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materials development for tesol

In the West, any English language teacher under the age of 50 has grown up during

the communicative era. The communicative ethos has become as embedded within

such teachers’ educational philosophy as any cultural value system and is as difficult

for them to view objectively. The communicative approach has thus become more or

less the default teaching methodology for a generation of language teachers and there

is a danger in such an uncritical attitude, however unwitting.

CLT and TBLT developed within a Western pedagogical tradition which to a

large extent (in language teaching at least) threw off the perception that knowledge

is ‘transmission-based’, ‘flowing’, as it were, from teacher to learner. These background beliefs and values mean that these approaches accommodate interaction

between teachers and learners, and among learners alone. But these are not, as Edge

points out (1987), ‘value-free’ modes of behaviour and may not be in harmony

with traditions from other cultures. The Western norms related to hierarchy and

respect implicit in these approaches are relatively loose compared to those of other

cultures such as the East Asian countries of Japan, Korea and China, which share

a Confucian heritage marked by deep respect for elders and teachers (Humphries

2012) and a very clear delineation of teacher–learner roles (Hu 2002). A corollary of

this is that in these cultures, value is not necessarily attributed to input from peers in

the pedagogical context (see, for example, McGrath 2013), undermining one of the

basic precepts of the communicative approach. In the communicative classroom,

the removal of the teacher from the central position can be perceived as a slackening of classroom ‘control’, which can be unsettling for many NNES teachers (who

statistically represent the majority of English teachers on the worldwide scale). The

non-teacher-directed classroom can be anathema to teachers’ cultures and their

professional training (e.g. Hu 2002) as well as putting a strain on their linguistic

resources (Prodromou and Mishan 2008).

Many Asian cultures are, furthermore, ‘collectivist’ cultures, whose driving force

is the imperative for group consensus – compared to the individualist culture of the

West which values personal competitiveness, for example. This can be at odds with

communicative activities such as pair and small group activities which invite and

value argument as much as collaboration.

Other potentially alien behaviours built into communicative pedagogy stem from

what Prodromou and Mishan call the ‘cult’ of ‘emotional frankness’ (2008: 201),

emanating from North American traditions of psychoanalysis etc. and manifesting

in coursebooks in so-called ‘personalisation’ activities (such as expressing personal

opinions and sharing experiences). The communicative approach and TBLT (particularly in its digital incarnation; see also Chapter 5) embed other characteristics that

are valued in the West: flat hierarchies and a sort of communicational ‘promiscuity’.


Materials developers and users from non-Western settings react to the sort of

pedagogical mismatch described above in diverse ways. In some cases, it is problematised, with practitioners endeavouring to coax learners and teachers into communicative modes of behaviour and practice, a view embodied in this article title:

materials, methods and contexts


‘Communicative language teaching in China: progress and resistance’ (Yu 2001).

Implicit here is an unquestioning acceptance of communicative principles – and that

they are universally valid and universally applicable.

Others perceive the need for cultural ‘intersection’. An action research study from

Iran (Modirkhameneh and Samadi 2013), for instance, reports how a communicative slant was put on the traditional grammar translation approach by using a ‘diglotweave’ technique. This uses code-switching, the language of a reading text switching

between the native language and the TL. A Japanese study (Shimada 2009) also

discusses how to combine the approach and style taken in more traditional Japanese

textbooks with those taken in overseas products.

Most typical of the literature from Asia, though, is ambivalence; an awareness that

traditional methodologies and materials are failing to produce learners who can communicate in the TL, yet a reluctance to abandon them for foreign ones. This can lead to

an unsatisfactory compromise, such as recasting communicative materials in a more

traditional guise. Two representative case studies, one from Oman (Tasseron, forthcoming), the other from Egypt (Abdul Latif, forthcoming), revealed teachers ‘stripping away’ the communicative aspects of the coursebook down to the ‘bare bones’ of

grammar, to fit the form-focused approach habitual in those countries. The ultimate

extension of this can be materials and pedagogy that pay mere lip service to communicativeness (see, for example, Hu 2002, Li 1998 and Liu, Mishan and Chambers, forthcoming, on the Chinese context, and Humphries 2012 on that of Japan). At the far

end of the spectrum are those who openly resent the ‘Anglo-phone centre’ imposing

a so-called ‘methodological correctness’ (Prodromou and Mishan 2008: 194) which is

inconsistent with the local context and the learning needs and wants of students there.

In sum, pedagogical approaches are unavoidably value-laden and implementation

of them within the materials we design needs to be carefully positioned in context.

Pedagogy is the final issue we have considered in our exploration of the cultural and

sociolinguistic underpinnings of ELT materials, so we turn in the following section

to the most commonly used product that incorporates these: the ELT coursebook.

Task 3.4

In the light of the above discussions about teaching approaches, consider how far

these contrasting quotations are true of the use of materials in your teaching context:

‘Here we go again . . . we always have the English language teaching

methodology coming from another galaxy.’ (A Turkish teacher interviewed by

Arikan 2004: 46, cited in McGrath 2013: 172)

Combine . . . ‘new’ with ‘old’ to align the communicative approach with

traditional teaching structures and . . . modernize not westernize.

