Wednesday, 28 September 2016

boooooo! hurrah!

Penn and Teller's show 'Bullshit' was a favourite of mine. Every week they debunked commonly held beliefs from 12-step-programs to cryptozoology. In one particular episode they asked people to sign a petition to ban Dihydrogen monoxide -a substance found in 'pesticides, baby food and the water supply'.

Hundreds of people signed up to demand the government ban H2O, more commonly known as water. So why would someone want to ban water? Probably because it was presented to them as a scary sounding chemical and 'chemical' is for many people a 'boo' word. 

'Boo' words, and their opposite 'Hurrah' words come from an old theory called Emotivism which holds that "ethical sentences do not express propositions but emotional attitudes". I'm not too concerned about the philosophical theory but I rather like the notion of boo and hurrah words. Put simply boo words are things that are just accepted as bad, and hurrah words, the opposite. When we hear 'Chemical' we mentally relegate it to the pantomime villain category and boo accordingly. 

So what are boo and hurrah words in education? Swan noted that:
the applied linguistic equivalents of democracy and motherhood - include 'learner-centred', 'meaning based', 'holistic', 'discourse', 'discovery', 'process', 'interaction', 'negotiation' and 'strategy'. On the other side of the communicative fence, concepts related to 'bad' pedagogic attitudes felt to be discredited and undesirable include 'teacher-dominated', 'form-based', 'discrete', 'sentence-level', 'transmission model', 'product', memorization', 'repetition', and 'drill'. (2009:167). 
I would probably add 'testing' and 'textbooks' to this list. These words are often placed in 'boo' or 'hurrah' boxes and there they linger with little examination. And it's not just ELT, as a comment on the now defunct 'Web of Substance' blog wryly notes:
I am disappointed in you as well Harry. You should know by now that, in polite education society you label your OWN ideas as "authentic", "innovative", "Child-centred" and "21st Centruy" so that when anyone disagrees they are, essentially, arguing for a counterfeit, old-fashioned, child-hating, Victorian education. 
We often take our views 'off-the-peg', after all, none of us really have the time to go and read up on every single subject which may concern usWhat, for instance, is the link between wanting relaxed gun laws and thinking climate change is a hoax? Seemingly nothing, and yet (American) people with one of these views will often have the other. Have these people really reasoned out the pros and cons of each side, or have they adopted the views of the 'tribe' they most identify with? 

What this boils down to is ideology. Once we choose an ideology to follow, be it socialism, Islamism or environmentalism, we reshape reality to fit that frame. A petition to ban a chemical? Sure, where do I sign!

Is this a problem? As long as our chosen ideology is sound, the views that follow will also be sound, won't they? Perhaps. But I'm uncomfortable, for two reasons. 

Firstly, our views are often unexamined. I can't speak for other teachers, but I often find a lot of the TEFL discourse confusing because I can never sure the terms people are using mean the same thing to them as they do to me.  

Take for instance the discussion on PowerPoint on the Minimal Pair podcast. One of the presenters said something about trying to avoid using PowerPoint because they're so 'teacher centric'. Thassumption in this statement is that 'teacher centric' (whatever that means) is bad and should be avoided. I kept thinking, 'are they teacher centric and if they are is that a problem?' 

Secondly, we've seen this go wrong before. Learning styles rode an ideological wave to success. It is an appealing notion to imagine that every learner has their own special abilities and if we just teach them in the right way, tapping into their unique 'intelligence' they will flourish. It's certainly more appealing than the notion that some people are just smarter than others and will do better than them no matter what we do. Learning styles is attractive, ideologically, but unfortunately its not true. 

