Skip to main content

Post-method principles

This is the third and last in this short series of blogs about the so-called post-method era, based on Part 3 of B. Kumaravadivelu’s 2006 book. In the first two blogs I summarised points he made regarding the inadequacy of using a method to teach a language, myths surrounding methods and some general parameters he suggests for making teachers autonomous creators of their own, principled approach, based less on a “top-down” view of teacher education (teacher as consumer) and more on a “bottom-up” view (teacher as self-developer).

I should stress that I am being very selective in the material I use from the book, as Kumaravidelu goes into a considerable level of detail about how he views the “post-method teacher”. I have chosen what stands out for me and what I think might appeal to you.

In this post I’m going to look at some more specific principles Kumaravidelu suggests which might guide your teaching and methodological outlook.

In Chapter 9 of his book, after examining post-method models by Stern and Allwright, Kumaravidelu outlines his own “macrostrategic framework” (don’t be put off by the scholarly language!). Macrostrategies are “general plans derived from currently available theoretical, empirical and pedagogical knowledge related to L2 learning and teaching”. They are broad guidelines on which teachers can base their own classroom practice, depending on their own precise context. Remember how important that last point is - Kumaravidelu is always at pains to stress how contexts vary and no method can work everywhere at any time.

Macrostrategies, which he says are theory-neutral, become a reality in the classroom through what he calls microstrategies (the detailed procedures, activities and interactions of the classroom).

Here is the list of his 10 macrostratgies, which I have sometimes reworded to make them clearer to the average teacher. My gloss on each is somewhat simplified.

1. Maximise learning opportunities.

This means being aware of learners’ existing knowledge, learning objectives, assessing how well the students will handle any planned input or interaction. It also means being able to modify lesson plans on the basis of feedback, using any text book selectively, and, crucially, reacting to students’ own input and ideas. (So this requires cognitive and affective empathy, a key teacher skill I have written about before.)

2. Facilitate negotiated interaction between pupils and between the pupils and teacher.

For Kumaravidelu this includes allowing learners the freedom to initiate their own talk, not just react and respond to the teacher. Negotiated interaction needs the learner to be actively involved in two-way discourse (e.g. using texts, information gaps, task-based activities and so on). This is very much in the mainstream of communicative language teaching.

3. Minimise perceptual mismatches.

In every classroom there will be times when there is a mismatch between the teacher’s intention and learners’ interpretation. So teachers need to be acutely aware of where any mismatches might arise - Kumaravidelu goes into a whole range of areas where the teacher and learner may not be on the same page, as it were. The obvious one is the teacher assuming lexical or syntactic knowledge learners have forgotten. A second would be a mismatch between the pupils and the teacher’s attitude to a particular task.

4. Exploit pupils’ natural, intuitive language learning abilities.

This is what supporters of natural acquisition refer to most. In short you need to provide as much comprehensible input as possible to allow learners’ natural language learning ability to operate (Krashen’s “we acquire only by understanding messages”).

5. Foster language awareness, i.e. explain grammatical and communicative uses of language.

This means drawing attention to the form of the language by pointing out patterns and rules, as well as pragamtic aspects of language (e.g. social uses of language forms). It is assumed by Kumaravidelu that this can speed up learning. It can also sensitise learners to points that they may never have noticed.

6. Contextualise linguistic input.

For example, don’t do meaningless drills out of context. Use the text book sensitively so it makes sense to the class in front of you. The teacher is seen as the main meaning-maker, not the book. Make the language interesting and relevant to the class.

7. Integrate language skills, i.e. don’t teach the four skills separately.

Language skills are “interrelated and mutually reinforcing”. Since the evidence is that it’s through interaction that we best acquire language, then lessons are best planned to involve more than one skill together, typically speaking and listening, or reading and writing, or often all four skills used closely together.

8. Promote learner autonomy.

This is fundamental to Kumaravidelu’s notion of empowering both teachers and learners. To promote learner autonomy it’s necessary to teach learning strategies and to move away from the idea that the teacher is the sole source of knowledge. This mean including problem-solving activities or simply creating in students the notion that they are responsible for their learning, not you.

9. Ensure social relevance.

This means being “sensitive to the societal, political, economic and educational environment in which L2 education takes place.” In practical terms, for secondary MFL teachers, this could mean investigating the very reasons for learning a language, the potential uses of that language now and in the future and generally giving pupils the sense that they are doing something worthwhile. This is quite a challenge in predominantly anglophone countries like the UK and USA.

10. Teach intercultural understanding.

This is about teaching awareness and empathy, geographical knowledge, aspects of the L2 community’s culture and behaviours. We know from research that including “culture” is motivational for many students and that Gardner and Lambert’s “integrative motivation” can be powerful for some students. But for Kumaravidelu there is something greater at stake, namely a “global cultural consciousness”. For him we need to value pupils’ own cultural input (an issue in some classrooms more than others).


