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  1. 1. Postmodernism in TEFL: An Overview The future of task-based teaching Zeno’s arrow : Rene Magritte Dr. Andrew E. Finch
  2. 2. Postmodern Architecture 10/08/10 14:38 Slide number
  3. 3. Postmodern Architecture 10/08/10 14:38 Slide number
  4. 4. Postmodern Architecture 10/08/10 14:38 Slide number
  5. 5. Postmodern Architecture 10/08/10 14:38 Slide number
  6. 6. A postmodern (self-reflexive, self-contradictory, self-undermining) joke … <ul><li>What do you get when you cross a mafia Godfather with a postmodernist? </li></ul><ul><li>The answer of course is “someone who will make you an offer you can’t understand.” (Claire O’Farrell, 1999) </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number The murderer threatened : Rene Magritte
  7. 7. Headings <ul><li>Introduction </li></ul><ul><li>Changing definitions </li></ul><ul><li>Changing sciences </li></ul><ul><li>Changing worlds </li></ul><ul><li>Changing educations </li></ul><ul><li>Changing Englishes </li></ul><ul><li>Conclusion </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number The human condition : Rene Magritte
  8. 8. Introduction <ul><li>“ We live in an environment that is continually changing. It seems that rapid change is our only constant. We are faced with an entirely new situation in which the goal of education, if we are to survive, is the facilitation of change and learning. The only person who is educated is the person who has learned how to learn; the person who has learned how to adapt and change.” (Rogers, 1969, p. 151-153) </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number
  9. 9. Introduction <ul><li>Education “is itself going through profound change in terms of purposes, content and methods” </li></ul><ul><li>Education “is both a symptom of and a contributor to the socio-cultural condition of postmodernity” (Edwards & Usher, 1994, p. 3). </li></ul><ul><li>This paper aims to identify postmodern features of contemporary TEFL theory and practice, so that they might be understood and validated in terms of their relation to the postmodern societies in which they are employed. </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number
  10. 10. Changing Definitions <ul><li>“ Postmodernism is a phenomenon whose mode is resolutely contradictory as well as unavoidably political.” (Hutcheon, 1989, p. 1) </li></ul><ul><li>Postmodernism “resists being conveniently summarized in easy ‘soundbites’ and refuses to lend itself to any single cut and dried definition” (Ward, 2003, p. 1). </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number La lunette d’approche : Rene Magritte
  11. 11. Changing Definitions <ul><li>“ The postmodern’s initial concern is to de-naturalize our way of life; to point out that those entities that we experience as ‘natural’ (they might even include capitalism, patriarchy, liberal humanism), are in fact ‘cultural’; made by us, not given to us. </li></ul><ul><li>Even nature, postmodernism might point out, doesn’t grow on trees.” </li></ul><ul><li>(Hutcheon, 1989, pp. 1-2) </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number The human condition : Rene Magritte
  12. 12. Common themes of postmodernism <ul><li>Society, culture and lifestyle are today significantly different from 100, 50 or even 30 years ago. </li></ul><ul><li>Concerned with concrete subjects like the developments in mass media, the consumer society and information technology. </li></ul><ul><li>These kinds of development have an impact on our understanding of more abstract matters, like meaning, identity and even reality. </li></ul><ul><li>Old styles of analysis are no longer useful. New approaches and new vocabularies need to be created in order to understand the present. (Ward, 2003, p. 6) </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number 1 2
  13. 13. Categories of postmodernism <ul><li>Crossing of borders (breaking down of barriers) </li></ul><ul><li>De-colonization (diversification and regionalism) </li></ul><ul><li>Decentralization (lateral decision-making) </li></ul><ul><li>Deconstruction (questioning traditional assumptions) </li></ul><ul><li>Eclecticism (borrowing from different systems and fields) </li></ul><ul><li>Pastiche (imitating the works of others, often satirically) </li></ul><ul><li>Relativism (time, space, truth and moral values are relative to the persons or groups holding them) </li></ul><ul><li>Self-contradiction (doubleness; duplicity; the conscious making of self-undermining statements) </li></ul><ul><li>Self-reference and self-reflexiveness (use of meta-language and self-constructing forms) </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number
  14. 14. Changing sciences <ul><li>Lyotard (1984), identified various ‘metanarratives’ of the ‘modern’ Age of Reason. </li></ul><ul><li>These metanarratives, which influenced all Western thought, included: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>progress; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>optimism; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>rationality; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>the search for absolute knowledge in science, technology, society and politics; and </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>the idea that gaining knowledge of the true self was the only foundation for all other knowledge (Ward, 2003, p. 9). </li></ul></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number Where Euclid Walked : Rene Magritte