Alan Waters, who passed away recently, wrote several articles examining ideology in applied linguistics noting that "a good deal of its discourse promotes or proscribes language teaching ideas on the basis of ideological belief rather than pedagogical value." A view supported by 40 years of learning styles promotion. Dana Ferris, who is perhaps the leading scholar in written error correction notes that, on largely ideological grounds "composition theorists have for decades ignored, minimized, or even openly disparaged any issues related to error treatment in writing courses." (2011:61) And Hyland suggests that although process approaches to writing may be appealing "there is little hard evidence that they actually lead to significantly better writing in L2 contexts." (2003:17-8)

These examples make me wonder, what teaching practices we are currently being ignoring because they don't fit our ideology. And likewise, what teaching practices are popular because they appeal to our world view? Is a teacher-centric lesson bad because it limits learning, makes students unhappy and is boring, or is it because it's 'authoritarian' and 'traditional' while we are modern, democratic, freedom loving sorts? Is there a difference between claiming you teach in a 'a learner-centric, communicative way using only authentic materials' and say claiming that you only eat 'organic, gluten free, locally sourced, food?'

Walters wrote several papers on this theme, taking quite an extreme position at times. He claimed, for instance that the EFL world engages in a kind of Orewelian 'newspeak' where unacceptable views are supressed  and only, "approved’ ways of thinking, such as in the use of the term ‘authentic’" are acceptable. (2015) He argued that getting rid of textbooks or advocating learner autonomy or ELF are not just pedagogical choices, but markers of right thinking people

And perhaps he has a point. Are textbooks disliked more because they present materials in pedagogically unsound ways or because they are written by large companies who make lots of money? Arguably it's a bit of both. So how do we stop ideology slipping into our teaching? I think it's important to carefully scrutinise our beliefs. The first step would be making sure we have a clear and accurate definition of what it is we're talking about. Take autonomy for instance, most teachers would consider it a good thing but as Mike Swan noted at a recent talk, while autonomy can certainly be good, the logical end point of autonomy, is no teacher. 

Next, we need to examine our biases, -what would we like to be true. I correct my students mistakes in class. Therefore I hope that that helps them learn. If I found out it didn't help them, -even hindered them, I'm likely to feel pretty bad about that. Therefore, I have a vested interest in trying to find data that back that view up. I'll also fight harder against, and examine closer articles which contradict that view.

Lastly, we should ask ourselves what our beliefs about teaching are based on. Do you teach the way you do because it's the way you were taught to teach, or because it's how everyone else teaches? What reason do you have to believe the things you do and more importantly, what would it take to change your mind. If the answer to the former is 'I just know' or 'common sense' and the answer to the latter 'nothing' then what you are describing is dogma. 

A chemical like H2O may save your life or, like H2O2 it might be poisonous. Chemicals themselves are not inherently bad, and H2O2 is excellent for dying hair while water may drown you.  


  1. I think you are confusing Multiple Intelligences with Learning styles. Gardner himself has said MI theory isn't about learning styles. There are over 70 different learning styles theories, some of which have more validity and reliability than others. And if you read the research, what is being questioned is not the existence of different ways of learning ( otherwise you would be saying that everyone learns in the same way) but what is called the 'meshing hypothesis' ; matching teaching style to learning style. There have been studies in favour of matching - but also studies in favour of mis-matching for the 'constructive friction' it offers. The research evidence does not 'disprove' learning styles, it merely says that there is not enough evidence to prove the meshing hypothesis. I am not arguing for or against here, merely saying that we should get the facts straight. Jill Hadfield

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      I hope I'm not confusing learning styles and multiple intelligences, since I've explicitly wrote that people shouldn't confuse the two in previous articles.
      Perhaps I have carelessly worded something in here which gives that impression? Apologies if so.

      Secondly, which research do you suggest I read? Is there a paper in particular? I'd be grateful for any suggestions :)

      I don't know if the comment was directed at me in particular but I do think everyone 'learns' in the same way. Exactly the same way. It does depend somewhat on your definition of 'learns' though. I'm not arguing that everyone studies, or likes studying in the same way.

      you write that "research does not 'disprove learning styles'" I think again that depends on your definition. Research, or at least high quality research (as laid out by Pashler et al 2008) does indeed fail to support the meshing hypothesis and Rogowski et al's 2014 paper backs this up. Now if you're suggesting that failing to support is not the same as 'disproving' then I'd agree, but as we can technically never prove something 'doesn't exist' at what point does the negative evidence become persuasive enough to make that claim?

      looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

  2. Excellent piece. Google Classroom is the new idol before which we must all kowtow, because computers, internet etc etc

    1. thanks for the reply and glad you enjoyed it :)

  3. Hi Russ - thanks for this. I read it just after a debate kicked off on PPP on another blog, in which for the author "PPP" was a definite "hurrah" word, whereas not so for the commenters, including myself. Evidence was brought in by both sides - but I again declare my bias in saying that the research offered in support of PPP left a lot to be desired. Still. At which point do/can we reach that ideology-free degree zero in which the scales fall from our eyes and everything becomes clear? Are you arguing that recourse to evidence and scientific or rational thinking are enough? Or will there always be a residuum of ideology to filter our view of the world?

    On that point, the word "ideology" itself - in its popular or dictionary definition that you seem to adopt here, that of a consciously-held belief system - is itself a kind of boo-word. In political terms, I have the feeling that the word is used more frequently as a criticism of others ("all that's just ideology - I'm telling you the truth") than as something anyone owns up to.

    Then I'm wondering how analogous your examples of ideology like "socialism" or "Islamism" are with the kind of beliefs which convince us that, say, learner autonomy is A Good Thing. I'm not sure these beliefs are articulated in quite the same way that a dyed-in-the-wool socialist or islamist would describe their world views. Maybe there are parallels, but they would need to be explored more.

    In that sense we have to contend with a variety of definitions of ideology in the social sciences. Given your insistence on clearly defined terminology, I'm not sure you're doing justice to such a complex construct. Even within the Marxist tradition, ideology is understood as a kind of false consciousness (Marx), or as a misrecognition of reality grounded in unconscious processes (Althusser), or a cynical awareness of reality nevertheless made ideological by how we act (Zizek) - e.g. I know very well that Spanish civil servants are ordinary mortals like you and I, but in how I deal with them I confer upon them the status of all-powerful beings who hold my very fate in their hands. Or - I know very well that learning styles is a highly questionable concept - but still I go along with assessing how teachers may or may not accommodate them in lessons observed for the purposes of a certain internationally recognised Diploma qualification.

    1. Thanks Neil for this reply! Really food for thought here. I particularly like your suggest that 'ideology' could become a 'boo' word.

      Is there a point of 'zero ideology'. Great question. I'd like to say yes but the answer has to be 'no', doesn't it? If history has taught us anything. That said, perhaps it's enough to be on guard,to check extra hard when our biases seem to be sneaking in? To be open to oposing evidence and all that.
      Your example of PPP is a good one. I've read both the pieces you refer to. In fact a number of colleagues discussed the issue at work. The good thing, I would say, about this debate is that it's happening at the level of 'evidence' which is an improvement on a lot of ELT debate. People are at least pointing to documents which have informed their views and so the argument can be about how convinving those documents are, rather than a kind of 'go with your gut' or 'my experience says...' kind of position. In this case, at least those reading can see the boundaries of the discussion, this isn't always the case.

      Who is right about PPP though? It seems to me the supporters need to come up with convincing evidence as to why the SLA research on grammar acquisition can be ignored. After reading the article in the ELTJ I'm not sure that case was made. That's my position but teachers who like PPP will surely not worry either way.

    2. Hi Russ, and thanks for another thought provoking post. Like Neil, I find it odd that you criticise people for Booing certain concepts that don't fit their ideology, and then you go on to Boo the use of ideology because it doesn't fit with your ideology. To suggest that it is preferable (or even possible!) to remove ideology from our practice is, in itself, an ideology, is it not? I mean, if you believe it is possible to divorce oneself from one's own values, emotions or subjectivity then you are making an ideological statement that appears to be located in a positivist (or possibly a post-positivist) paradigm.
      Also, taking the stance that ideology is a bad thing does not seem congruent with the writings of people like John Dewey, who is widely regarded as being key to the development of critical thinking. Dewey believed that education should be used to promote and maintain democracy. Surely that suggests that his philosophy was ideologically driven?

    3. Hi Steve,

      Thanks for commenting. You've left this comment in a bit of an odd place which makes replying difficult, but I'll soldier on ;)

      Your post is very 'meta' and so I've had to read it a few times. I'll try to give concrete examples in my reply otherwise I'll get confused.

