Mike Heath. January, 2017
Which is the best method? CLT, PPP, ESA, TBLT, CLL, DDL... I could go on with the acronyms. Have you ever moved from one context to another and found your tried and tested materials, plans and routines fall flat? Have you ever tried to implement an exciting new approach only to find your students stubbornly resist?
In this article I'll cover some basics of post methodological thinking in the first section and cover some of the implications in the second.
Post method thinking
As a teacher trainer I've run sessions which have presented theory and methodology, developed in academia, as tried and tested formulae which can improve any student's language skills. I've also run into the "that doesn't work with my students" riposte from the teachers in the group.
In his discussion around teachers' senses of plausibility (Prabhu, 1990), Prabhu argues that there is no best methodology. His point is not that professional theory is redundant, only that we must, as teachers, remain engaged in the effectiveness or otherwise of our approach and methods in real classrooms. That in starting from a theory, we must adapt and change to meet each classroom's needs. This sounds obvious, but it is easy to become mechanical as a teacher, and to rely on routines without critically evaluating the effects of what we are doing. It's also easy to think that our approaches are 'new and good' as oppose to the 'old and ineffective' methods used elsewhere.
There are two ways of theorising. One through largely intellectual endeavour and the other through practise in the field. The first is normally the preserve of the post graduates and professors whose names we see in countless journals, books and at conferences an so on. The second is personal theorising by teachers in the classroom. The 'post method' approach elevates the credibility and importance of personal theory and tries to resolve the distance between it, and professional theory.
There are myriad reasons why activities, lesson plans and materials work in one context and not another. Passionate and engaged teachers constantly try things in the classroom to find out what works.
To help to make post methodology thinking more practical, Kumaravadivelu (2003, pp.537-557) outlined a possible system of post method thinking employing three guiding parameters;
- Particularity: Each teaching context has unique learners working towards unique goals within a unique institutional context.
- Practicality : This attempts to resolve the tension between professional theory and teacher practise by encouraging teachers to theorise and try out ideas in order to create their own personal theories.
- Possibility: This encourages teachers to be brave and break from conventional ideas in order to best serve their students learning and personal goals.
As teachers, we need to think about a few things in relation to this.
Beware of becoming a mechanical teacher. We need to constantly evaluate the effectiveness of our teaching methods with reference to the success of our students' in their learning goals. If we are going though the motions, then we are not making conscious decisions on how well we are serving our learners.
Don't become married to a specific learning approach, lesson plan or activity. The plausibility we attach to our approach and methods should come less from ideology and belief, and more from constant reflection and assessment, and also from trying new ideas to see if we can continue to improve and evolve our teaching.
Most importantly, always keep your learners in mind. Where are they from? What are their learning goals? What do they expect? How plausible are your methods to them? Don't forget that learners need to trust and believe in their teachers, you may have to adapt to take their expectations into account.
As teacher managers and trainers, we can either enable or hinder teachers from achieving the above.
We need to ensure that teachers have the time, support and tools required to take this approach.
Champion an approach that starts in academic theory and results in personal theory.
Make sure that PD sessions on your institution's learners and specific context is prioritised.
Train teachers in what kinds of evidence to look for in student output and behaviour to assess how well their ideas are working out.
If you have an institutional methodology or materials, help teachers to consider how they can stay true to the ideals of the school, while adapting to get the best results for their students.
But, with all that said, don't abandon more conventional methodological training. In order to feel comfortable as teachers, we often strive to find reliable routines and tasks as they make us more confident. Helping teachers become confident in a more flexible framework takes time and experience. This is especially true with new teachers.
Remember that if you're a manager or trainer, teachers will look to you for guidance on expectations and what they can and cannot do. This approach needs respect for both academic theory and teacher's personal ideas from the classroom.
Kumaravadivelu, B., 2001. Toward a Postmethod Pedagogy. TESOL Quarterly, Vol.35, No. 4, Winter issue, pp.537-560.
Prabhu, N.S., 1990. There is No Best Method – Why?. TESOL QUARTERLY Vol.24, No. 2, Summer issue, pp.161-176.