It was a great pleasure for me to watch Jeremy Harmer and Scott Thornbury speak online once more at IATEFL. I attended sessions for both of them before at the Nile Tesol Annual Conferences 2012/2013. At that time, Jeremy Harmer spoke about variations of language teaching to keep students attracted and interested, while Scott spoke of new grammar perspectives especially about those related to Active and Passive Voice. This year at IATEFL, they met together to discuss CLT (Communicative Language Teaching) and how they started as trainee traditional teachers, yet how they went against this and tried to lead a new trend of teaching by the end of the 70s. Harmer said that when people became so much interested in CLT, they 'lost focus'. He said,"in the zeal for applying CLT, we lost focus which is provided by drilling." By 'focus' he meant "what is going on with the language" i.e. the rules of grammar and structure. On the other hand,Scott Thornbury said,"it doesn't matter what knowledge of grammar or language resources you have, it is how resourceful you are with what you have in order to communicate what you need to say of write." Some people have very good knowledge or vocabulary or grammar, yet they can't communicate using the language. He believed that a teacher is a 'facilitator, a manager of learning'. The teacher is the one who plans what to do, at what time and how. Thus he believed that "teaching is a kind of management issue not knowledge." Teachers can start their lessons in the traditional way following a coursebook system, but because communication learning is very important, if they can 'flip' the classroom and start with 'task based learning'that would be more beneficial and more effective. Both Harmer and Thornbury, came to the conclusion that having a mixture between traditional and CLT is the best possible solution and that it is the situation, system or school that implies which way to go. Yet, the most important point as Heremy set as a conclusion,"CLT gave us an understanding of the importance of the need to learn the language, not only that, but to provoke students to learn, provoke the need to do that." I enjoyed this conversation or rather discussion so much that I repeated it online more than once. From my personal experience over 30 years, I support the conclusion they finally got to. You can be a wonderful traditional teacher, but where would you take your students? Would they be really able to communicate using the language? Would they be really passionate about the need to learn and communicate? We need to have this mixture between traditional and CLT. Also it is much better to be guided by a coursebook rather than adopt your own work!! Well designed curriculums can achieve great results, yet to apply them we need to follow well-designed systems of work and train teachers how to follow them. It would be also advisable to make some kind of questionnaires, among teachers and students as well as limited researches as a kind of feedback to check the benefit of such systems and what are the best ways to enhance them. Finally, as Jeremy said,"if you can create the need [motivation] in the students to learn the language, that's it." How to interest yourself as well as the students in the learning process is the key to successful learning!!!
May be because I was and is still interested in science that I got so much attracted to the recent studies in Neuroscience and its relationship with studying the English language or may be because it has become a fashion among ESLers and linguists!
I have recently come across Russell Mayne's session at IATEFL A guide to pseudo-science in English language teaching, in which he attacks this idea of NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) as he believed it failed to prove anything tangible about studying English. He held a comparison between NLP and Learning Styles. He thought that both are unreliable and that linguists have found no proof so far to prove their existence, point of view and credibility. He even went on to call a pseudo-science that can prove nothing!!?
I am so surprised concerning Russell's beliefs?! What is wrong with the idea that scientists are trying to help us have a broader knowledge of the working mechanisms of the brain and learner's psychology. Scientists discovered new things concerning the working of the brain while learning, so why not listen to them and attract teachers' attention to them!! We are not concerned with the detailed descriptions, which have confused me to an extent, we are mainly concerned with the working links inside the brain that help us have a better understanding of the developments in the learners' minds as they work and study.
When we have a case of Autism, ADHA or Dyslexia, we become concerned about brain images (x-rays) and how it works, so why can't we do the same with normal students!!
NLP and Learning Styles have caused a lot of argumentative movement around the linguistic and ESL field mainly for the benefit of the profession, so why should we go against them?! Nobody is asking anybody to stick to certain rules or follow them. It is the natural development that takes place with the development of everyday life. New ideas pop up or let's rather say that we start seeing things from different perspectives. People may get drifted by certain ideas, but it is all for the benefit or the profession, people responsible for it and eventually the learners!!
In one of the articles that I have come across recently, the writer said, "[that] learning and studying bring development, growth and changes in the brain function and organization. " On the other hand, I read in an article entitled 'Brain and Learning: Boosting Brain Power for Success' by Dana W.Toedtman (a learning specialist) that John Medina (writer of Brain Rules) said, "Some parts of our adult brains stay as malleable as a baby's, so we can create and learn new things throughout our lives. Peter Wiley, a psychologist, "remarked the executive functions or 'getting your act together', have become more important and challenging in schools for many reasons................. Parents and teachers must accept that they have to function as the child's frontal lobe (organizer) much longer than they may wish; they can withdraw their support as the student learns to manage, usually much later than we think."
Here is a collaboration of scientists, linguists and psychologists to help us as teachers understand what is really going on in the learners' minds. These ideas may take a long time to prove, but nevertheless, they are stepping stones to the future.
This idea would lead me to another fashionable way of teaching which Gamification or using educational games to interest students in the learning process. Here also computer technicians started interfering with new ideas for developing different educational games with the fast progress of technology. Many people are using these, yet nobody came up to say that these can't prove their worth yet!! In spite of that, we find ESLers protesting that not all educational games are beneficial and that they need a lot of adjustments based on linguistic study as Karenne Sylvester did in her session at IATEFL this April (Gamified language educational e-tivities: chocolate-covered broccoli or honeycoated peas? Karenne compared the usual Game Based Learning (GBL) to GLEES (Gamified Language Education E-tivities). She said that GLEES are much better as they are very well structured and help students to reflect on the content, be independent and do well on team work. The design of these games encourage 'competence, autonomy and relatedness'.
What I believe Karenne and Russell objected to is the 'too much' interference of scientists, psychologists and computer technicians in the learning process. I believe that those people couldn't help it. Science and technology are having vast breakthroughs that are hard to ignore!! Technological progress call for the help of human beings, it can't be stopped! What we need here is a collaboration among scientists, technicians and linguists not a dispute or rejection?!? None of them is dispensable to the other. I think that linguists have become jealous of that interference, they don't feel they have the lead alone anymore!! Collaboration among them just needs to be regulated and disciplined for the benefit of all!! Don't you think so?!??
Reading this article (http://oupeltglobalblog.com/2014/03/26/iatefl-adult-learners-helping-them-clear-the-next-hurdle/#comment-31431) about Adult Learners and the difficulties they face, reminded me of my previous article that I had published on howtolearn.com Yes, what Rachel Appleby mentioned is true to a great extent. Yet I believe the problem is not listening to conversations while cooking or watching films and news. I believe it is the Determination of the Learner to know more of the language and be able to express himself/herself is what really matters. I believe supporting the listening with reading helps to a great extent. Yet Reading should vary from stories to newspapers and magazines as well as info from the internet. This helps a lot in developing a Learner's language. Not only that, but writing down their reflections on what they read or summarizing them makes miracles.
I usually follow this system of work with my students, by asking them to write a paragraph about the topic they study every time plus doing some research online and discussing it in class. When they get to the higher levels, they are asked to read a newspaper article weekly, summarize it or tell us about it out loud in class.
Writing gives great courage to students in addition to Listening and Reading to speak out loud and function both the vocabulary and grammar they study in their course. They all work on breeding "a common sense' of the language which can't be formed through Listening only!!
On the other hand, we can encourage our students to do extra listening and reading at home by holding competitions among them, for instance, the Best Writer, the Best Narrator, in addition to the Best Busy Bee (Speller). It gives them a lot of Motivation and gives the weaker and shy ones a great push forward.