      So you suggest it's odd to criticise people for disliking certain concepts on the grounds of ideology because in effect I'm doing the same thing. So, for instance if someone says 'TTT' is bad, it might not be because they have read research and looked into the effect of TTT but because it lines up with their political views on power and participation. Now along comes Russ and says 'it might not be because you have read research and looked into the effect of TTT but because it lines up with your political views on power'. BUT (and this is your point) Russ is caught in his own trap because his ideas about 'evidence and research' are just yet one more ideology. This ideology could be called "positivism" or "empiricism" or something like that.

      Does this sum things up accurately?

      Well of course, you're right. I'm a human being and as such subjective emotional and human concerns will always intrude to some extent. However, and I think this is a crucial factor. Asking for the discussion to be based around research and evidence is an attempt to push for objective indicators of veracity. TTT may be good or it may be bad, but mine and your views on it don't make it either good or bad. So recourse to evidence is an attempt to create a level playing field in which everyone can partake. Everyone can look at the evidence and can discuss openly. This seems preferable to me to having an authority figure tell you what is right.

      So I do agree with much of what you've written but I don't see the alternative. I see it as a 'least worst' type of situation (as I've said before

      The alternative is a kind of relativism (which arguably we have now) were all views are equal and teaching practice could be built on political ideas or artistic ideas, -or really anything at all.

      I don't know anything about Dewey so I won't comment except to say yes, democracy could be used to promote democracy but 1) it could also be used to promote anything at all and 2) the content of the lessons is a different matter to best practice. I do think (and correct me if I'm wrong) Dewey was suggesting we should adopt teaching practices which best mimic or line-up with democratic notions.

    4. Hi Russ & Steve,

      I agree with Russ to the extent that recourse to evidence offers a distinct type of discursive context compared to everyday ideological belief, insofar as it comes with its methodology, standards of veracity, peer review, etc. But it is still a discourse with a history and a number of competing/conflicting approaches, e.g. those which take more or less account of the social or cultural. So of course it cannot claim to be ideology-free, if in nothing other than this aspect: if we want the majority of teachers to inform their practice with recourse to evidence, it seems obvious that the majority of that majority will not be technically equipped (or have the time/inclination) to properly judge the evidence at hand. Of course they could be trained to do so, but the more realistic scenario is that these teachers channel their trust in one or another interpretation of the evidence through others, "subjects presumed to know", i.e. experts, and this is at heart an ideological move. Given the lack of coherence in the field, we may often be putting our faith in one expert or another only insofar as their ideas conform with what we already "instinctively" feel is right about teaching or language learning, or for a variety of other reasons which have little or nothing to do with the evidence at hand.

      If we take the whole Chomsky debate between Russ, Geoff Jordan and others, my instincts there would put me in the anti-Chomsky camp for a whole bundle of reasons that I won't bore you with here. I chose to stay out of it because a) I don't know enough about it, and correspondingly b) I had some awareness of the ideological nature of my instincts, so therefore c) any transfer of trust to a subject presumed to know has been suspended until such time as I can get to grips with the thing myself - which will probably be never. So I'll probably end up just siding with Geoff, for other reasons I won't bore you with either, but which are only partially related to the evidence (or my awareness of it).

    5. Hi both Steve and Russ

      The epistemological issue surely is whether there are any 'objective indicators of veracity' or whether even our experience itself is so suffused with ideology that no such appeal can legitimately be made. My suspicion is that Alan Waters had no intention of discussing this question, and was complaining merely about how certain ideas become widely held for reasons other than their having basis in evidence. If I'm right about this then it's probably regrettable that he chose to use the voguish word 'ideological'. 'Received wisdom' or, perhaps 'dogma' would probably better have captured what he wanted to say.

