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Emergence of eclectic pedagogy (slideshare version)

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Paper presented at the New Dynamics of Language Learning International conference held at Jyvaskyla Finland (June 2011). Language Pedagogy is described as a Complex Dynamical System to interpret …

Paper presented at the New Dynamics of Language Learning International conference held at Jyvaskyla Finland (June 2011). Language Pedagogy is described as a Complex Dynamical System to interpret phenomena of stasis and change.

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  • The aim of this conference, I take it, is ‘to offer new insights into the learning and teaching of languages’, and the variety and originality of many presentations is a testament to how well this aim is attained. And yet in spite of this, or perhaps even because of this, I think that a certain danger exists of forgetting that many of these new insights we have come to discuss are not ultimately transformed into practice, and when they do, the results do not always match up to our expectations.In this presentation, I will attempt to explain how change might emerge at an institutional level, and why it sometimes does not. To do this, I will use a case study of a language school, and through this example I will describe language pedagogy as a dynamical system that synthesises multifarious forces. Sometimes, these forces will be working in harmony, frustrating attempts at innovation; on other occasions, the system will be rendered unstable due to the divergence of the forces that make it up, and I will argue these conditions present an opportunity for the emergence of innovation.
  • I will begin my presentation by briefly discussing some properties of dynamical systems, and I will then turn my attention to my case study, and describe the metaphorical Space where this system exists, the Place where my study is set and methods I am using. Following that I will introduce the constructs of dynamical stability and criticality, as two dynamics of the system that are evidenced in the data, and I will conclude with a few remarks about the implications of adopting such an outlook in thinking about language pedagogy.
  • <Personal anecdote, redacted>But this experience did leave me with a lingering question that has survived in my research interests. Why is it that certain methods prove successful in a certain contexts, and fail so completely in other ones? Adrian Holliday’s small culture theory did provide me with the beginnings of an answer: citing the learning group ideal as an example, he claimed that methodological choices that are supported in a particular educational context may prove disruptive in others, and coined the term ‘tissue rejection’ to describe the phenomenon. This insight had a profound impact on English Language Teaching and paved the way towards eclectic pedagogy, but it fell short of explaining my questions: Why exactly are particular innovations disruptive in certain contexts and not in others? What are the properties of the context, and how do these relate to methodological innovation?
  • The point that I want to put forward in this presentation is that such questions can be usefully answered if we choose to view language pedagogy as a complex dynamical system. What this means, in a nutshell, that the collective behaviour of a complex entity like a school can be understood as the outcome of simple activities by many individual agents.
  • Drawing on ecological theory, these agents can be grouped into the educational setting per se, its immediate, or local context, and the global context of English Language Teaching in which it is embedded.
  • A second feature of this system is that it can be parsed into smaller constructs that are similar in structure to one that they compose. For reasons of analysis, I will view the learning of language structures and skills as distinct sub-systems which are subsumed under the overarching system of language pedagogy. I will further subdivide these into smaller subsystems such as the teaching of grammar or pronunciation and so on. But what is distinctive from a complexity perspective is that each of these smaller order subsystems is subject to the same number of forces as the overarching one.
  • Thirdly, dynamical systems tend towards stability, in the sense that they preserve their internal organisation at the face of incremental changes. My own experience as a manager at the language school is one example of this tendency. On the other hand, when sufficient changes accumulate, the system enters a state of criticality. At that point, minute changes can bring the system past its ‘tipping point’ and thus cause a major restructuring or phase shift.
  • The first stages of my PhD research aimed at inductively generating this broad-strokes description of the system; what I am now trying to do is to further refine it and to use data from a real-life educational setting as empirical touchstones so as to test its local validity.
  • Among other things, this involves understanding the metaphorical Space that this system occupies: this can be conceptualised as divided into at least three areas corresponding to pedagogical paradigms: The first of these is the transmissive paradigm, which derives its legitimacy from traditional pedagogy. Some attitudes and practices that are typical of this paradigm include the view that language is a system of rules and words that must be learnt before they can be used, the emphasis on accurate expression, and the priority for certification. The term communicative paradigm has been used to describe attitudes and practices that view grammar awareness as one dimension of prioritise communicative and prioritise intelligibility over accuracy. Lastly, the term critical paradigm is reserved for attitudes and practices that prioritise empowerment and linguistic egalitarianism.
  • The Place where the study is being conducted is a privately-owned language school in Greece, which mainly provides English language courses to young learners and adolescents; in fact it is the language school I once used to run. Such language schools, which are quite common in Greece, supplement English language courses offered by the public education system, which are widely regarded as ineffective.
