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17649Re: [dogme] Back in the classroom

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  • N. M. White
    Jan 15, 2014


      While I think it likely that we do have diverging views on learning and teaching, though I have a feeling they may not be quite so far apart as it seems to you.

      I accept your objection to the use of the word 'swan' but my intention was not to insult experienced teachers (a group in which rightly or wrongly I include myself) so much as to show how an experienced teacher can appear from the point of view of a novice or inexperienced teacher.

      As you say yourself:

      I am one of those experienced teachers who does not use books … what I do does not depend on published or pre-processed materials. What I do changes from semester to semester, from year to year. I never do the same thing twice … I see course books as learners see them and frankly, I have no time, and no use for 90 percent of them.

      The point I was trying to make is that you are in a position to do what you do, amongst other things such as commitment, because of your considerable experience.

      That kind of experience is not going to be available to others and for them course materials will very likely be extremely useful.

      While I agree with your criticisms of CELTA and Trinity TESOL certificates (and any others like it), I would question the order of cause and effect implied here.

      Firstly, as you probably know, the overwhelming majority of teachers are non-native speakers who have often had training of considerably more than 4 weeks. The comments they make go a long way to shaping those course books – or generally that's the case, though apparently not where LG Life is concerned (as I said, I recognize the title but have never used it so can't comment).

      Secondly, the CELTA, TESOL etc. courses were changed in response to what was happening once the majority of teachers hit classrooms overseas. On my own CELTA in 1996, the emphasis was very much on planning and creating our own lessons and not at all on how best to get use out of a coursebook.

      This was fine, of course, until someone who had spent six hours planning a 25 minute lesson was suddenly faced with a timetable of 22+ contact hours and then, for most people, the whole thing went to pot. With that in mind, I think the solution – to focus on how to get the best from the coursebook – was a sensible one.

      The downside of that of course is when you may now find novice teachers who think that all teaching consists of is processing packaged content – something you are right to criticize (IMO).

      On the other hand of course, I have observed lessons by 'barefoot' teachers so to speak that have been absolutely atrocious so not using any kind of coursebook can – in some cases – be a lot less preferable to using one. Though again, it depends on course, school, teacher, aims, students, etc.

      There is nothing inherently virtuous about not using materials (teacher-made, learner-made or published) just as there is nothing inherently villainous about using them.

      Just one last point, this is almost certainly my fault for using the phrase, but you have a very different understanding of 'ready made' from the one I had in mind.

      I simply meant that – for example – when put on standby, I don't necessarily get flustered in the way that a less experienced teacher might on account of my experience and having a number of loose outlines for lessons that can suit a variety of different contexts. That I have such outlines at all is a result of previous experiences – It was not meant to suggest that I have an off-the-peg-one-size-fits-all-they-have-to-do-it-whether-they-like-it-or-not approach.

      I would say what I do depends on the students, primarily, and not the materials – as I said before, I can sometimes be baffled or even irked by the amount of ire heaped on published materials when at the end of the day it is just one of many elements that make up a course of education and by no means it is even the most important one.

      On 15 January 2014 14:58, M C Johnstone <mcjsa@...> wrote:

      NM White (and Diarmuid) said,

      the grammar is not relevant, the lexical focus is random


      I'm not sure quite what you mean – in what sense can the grammar not be relevant? 


      Referring to NG Life series, it is possible for grammar to become irrelevant when scope and sequence of presented items is random, when it does not refer to any recognizable style or theory of grammar,and when descriptions of grammatical structures or features are  idiosyncratic: in the NGL universe, for instance, there is an English tense / structure called "present continuous aspect."  
      I do not mind idiosyncratic descriptions so long as they form part of a coherent and well described system. Otherwise, they are just BS.
      This takes me to something else you said, that I also thought was very interesting:

      The most searing criticisms of course books are largely unfair because they generally come from the most experienced and qualified professionals, not the least experienced and novice ones. Teachers and teacher trainers who have many, many years of experience and who, in contrast to inexperienced teachers, can confidently swan into a class they've never seen before and do it brilliantly drawing on the wealth of 'ready made' lessons that are already in their head. 

      Poor teacher preparation is partially attributable to an industry-standard teaching qualification that can be earned through only four weeks of full-time instruction and several hours of supervised teaching practice. This initial training focuses on how to write "lesson plans" around packaged course materials, keep records and manage classrooms. You, too, refer to scripted lessons when you say experienced teachers "can confidently swan into a class ... drawing on a wealth of 'ready made' lessons that are already in their head.
      I cannot speak for anyone else but I am one of those experienced teachers who does not use books. However, I never swan and I do not have a head packed with "ready made" lessons primed to deliver at the drop of a hat.
      When I am faced with a class I've never seen it takes me several weeks just to get to know them. Once I know them, then I can decide what I need to do to help them move from here to there - assuming they want to move anywhere. But I cannot do this if am restricted to off the shelf lessons.
      Perhaps we just have different views of learning and teaching. That's fine with me and I do not fault you in any way. But, what I do does not depend on published or pre-processed materials. What I do changes from semester to semester, from year to year. I never do the same thing twice. I see myself as an expert learner in a room full of expert learners. I see course books as learners see them and frankly, I have no time, and no use for 90 percent of them.
      Effective teacher training would aim to give people the skills they need to foster learning, not the skills they need to deliver content. 

      N.M. White: ELT Materials developer, researcher, tutor
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