    6. Hi Russ,
      Yes, I think we broadly agree that we need to critically scrutinise ideas about teaching practice rather than just accepting them blindly because Jeremy Harmer (or some such guy) tells us we should be doing it. Research is therefore necessary to allow us to make informed decisions. I think though that my concerns lie more in the way that much language teaching research is conducted. There seems to be a belief in the field of applied linguistics that educational research must follow scientific methods, thereby locating studies within a positivist paradigm. This raises two issues. Firstly, such an approach inevitably raises the value of any indicators that are measurable, prioritising them over other factors or variables, so that, in the words of Henry Giroux, "all that is immeasurable withers". This, along with some fairly cynical political discourses, can lead/has led to a sort of over-simplified 'education by numbers' in which education is reduced to a series of performative acts that focus on making teaching practice look good when measured according to pre-determined criteria, which may not actually paint a very accurate picture at all. Stephen Ball has written extensively on this, but this is probably his best article on the subject:
      I've also tried to write about performativity from an ELT perspective here:
      The other issue I have about positivist research in education is that it requires the researcher to be a dispassionate and objective observer. To assume that it's even possible to do this is, in my view, a rather rash assumption to make. This was why I was a bit surprised by your call for teachers and researchers to "stop ideology slipping into our teaching". It's like you are describing ideology as some kind of bad habit, when I see it more as a necessary precondition.
      Somebody, I can't remember who right now (maybe it was Dewey himself) said that "education is a political act". Making the decision to teach some stuff (and not other stuff) to some people (and not other people) using certain methods (and not other methods) hat are grounded in certain principles (rather than others) requires certain political decisions to be made. ELT has become such a commercial global industry and therefore very market-driven that I think many of us have lost sight of the fact that it is very politically loaded - it's neoliberalism in action.
      I'm starting to ramble a bit so I'll conclude here by saying that yes, empirical research is necessary to help inform our practice, but in the context of language teaching I would question the validity of relying as heavily as we seem to do on quantitative data. I feel that more emphasis needs to be placed on qualitative, interpretive data, which requires a different kind of epistemology - one that acknowledges that the actions of teachers and researchers are not value-free. This will allow us to explore these inherent values as well as merely testing hypotheses through the analysis of hard data.
      Having just read this back again I realise that my beef is not really about ideology, but more with epistemology. But still, I think we need to be operating within an epistemology that allows space for teachers and researchers to have (and to boldly declare) the ideologies that underpin their own practice.

    7. Yes Patrick, I agree. I think we are really talking about "things that we believe because people tell us" rather than ideology, which I understand to be more of an underlying belief system that underpins action. Though maybe my definition is inaccurate...

    8. Hi Steve

      That's more or less how I understand it too. The term 'ideology' is certainly often used in the way that Alan Waters used it. Personally I find this usage regrettable, because it is unnecessary (there being other terms that will do just as well) and because the term 'ideology' is so essential to thinking in the Marxian tradition. Neil's background, I think it is fair to say, is steeped in the Marxian tradition. For Marx, if I've understood, history is always, at bottom, the history of human modes of production, of the ways in which we are organised such as to produce the stuff we need. Each mode of production has its attendant class relationships, with some class(es) of people occupying a more privileged position than others. The interests of the most privileged class(es) of people in any given society at any given period in its historical development will be reflected in the shared assumptions that underpin the way people talk to one another in the society in question (and after all, some shared assumptions, such as what the words we use mean, are a prerequisite for communication taking place at all). These assumptions are typically so deep that we don't even recognise them as assumptions and regard them rather as simply obvious facts about the world. This pervasive insinuation into the fabric of our social life of assumptions that are not, as we experience them as being, basic facts about the world but, rather, a reflection of the interests of the class that presently enjoys a privileged position is what I understand by the term 'ideology', as the term is used in the Marxian tradition. I think it's worth defending this use of the term 'ideology' because Marxism still matters (especially since 2008), and there's no obvious alternative to the term when discussing Marxist, and post-Marxist, thought, whilst, for the other uses of the term, it's relatively easy to think of a substitute.

    9. Thanks for the reply Neil. I think I agree with most of what you say. I'm curious why you decided, despite your 'gut' to side with Geoff on Chomsky. Bore away. ;)

    10. Hi Patrick,

      You're not the first to criticise the use of the word 'ideology' here. It was one of the interesting points to come out of the post. There's a long blog post on it here.

