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31 Jan

I play tennis, my mother plays tennis, my father doesn’t play tennis, we play tennis.If I had five hours contact time a week I would teach entirely differently from the way I teach now.This would be my recipe: lots of daily receptive exposure to compelling aural and written input ; plenty of oral interaction through fun and challenging communicative activities (even more than the 30 minutes per lesson I do now); engaging multimedia project-based learning ; drama and art activities ; cultural awareness-raising through videos and realia ; exciting enquiry-based grammar learning.Educationists and researchers rarely recognize that, detached as they are from our world and more concerned with plugging their fads than with the often harsh reality of bog standard state schools.Curriculum designers, teacher trainers, examination boards and textbook authors do attempt to incorporate the new methodologies and fads in their work but they often do so superficially or clumsily at the detriment of sound pedagogy, giving rise to belief systems and practices which teachers often have to adhere to uncritically and which often clash with one another and with common sense.

To say my method is better than yours is preposterous.

Yet proponents of each method do, sometimes inspired by a genuine passion for and belief in the validity of their approach, more than often driven by a business or political agenda. The ugly truth is that a lot of us are confused and disoriented ; overloaded with government and school policy requirements which change way too often and quickly ; overflooded with information coming from different camps ; misinformed by CPDs which squeeze years of researching and theorizing in one or two Powerpoint slides ; galvanized by keynote speakers who excite us with great ideas which are difficult to translate into our classroom practice.

We, as school-based teachers, have been historically the victims of this state of affairs, decade after decade. Hence, as I always ‘preach’ in my posts, the need for (a) having a clear understanding of modern language pedagogy so as to be able to understand the state of the art of educational pedagogy beyond the different factions and fads’ political agendas ; (b) having a basic reference framework based on that understanding that will enable us to approach lesson and curriculum planning, assessment and feedback in a no-nonsense, practical and principled way.

Subjected to fads which were not a faithful reflection of each new method,but rather the botched-up adaptation of often-sound theories and methodologies by governments and their consultants, which reshaped them to fit the target cultural, political and socio-economic context, mindful less of our needs or our students’ than of their own agendas. Having such an understanding and such a framework – which in my case is MARS EAR ( see my blogposts on this) – has made my everyday lesson planning much easier and hassle-free and when questioned by my superiors it has allowed me to provide them with a clear rationale for my pedagogic strategies and choices rooted in Skill-Theory and neuroscience. Incidentally, it was interesting to see how Rachel Hawkes and others – who had never publicly advocated Skill theory principles before – have recently published a paper which reflects all of the views I have expressed in my blog in the last year or so.

“I would think,” I say, working saliva across my sandy tongue. I need time to work up the energy to examine this newcomer’s insides and decide what sort of spy she is.

That is my trick; not sunlight, or ocean, or vomited fire.

The result is the current state of affairs : an overloaded and overworked teaching profession that is often confused as to what constitutes best pedagogic practice disorientated as it is by mixed messages coming from multiple directions.