Monthly Archives: March 2012

What Do We Mean By “Demand High” Teaching?

Contemporary teachers have become mainly classroom managers and operators of materials. This is perhaps a natural outcome of Communicative Approaches – and of much current training – but is it really what we want? We may desire more “learning-centred approaches” but in class much teaching has become ritualised, with organisational tools such as “group  discussion” seemingly expected to achieve learning goals without any teacher intervention.

When I observe lessons nowadays I often see a teacher who does little more than a series of announcements to start up and close down exercises and activities. There is typically a lack of “up-close”  teaching skills, no “hands-on” work with language and little or no engagement with the process or experience of learning.  Much of traditional “teaching” is devolved to the coursebook. And coursebooks are now so good that they can take that strain.

But what can the teacher do when they want to risk breaking free? The escape routes are no longer clear. Some teachers see Dogme and assume that that is the only other place to go – but it is a fairly drastic extreme to dump materials and syllabus and wander naked through the dogme forest. Are there other routes open? Ones that allow the teacher to start exploring what it means to be a “teacher” – even with a syllabus and a headteacher and parents and a coursebook and all the day-to-day problems?
This website is a chance to  discuss current ELT and to ask the question: Is this where we want to be? And where else can we be?

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The issues

1    Good-Enough Teaching: Much contemporary teaching is “good-enough” – but not better.

2    Communicative Dead-End The Communicative Approach has settled down into a safe, peaceful, dead-end.

3    Low Demand We demand far less from our students than they are capable of. Much contemporary teaching is unchallenging and has low expectations.

4    Excuses We use our students as our excuse: “I don’t think it’s fair to put them in the spotlight”. We have misintepreted “humanistic” and “facilitation” as a bland “being nice to students”.

5    Unassertive Classroom Management While teachers have become good at basics (instructions, group making etc) they are weak at more challenging classroom management (getting engagement from all learners, not letting the strong students dominate etc). There is a general fear of – and avoidance of – assertive, supportive intervention.

6    Hands-On Language Work We do not work hands-on, in-the-moment, with language. There is a taint of guilt to doing demanding focussed language work.

7    The Moves of Learning We have not studied the moves of learning. We teach at a distance from learning, rather than getting up-close to observe it happening and to influence and affect  it.

8    Unambitious Systems We have created systems (in schools, ministries, international bodies etc) that encourage, validate, reward and maintain unadventurous,  low-awareness teaching and learning.

9    Experience We have not defined well what we might expect of a genuinely experienced teacher. Training and inspections do not often take account of the  higher skillset of teaching.

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Discussion: Contemporary teaching tends to be “low demand” (and this is a problem)!

Students are regularly asked to do and achieve far less than they are capable of. We have trained teachers to respond over-positively to “good enough”. They lack the skills to take students from there to genuinely good.  A student mumbles a quarter-good sentence that no-one else in class can hear – to which the response is “Excellent” or “Fantastic”.

Many teachers do not seem to realise that a student can move in the space of one lesson from pretty poor at a piece of language to near-native speaker level  – admittedly on a single item – but over time such upgrading has a huge impact.

At some point, we forgot how to be demanding. This is not laziness, simply that teachers do not know how to take learners there. In class correctness has come to mean little more than “the right words in the right order…” But students can hear it is substandard. They know.

Comments for this discussion are open.

Do you agree with the supposition or not? Is it an important issue? What experiences as teacher or trainer have you had that you are reminded of? If it is a problem … what needs to be done?

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