Same Same but Different

This is more of a reflective piece than anything else, but worth sharing and in my preferred place. I delivered what was probably my first formal taught session which had almost nothing to do with ELT in any way shape or form – teacher development sessions notwithstanding – a session recapping a range of key learning theories and concepts for a group of year 1 PGCE/Cert Ed students. I’m teaching them for the rest of this half term, and after today I am really looking forward to it.

It really brought home to me how, on one level language teaching, or at least my understanding of it, is an entirely different kettle of fish, with a completely different view on so many things. Let’s take, as an example, questioning. A lot of the work in generic vocatioinal teaching revolves around developing questioing to guide learning through increasingly challenging levels of cognitive challenge on Bloom’s Taxonomy – so you work your way up through the different levels from “What is a verb?” (knowledge), to “Can you prioritise (with justification) the most useful tenses you need?” (evaluation) All well and good. But my experience of ELT is that we don’t use questions in that way, at least not all the time. We are, after all, not asking learners to tell us about the language but to use it. So we use stepping stone concept questions to guide learning, usually yes/no or one word answers, which guide learners’ analysis of the language, but these would almost all be considered “lower order” questions and not developing learning enough. Compare, for example, questions like does she wear those clothes every day? Is she wearing those clothes now? which might lead to understanding of the present continuous but which are, according to Bloom, very much lower order questions. a higher order task might be explain to your partner the distinction between the present continuous and present simple. the latter is fine when I am teaching native speakers with a full knowledge of English, and is still rather simplistic (on CELTA for example, a better question would be what problems do learners have with the present continuous? But with low level second language learners would lead to perhaps some understanding of how to explain the difference but not being able to actually use the language. The difference should be reasonably clear, I hope.

But then there are areas where things are similar – major psychological schools: cognitivist, behaviourist and humanist, as well as the endless learning styles, all of which have an impact in both areas. Vygotsky’s constructivist idea of the zone of proximal development, for example, is staggeringly close to Krashen’s input hypothesis in the sense that learning occurs at a point just beyond the current levels of knowledge. Behaviourism gives us drilling in ELT, and reminds us of the value of praise (or positive reinforcement) in generic and ELT teaching. Some of the findings from Hattie’s well known meta-analysis of hundreds of research projects around the world summarised here quite neatly (also worth looking a tfor the relatively small impact of individualisation which is utterly at odds with the value accorded to it in the current educational climate).

While writing this I also came across PAR (http://www.teacherstoolbox.co.uk/PAR.htm) which I won’t explain here, but bears a somewhat uncanny resemblance to, well, pretty much any 3 letter summary of communicative ELT approaches.  And Teaching without Talking ? Sounds like, and has a lot in common with the Silent Way (although a lot wider in scope).

For me, my personal reflection on this is to have an impact on the way I teach on teacher training courses. Sometimes an ELTy idea is as good or better than the generic idea, but I think that I need to incorporate some more of the generic teacher’s skills into the teacher training and development part of my job. So lets see how that goes…

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