  • The methods that have been used in this study are informed by critical ethnography. This methodological approach is similar to the ones recommended by Suresh Canagarajah and Adrian Holliday, although the present study is differentiated by an explicit attempt to draw on the conceptual tools of complexity in the ‘thick description’ of the research setting.
  • Fieldwork for this study was conducted between September 2010 and June 2011, and comprised four parallel strands of inquiry, focussing on teachers, learners, lessons and learning materials. Analysis of the data is still ongoing, but tentative findings so far seem to offer interesting insights with regard to the dynamics of the system. So what I would like to do next is present two of these dynamics and to briefly discuss their implications.
  • As stated previously, dynamical systems often display a tendency to remain in particular states and absorb change. Looking at the pedagogical practices of the language school, grammar-focused instruction clearly illustrates of this tendency. As will be seen, most of the forces which relate to grammar operate in synergy, and draw the system towards the transmissive paradigm.
  • One of the most frequently occurring themes in the teachers’ interviews and the learners’ questionnaires was the frequent references to ‘correct’ or ‘right’ English, which seems strongly suggestive of an imperative to use language accurately. Related to the above, was the popular belief that a thorough grounding in the grammatical system of the English language is a requisite for communication. This view was expressed in literally every questionnaire handed in by the learners: from their perspective, ‘if you know the grammar well, you also know how to speak and read etc.’A corollary to the accuracy-oriented ethos was the regular testing which features prominently in the host-institute’s curriculum. A test or quiz was featured in most of the lessons I observed, tests were contained at the end of every unit and formal examinations were regularly held. These tests were often used to provide feedback to the learners’ parents, and were cited by many teachers and learners as important reasons for developing accuracy. Broader contextual forces seem to compound this effect: for many learners, the main motivation for learning English is to obtain certification, and this leads to greater pressures for accuracy. Moreover, grammar awareness is weighted heavily in the language tests set by the public school system, which are seen by some as an independent measure of the quality of instruction provided at the host institute. In addition, many language coursebooks, primarily those that are locally produced, contain extensive grammar sections. It should be noted that this preference towards the transmissive paradigm was not uniform across the data. Current practices with regard to grammar were criticised, often vociferously so, by a small number of communicatively trained teachers. In addition, a more balanced combination of form-focused and skills-focussed work was observed at the upper-intermediate levels, presumably as a result of the washback effect of communicative examinations set by international accreditation boards.
  • Despite such ‘anomalies’, the cumulative effect of all these forces is that language pedagogy at the host institute is at a state of robust dynamical stability, and it is strongly oriented towards the transmissive paradigm. A system in such a state is likely to withstand attempts at innovation. In fact, it did, as I can personally attest.
  • By contrast, a number of diverse linguistic and pedagogical positions was recorded in the data with regard to pronunciation teaching.
  • Transmissive influences were mostly evident in the learning materials and in the views expressed by some teachers. Pronunciation activities in the learning materials almost invariably take the form of teacher-led drills. In the view of some teachers, it is important to acquire a ‘correct pronunciation’ before the onset of the hypothesised ‘critical period’. The role of phonological training tends to intensify at the upper intermediate levels, perhaps as a result of examination washback, because students at these levels typically prepare for high-stakes examinations.Many practices that were observed, however, tended to be closer to the communicative paradigm, in that they prioritised meaning over form. In most of the lessons I observed, phonological errors were largely ignored by teachers, unless they seriously compromised intelligibility. In addition, the value of pronunciation-focused teaching was challenged by some teachers who pointed out that developing a native-like accent is of secondary importance compared to clarity of expression. Yet another orientation was observed in the learners’ questionnaires: although some learners suggested a preference for a native-like pronunciation, their responses indicated that this was not generally viewed as an important priority. In their responses, some learners valorised local accents; others indicated that they were too self-conscious to use native-like pronunciations locally; and yet another expressed concern about the implications of a native- like accent vis-à-vis her identity. What she said was: ‘I don’t want to sound British, because I am not British, I am Greek’
  • In summary, it seems that with regard to teaching the phonology of the English Language, the forces that make up the system are pulling towards different directions, which one is almost tempted to describe as ‘self-organised criticality’. Such a state, it appears, is conducive to change.
