The official website of educator & arts patron Jack C Richards

Specific Method or Eclectic Approach

Question:

Submitted by Hanene Turqui, Algeria

Should a teacher to implement a specific method or adopt a more eclectic approach?

Professor Richards Responds:

Many different approaches and methods have been adopted at different times in language teaching. Perhaps the quest for more effective methods in language teaching reflects the fact that large-scale language programmes seldom meet the expectations of learners, employers and educational planners. Hence new language teaching proposals typically claim to be more effective than the ones they replace. However the adoption of new curriculum innovations in teaching is dependent upon a number of factors. These include:

  • the extent to which an approach or method is officially adopted by educational authorities and educational organizations,
  • the support it receives by authority figures or experts, such as academics and educational specialists,
  • the extent to which it can provide the basis for educational resources, such as textbooks and educational software,
  • the ease with which it can be understood and used by teachers;
  • and the extent to which it aligns with national curriculum and assessment guidelines.

During their initial teacher training, teachers are often introduced to different teaching methods and approaches. It is sometimes suggested that they should pick and choose, or blend different methods, when they start teaching. In fact, method decisions are often made for them. If they teach in a private institute and are teaching courses in general English, it is likely that they will teach from a commercial textbook series based on the communicative approach. If they are teaching English for specific purposes (ESP) or English for academic purposes (EAP), they may find that the course is organized around skills, text types or project work – in which case, they will need to learn how to teach within the chosen framework. If they are preparing students for content classes taught in English, a content-based approach is likely to be recommended. And if they teach a course in a particular skill area, such as a reading course or a conversation course, they will need to familiarize themselves with the approaches and methods that are typically used in these types of courses.

Despite the differences in how course designers, materials’ writers and teachers approach how they plan and organize their teaching, once lessons begin, plans are transformed through the interactions between teachers and students during the lesson . Through these processes, teachers create lessons that are right for the moment, but which might not be right for the next lesson they teach. Allwright stated this forcefully many years ago when he wrote (1988: 51):

The method probably doesn’t matter very much … but what happens in the classroom still must matter. All the research so far has involved the implicit assumption that what is really happening in the classroom is simply that some particular method or technique is being used, and that more or less efficient learning might be taking place accordingly. It is however clear that much more is happening. People are interacting in a multiplicity of complex ways … We need studies of what actually happens – not of what recognisable teaching methods, strategies or techniques are employed by the teacher, but of what really happens between teacher and class.

In addition, teaching is ‘situated’; that is, it reflects the contexts in which it occurs, and, for this reason, there can be no ‘best method’ of teaching. Dogancay-Aktuna and Hardman (2012: 113) thus conclude:

One cannot identify a ‘best practice’, even for a given context. The situatedness of language teaching involves not just the matching of particular pedagogies with particular settings, but seeing good pedagogy as emergent from those settings.

The next chapter will examine the knowledge and skills teachers need to develop, in order both to match appropriate approaches to their settings and to reflect on and refine their pedagogy as they teach.

  • Allwright, D. (1988) Observation in the Language Classroom, London: Longman.
  • Dogancay, Aktuna, S. and_Hardman, J.(_2012_).‘Teacher_education for EIL:_ Working toward a situated meta-praxis’. In A. Matsuda (ed.) Principles and Practices of Teaching English as an International Language, Bristol: Multilingual Matters, pp. 103–118.