    11. Hi Steve,

      it's certainly thought provoking. I'm not sure this comment section is the best place for a discussion like this. I am interested though. Perhaps you would indulge me in a goodDocs discussion? Maybe a blog post would come out of it?

    12. Hi Russ,
      I'll be talking about the politics behind ELT at IATEFL in April, so I'll probably write a post and try to initiate some discussion on my blog in the lead-up to this.
      In the meantime, this article from Guba and Lincoln describes positivist research as only one of a number of approaches and also provides several alternatives:
      This one is similar but a bit more evaluative:
      The point is that whatever approach they want to take, academic researchers must become aware of their most basic beliefs about reality, knowledge and how to acquire it, all of which underpin their approach and methodology. This is very close to the definition of ideology that I used above.
      I hope you find these articles interesting.

    13. Hi Steve

      Unfortunately, philosophers, for whom worrying about these things is a full time job, cannot agree about what the terms 'belief', 'reality' and 'knowledge' even mean. The demand that we be clear about these things before proceeding risks intellectual paralysis, since the conversation to which it leads is one which goes on forever. By way of illustration, what are, for example, your 'most basic beliefs' about reality and knowledge?

      *allows a couple of minutes to pass

      See what I mean?

  4. Excellent post, Russ, as always! :)

  5. I think you're in danger of squeezing a round peg into a square hole here, Russ, and dividing the world into black and white wouldn't seem to be the best way of analysing the world post-Brexit and Trump etc. So I'm left unclear as to the points you're trying to make through the use of 'boo' and 'hurrah'.

    You say 'We often take our views 'off-the-peg', that these views are not questioned and you ask: 'Have these people really reasoned out the pros and cons of each side, or have they adopted the views of the 'tribe' they most identify with?' But I'm confused as to who 'these people' are within your argument.

    You then say 'What this boils down to is ideology...' - that we choose a reality and reshape reality to fit that frame.

    You're confusing two different things. Firstly, ideology is not a choice - like going to the supermarket and picking something off the shelves. I don't think this is correct. Ideology, according to Terry Eagleton (in Ideology - An introduction) exists as "illusion,
    distortion and mystification"; a distortion of reality. And distortions of reality are usually cultivated over time, so you can't really use choice to describe the process. (Examples: Thatcherism or Reaganism didn't come fully formed, they developed over time. So did people 'choose' Thatcherism?)

    Frames come from a completely different theoretical tradition, and a later tradition. Donald Schon, in his book 'Frame Reflection' talks about frames as being able to solve unreconcilable policy debates. In effect, Schon elides politics! He believes that you can just skate round politics and find answers to such problems as inner-city crime by just 'changing the frame' (not by actually providing more resources to tackle the problem). This 'frame' approach obviously benefits people like right-wing policy-makers (or policy advocates) who demand smaller government. And it's a staple of neoliberalism - just 'change the frame' and everything will be alright! (No need to talk about politics or power. See also New Labour.)

    So the two strands - ideology and frames - come from completely places. It's incoherent to put them together.

    Personally, I don't think everyone 'mystifies reality', but there are kind of 'folk beliefs' that are taken as common sense. However, the most damaging and pernicious 'folk beliefs' come from the industry itself such as coursebooks 'have their place'.

    Why? Because the industry has a lot more power and scope, issues you neglect to mention in your post.

    (More Foucault next time please!)

    1. Hi Jozef,

      Thanks for taking the trouble to write at length. Lots of food for thought here.

      In answer to your questions 'these people' are all of us. We all do it. Hence the preamble about banning water. I do it, you do it.

      You bring up Trump and Brext and I think they're good examples of what I'm talking about. Did the Trump Supporters really reason out and understand his positions (if he even can be said to have any) or did they vote because Trump was their kind of man?

      A good example of this was GW Bush who many claimed was the 'kind of guy you could have a beer with' -despite the fact he was tea total.

