Have you ever checked out the YouTube channel for the New School? If you’re remotely interested in your Continued Professional Development in the ELT industry, you should check it out. Not only is it the school where Scott Thornbury teaches, it is a leading institute on English language teaching, bringing in speakers from across the globe for talks and presentations. Amazingly, these talks are recorded and uploaded to the channel for absolutely free!
A friend of mine recently – Jye Smallwood – recently posted to a DELTA/ELT Facebook he set up a link to a New School talk on methods and methodology by Diane Larsen-Freeman. You can watch the talk here – it is basically the subject of this post:
In chapter 12 of his e-book “Big Questions in ELT”, Scott Thornbury really hits the nail on the head when he writes that what language teachers are looking for in methods is really a panacea, which he compares to the “cure for the common cold.” However, what I like about Diane Freeman’s approach to this is that her underlying message is the same from beginning to end: don’t think about the method, think about the learner. I don’t have any study or paper to refer to, but as both a language learner and a language teacher I make the assumption that no two learners are exactly the same: as Diane put it, “they go down their own path.” So bearing this in mind, we as language teachers need to set about doing that what will bring about effective language input for the learners. How do we do that? First and foremost I guess we need to use a variety of approaches and exercises, so that we increase the chances of input becoming intake. For example, having a mixture traditional written exercises and kinaesthetic exercise during a single lesson. Without delving into the Learning-Styles debate, by having a mixture of different types of activities, you’re simply widening the net – with the hope of catching as many learners as possible.
I’m currently doing the DELTA and one thing I have learnt from it when it comes to systems lessons is that it’s very often a good idea to set up an activity at the beginning of the lesson which will let the learners show you what they can and can’t do. Then, during the input stage, you as the teacher go about filling in their gaps in their knowledge. On the surface of it, this sounds a bit like a Task-Based Learning approach:
- complete the task
- provide input and practice
- complete the task
However, if you examine this in a little more detail (as we’ve been doing on the course) really there is a simple yet fundamental mantra at play here:
Treat your learners as knowledgeable humans and react according to their abilities – not according their inabilities
Earlier methods, such as PPP and Audiolingualism, made huge assumptions about what learners did and didn’t know. The Communicative Method could be accused of the same thing but on a smaller scale e.g. pre-intermediat learners don’t know the present perfect so they need a lesson on this.
I think what Diane Freeman and others are getting at, is not that we’ve moved beyond methods, but rather we have moved towards a humanistic-approach to learning, whereby we work with the learners – not against them – which is the crucial difference between almost all methods to date. I think this move began some time ago and is really taking shape on a much wider scale now: Thornbury and Medding’s Teaching Unplugged approach to teaching and learning is an example of a ‘method’ which treats the learners as knowledgeable humans and reacts according to their abilities – not according their inabilities.