The Post Method Era

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. DELTA Series ImageNot 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.

14 thoughts on “The Post Method Era

    1. Thank you for this comment and thank you for sharing your blog. I’ve been struggling to find any other posts other than the most recent in your blog. Is there a category section or an overview of topics?

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  1. Very good post, Anthony. In theory, I couldn’t agree more with you. At times, though, -especially when I am actually teaching – I am under the impression that the ‘need’ to bring the student(s) centre stage has taken something away from the teacher’s role. What I am trying to say is that it is one thing to prepare, teach, and evaluate having the learner(s)’ needs in mind and another to base an entire course on the learners’ preferences.
    One has to have many years of varied classroom experience in order for him/her to be able to distinguish between needs and preferences; The Teaching Unplugged approach has not offered convincing solutions on this matter.
    All I am wondering is the following: Is Teaching Unplugged yet another teaching approach or is it a stage at which teachers eventually arrive due to experience?

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    1. Thank you for this comment Angelos!

      I think the easiest answer to your comment is this:

      (1) Find out what the learners can and can’t do
      (2) Feed knowledge from (1) into your lesson planning

      You don’t need to be an experienced teacher to find out what your learners can and can’t do; however, what you do need to be is a half-decent observer: you have to listen to your learners during plenary and group work stages and take note of what they can and can’t produce.

      If we take my current group as an example: if I give them a controlled exercise for producing wh-questions, they will do this no problem. If set up the conditions under which they should produce wh-questions, I get things like “where come you from?” To take them forward in their language learning in a structured way, this really should feed into my planning – I should be planning lessons with stages which:

      – allow the learners to see what they can already do naturally
      – provide the learners with good models and bring their attention to the difference between the model and their language –> this should hopefully lead to what’s called “noticing”
      – get the learners to focus on the form and pronunciation
      – a productive activity which can be repeated many times so they learners get practice after practice producing the target language (this is usually best achieved by getting them to change partners and repeat the task).

      So, I think this really keeps the learners at the centre of the planning and the lesson and it keeps the teacher in their role: as a teacher.

      With regards to Teaching Unplugged, I would have normally agreed with you but last week I discovered that one of my course tutors, called Beth Grant, runs across the world several CELTA-Unplugged courses (Cambridge administered and approved). Basically, at the end you get your CELTA as with all CELTA courses but the input and the way you are trained to teach is all Teaching Unplugged. So, that would suggest if complete beginners can do it, then any teacher can. Amazing, isn’t it? I was quite shocked at first! 🙂

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      1. Thank you for the response. I am currently researching about dogme and its possible effects. Having read your comment, I think that this approach could be adapted for some lessons but definitely not for an entire course. For example, the teacher could include a revision week per semester in the course syllabus during which s/he could actually teach unplugged. It also seems as if this is a much better way to actually monitor the students’ progress and (re)adjust one’s teaching methods, materials, etc.
        As for the Teaching Unplugged CELTA… I think I have my doubts; not in terms of quality. During CELTA, trainees get exposed to knowledge that they can use in order to make a conscious decision as to which approach/method fits their personality/goals/etc. For a follow-up course, though, it would be great to receive input on dogme.

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        1. “the teacher could include a revision week per semester in the course syllabus during which s/he could actually teach unplugged” – it’s funny you should suggest this, because that is exactly how I’ve been using it 🙂 This following post was developed out of ‘Lighting Talks’ from page 37 of Teaching Unplugged – it’s all about revision what learners have already done in the course: https://ashowski.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/reviewing-and-demonstrating-learners-progress/

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        2. Hey Angelos!

          Well, I’ve changed my mind. I watched a pure 100% Dogme lesson yesterday and now I really see that:

          – you need to be an experienced teacher to do it well
          – it can very easy go wrong

          What the lesson yesterday showed me was that all the dogmatic lessons I thought I had done to date were in fact just regular lessons with dogme moments in them.

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          1. Which goes back to your initial post on the post-method era. 🙂

            What is best is for teachers to listen to their learners’ real needs and appropriate any method (or more) according to those needs.

            Pure Dogme lessons (if such a thing can actually happen) presuppose that the teacher is also the academic director in charge of the curriculum and that the students are aware of the method and agree to follow it.

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