Monthly Archives: November 2009

The Role of the Textbook in the EFL Classroom (4)

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

Almost ten years ago, Scott Thornbury (2000) pointed out that “learning [..] takes place in the here-and-now. What is learned is what matters. Teaching – like talk – should centre on the local and relevant concerns of the people in the room, not on the remote world of coursebook characters, nor the contrived world of grammatical structures. […] A Dogme school of teaching would take a dim view of imported methods, whether the Silent Way, the Natural Approach, the Direct Method, or hard line CLT. No methodological structures should interfere with, nor inhibit, the free flow of participant-driven input, output and feedback.” (click here to read more).

In the late 1980s, Adrian Underhill had already taken a similar stance. He observed that “[…] materials, especially coursebooks, can come between me and my students, preventing me from directly experiencing and responding to the moment by moment energy and vitality of their own learning experience. If I’m not careful I reduce myself to a ‘materials operator’, separated from my learners by a screen of ‘things to do’.” (click here for further details).

My personal interest in the Dogme movement, in ‘teaching unplugged’ (i.e. teaching without a coursebook and without most of the usual supplementary materials) was sparked by Engelbert Thaler who published a very interesting and in many ways thought-provoking paper in the German journal ENGLISCH five years ago (2004: 56-63). Dogme and improvisation seem to go together quite naturally (see the TEFLSPEAK-G posts on this blog); in fact, I can’t really imagine ‘unplugged’ classroom discourse without any kind of spontaneous improvisation (improvised speaking) involved.

If you are interested in getting to know more about all this (i.e. dogme as a pedagogy of bare essentials), join the dogme ELT discussion group (please click here).

Thaler, Engelbert (2004). „Dogme – eine alte methodische Innovation?“ Englisch , 56 – 63.

New:

Meddings, Luke & Thornbury, Scott (2009). Teaching Unplugged. Dogme in English Language Teaching. Peaslake: Delta Publishing.

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In Defense of Grammar

posted by Wolfgang Butzkamm, Aachen University (RWTH), Germany

“All you need is communication? No, because all you get is fossilisation.” (see Butzkamm (2009: 83-91): “The Language Acquisition Mystique: Tried and Found Wanting.”)

In the best known methodology handbooks, foreign language teaching is viewed through the lens of a few closely related European languages. Their grammars are often transparent for each other. This explains to some extent the severe doubts cast upon grammar teaching in general, rather than only against its misuse.

But a focus on grammar is not only indispensable for remote languages. It can really help the learner by making “odd” constructions meaningful and transparent, for instance through idiomatic and literal translation (“mirroring”) combined. That is why grammar should not be dealt with in a cavalier fashion. However, at all times the teacher must discipline himself to be brief, to confine the focus on form – in whatever way it is done – to matters of immediate practical relevance, and above all, to be clear. That is no easy matter for any language. On the other hand, for many foreign languages taught in schools excellent grammars have been made available, which represent a great advance on the grammars of earlier centuries.

Learning and Teaching English in German All-day Schools

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

The 2009 National GGT Conference took place at Karlsruhe University of Education between Wednesday, November 11 and Friday, November 13.  Focused on the further development of all-day schooling in Germany (“Ganztagsschulen – Motor der Schulreform”), it provided a great opportunity for researchers, headmasters and teachers, education policy makers and administrators to share concepts, strategies and personal experiences, and to discuss future directions (background information: the majority of schools in Germany are half-day schools). On Thursday, November 12 all of the several hundred participants were given the chance to visit various types of all-day schools in Karlsruhe and in the surrounding area and see them in action (including free public transport). In my view, the organizers accomplished a (logistic, etc.) masterpiece that day.

As a researcher interested in how theory and practice can be brought together more closely, this was definitely one of the highlights, something that should be taken into consideration for all future conferences focusing on school development and on the quality of education (including the teaching of English as a foreign or second language).

I was generously invited to conduct a 2 1/2 hour workshop on learning and teaching English as a foreign language in all-day schools in Germany (“Englischunterricht an Ganztagsschulen: Herausforderungen, Erfahrungen und Konzepte, Praxisbeispiele”). The central questions raised in this workshop were:  Does it make any difference to teach English as a foreign language in all-day schools (as compared to half-day schools)? What are the advantages and disadvantages, potentials and limits? Do we, perhaps, need specific approaches to learning in afternoon lessons, including specific designs of instruction? And, more specifically related to current SLA / EFL research: How is discovery, inductive, increasingly self-regulated grammar, vocabulary, culture etc. learning possible, if students are tired, disinterested, no longer capable or willing to learn between 1.30 and 4 pm?

A lively discussion arose. Whereas some participants argued that successful foreign language education and learning in all-day schools largely (but of course not only) depended on the organization of the school day, i.e. on ‘pedagogically’ convincing timetables (an optimal balance of lessons and breaks), others felt that more emphasis needed to be placed on learners and learning processes in afternoon lessons, especially on the development and implementation of specific, less linear instructional designs geared toward maintaining learners’ interest and motivation and toward keeping them on task and focused. For anyone interested in this topic, here is the presentation I came up with last Friday.

Since schooling is naturally understood in other countries as all-day schooling, it would be very interesting to hear your thoughts on this.

Teaching Grammar in Today’s Classroom

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

TESOL 2008: Betty Azar, Keith Folse & Michael Swan on teaching grammar.

Google Video 1: Why teach grammar?

Google Video 2: Questions and answers about grammar teaching