  15. 15. Changing sciences <ul><li>However: </li></ul><ul><li>Einstein developed a cosmos of relativity. </li></ul><ul><li>Gödel showed that every mathematical and scientific system is incomplete and contains its own contradictions. </li></ul><ul><li>Heisenberg proposed his “uncertainty principle” and quantum mechanics. </li></ul><ul><li>The French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, showed that there is no system, no theory, no science or political system which rests on entirely rational foundations. </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number La Chateau des Pyrenees : Rene Magritte
  16. 16. Changing sciences <ul><li>The myth of benign, philanthropic scientific enquiry was found to be practically inadequate, or even inaccurate, for a number of reasons: </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number <ul><ul><li>the contribution of science to ecological disasters; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>the commercialization of science; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>the loss of faith in the ability to measure reality; and </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>the division of science into a mass of specialisms. </li></ul></ul>Les valeurs personnelles : Rene Magritte
  17. 17. Changing worlds <ul><li>erosion of conventional distinctions between high and low culture; </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number definitions of human identity are changing, or ought to change. (Ward, 2003, p. 11). ‘ non-spaces’ of postmodern geography (Soja, 1989) Le sens propre II : Rene Magritte fascination with how our lives seem increasingly dominated by visual media; questioning of ideas about meaning and communication, and about how signs refer to the world;
  18. 18. Changing educations <ul><li>“ The project of liberal mass schooling and higher education in the late twentieth century is built around the intell-ectual authority inherited from the Enlightenment.” (Peters, 1995, p. xxx) </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number “ Postmodernism’s emphasis on the inscribed subject, the decentred subject constructed by language, discourses, desire and the unconscious, seems to contradict the very purpose of education and the basis of educational activity.” (Edwards & Usher, 1994, p. 2) Le domaine d'Arnheim : Renee Magritte
  19. 19. Changing educations <ul><li>Commercialization: </li></ul><ul><li>“ Its complicitous critique situates the postmodern squarely within both economic capitalism and cultural humanism – two of the major dominants of much of the western world.” (Hutcheon, 1989, p. 13) </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number Well-regulated liberty: “ The strict application of nurturing and protective attitudes toward children has created a paradoxical situation in which protection has come to mean excluding the young from meaningful involvement in their own communities.” (Postman, 1995, p. 102) Les amants : Rene Magritte
  20. 20. Changing educations <ul><li>1. Education should be more diverse in terms of goals and processes, organisational structures, curricula, methods and participants. </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number 2. Education should no longer function as a means of reproducing society or as an instrument in large-scale social engineering. It [should] become limitless both in time and space. The listening room : Rene Magritte
  21. 21. Changing educations <ul><li>3. Any attempt to place education into a straitjacket of standardised curricula, technicised teaching methods, and universal ‘messages’ of rationality or morality would be difficult to impose. </li></ul><ul><li>4. Education in the postmodern must construct itself in a form which will enable greater participation in a diversity of ways by culturally diverse learners. </li></ul><ul><li>5. Education in the postmodern is likely to be marked both by a general decentring and a general loosening of boundaries. (Adapted from Edwards & Usher, 1994, pp. 211-212) </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number The treachery of images : Rene Magritte
  22. 22. Changing Englishes <ul><li>“… a growing recognition of the political nature of language learning.” (Benson & Voller, 1997, p. 6) </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number “ Teaching a language is not a value-free, or transparent, activity. What we do in the classroom is affected by who we are, the views we hold, and the societies we are part of.” (Harrison, 1990, p. 1) “ Social scientists … have hardly recognized the importance of theories and descriptions of society and culture for language teaching.” (Stern, 1983, p. 282) Le model rouge : Rene Magritte
  23. 23. 10/08/10 14:38 Slide number Modern metanarratives Postmodern metanarratives High-stakes, standardized testing (Absolute measurement; focus on the product of learning) Classroom-Based Assessment using portfolios, journals, formative self- and peer-assessment (Relativistic focus on process; deconstruction of the standardized testing paradigm) Competition (aggression, competitive individualization, survival of the fittest, first-past-the-post) Collaboration (Social learning, teamwork) balanced by a new form of individualization – autonomous learning and self-access learning Studying English through elitist English literature (Strict boundaries; restrictions of genre) Learning English through pop-culture, comics, the internet, etc. (Plurality of genres; crossing boundaries; eclecticism)