  • In the examples above, I used a dynamical systems perspective to describe how innovation might be resisted or made possible in a specific educational setting at the periphery of the English Speaking World. However, the tentative findings that were reported in the preceding paragraphs seem to have broader resonance with regard to the way we conceptualise ELT. Since the publication of Phillipson’s Linguistic Imperialism, there has been a mounting concern that by exporting learning materials, pedagogical models, language norms and expertise the Anglophone West is perpetuating its hegemonic status over the periphery of the English Speaking World. In spite of the legitimacy of this concern, current conceptualisations of language pedagogy do always not provide a convincing account of what space there is for resistance, and why the imported materials, norms and practices do not always take hold. A theory of ELT which views language pedagogy as a dynamical system can further a more nuanced understanding of how global and local influences impact specific educational settings, highlighting and contextualising the role of agency and Intention. In addition, such a perspective provides greater affordances for understanding how systems evolve, even when innovation fails to take hold. In the case of grammar teaching which was described above, a number of influences such as the washback effect of communicative examinations and the innovatory beliefs of certain teachers were recorded, and even though it was noted that they were not sufficiently strong to induce paradigmatic changes, their existence keeps the system in a state of dynamic balance allowing for the possibility of change if the system achieves criticality (as was the case in the second example cited). By drawing attention to the role of such influences, even when their observed effect is imperceptible, a complexity perspective emphasises the potential and Opportunity for innovation.
  • So, to recap, in this presentation, I took a long, hard empirical look at a particular Place, in search of Space for innovation. As I said earlier, analysis of this data is still ongoing, so I am sure there are more findings to share. I am looking forward to sharing these findings at some point in the future. Until then, if you have any questions I will do my best to answer them.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Emergence of eclectic pedagogy: a case study
      Achilleas Kostoulas, The University of Manchester
      New Dynamics of Language Learning: Places & Spaces, Intentions & Opportunities
      Jyväskylä, Finland: June 2011
    • 2. Presentation Outline
    • 3. Transfer as disruption
      Commercial Sector
      Learning group ideal
      Learning group ideal
      State Sector
      Based on Holliday, A. (1994). Appropriate Methodology and Social Context. Cambridge: CUP, p. 105
    • 4. Dynamical Systems: what are they?
    • 5. International Exam Boards
      Imported Courseware
      LocalExam Boards
      Parents
      Local Courseware
      Students
      Local School System
      Management
      Teachers
      Educational Authority Oversight
      Local education traditions
      Teacher training
      Professional body Accreditation
      BANA methodology
    • 6.
    • 7.
    • 8. CaseStudy: a Language School in Greece
    • 9. Communicative Paradigm
      Global Context
      Local Context
      Setting
      Transmissive Paradigm
      Critical Paradigm
    • 10. The host institute
      10
      Privately-owned language school
      Located in Ioannina, Greece
      Evening language courses
      Young learners & adolescents
    • 11. Informing theory
      Canagarajah, A. S. (1999). Resisting linguistic imperialism in English teaching. Oxford: OUP.
      Corbin, J. M., & Strauss, A. L. (2008). Basics of qualitative research (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
      Davis, B., & Sumara, D. J. (2006). Complexity and education. Mahwah, N.J. : Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
      Holliday, A. (1994). Appropriate methodology and social context. Cambridge: CUP.
      Mason, M. (2008). Complexity theory and the philosophy of education. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
      Critical ethnography
      Grounded theory
      ‘Thick’ description
      Complexity
    • 12. Data Generation Methods
      12
    • 13. Dynamical Stability
      Teaching and learning the grammar (sub)system
    • 14. Communicative teacher training
      Exam Boards
      Public school examinations
      Local coursebooks
      Lay beliefs about language
      Testing
      Accuracy Ethos
      Pressure for Certification
      Accountability
    • 15. Communicative Paradigm
      Communicative teacher training
      Exam Boards
      Public school examinations
      Lay beliefs about language
      Local courses
      Accuracy
      Testing
      Transmissive Paradigm
      Certification
    • 16. Criticality?
      Teaching and learning the pronunciation (sub)system
    • 17. Communicative teacher training
      Emphasis on meaning
      Learner Attitudes
      Local coursebooks
      Accuracy Ethos
      Context awareness
      Examination Washback
    • 18. Communicative Paradigm
      Communicative teacher training
      Emphasis on meaning
      Attitudes
      Local courses
      Context awareness
      Accuracy
      Critical Paradigm
      Transmissive Paradigm
      Washback
    • 19. Implications
      Opportunity
      Highlights potential for change
      Intention
      Nuanced understanding of collective behaviour
    • 20. Thank you for your attention
      Achilleas.Kostoulas@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk

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