Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘new orthodoxy’

The “New Orthodoxy” of ELT

In ELT and ELL on 19/02/2011 at 9:07 am

Like many language teaching professionals I am always intrigued by new trends in language and language learning.

Trends have a way of clarifying “where we are” and “where we are going” – and help us spot the “driving forces” that will shape how we “do business” in the future.

However, in looking at trends or patterns it is important to remember that we cannot simply jump on the “flavour-of-the-month” band-wagon. As educators, we need to reflect critically on how underlying trends and changes will develop over time and impact the types of “living educational philosophies” and “lived missions” we use to design learning opportunities for our students and the planned experiences we take into our classrooms.

One interesting set of trends I saw recently were presented in a “think piece” prepared to help educational leaders and teachers better understand current trends in language education. In the monograph, Global Trends in Language Learning in the 21st Century, Eaton presents an innovative list of “what’s in” and “what’s out” for the language classroom:

What’s OUT

  • Vague, hollow promises that can’t be proven.
  • Saying that learning languages is easy.
  • Authoritative teacher attitudes.
  • Complaining about cutbacks and lack of funding.
  • Language labs.

What’s IN

  • Clear, provable demonstrations of learning.
  • Frameworks, benchmarks and other asset-based approaches to assessment.
  • Individualized, customizable, learner-centred approaches.
  • Proving the value of language learning through stories and speech.
  • Using technology for language learning.
  • Linking language learning to leadership skills.
  • Showing funders the impact their investment has on our students, our communities and our world.

At first sight, her list of “ins” and “outs” does not seem to offer many earth-shattering insights.

It is certainly true that behind Eaton’s list is a more powerful message on the purpose of language learning: the focus in language education in the twenty-first century is no longer on grammar, memorization and learning from rote, but rather using language and cultural knowledge as a means to communicate and connect to others around the globe. However, this should not be news to many of us – as is her suggestion that more old fashioned “authoritarian models are giving way to gentler, more collaborative models” and the fact that “geographical and physical boundaries are being transcended by technology”.

What is different, however, is her emphasis on the fact that that we need to reconceptualise how we “do business” in ELT around the notion of “walking our talk” and knowing exactly “what that talk is all about”.

One of the most comprehensive discussions of trends in language education is presented by David Graddol, in his excellent monograph “English Next”. In this, he builds on his innovative analysis given in The Future of English (1997) – and also offers a great deal of insight into helping us understand where the business of ELT is going.

Graddol’s main purpose is to explore a wide range of trends from demography, economy, technology, society, education and languages. Ultimately, he arrives at the same conclusion as David Crystal and recognises that English has become “the” de facto global language. In much the same way that Crystal notes, he also claims that the current, apparently unassailable, position of English as the world’s lingua franca, is the result of the unprecedented social, technological and economic global changes we face today.

Some of the economic trends to which he refers have already become a reality. This month saw Japan’s 42-year ranking as the world’s second-largest economy come to an end – as she was finally eclipsed by China.

Graddol draws on some mind-boggling statistics, generated by a computer model developed by The English Company (UK) Ltd to forecast potential demand for English in the education systems around the globe.

  • There are now over 5 billion people globally who do not speak English as either their first or second language.
  • Around 1.9 billion of these are between the ages of 6–24 (the key age group for education and training).
  • The total number of non-English speakers is expected to rise slowly and peak in 2030 at just over 2 billion.

In 2000, the British Council estimated that there were around 750 million and 1 billion people that were learning English. If Graddol and The English Company are correct, almost a third of the world’s population is trying to learn English – as I write this.

This is great news for ELT professionals – we all get to keep our jobs for the next 20 years. Well, not such great news for native speakers. This is because, as Crystal notes, the spread of English is not as stable and permanent as it once was. Graddol suggests that the rise of “Global Englishes” and Teaching and learning English as a lingua franca (ELF) is changing the traditional face of ELT and EFL – but that’s for another conversation!

It is this last point that distinguishes Graddol’s work from that of Crystal.

Graddol also focuses his attention on the impact these changes and the rise of “linguistic post-modernity” are having on the world of ELT and uses this to introduce what he describes as the “new orthodoxy” that is shaping the world of ELL.

For Graddol, this new orthodoxy is built on four pillars:

(1) Start teaching English at primary school – preferably Grade 1 but at least by Grade 3.

