What do we want teaching materials for? ¹ R. L. Allwright - PDF

What do we want teaching materials for? ¹ R. L. Allwright The question What do we want teaching materials for? is premature until we establish what there is to be done in teaching and who should do it.

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What do we want teaching materials for? ¹ R. L. Allwright The question What do we want teaching materials for? is premature until we establish what there is to be done in teaching and who should do it. Starting with a unified conception of language teaching and learning as the management of language learning: this paper proposes a management analysis which establishes a necessarily limited role for teaching materials, given the great complexity of the management problem revealed by the analysis. This leads to a diagnosis of teacher overload and learner underinvolvement, with implications for teacher-training and learner-training. (Training is probably necessary if learners are to become productively involved in managing their learning.) Learner-training has further implications for course design and for teacher-training, and raises the question of how teachers can best put their expertise at the disposal of trained' learners. Returning to materials, the paper then makes specific suggestions in support of a switch of emphasis from teaching materials to 'learning materials. Finally the conclusion is drawn that questions of materials should generally be related to the conception of the whole of language teaching and learning as the co-operative management of language learning. The question In this paper I will focus on the sorts of publications we might want publishers to promote, in terms of the sorts of jobs we might want teaching materials to do. To ask What do we want teaching materials for? is unfortunately a premature question. To say What do we want materials to do? may clarify the problem, because it may remind us that, if we are thinking about the role of teaching materials in the whole teaching/learning operation, then we ought first to ask What is there to be done? This question deliberately avoids reference to teaching or to the teacher, because I wish, at this stage, to leave who should do what in the management of language learning an open question. To be done suggests action, but in fact there are three phases in management, rather than one. There are things to decide, actions to be taken on the basis of those decisions, and a process of review to feed into future decision-making. Figure I should help reinforce this point, with its circularity and overlapping segments indicating the dynamic interrelationships involved. After a decision has been taken-say, to use a particular textbook for a particular course-some organization is necessary-namely the purchase and delivery of an adequate quantity of the books to the classroom-before the decision can be fully implemented. The use of the textbook, for a sensible review to be possible, has then to be monitored to permit evaluation of its use and ELT Journal Volume 36/1 October Fig. 1. Decision, Action, Review. effectiveness, and the result can then go forward to inform subsequent decisions. In addition it seems necessary to take a preliminary look at two different approaches to the question of the role of teaching materials. On the one hand there is the DEFICIENCY view. According to this view, we need teaching materials to save learners from our deficiencies as teachers, to make sure, as far as possible, that the syllabus is properly covered and that exercises are well thought out, for example. This way of thinking might lead, at one extreme, to the idea that the best teachers would neither want nor need published teaching materials. At the other extreme we would have teacherproof materials that no teacher, however deficient, would be able to teach badly with. On the other hand, there is the DIFFERENCE view, which holds that we need teaching materials as carriers of decisions best made by someone other than the classroom teacher, not because the classroom teacher is deficient, as a classroom teacher, but because the expertise required of materials writers is importantly different from that required of classroom teachers-the people who have to have the interpersonal skills to make classrooms good places to learn in. For some this conception may seem to reduce the teacher to the role of mere classroom manager. For others, it frees the teacher to develop the expertise needed for dealing with practical and fundamental issues in the fostering of language learning in the classroom setting. Both the DEFICIENCY and the DIFFERENCE views have enough truth in them to be worth holding in mind simultaneously as we move towards a management analysis. Both views are based on the assumption that decisions are best taken (and acted upon, and reviewed ) by those with the relevant expertise. Although this must, at first sight at least, seem entirely reasonable, it does ignore the important possibility that, at least in some not very improbable circumstances, the question of who takes the decision, etc., might be more important than the question of whether or not the best decision is always taken. We shall need to return to this issue later. Now it is time to introduce an analytical answer to the question What is to be done? The analysis This analysis of the issues involved in the management of language learning is simplified for the sake of exposition. (See Appendix 1 for the same analysis elaborated into 27 separate points.) It is not intended to be especially radical or controversial in its division of language teaching and learning into four main areas. It may be surprising to see Guidance given a section to itself, but otherwise the content should be familiar and, I hope, generally uncontroversial. The novelty, if there is any, consists mainly in R. L. Allwright presenting the analysis without reference, at this stage, to who should do what, or what should be covered by teaching materials. Goals Four main points need to be made about goals: 1 Points of view In considering goals, at least four different points of view need to be taken into account. Figure 2 attempts to show, by means of the one-way and two-way arrows, that language teaching institutions and sponsors may interact and negotiate goals for particular courses, but that language teaching institutions may impose goals on teachers, and sponsors may impose goals on learners. Teachers and learners then meet and may also get involved in negotiation of goals. 