Skip to main content

The Death of Method

This is the second blog in this little series drawing on Chapter 8 of B. Kumaravadivelu’s book entitled Understanding Language Teaching: From Method to Postmethod (2006).

In the previous post I summarised his view that methods are an inadequate basis on which to build a language teaching methodology, that the search for a best method is futile, and listed a number of myths surrounding methods.

Let’s suppose you sometimes feel annoyed or frustrated when urged to use 90% target language, not do drills, avoid using vocabulary lists, do lots of work on phonics, avoid group work, play lots of games, don’t play games etc. You may find Kumaravadivelu’s discussion of what he calls the post-method condition quite refreshing and even a little reassuring.

So in this post I summarise what else he has to say about what British applied linguist Allwright called in 1991 The Death of the Method.

Kumaravadivelu enumerates Allwright’s six reasons for the Death of the Method. I’ll summarise them as concisely as I can.

1. Method focuses too much on differences. Theoretical differences are far less marked than actual classroom practice. (Many teachers do similar things while professing allegiance to contrasting methods.)

2. Method simplifies highly complex sets of issues, including the fact that learners vary. Second language acquisition is far too complex for one particular method to provide all the answers for the classroom.

3. Worrying about applying a method properly diverts attention from more important activities such as designing effective classroom tasks.

4. Method breeds brand loyalty which is unlikely to be helpful to the profession since it fosters pointless rivalries on essentially irrelevant issues. (In MFL this phenomenon is more rife in North America than the UK.)

5. Method breeds complacency since it gives the impression that all the answers have been found. (Vocal evangelists for the TPRS method fall into this category.)

6. It provides an easy, externally derived sense of coherence which may inhibit more valuable, personally derived methodology (classroom practice).

For Kumaravadivelu that last point is crucial, since in his view teachers need to move beyond methods but without just adopting a random eclectic approach. So his next challenge is to produce some sort of principled eclectic approach in the absence of a method. How can we arrive at some sort of principled eclecticism or language teaching philosophy?

The Post-method Condition

This is the term he uses to describe “a sustainable state of affairs that compels us to fundamentally restructure our view of language teaching and teacher education.” He goes on to describe what he calls Pedagogic Parameters.

Pedagogic Parameters

1. Particularity

Any pedagogy, he says, “must be sensitive to a particular group of learners pursuing a particular set of goals within a particular institutional context embedded in a particular sociocultural milieu.” If you don’t take into account local situations then your pedagogy may fail. (For example you would not implement the same pedagogy in a British secondary school as with a group of evening class adult learners in the same country.) On a more global scale the predominant Anglo-Saxon methodology of Communicative Language Teaching may fail in some countries and cultures.

2. Practicality

This relates to the relationship between theory and practice and to the teacher’s skill in monitoring their own teaching effectiveness. Professional theories produced by researchers and teachers’ personal theories differ. K... argues that teachers need to learn to theorise from their practice. Teachers can only do this if they have the knowledge, skill, attitude and autonomy “to construct their own context-sensitive theory of practice.”

So teachers need to be independent reflective practitioners who can weigh up why some things are working and others not. They develop this though experience, intuition, insights, as well as theoretical knowledge. The parameter of practicality focuses therefore on teachers’ reflection and action.

The awareness teachers develop has been labelled “sense-making” (van Manen) and matures over time as teachers learn to cope with all the competing pressures on them, e.g. institutional constraints, assessment systems and learner expectations.

3. Possibility

This one is a bit harder to define and may seem less relevant to teachers working within quite tightly regulated school systems, such as those experienced in the UK. In part it relates to notions of power and dominance in any system. Teachers should question the status quo which may, in a sense, keep them subjugated. (As an example I might suggest a school ethos which strongly favours either a traditional direct instruction approach or a more progressive ethos where group work and self-enquiry are the norm.)

Secondly, he refers to the “broadening of the nature and scope of classroom aims and activities” to involve not only learners and teachers, but the whole community in developing collaborative projects.

For Kumaravadivelu this is about taking into account not only learners’ linguistic needs, but also their socio-cultural context. He gives examples of projects which have transformed the lives both of children and teachers, including on a personal level.

*******

Now if the above general parameters come across as just a bit airy-fairy to you and if, like most teachers I know, it’s the practical classroom ideas which interest you most, in the next blog I’ll look at another way he describes in trying to make sense of the post-method condition. In that post we shall get a little closer to actual classroom practice.

Don’t expect any prescriptive ideas about how to teach best though! That would go against the very principles Kumaravadivelu is espousing! It’s much more about, as we’ve seen, helping teachers to become well-informed, independent, critical, reflective and adaptable practitioners. The teacher ceases to be a consumer of top-down methods, but a creator of their own principled methodology (classroom practice).



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


English 

_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

Worried about the new GCSEs?

Twitter and MFL Facebook groups are replete with posts expressing concerns about the new GCSEs and, in particular, the difficulty of the exam, grades and tiers. I can only comment from a distance since I am no longer in the classroom, but I have been through a number of sea changes in assessment over the years so may have something useful to say.

Firstly, as far as general difficulty of papers is concerned, I think it’s fair to say that the new assessment is harder (not necessarily in terms of grades though). This is particularly evident in the writing tasks and speaking test. Although it will still be possible to work in some memorised material in these parts of the exam, there is no doubt that weaker candidates will have more problems coping with the greater requirement for unrehearsed language. Past experience working with average to very able students tells me some, even those with reasonable attainment, will flounder on the written questions in the heat of the moment. Others will…

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for frenchteacher.net three separate PowerPoint presentations using the same set of 20 pictures (sports). A very good way for you to save time is to reuse the same resource in a number of different ways.

I chose 20 clear, simple, clear and copyright-free images from pixabay.com to produce three presentations on present tense (beginners), near future (post beginner) and perfect tense (post-beginner/low intermediate). Here is one of them:





Below is how I would have taught using this presentation - it won't be everyone's cup of tea, especially of you are not big on choral repetition and PPP (Presentation-Practice-Production), but I'll justify my choice in the plan at each stage. For some readers this will be standard practice.

1. Explain in English that you are going to teach the class how to talk about and understand people talking about sport. By the end of the lesson they will be able to say and understand 20 different sport…