Thursday, June 14, 2012

Are we in the post-communicative teaching era?

Here are two very short responses to the question of whether we are in the post-communicative teaching era.

Rod Bolitho's response:

Scott Thornbury's response:
When you reflect on your day-to-day teaching, do you feel that you are in the 'post-methods' era of teaching that Bolitho refers to?  Do you think that our syllabus really allows us to be 'communicative' in teaching?  At the end of the day, do you empathize with Thornbury and feel that our syllabus and focus on testing affects our ability to realize the true meaning of communicative practice?

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  1. I like the idea of the post-method era, as long as, like Thornbury pushes for, that the focus is wholly on the student.

    As long as we're fussing over a syllabus we're stifling the communicative potential of students and classes, though this is as much driven by students and schools as by teachers and the fall back to a more grammar-based approach that Thornbury mentioned is as a result of everyone wanting more measurable and 'safe' practices.

    1. This is a very complex topic , as it really depends on the educational culture, the philosophy of the teacher and the background and aims of the learners, as well as the syllabus itself. In many cases the syllabus is designed to emphasise student-centered learning, and places value on communication and production- hence communicative input is seen as relevant by the learners.
      In other institutions however, the focus is definitely on passing an exam - often the only assessment tool. If students do not understand the value of learning a language as a communication tool and future transferable skill, they continue to be exam oriented, and are likely to resist communicative input in lessons as they do not consider it relevant to their goal. In addition, they may not understand that to learn a language one needs to practise and produce, and no amount of grammar exercises are going to really help a learner to become competent independent users. Grammar and communicative input therefore should really complement each other.

    2. Raul - your point about 'safe' and 'measurable' practices I think reflects the 'fall back position' that most everyone involved (teachers, parents, administrators and to some extent students) see as the status quo to be preserved. However, I wonder if the current 'Generation C' cohort of students will make the notion of 'communicative teaching' redundant in their world that is defined by the 'Cs' of "Connectivity, Creativity, Cooperation, Content-centricity and Change".

  2. Yes I agree. Our students tend to think that learning rules is 'it', and they can't see that the grammar and lexis and the skills they learn are tools for them to use to be able to express their own ideas. However, I think our syllabus and the new EPE are progressing towards the students having to communicate more - perhaps the departmental lecturers will see a difference. But I wish speaking had more 'marks' assigned to it - as, sad to say, testing seems to be the only motivation for many of the students.

    1. Yes, in other institutions I have been in oral work has been given much more priority through students having to take part in debates, deliver presentations and do an oral exam. Such tasks are also motivating in the end as the students really feel they have achieved something. The new EPE does have the dialogue section which is more communicative but students struggle with this unless they are used to using the language and really understand the use of, say modals, and their appropriacy. As a language learner myself, I find satisfaction and motivation from actually producing something, and this is a message I try to get across to the students.....not always successfully!

    2. Philosophically, I agree with Josie that the real motivation in learning a language has got to be actually communicating in that language. Practically, in my observations of factors that motivate students, I would agree with Dindy that passing the test seems to be the primary motivation for most students.

      The current trends in language assessment seem to be heading towards satisfying both--I wonder if we would be better off abandoning our current 'in-house' method of testing, and opt for an external assessment tool like IELTS. I haven't met anyone who got a 6.0+ in IELTS that couldn't communicate well enough to meet the demands of academic study.

      As a bonus, students would have a qualification that is recognized world-wide. And it would leave teachers much freer to teach as best they see fit (post-methods and as communicative as they want) to prepare students to meet the language competencies that are necessary to 'know' a foreign language, rather than teaching obscure grammar points or lexis that bears little relation to 'real' English.

    3. IELTS would be a great idea and recently Steuart (remember him>) came across a university which does not have a proficiency entrance but students have to have a sufficient mark at IELTS or TOEFL to go to their departments.
      Few of our students can get a 6, even those who pass the proficiency - because speaking is 25% of the total marks - the four skills are given equal status - and grammar and lexis are just part (usually 25%) of each skill.

      If students come and ask about IELTS - because they think it is 'easier' than the prof - they usually give up the idea when told about the speaking. However, I reiterate that I think the new EPE is going in the right direction - students actually having to use the language, albeit in a minimal way to understand and complete a dialogue and respond to a situation.
      Hopefully ...

    4. Dindy - Steuart (interesting that British?) and I never crossed paths. I have heard of similar cases where universities are opting for TOEFL, IELTS or PTE as their language assessment tool. Makes sense all round when you consider the overheads it requires to maintain an institutional test of proficiency, and international accreditation. Also, it does give teachers a bit more flexibility in how they apply the curriculum.

      And, as you point out about the balance of emphasis more equally distributed to all skills, it raises the importance of speaking (and hence the kinds of 'communicative' activities associated with situations involving speaking and listening).

      I do know that the TOBB university in Ankara has for a number of years been using TOEFL instead of an in-house proficiency test. I'm not sure what 'level' they aim for, but I believe they allow students to enter their departments after a minimum threshold score, on the condition that the students cannot graduate until they reach the official 'exit' TOEFL score. This does prevent a 'prep school purgatory' situation, and it motivates students to keep studying English to reach the magic TOEFL score to graduate.

      I don't know how they structure their service English courses, but I would assume that the courses they offer for students in their department are modular and more flexible in design and delivery.

      I'm not sure about universities in North Cyprus, but I believe that EMU is using City and Guilds tests of English (based on the CEF) as one measure of 'proficiency' in English. EMU has a broader base of international students, and seem to be keen on using international 'standards' and accreditation as a result. If METU NCC is aiming to compete in the international scene, these issues could be a factor in marketing strategies.