2 Types of goals At least two types need to be distinguished here: goals for oneself and goals for others. All four points of view represent people or institutions who must be expected to have personal goals. Teachers wish to develop their teaching careers, language teaching institutions want to survive financially and with enhanced prestige, sponsors want to further their own interests, and learners, we hope, want to learn the language. The first three, however, have goals for the learners as well as for themselves. They not only have goals, they may seek to impose those goals on the learners. Hence: 3 Probability of conflict Given these complications, it is not surprising if a conflict of goals is found. Teaching materials, of course, are chosen at least partly because of the learning goals they embody, but these, we know, are not the only goals involved in the whole management of language learning. This brings us to : 4 Materials may contribute in some way, but they cannot determine GOALS. The role of teaching materials must then be relatively limited. No matter how comprehensively the materials cover learning goals, they can never even look after everything to do with goals, let alone actually determine them. Content There are three main points to be made about content, and then four categories of content to be described (but see Appendix 1 for a more detailed analysis). 1 Input We have got used to the input/intake distinction (c.f. Corder, 1967) in recent years but only in terms of input from the teacher. Learners in classrooms, however, listen to each other as well as to the teacher, and are exposed, potentially, to much more language than is focused on in teaching. I wish to distinguish between what is taught in the classroom, and what is available to be learned there, as a result of the interactive What do we want teaching materials for? 7 nature of classroom events. If, for example, the teacher explains something in the target language, the language of that explanation is available to be learned. It constitutes potential intake. Similarly, all the things that get said when errors are being corrected constitute potential intake, as do all the things said in the target language by other learners. 2 Emergent content If we define content as the sum total of what is taught and what is available to be learned, then it becomes clear that content (potential intake) is not predictable. It is, rather, something that emerges because of the interactive nature of classroom events. 3 Materials may contribute in some way, but cannot determine CONTENT. Again we find that the role of teaching materials is necessarily limited. Even what learners learn is in an important way independent of the materials used. This notion of content needs further analysis (see Appendix 1) but here I can simply indicate four main types of content: a. The target language itself b. Subject-matter content This may include knowledge about language in general, about target language culture, literature, etc. In the ESP (English for specific purposes) context, subject-matter may be an important part of what is taught, or it may be simply the carrier of all the language content. c. Learning strategies Part of the content of instruction (both that which is taught and that available to be learned ) may be learning strategies, that is, ways of dealing with language input to turn it into intake, or means of generating input (see Seliger, 1980). Although the learning of learning strategies has not, traditionally, been an explicit goal of language instruction, it has become, recently, much more usual to give it emphasis, as in study skills courses for foreign students, for example. But all courses, not just those labelled study skills, could well aim to help learners with learning strategies, as an obvious part of the management of learning. Learners themselves, of course, may well want to become better language learners. We shall return to this issue under the heading learner-training later. d. Attitudes It is well accepted that one of the goals of school language instruction is to improve the attitudes of speakers of different languages to one another. However seldom this may be achieved, the development of positive intercultural attitudes remains important, but it is not often discussed as part of the content of instruction. Even where attitudes are not being explicitly taught, however, they are almost certainly available to be learned in any language classroom, from the teacher and from everyone present. They include attitudes to learning, of course, and not just language or intercultural attitudes. To summarize, anyone involved in the management of language learning has necessarily to deal with attitudes as part of what learners may learn. This analysis of CONTENT has pointed to some of the many complexities involved : enough, I imagine, to reinforce my contention that not too much can be expected of teaching materials. Method Here there are three main issues that have to be attended to (decided, acted upon, reviewed) in the management of language learning. R. L. Allwight 1 Learning processes The fundamental question is What learning processes should be fostered? This is clearly central for all concerned, from curriculum developers to the learners themselves. 2 Activities The next question is What activities, or what learning tasks, will best activate the chosen processes, for what elements of content? A less deterministic version of this question might be What activities or learning tasks will offer a wide choice of learning processes to the learner, in relation to a wide variety of content options? This amendment suggests, I think correctly, that we can neither predict nor determine learning processes, and therefore perhaps should not try as hard to do so as we usually do in our teaching materials. 3 Activity management The third basic question is How can we manage these activities (set up group work, run simulations, etc.) so that they are maximally profitable? (i.e. minimizing the management risks discussed in Allwright, 1978): for example, who will work best with whom, how long can be allowed for any particular activity. Such questions may be the subject of suggestions in teaching materials, but detailed local decisions are clearly beyond the scope of publications. Again we come up against the fact that teaching materials are necessarily limited in scope. They can, and do, contribute to the management of language learning, but cannot possibly cope with many of the important decisions facing the managers working in their various situations. Guidance I am using the term guidance to refer to all those things that can be expected to help people understand what they are doing and how well they are doing it. The scope of the term thus ranges from the provision of a fullscale grammatical explanation, to the mere nod from a teacher to signify acceptance of a learner s pronunciation. It also covers, of