In sum, those are the guiding principles, based on the state of research in 2006. I doubt it has changed much since then.

Kumaravidelu gives relatively little space to his microstrategies (detailed lesson activities) but that was not the aim of his book.

When I look at his list of macrostrategies they make sense to me, though I am not sure that they are necessarily “theory-neutral” when taken individually. For example, there is still disagreement among researchers about the precise value of focus on form in lessons. To me the macrostrategies make sense as the basis for effective classroom practice, of adapted to local conditions, as Kumaravidelu makes clear.

It may be of interest for you to compare those 10 macrostrategies with the 12 principles we suggested for principled eclecticism in our Language Teacher Toolkit book, bearing in mind we arrived at these as teachers with some knowledge and experience of research rather than practising academic researchers.

Here they are and you’ll see, perhaps unsurprisingly, quite a lot of overlap. Ours are a bit more classroom-specific and aimed primarily at secondary language teachers.

1. Make sure students receive as much meaningful, stimulating target language input as possible. Place a high value, therefore, on interesting listening and reading, including extensive reading. As Lightbown and Spada (2013) put it: “Comprehension of meaningful language is the foundation of language acquisition.”

2. Make sure students have lots of opportunities to practise orally, both in a tightly structured fashion led by the teacher and through communication with other students. Have them repeat and recycle language as much as possible.

3. Use a balanced mixture of the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing.

4. Promote independent learning outside the classroom.

5. Select and sequence the vocabulary and grammar you expose students to. Do not overload them with too much new language at once. Focus on high frequency language.

6. Be prepared to explain how the language works, but don’t spend too much time on this. Students need to use the language, not talk about it. Research provides some support for the explicit teaching and practice of rules.

7. Aim to enhance proficiency – the ability to independently use the language promptly in real situations.

8. Use listening and reading activities to model good language use rather than test; focus on the process, not the product.

9. Be prepared to judiciously and sensitively correct students, and get them to respond to feedback.

10. Translation (both ways) can play a useful role, but if you do too much you may neglect general language input.

11. Make sensible and selective use of digital technology to enhance exposure and practice.

12. Place a significant focus on the target language culture. This is one way of many to increase student motivation and broaden outlooks."







- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

Sentence Stealers with a twist

Sentence Stealers is a reading aloud game invented by Gianfranco Conti. I'll describe the game to you, then suggest an extension of it which goes a bit further than reading aloud. By the way, I shouldn't need to justify the usefulness of reading aloud, but just in case, we are talking here about matching sounds to spellings, practising listening, pronunciation and intonation and repeating/recycling high frequency language patterns.

This is how it works:

Display around 15 sentences on the board, preferably ones which show language patterns you have been working on recently or some time ago.Hand out four cards or slips of paper to each student.On each card students must secretly write a sentence from the displayed list.Students then circulate around the class, approaching their classmates and reading a sentence from the displayed list. If the other person has that sentence on one of their cards, they must hand over the card. The other person then does the same, choosing a sentenc…

Using sentence builder frames for GCSE speaking and writing preparation

Some teachers have cottoned on to the fact that sentence builders (aka substitution tables) are a very useful tool for helping students prepare for their GCSE speaking and writing tests. My own hunch is that would help for students of all levels of proficiency, but may be particularly helpful for those likely to get lower grades, say between 3-6. Much depends, of course, on how complex you make the table.

To remind you, here is a typical sentence builder, as found on the frenchteacher site. The topic is talking about where you live. A word of warning - formatting blogs in Blogger is a nightmare when you start with Word documents, so apologies for any issues. It might have taken me another 30 minutes just to sort out the html code underlying the original document.


Setting work for home study

A major challenge for language teachers just now is selecting and sharing work with students to do at home. Here a few suggestions on the issue to add to your own. The sites I mention are the tip of the iceberg and focus mainly on French. I have stuck to free resources, not subscription sites.

By the way, I'm not getting into the use of tech here, as I have no great expertise on that. In any case, I imagine for younger learners especially it may be a question of setting other types of work.

ADVANCED

For advanced learners the job is not so tough. There is a plethora of listening, reading and grammar material they can use, whether it be from their textbooks, other resources shared electronically or online resources. You may have your favourites, but for a selection for French you can check out my links here and here. You may want to stick with topics on the syllabus, or free up students to read and listen more generally to what interests them.

One idea I used was to ask students to c…

"Ask and move" task

This is a lesson plan using an idea from our book Breaking the Sound Barrier (Conti and Smith, 2019). It's a task-based lesson adapted from an idea from Paul Nation and Jonathan Newton. It is aimed at Y10-11 pupils aiming at Higher Tier GCSE, but is easily adaptable to other levels and languages, including A-level. This has been posted as a resource on frenchteacher.net.

This type of lesson plan excites me more than many, because if it runs well, you get a classroom of busy communication when you can step back, monitor and occasionally intervene as students get on with listening, speaking and writing.