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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


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