Beyond Method

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As an administrator of a language school that has a required teaching methodology (a version of the direct method), I have often felt frustrated and constrained by the method's "ten principles" (which the school has enshrined as its guiding light) and what many teachers and I consider to be inflexibility in this approach to language instruction. This is why I strongly support Nicholson and Adams' (2003) assertion that "it is every teacher's prerogative to take an independent view as long as it emerges from 'informed teaching and critical appraisal'" (citing Kumaravadivelu 1994).

I believe one way that we can help our students find and enter the "third space" advocated by culturally responsive pedagogical approaches is by adopting a flexible, tolerant and open-minded approach to teaching--by accepting that there is no methodological "magic bullet" that will solve all of our pedagogical problems and by putting that acceptance into practice by refusing to adhere to inflexible teaching "rules" that we suspect may be doing more harm than good (one example that quickly jumps to mind is the aforementioned method's absolute prohibition against the use of translation in the classroom; "students will eventually figure it out," we are promised...). As Nicholson and Adams argue, flexibility is an absolute requirement for allowing students to enter the "third space" where they can be comfortable and free to explore language learning in their own way. One way of assuring that we will slam the door to the third space in our students' faces is to blindly follow methodological rules and principles without any consideration of how those rules and principles may negatively affect our students' classroom experiences (or even hurt their feelings, in some cases), especially when they strip all true agency away from the learner. I have seen too many teachers adhere to the letter of the law, as it were--carefully following all of the prescribed methodological steps, lesson plans and learning activities, doing exactly what they have been trained to do--even when students were reacting negatively (or just not reacting at all), and then wondering with a discouraged perplexity what could have possibly gone wrong.

While these sorts of inflexible methodologies might have been, in their day, an improvement on earlier, even less flexible methods (like the old audio-lingual method, which I suffered through during three years of high school French), I still yearn for that day when the "post-method condition" advocated by Nicholson, Adams and Kumaravadivelu reaches the hinterlands of language schools that tenaciously adhere to a methodology whose expiration date has long since passed. So, what I believe that teachers can best do to help students find their own "third space," at least in teaching contexts like mine in which we labor with methodological millstones around our necks, is to fight a guerilla war against those methods (at least the ones with capital M's in their name) in the classroom. We must have the courage to do what we believe is right (such as allowing students to learn in the way that best suits them, granting them the freedom to refuse to participate in activities they find troublesome, having the sensibility not to force grown adults to run around the classroom pointing at pictures of count nouns that rhyme with "joy"), even if it violates two or three of those enshrined methodological principles that we've been so carefully taught (or indoctrinated?) to uphold.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard McDorman published on August 21, 2012 9:25 PM.

How Curriculum Shapes Language Learning was the previous entry in this blog.

Sharing My Own Second Language Learning Experiences is the next entry in this blog.

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