(2) Begin teaching at least part of the curriculum through English at secondary school. Possibly provide specialist support by English teachers.

(3) Require students to be proficient in English at entry; reduce support for English teaching within university to specialised subject knowledge.

(4) Teach more courses at university through English, or at least expect students to be able to access study materials – such as textbooks – in English.

In his earlier monograph Graddol suggested that “the future was bilingual”, however, in his sequel he talks more of how English has become a “basic skill” (as is the case with literacy, numeracy, technology and learning how to learn) in today’s globalised world – and about how this is having a profound impact on who is learning English.

So, what does this new orthodoxy mean for YOU?


The Language Revolution (Themes for the 21st Century) by David Crystal

The English Language: A Guided Tour of the Language by David Crystal

Redesigning English by Sharon Goodman, David Graddol, and Theresa Lillis

What about TEACHING and TEACHERS?

In The Paradigm Debate on 18/02/2011 at 11:00 pm

It is what teachers think, what teachers do, and what teachers are at the level of the classroom that ultimately shapes the kind of learning that young people get.  

Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan

It’s a relatively self-evident truth that teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin. However, and as a growing body of evidence and research is demonstrating, most learning in the world takes place without any form of formal teaching.

We all know there is a great deal of teaching taking place across classrooms (in every corner of the world) without much learning happening!

So, is teaching important? What makes an “effective” teacher?

Research on teacher effectiveness consistently shows that the formal education and learning of students is greatly dependent on the quality of teachers, the teaching they receive and the level of student engagement created by teachers. The “teacher effect”, as it goes, is higher than that of curriculum renewal, textbooks and materials, and (even) school leaders.

In studies, for example, where students have been assigned to “ineffective teachers”, students have significantly lower achievement and learning than those assigned to “effective teachers” – TRUE but,  WTH would even set up this type of study?

So, what is an “effective teacher”?

Everything we come across suggests effective teachers do exhibit a number of common personal qualities and instructional skills:

  • Treat students with respect and a caring attitude
  • Present themselves in class as “real people”
  • Spend more time working with small groups throughout the day
  • Provide a variety of opportunities for students to apply and use knowledge and skills in different learning situations
  • Use active, hands-on student learning
  • Vary instructional practices and modes of teaching
  • Offer real-world, practical examples

For many of us teaching is, in essence, about believing that all students can learn and doing anything and everything to help and encourage students to grow and develop as whole people. Teaching is about engagement and designing learning opportunities and environments that focus on what students can do with what they learn – and giving learners control, not trying to control learning.

One of my favourite reads on this topic is Bain’s book “What the Best College Teachers Do” (which won the Virginia and Warren Stone Prize for outstanding book on education and society) and while a review of individual studies on teaching effectiveness reveals no commonly agreed definition of teacher effectiveness, Bain’s book provides an excellent conceptual model for what is it that makes a teacher “effective”.

He bases this on a series of questions:

Bain’s work suggests that the most effective teaching is not a question of  age or experience or expertise in a given discipline (although a sound knowledge of the subject-matter of a specific discipline is a given) but rather the result of a number of attitudes, conceptualisations and practices – these are typical of teachers who “take a learning perspective”.

Indeed, many of the understandings and practices of these teachers are very similar to those practices of highly effective institutions investigated through Project DEEP – and stress the importance of:

  • A “living” mission and a “lived” educational philosophy
  • An “unshakeable” focus on student learning

Teachers that take a learning perspective also extend these ideas to their own understanding of themselves as professionals, and the ways in which effective teachers work to learn and grow include:

  • Reflecting on their own performance in order to improve
  • Using feedback from students and others to assess and improve their teaching

BUT, and this is where I throw LEARNING back into the ring, we said that teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin.

I would propose that we keep Bain’s approach but modify some of his questions a little –

  • What do effective teachers know and understand about learning and teaching?
  • What do they do with what they know and understand about learning and teaching?
  • What do they do to improve what they do with what they know and understand about learning and teaching?

That last one is a bit of a mouthful!

Some different questions like these might help us really get to the heart of what makes a truly effective teacher. How would you answer these questions?

BEDTIME READING

What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain

Learning That Lasts: Integrating Learning, Development and Performance in College and Beyond by Marcia Mentkowski & Associates (Alverno)

Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter by George D. Kuh, et al