(Modirkhameneh and Samadi 2013: 17)

Task 3.5

Access the site below to find an online (pdf) version of the following paper:

Littlewood, W. (2006). Communicative and task-based language teaching in East




materials development for tesol

Asian classrooms. Revised version of a plenary paper presented at the International

Conference of the Korean Association for Teachers of English, June, Seoul, Korea.


While discussing the East Asian context in particular, many of the concerns

expressed in the paper can be shared by teachers everywhere, so it is worth reading

in its entirety.

Littlewood concludes by saying:

There is now widespread acceptance that no single method or set of procedures

will fit all teachers and learners in all contexts. Teachers can draw on the ideas

and experiences of others but cannot simply adopt them as ready-made recipes:

they need to trust their own voice and develop a pedagogy suited to their own

specific situations.

Consider the implications of Littlewood’s recommendations:

• for you as a teacher and materials developer

• for the materials we use, adapt and develop

Task 3.6

Many teachers on the periphery use the task-based, process-oriented, studentcentred pedagogy because it comes stamped with the authority of centre

professional circles. But . . . it seems likely that they [students] would prefer a

more formal, product-oriented, teacher-centred pedagogy of the sort denigrated

by centre professional circles. (Canagarajah 1999: 14)



With reference to this section and to the descriptions of pedagogies given on the web

page, consider how far Canagarajah’s claim is true of students in your own teaching



The history of ELT publication has been well charted elsewhere (e.g. Howatt and

Widdowson 2004). The ‘boom’ in ELT was precipitated by a combination of factors

at work in the early 1960s. One was a new interest in language teaching in the nascent

‘Common Market’ (now the EU) and subsequent work on this by the Council of

Europe. Another was the realisation, in the UK and USA, that ELT was an eminently

marketable and exportable product in terms of both native-speaking teachers and

learning materials. The foci for the new publishing industry in Britain were respected

academic publishers based in Oxford and Cambridge, and in the USA publishers like

Longman, Macmillan, and Cambridge University Press’s American division. Today

ELT publishing is a billion-pound growth industry in the UK, still largely dominated

by the same core group of British publishers.

materials, methods and contexts



As we have described above (Section 3.2), the centralised nature of the ELT industry

sowed the seeds of resentment among some of those working in the field, in a world

just awakening to the implications of postcolonialism for the English language. This

saw the establishment of a strident anti-textbook community – which was inevitably

countered by a pro-textbook camp, giving rise to a polarisation in the field that exists

to this day. Here we examine the arguments and invite you to reflect on your own


Those arguing in favour of the coursebook tend to stress practical factors. From

the perspective of the teaching institution, the coursebook offers a ready-made,

cost-effective, standardised syllabus that can slot into its English language curriculum. Their long-established international publishers (see above) give coursebooks a

certain authority, credibility and guarantee of quality. Most coursebooks today are

part of a comprehensive package of print-based and digital materials including the

student book, teacher’s book, workbooks, CDs, DVDs, an accompanying website or

e-learning platform and, increasingly, mobile apps. This cluster of materials serves as

a time-saver for the busy teacher and a guide for the inexperienced one. Not to forget

the learners, of course, who can chart their progress through such a syllabus and use

it for revision. It has been pointed out that arguments based on such practical factors

are a ‘less than inspiring’ defence (Hadley 2014: 206) against the ideological ones of

coursebook opponents – even if these, some would observe, are short on constructive ideas.

The early anti-coursebook ‘movement’ was, as we noted above, avowedly ‘counterimperialist’. Typical of the arguments ranged against the early coursebooks was

that materials emanating from an industry with an ‘Anglo-American heart’, the

derogatorily labelled BANA countries (Britain, Australasia and North America;

Holliday’s term, 1994), approximating Kachru’s ‘Inner Circle’, could not but perpetuate imperialism and the hegemony of the native speaker – and so was effectively

a ‘new’ colonialism. Looking at early ELT materials (such as two series’ mentioned

earlier, Streamline English from Oxford University Press or the Strategies series from

Longman), it is hard not to sympathise with this interpretation, as in them the language is projected chiefly as a British or American product, within British/American

settings. These early coursebooks were accused of having ‘a hidden curriculum’

(Cunningsworth 1995: 90) which embedded and projected Western values and

attitudes (e.g. consumerism, perceptions of beauty and gender roles; see Harwood

2014). These were not only Western, it was pointed out, but mainly white and

middle-class (see, for example, Dendrinos 1992, Rossner 1988, Canagarajah 1999

and Gray 2010). In this view, learning a foreign language became, at best, ‘a kind of

enculturation where one acquires new cultural frames of reference, and a new world

view, reflecting those of the target language and its speakers’ (Alptekin 2002: 58)

and, at worst, a type of ideological ‘indoctrination’ (Dendrinos 1992) with learners

expected to accept and act within the parameters of values and behaviours of another

culture. These perceived effects extended to pedagogical traditions too, of course, as

we have discussed above.

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