course, guidance about method (e.g. instructions for a simulation) as well as about content, and guidance about appropriate standards of attainment. These are major issues in the management of language learning, involving decisions, for example, about the most helpful type of explanation to offer for given aspects of the language, and about the type of error treatment that will help an individual learner. Clearly, in the circumstances, there is again a limit to what teaching materials can be expected to do for us. This analysis has quite deliberately been presented without raising the important question of who should do what. That we can cover in the next section. Meanwhile, the analysis should have reinforced any doubts there might have been about the viability of teacher-proof teaching materials! The whole business of the management of language learning is far too complex to be satisfactorily catered for by a pre-packaged set of decisions embodied in teaching materials. This is obvious if we recognize that, while teaching materials may embody decisions, they cannot themselves undertake the action and the review phases of the management process. Of course very few writers actually claim that their teaching materials can do everything, but a surprising number do state that their materials are entirely suitable for the learner working neither with a teacher nor with fellow learners, and this implies strong claims for what the materials can do. In turn it suggests a possible need for a learner s guide to language learning, of which more What do we want teaching materials for? 9 later. Meanwhile, the main point is that the management of language learning is inevitably complex. Implications So far I have delayed answering the question in my title and have preferred instead to consider a more fundamental question: What is there to be done in the management of language learning? In this section I shall deal with implications for teacher-training, then with those for what I will call learner-training, and finally with implications for materials themselves. Implications for The main implication is clear: if we subscribe to the deficiency view of the teacher-training role of teaching materials, then we are forced to admit that teaching materials cannot possibly make up for all our possible deficiencies as teachers. Perhaps teacher-training, then, should be based on a management of language learning analysis, and should concentrate on those areas of teacher expertise (like the action and review phases, for example, or the practical business of classroom interaction management) that cannot be safely left to materials. This is hardly a new idea for teacher-trainers, but it does seem worth emphasizing here. If that was the only implication for teacher-training of the analysis presented above, little would have been gained. The analysis, by highlighting the complexity of the teacher s job, also sheds light on a common problem found almost every time that teachers are observed or observe themselves. It is the problem of teacher overload. Teachers, it appears, seem to do all the work, and exhaust themselves in the process. As Telatnik noted in the diary she kept as a teacher (Telatnik, 1980) I m working harder than they are. This might not matter, if teachers could keep up the pace without running into trouble, but the evidence (mostly informal, but see Allwright, 1975, McTear, 1975 for specific examples) suggests that teachers who do so much work in the classroom run foul of a number of management risks (see Allwright, 1978 for a fuller analysis) and typically fail to present the language to be learned as clearly as they had intended (because they may offer off-the-cuff explanations that are faulty, or treat errors inconsistently, or leave the learners in doubt about what they are supposed to be doing, etc.). The obvious answer would be to offer more training to produce more efficient classroom teachers who could cope with the inevitably large workload without falling foul of the risks. If, however, we entertain the possibility that teachers are not just doing too much work, but doing work that the learners could more profitably be doing for themselves, the immediate implication for teacher-training must be that teachers need to be trained not to do so much work, and trained instead to get the learners to do more. Hence the concept of learner-training, since it is unlikely that learners will be able to share the burden without some preparation. Implications for Teacher overload often entails learner underinvolvement since teachers learner-training are doing work learners could more profitably do for themselves. Involvement does not just mean activity, however. It is not just that learners are not busy enough. Involvement means something more akin to Curran s investment (Curt-an, 1972 and 1976), which suggests a deep sort of involvement, relating to the whole-person. This sort of whole-person involvement should be related not simply to participation in classroom activities but to participation in decision-making, and in the whole R. L. Allwright business of the management of language learning. (It is, after all, their learning that is being managed.) But we should not expect the learners to be already expert at the sorts of decision-making (and action and review) involved in the management of language learning. We must therefore consider ways of conducting learner-training. Before doing that, however, there is a further point to be made about the possible benefits of greater learner-involvement. One of the management risks is spoonfeeding, and this shows up most obviously in the treatment of error: teachers seem to prefer supplying the correct answer to asking the learner to think again (see Lucas, 1975; Fanselow, 1977; see Cathcart and Olsen, 1976, for evidence that learners, as things are, prefer it too). If learners could be trained to take much more responsibility for identifying and repairing their errors, for developing their own criteria of correctness and appropriateness, then we could expect a direct improvement in their language learning. At least in this area, then, and no doubt in others as well, the investment of time in training learners to assume a greater share of management responsibilities should bring dividends in the short term as well as in the long, both directly and indirectly. But what ideas do we have for learner-training? Of course, very many teachers practise learner-training already, but I wish to give ideas for learner-training the prominence I believe they deserve. Thus, rather than attempting a comprehensive review of learner-training as currently practised, I shall instead report on person
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