know, believe, and do. Language Teaching, 36(2), 81-109.

Freeman, D. & Richards, J. (eds.). Teacher Learning in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Phipps, S. and Borg, S. (2009). Exploring tensions between teachers’ grammar teaching beliefs and practices. System, 37(3), 380-390.

17 05 2011
Rim

I am a teacher of English from a country where English is taught as a third and even fourth language! As a non native teacher of English I can easily understand my students’ way of processing newly presented piece of language; although I am aware of the existing different styles of learning, still there is one common feature my students share_ they process English through Arabic/ berber and French – in the same fashion I used to do when I was learning English in my early teens. I still remember how alien, weird and unaccessible English sounded to me back then. And as a teacher today, I can weight the difficulty of the task of teaching a new language to completely beginning levels. I am never satisfied and constantly calling into question the way I am teaching; by the end of class, even though by all standards, any obsever would tell me the lesson went on really well, but still I have always this awry feeling that something is wrong; I am missing on something important that might make the teaching/ learning process more effective. I am very uncomfortable about the unnatural aspect of teaching; I am never sure my students are likely going to put into use newly acquired language and what a waste of precious time and energy would that imply. BTW, I’m not a novice teacher but a teacher who wants to fully embrace this profession and who constantly seeks of ways to improve her way of teaching.

To be honest with you, it’s only recently that I heard about free material-bound teaching when I accidently bumped on this blog- thanks to Twitter- but I have only a faint idea of what that really means practically; I cannot rush to tell you I have already used this method unconsciously and unware of the fact that it already exists since I’m not sure I used it properly. But, I would like to know more about it. I know that the purpose of setting this blog is to help teachers get acquainted with the method; but I think that theory is not enough; I would wish to see the method put into practice; i.e, I would really appreciate being able to watch recorded videos with teacher and students using unplugged teaching if possible. It looks as a method that is close to my vision of how teaching should be but I know I have to learn more about it.
Thanks for your time to read through my post.

17 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Hi Rim, thanks for posting.

Here is a selection of sites you might want to look at, including lesson descriptions:

The ‘official’ Dogme discussion list:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dogme/

The Teaching Unplugged archive:

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

Jason Renshaw’s blog:

http://jasonrenshaw.typepad.com/jason_renshaws_web_log/the-road-to-teaching-unplugged-ongoing-archive.html

including this lesson description:

http://jasonrenshaw.typepad.com/jason_renshaws_web_log/2010/10/teaching-unplugged-a-whiteboard-tour-of-an-actual-lesson-with-beginner-level-students.html

Reservoir Dogme archive:

http://www.facebook.com/reservoirdogme?sk=wall

Teacher Training Unplugged

http://teachertrainingunplugged.wordpress.com/

Some videos of me talking about dogme:

Teaching Unplugged: the book

http://www.deltapublishing.co.uk/titles/methodology/teaching-unplugged

Hope that helps!
Scott

17 05 2011
Rim

Thank you very much for the links and the videos.

3 02 2013
Lucas

Hi! I’m a teacher of English here in Brazil and I’m carrying out a research on Kumaravadivelu’s Post Method condition to my last term paper at the university,so I’d like to have some helping thoughts on it. First of all, when Kumaravadivelu states that we are living in the Post Method era, did he mean that we teachers should neglect methods at all cost or that we should understand better them and try to come up with a new method by ourselves from the previous knowledge we have from other methods? What about coursebooks? Where do they fit in the Post Method era? I hope you understand my questions. Thank you!

14 02 2013
huwjarvis

Some interesting quotes here Scott. I feel that TESOL is still rather obsessed with methodology even though we all seem to recognise the limitations. Arguably this is because it’s difficult to see a realistic alternative – post method condition on a CELTA or DELTA? It doesn’t really work, does it? Perhaps Ted Rodger’s notion of a “personal pedagogy” offers a way forward – he talks briefly about this on the latest Keynote video from http://WWW.TESOLacademic.org which some may find interesting. Huw

11 03 2014
Farhad

Dear Scott,

Thank you very much for sharing these wonderful ideas.

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