* ELTJ Review

ELTJ

A few comments on papers in this ELT J edition, in the hope that postgrad students may find them useful.

Waters, A. Trends and issues in ELT methods and methodology

Waters looks at trends in ELT methods and methodology over the last 15 years in terms of theoretical perspectives and then attempts to “capture the picture at the classroom level” by analysing a unit of teaching material from earlier and later editions of Headway Intermediate.

In the first part, what caught my attention was Waters’ observation that a “critical pedagogy” is emerging, where more attention is paid to the underlying but unstated assumptions guiding teaching techniques. He suggests that their ‘nativespeakerist’ provenance can be regarded as ‘culturist’ or even ‘racist’. He cites Kubota (1999), who argues that cultural generalizations about students’ preferred learning styles are a form of racial stereotyping, and should therefore be avoided. Similarly, Holliday (2005) sees everyday aspects of methodology as “capable of harbouring neocolonialist undertones”.

As for methodology, Waters notes the continuing promotion of a more monolithic, ‘communicating to learn’ approach, where maximizing opportunities for learners to interact with ‘authentic’ communication data in order to produce personally meaningful utterances is the key. A smaller component involves a ‘focus on form’, including the ‘strong’ form of ‘task-based’ language teaching, whereby ‘tasks’—activities in which learners use language as communication—form the central component of teaching and learning.

The increasing spread during the period of CLIL (content and language integrated learning) is also discussed, but much too briefly. CLTL strikes me as being one of the most important new developments in the last 15 years. What it isn’t (an easy “bolt-on”) is as important as what it really is. There’s an article in this special edition of ELTJ by Georgio about CLIT, Reviewing The Puzzle of CLIL” which gives a good background, but is, IMHO, a bit bland.

And, blow me down if Waters doesn’t also note the emergence of Dogme ELT.

Waters then subjects the popular coursebook “Headway Intermediate” to an analysis of how it’s changed. Very interesting reading, if somewhat depressing. Not as depressing, however, as Waters’ conclusion that “methodology at the ‘grass-roots’ level has remained relatively stable over the last 15 years”, and that “it seems likely that the gap between ELT methodology at the level of theorizing, on the one hand, and of indicative classroom practice on the other, will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. While theorizing about ELT methodology has become increasingly based on the findings of SLA studies, the primary use of such a ‘knowledge-base’ means that much of what research suggests as vital to take into account in the development of methodology will continue to be overlooked”.

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Batstone, R. Language form, task-based language teaching, and the classroom context

In this article, Batstone (whose book on grammar (Grammar, it’s called!) I think is a real gem) examines some of the ideas about task-based language teaching (TBLT) which have emerged, focusing in particular on grammar and vocabulary, and enquiring to what degree these ideas take adequate account of classroom context.

Batstone describes a classroom-based task and asks “Should we say that this task turned out the way it did chiefly on account of the task design and its rationale.. or could we go further, and suggest that the social context was pivotal in determining how the task was implemented?” Batstone argues that task design is not necessarily a reliable indicator of task outcomes, and that more attention should be placed on the extent to which events are shaped by an interaction between task and context, leading to outcomes which we could not reliably predict solely on the basis of the task.

Most TBLT researchers assume that task effects can be generalized about without any scrutiny of the contexts where they are enacted. Sociocultural researchers take a different view, suggesting that there is a distinction between task and activity. Whilst a task has set procedures and self-contained goals, activity refers to what happens when a task is put into action. Batstone gives a good discussion of this issue.

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Jenkins, J. English as a Lingua Franca from the classroom to the classroom

Jenkins is a powerhouse and works endlessly (not to mention with tremendous force, coherence and scholarship) to spread the word on the use of English as a Lingus Franca. She writes so well that I find it impossible to quickly summarise what she says. Here’s one quote:

Much of the research into ELF pragmatics has focused on the use of code switching and demonstrates that the prevailing ELT view of code
switching, that it is used primarily to fill gaps in lexical knowledge, is often far from the truth. Klimpfinger (2009), for example, draws
on the VOICE corpus to demonstrate how code switching provides multilingual ELF users with an additional linguistic tool and serves four
main functions:

specifying an addressee
introducing another idea
signalling culture
appealing for assistance.

Jenkins cites Dewey (2012) who says that introducing ELF into ELT begins with teachers and therefore with teacher education. He points out that although ELF research findings question many long-held beliefs about what and how English should be taught and tested, hitherto there has been little discussion of what this means in practice for ELT professionals. “And this has led to a feeling of unease and insecurity among them, as tends to happen whenever existing language standards or pedagogies are challenged (see Jenkins 2007)”.

Jenkins is essential reading, but there are better articles than this. See, for example her keynote address at the Jacet conference in 2008 http://www.jacet.org/2008convention/JACET2008_keynote_jenkins.pdf

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Timmis, I. Spoken language research and ELT: where are we now?

Timmis looks at the relationship between spoken language research and ELT practice over the last 20 years. Having examined recent spoken research findings, he then considers their sociocultural implications. This is followed by a brief assessment of the impact spoken language research has made on ELT practice so far. The second part of the article looks to the future and considers how research might help us to take a more principled and coherent approach to teaching spoken language.

Timmis makes a lot of use of corpus findings. For example, he notes: “In terms of spoken grammar, I would argue that corpus research has provided insights in two main ways:
1 It has shown that some non-canonical spoken grammatical features are more systematic and pervasive than previously thought (McCarthy and Carter op.cit.).
2 It has shed new light on features that have tended to be described only in terms of their written use”.

Timmis concludes that recent (mostly corpus-based) research has shown the importance of interactional, interpersonal, and situational concerns
in shaping spoken language. It has underlined, for him, the importance of three qualities in approaching research:

1 A sense of perspective: although corpus-based spoken language research has been going on for well over 20 years, it is a very short
time in the history of language teaching. Why should we know the answer to its implications yet?
2 Critical curiosity: spoken language research can make us think afresh about language; make us ask, ‘What am I doing and why?’; but the
pedagogic filter remains in place.
3 Cheerful agnosticism: our classrooms are not experimental laboratories, but we can perhaps find space to explore the implications of research for a while in an open-minded spirit.

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Discussion

While I think the 4 articles I’ve mentioned here are all worth reading quickly (and might certainly make good references in an MA paper), I’m “impressed” by their general lack of new content. There’s nothing here to really make you sit up and take notice. I remember, for example, when I first read Pawley and Syder (1983) and their discussion of lexicalized sentence stems, and then the article by Nattinger and DeCarrico (see post on Corcondancing). They really made me sit up and think. I remember reading Krashen and Terrell’s The Natural Approach when it first came out, and Widdowson’s Aspects of Language Learning, and Earl Stevick’s A Way and Ways“, and Schmidt’s paper on “Noticing”, and Long’s reformulation of his Inreactionist Hypothesis, and, most recently Susan Carroll’s Input and Evidence. All of these, and many more, deserve our attention and (IMHO) admiration. All we have in this “Special Edition” of ELTJ is examples of what academic life, alas, is all about: publish or perish.

Those doing post grad work might well ask themselves: What’s the “New Thing” going to be? For me, developments in SLA, as signalled by Carroll (a very difficult book to read, unfortunately – she needed a better editor, methinks); corpus linguistics; Multicompetence, Lingua Franca and all that; and CLIL, not forgetting the impact of IT, are the ones to follow.

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