I am meeting more and more teachers online who have thought themselves not very good at language teaching when the real culprit for this lack of confidence can be found in the following article. It’s such a sad thing to see gifted teachers lose their confidence because of the approach used in their buildings and therefore the one that is expected of them. It’s crazy-making:
A large part of our frustration with our colleagues whose feet are firmly planted in the last century can be described as resulting from a distinction between an organizing principle and an approach. Robert Harrell made that distinction here in the past week and anyone serious about language teaching would do well to read it:
Robert’s point reveals a gross, even egregious professional error by most language teachers:
…an example of incongruity between the organizing principle and the approach would be to claim to Teach with Comprehensible Input but organize the course according to a grammar syllabus….
…many teachers and educators use the analogy of “choosing the right tool from the toolbox”. This is a useful analogy if we understand the limitations. Unfortunately most teachers use this analogy to mean that they feel free to borrow and use whatever practice or strategy looks inviting to them without regard for the method or approach to which it belongs. If we extend the analogy a bit, they are taking tools from a completely different toolbox. It is like taking tools from a plumber’s toolbox to do surgery. Could there be something useful to the surgeon in the plumber’s toolbox? Potentially (after all, surgeons sometimes use pen cases to do a tracheotomy in extreme situations), but isn’t it much better to use the tools in the surgeon’s toolbox to do the surgeon’s job? Borrowing practices and strategies from another method or approach is similar. Sure, there may be some ability to adapt them, but wouldn’t it be better to use the tools designed for the job? I fear that the “eclectic approach” generally results in a hodgepodge or jumble of quickly successive practices that lack cohesion….
This non-alignment described by Harrell, this inability to use the right tool (comprehensible input) for the right job (teaching languages), is slowly making its way into the consciousness of some language teachers now, but it remains largely buried under a massive pool of educational sludge that has been sitting on top of our profession for over a hundred years, one very connected to the textbook and to the idea that people can learn a language by thinking about it enough, so the clean-up will not be fast and easy. No amount of surveys from Bill Gates or the ACTFL leadership will bring the changes needed – it will be a grassroots movement from the bottom up.
Chris Stolz, in commenting on Harrell’s article, adds:
…we must remember ONE THING about APPROACH ____ and what Robert called “the toolbox”: not every approach/tool works in every subject….
…you CANNOT learn basketball by watching it: goal = process. You CANNOT learn a language by speaking it: goal does not equal process. Direct feedback to a kid in an English class about writing will improve it; all the language feedback in the world will not– cannot– change what happens with language acquisition. Jigsaws and peer teaching are superb tools for a novel study, or a social studies unit on the Romans, and absolutely useless in languages….
What Stolz outlines in the second paragraph of his comment above is true and changes everything for language teachers.