The diet... oops, method craze

Bruno Sousa has worked with English teaching since 2010. He holds the full DELTA (M1/M2/M3), Celta, CPE, and Train the trainer among other certificates. He has worked with all age ranges and levels. Right now, he is migrating from language schools to regular/bilingual ones. His main interests, currently, revolve around bilingual education, teacher training, and international curriculum.





I have always struggled with my weight, not because of aesthetic considerations, but because of health: if,/when I get old, I don’t want to be short of breath when climbing up the stairs. Therefore, I have already tried a few diets… low carb, paleo, body for life… well, many. Would you be surprised that none of them actually worked in the long run? Well, they haven’t, and I am sure this has to do with habit-formation (mine), and not with efficacy (the diets’).

One may feel it is far-fetched to compare diets to EFL/ESL/ELT methods, but I do see many similarities. This has always been like that, but since the advent of social media, this has become more and more evident. Aren’t you tired of looking through your Instagram stories and seeing some posts from a highly specialized individual (of course they are highly specialized! they either lived in Australia for two years or hold passports from an English-speaking nation and are, therefore, experts) who promises their method will teach you once and for all? I know I am. And the more specialized I become, the more fed up with this type of thing I get.

But then, again, the history of methods and approaches seems to have always been like that:

  • “PPP doesn’t work, and if you don’t use TBL in your lessons, you’re not really teaching your learners”;

  • “There’s nothing good about the Grammar-Translation Approach, and you need to use the Direct Method if you want your learners to speak proper English”;

  • “Audiolingualism is useless, and only CLT should be used in the classroom”.

These sentences summarize ideas and are usually not expressed like that, but every now and again someone will tell you this, but in different words. This is not to say that methods shouldn’t be analyzed, studied, updated, or even criticized. Of course they should, but, too often, this industry appears to dismiss ideas and techniques which used to work.

Not only do I believe this doesn’t help the industry, but it actually makes most of us look awful to learners, i.e., our clients. Living in a post-methods era, we now know that almost every miraculous new method – as does any miraculous new diet – has actually several similarities to the same methods they dismiss as ineffective (Richards & Rodgers, 1986). This brings about the issue of Principled Eclecticism, which supports the belief that techniques and activities from different methods should be used in order to cater for all the learners in a classroom, as single methods tend to be seen as ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions (Thornbury, 2004:73).

When I was taking the Delta M2, one of my tutors mentioned he doesn’t like it when teachers call themselves eclectic, since it tends to be simply an excuse for doing whatever they want in the classroom. Insofar as I understand what he means by that, I must disagree: teachers who are reflective enough will look for informed decisions that suit their own learners’ needs through classroom-based research (Thornbury, 2004:73).

We are often taught in training sessions that learners have their own learning styles (or, more recently, preferences), which most teachers will agree is true. Why, then, cannot a few techniques from so-called disproved methods work with some students? Personally, I refuse to believe there is nothing good from different methods that can be used in our classrooms. I do also believe that even when we refer to single individuals, a single method won’t have all the techniques to teach him/her all skills and systems effectively.

But I digress,as my main aim here is to show that, as teachers, we should support each other. From the moment you tell a prospective learner/client that “that school’s method doesn’t work” rather than “our method will benefit you in this and that manner”, you are undermining all your colleagues and the whole work category. Moreover, you’re setting yourself up for failure: the method you work with is not foolproof and you will probably need to use techniques that you, yourself, deemed as useless. And believe me, learners notice that.

To sum up, diets and methods are tools, not the goal: there is much more than following techniques to achieving success. If, as teachers, we don’t acknowledge that, we will inevitably continue fighting endlessly against charlatans who tell you that you can lose weight by sitting on your couch eating ice cream, as there are the ones who tell you that you can go from A2 to C1 in English in just 12 months studying 4 hours a week.


 

References:

Richards, J. & Rodgers, T. (1986). Approaches and methods in language teaching (2nd ed.). Cambridge: CUP.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. London: Macmillan.

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