  24. 24. 10/08/10 14:38 Slide number Modern metanarratives Postmodern metanarratives Linguistic imperialism (Colonialism) The English ‘native-speaker’ Postcolonialism (Expressing local cultures through diverse Englishes as variants of a lingua franca) Death of the ‘native speaker’ Structural syllabi (Totalization) Task-based and project-based process syllabi (Deconstruction of proposit-ional language learning concepts) Quantitative, ‘objective’ research (Absolute measurement of rigorously isolated, independently observed ‘truths’) Qualitative, subjective, action research (Relativistic description of perceptions, systems analysis of group learning environments) Behaviorist view of learning as predictable and independent of emotions Recognition of affective and social filters (language learning as social, cultural, emotional and unpredictable)
  25. 25. 10/08/10 14:38 Slide number Modern metanarratives Postmodern metanarratives Standardized, Western English (Totalization) Regional Englishes, dialects and pronunciations (Decentralization, regionalization, diversification) Linear, sequential learning, language as code (Absolute, grammatical ‘truths’) Use of meta-language and learning strategies in a non-linear learning format (Self-reflexiveness) Teacher-centered learning (Centralization) Student-centered learning (Decentralization) Teacher-controlled learning (Totalization) Student autonomy, self-directed learning (Decentralization, regionalism) Studying the culture of the target language (Centralization, colonialism) Studying regional and global cultures through the target language (Regionalism and globalism).
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  27. 27. Changing Englishes <ul><li>“ The learning task provides a framework for meaningful interaction to take place, using ‘purposeful’ (or meaningful) situations which refine cognition, perception and affect.” (Breen & Candlin, 1980, p. 91) </li></ul><ul><li>“ It is a tribute to the efficacy of task-based instruction (TBI) that this method has become the one of choice in the best government programs. Since the 1980s, nearly all government institutions have used TBI in their foreign language programs.” (Leaver & Willis, 2004, p. 47) </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number
  28. 28. Changing Englishes <ul><li>Ellis suggests that “tasks can be seen as tools for constructing collaborative acts” and that they can cater for learning by providing opportunities for learners: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>to use new language structures and items through collaboration with others; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>to subsequently engage in more independent use of the structures they have internalized in relatively undemanding tasks; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>to finally use the structures in cognitively more complex tasks. (Ellis, 2003, p. 178) </li></ul></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number
  29. 29. Changing Englishes <ul><li>“ The educational context, with the classroom at its center, is viewed as a complex system in which events do not occur in linear causal fashion, but in which a multitude of forces interact in complex, self-organizing ways, and create changes and patterns that are part predictable, part unpredictable.” (Van Lier, 1996, p. 148) </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number The art of conversation: Rene Magritte
  30. 30. Changing Englishes <ul><li>the death of the ‘native speaker’; </li></ul><ul><li>the death of structuralism; </li></ul><ul><li>the death of imperialism; and </li></ul><ul><li>the death of the ‘teacher.’ </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number La reproduction interdite : Rene Magritte
  31. 31. Changing Englishes <ul><li>New births: </li></ul><ul><li>“ If education can be a machine for social conformity, it can also be a machine for the investigation of new horizons and new possibilities. </li></ul><ul><li>The proliferation of ‘difference’ and uncertainty in the postmodern world, far from being a problem, is a constant invitation to imagine the unimaginable.” (O’Farrell, 1999, p. 17) </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number Time transfixed : Rene Magritte
  32. 32. Changing Englishes <ul><li>By shifting responsibility for learning and assessment to the learner, </li></ul><ul><li>by focusing on the acquisition of learning skills and social skills in a group context, and </li></ul><ul><li>by offering the opportunity to learn in self-directed learning projects, </li></ul><ul><li>TBLT, and project learning in particular, can provide a feasible approach to language learning in the 21st century … </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number L'entree en scene : Rene Magritte
  33. 33. This is not a teacher 10/08/10 14:38 Slide number “… through an awareness of how we use language, how language uses us, and what measures are available to clarify our knowledge of the world we make.” (Postman, 1995, p. 87). The Schoolmaster : Rene Magritte Le bouquet tout fait : Rene Magritte
  34. 34. Thank you for your time! <ul><li>Andrew Finch can be contacted at [email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>His teaching resources are at </li></ul><ul><li>His teaching books can be seen at </li></ul><ul><li>This presentation (and the handout) can be viewed at: </li></ul>10/08/10 14:38 Slide number L’act de foi : Rene Magritte