      Is ideology not a choice? You say 'no' I would say 'yes' though perhaps we could agree to meet somewhere in the middle? I don't think it's a conscious choice, in so far as it is an overriding position which allows other more minor positions fall into place. It allows us to have a position without thinking. In teaching 'tests are bad.' for instance. How many of the people claiming this know anything at all about testing? Of course some do and make reasonable criticisms, but do most? I would argue 'no'.

      I don't know much about Frames, but thanks for the information. I'll look it up.

      Anyway, I'm sorry my post wasn't clear enough. I'll try to be clearer next time. :)

  6. Great article. Really interesting about how the connotation of ELT words has ideological baggage.

    One thing I'd argue is that we might not be anti-textbook because they are made by big corporations per se. Perhaps, because they are made by large corporations, the profitability of a book is the bottom line. This creates a tendency against innovation because a text book that looks like a text book will sell and one that looks different will not. So it might be a case of thinking 'another trendy textbook by X publisher that looks like all the others' rather than railing against the notion of a book being produced by a large company.

    This point was something told to me by DELTA tutor Sue Swift in Milan. She was an excellent teacher and I pretty much believe and agree with everything she ever said. This article has just made me think that this is an example of how a halo effect may have influenced my teaching ideology.

    1. Hi Chris,

      Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment.

      I think if you talked to some textbook writers they would bitterly dispute the idea that there is no innovation in textbooks. I'm guessing here, and having never written one I don't know but we had a text book writer give a talk at our place and she seemed pretty proud of what she had produced. I don't know.

      BTW is your teacher this Sue Swift? (comments)

  7. Just a quick point on textbooks. In my experience, a lot of the opposition to textbooks outside of the academic sphere seems to be ego driven. Teachers are very quick to loudly announce, "I don't really use the book." I've even been guilty of that myself in the past. The implication is clear: textbooks are only for inexperienced teachers who don't know what they're doing. Teachers who really care will create everything from scratch* for their students.

    *photocopy stuff out of resource books.

    1. Hi Joe,

      thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, I wonder if you've got a point here. Kind of like 'training wheels' or something?

  8. That the logical end point of autonomy entails no need for a teacher is not an argument against promoting learner autonomy. The logical end point of recovery from disease is no need for a doctor. The logical end point of unblocking the toilet is no need for a plumber. The logical end point of doing the washing-up is clean plates. i.e. no need for any further washing-up. Isn't all work like this?

    1. Sure, but at what point do you want that autonomy to kick in?

    2. Well, as soon as possible, which is also when I want to recover from an illness, or unblock my toilet. Why would anyone want to delay any of these things?

    3. Well, why not just tell your students to go off and do it themselves. I'm sure you can find another job.

    4. 'As soon as possible' doesn't have to mean 'immediately, in all cases'. Students may, for various reasons, be ill equipped to learn a language by themselves as effectively as they can with the aid of an instructor. I was commenting on Mike Swan's argument (or, since I didn't hear the talk, Mike Swan's argument as you represented it). Swan appears to suggest that the fact that total learner autonomy would lead to teacher redundancy is a reason to temper our enthusiasm for learner autonomy. Our views about learner autonomy should depend, surely, on what is maximally beneficial for the learner, not on what is beneficial for ourselves. An honest practitioner is one who, in her professional considerations, puts her self-interest to one side. I think that if you think about your own dealings with doctors and plumbers you'll find this point reasonably obvious.

  9. 'I correct my students mistakes in class. Therefore I hope that that helps them learn. If I found out it didn't help them, -even hindered them, I'm likely to feel pretty bad about that. Therefore, I have a vested interest in trying to find data that back that view up. I'll also fight harder against, and examine closer articles which contradict that view. '

    I think it's worth distinguishing between confirmation bias and vested interest. I think here you are describing confirmation bias. To say 'I correct students' errors, therefore I think it helps them learn' is odd to say the least. Common sense suggests that the causation is the other way around. You correct students' errors BECAUSE you think it helps them learn. No?

    1. I think the point I was trying to make here is that once we have invested in a practice we might seek to defend what it is we do in the classroom. I was trying to include myself in this passage rather than make it seem like I'm finger wagging at other teacher's 'poor practice'.

      Yes, the term confirmation bias could have been used.