When Teaching Methods Become Madness

poppiesA long time ago (when the Earth was green), I heard a language-teaching nightmare story about a particular “method” that I want to share. Since I can’t find any references that confirm this story, I won’t slander the “method” by naming it directly. Let’s call this the “Quince Method”.

The “Quince Method” (QM) was developed by an immigrant to the US in the early ’40s. He had come to the States as a young adult and had not studied any English in his home land. He was forced to pick up the language through personal study and perseverance. He managed to do so.

He decided to develop a “method” for learning languages, a method that was based upon the then-becoming-popular “Audio-Lingual” method. He got his hands on some fine literature on the subject, teamed up with a language teacher (who happened to not speak English at all) and began giving classes.

He was also an entrepreneur. He was in the activity to make money. He published books with his “method” and trained teachers how to use the method scientifically in his language academies. Students began to spread the word, his method became well-known, he opened several academies.

Here’s where the horror story comes in. Seems that after a few years of successful language teaching, he began to become “paranoid” about what his teachers were doing in the class. He had made a business by promising that his “method” would not only quickly teach language but would also be faithfully presented in the way his books laid it out.

He consulted a gentleman with knowledge about spying. Together, they installed cameras and listening devices in classrooms at random. They did not hide the fact from the teachers. Teachers knew that they might be being observed while holding their classes and thus in a robotic fashion stuck closely to the “method”, never straying for fear of losing their jobs.

Now, I repeat, I’ve not found anything that confirms the truth behind this nightmare; however, I could assume that such actually occurred. I’ve given enough teacher-training seminars and classes to know that many teachers have been programmed into believing that there is a “method” that will work for them. I’ve seen “5 Language Teaching Methods that Work!” as a title for blog posts. I’ve even been told that I have a “method”, one that can not be used by others because it is based upon my personality. Weibolts.

The real danger, as I’ve mentioned before, is allowing the “method” to be the driving force in a language class. This then leads to the “method” becoming the bath water and its contents becoming the baby. When a “method” falls into disgrace within the language teaching community, when it gets thrown out, often the contents used in that “method” get thrown out as well. And that’s a pity, as there is a difference between the contents and how they are presented.

The presentation

The Audio Lingual Method was presented generally in this fashion:

  1. Teacher presents the day’s dialogue to students.
  2. Teacher leads students through drill based upon the utterances in the dialogue, usually breaking down the utterance in reverse order. This is:
  3. usually a repetition drill.
  4. Teacher guides students through group production of the dialogue, half the class in the role of A while the other half in the role of B.
  5. Teacher calls students to perform the dialogue in pairs. Teacher insists on exact reproduction of the script. No wiggle room for improvisation is allowed. Students are praised for accurate reproduction.
  6. Teacher begins sentence structure drills based upon one or two aspects of the dialogue. These drills may be substitution or transformation drills.
  7. Teacher drills students on particular pronunciation aspects found in the dialogue.

As can be seen, the Teacher is the focal point of this “method”. Students have little or no improvisational participation. In addition, the focus is on oral production and exact reproduction. Vocabulary is not considered of import since structure is what is being practiced and learned. Students are very active in the class, but they are always lead by the teacher.

Without going into technical explanations on inductive learning theories, it should be clear that a twice-a-week, hour-long language class that always follows this pattern might lead to student programming and finally loss of interest and boredom. In addition, the lack of improvisational participation limits students to structured language that can limit their ability to use language in a communicative manner outside of the classroom.

These limitations, fruit of an iron-handed application of a “method”, would naturally, over time, lead to dissatisfaction with both the results and an impression that not only were the objectives not being met, but that those very objectives might be erroneous. Any “method” that goes through this process will ultimately fall into disuse. But why throw the baby out with the bath water?

Well, don’t. Take a look at this post to see examples of how ALM materials are still available for use in your classroom.


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