The impact of post-method approaches on English teaching

Post-Method Era. The Influence of the Tendency on ELT

Post-Method Era. The Influence of the Tendency on ELT

22.08.2023

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It’s likely that you have never heard of Dr. B. Kumaravadivelu, however, chances are you are already familiar with some of his ideas, if not in theory, then in practice. 

The thing is that the last popular approaches to teaching languages, such as communicative language teaching (CLT), task-based language teaching (TBLT), and content language integrated learning (CLIL), are all at least 20 years old. 

Contrary to the most popular approaches, Kumaravadivelu proposed postmethod pedagogy in 1994. Kumaravadivelu’s Macro-Strategic Framework as well as Allwright’s Exploratory Practice, Stern’s Three–Dimensional Framework, and Brown’s Principled Approach came about in response to the need for a method-free, most effective approach to teaching English. 

In his proposal for micro-strategies in ELT classrooms, Kumaravadivelu sees postmethod pedagogy as a three-dimensional system with three pedagogic parameters: 

  • Particularity
  • Practicality
  • Possibility

Since the beginning of the first attempts to follow post-method prescriptions, people have become more interested in contexts in which languages are taught (needs assessments, language acquisition for specific reasons, sociocultural approaches to learning motivation, etc.). 

In this article we are going to talk about the main advantages of  post-method (also known as post–CLT) pedagogy and some practical ways of using this new theory for the benefit of your lessons.

What is post-method pedagogy?

As we have already mentioned, the theory of ELT has been going through major changes, and that is exactly what Kumaravadivelu is interested in. 

He researches changes that have occurred in language teaching and states that the methods have evolved from language-centered methods to learner-centered.

Now, though, we are facing another important change: the education process becoming  learning-centered.

Therefore, while method may be defined as a set of theoretical rules and principles directed at teachers, post-method is a set of rules constructed by the teacher and based on their prior and experiential knowledge. 

Simply put, according to Kumaravadivelu, post-method implies practitioners constructing classroom-oriented theories, while method can be defined as theorizers constructing knowledge-oriented ones.

That is why we may state that post-method appeared primarily to overcome limitations imposed by the method and justify the difference between the expectations that the method sets and the reality that teachers get by applying the same set of rules in spaces that highly differ in their experiences, backgrounds, traditions etc. 

Want to know more about ELT trends?

Key principles of post-method

Post-method pedagogy is also defined by its three main characteristics: particularity, practicality, and possibility.

Let’s look closer at each of them.

Particularity

Particularity means that teachers have to develop sensitivity to their students as well as their backgrounds, needs and general context in which studying takes place. 

For instance, Kumaravadivelu lists some of the negative impacts that “trendy” language teaching techniques imported from so-called developed countries (mostly the US. and UK.) have had in other regions of the world:

“All education, like all politics, is local. Ignoring local needs means ignoring real-world situations”.

To support his idea, he particularly refers to the global promotion of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). He claims that learning how to chit-chat about movies, traveling or sports turned out to be not very effective in some parts of the non-English speaking world where students’ objective was focusing on grammar to get into the university or learning how to read in order to understand some manuals. 

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Other scientists agree with Kumaravadivelu up to the point of referring to CLT as “naive ethnocentrism”

Therefore, the main idea is absolutely clear and was perfectly formulated by Shamim

“Promoting  CLT where it was not appropriate could make the teacher terribly exhausted and the learners put up psychological barriers to learning”. 

Some educators even emphasize situations where students from Sri Lanka are  supposed to discuss whether they want or don’t want to buy certain things that  they simply can not afford in real life. 

Basically, the rule of particularity encourages teachers to critically analyze theory if they feel like it’s not appropriate for their students’ environment and not be afraid to actively look for the most practical solutions even if they don’t strictly follow the advice from the teacher training books. 

Practicality

The followers of post-method theory refuse to take the method as a set of rules they must obey under any circumstances.

Kumaravadivelu insists that teachers should apply theory in order to get “education practitioners’ freedom and autonomy to act upon their knowledge, observations, and intuitions” rather than using it literally as some sort of cookbook

Teachers are firstly and foremostly practitioners who are free to use their own experience and not simply implement  the theory. This requires a high level of self-reflection and self-evaluation as well as developing an inner feeling of what should be done and what should be avoided.

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Possibility

According to Kumaravadivelu,

“Language  teachers can ill afford to ignore the sociocultural reality that influences identity formation in the classroom, nor can they afford to separate the linguistic needs of learners from their social needs. In other words, language teachers cannot hope to fully satisfy their pedagogic obligations without at the same time satisfying their social obligations”. 

What he really means is that the way both teachers and learners act within the classroom is highly influenced by:

  • the way of their identities development;
  • the interpersonal interactions with other people in the classroom;
  • the social, economic and political environment they grow up in.

Mendoza perfectly illustrates these ideas by commenting on research that described two classes that were held by two Spanish teachers: either by a Latina woman or a white man. 

It was discovered that both supported bi/multilingual education, engaged students in their lessons, showed concern for their well-being, and were involved in social justice concerns. 

The Latina instructor, though, was more strict about using “proper” English and Spanish while the white male teacher seemed not to care about it so much. 

The reason for that turned out to be the following: the male teacher’s casual language usage would not have a negative impact on his professionalism, however, the woman was more likely to “pay” for incorrect language use by facing criticism and doubt in her skills. 

Simply put, all experiences are different, which  is why post-method chooses not to ignore the professional experience brought by a teacher from a certain environment that has its own social, political and economic characteristics. 

Post-method is definitely much more context-sensitive which has positive results for  the process of English language acquisition.

On contextualizing grammar

Post-method teaching strategies to follow

Undoubtedly, all the main principles of post-method pedagogy sound worth considering and applying. 

However, how exactly can we do that? Let’s look at what the developers of the theory propose:

Tips based on Macro-Strategic Framework

The main idea of the methods presented by Kumaravadivelu is to create more classroom-sensitive education and provide some situation-specific ideas. 

Here are some tips on how to do that:

  • Create  as many learning opportunities as possible, remake every question or problem into the task and chance to practice or revise material;
  • Reduce the number  of perceptual mismatches, pay close attention to whether what you say to your students is interpreted in the correct way (and not only in terms of translating from L1 to L2);
  • Encourage negotiation, make students free to contribute to any part of the lesson, motivate them to ask clarifying questions. 

Also, it is important to:

  • Promote students’ independence, help students to discover their learning style; 
  • Teach language awareness, give students space for self-correction and self-discovery of what the mistake is about. 
  • Contextualize, think about the most functional and appropriate situations to work with.
  • Combine language skills, try to create tasks which require applying more than one skill (for example, reading + writing, listening + speaking + writing etc.).
  • Raise cultural consciousness and sensitivity, provide a space for learning how to talk about the students’ culture and traditions and  how to present it. 
  • Be socially relevant, sensitive to the social, political, economic and educational environment where the L2 learning takes place.

Tips based on Three-Dimensional Framework

Stern proposed the Three-Dimensional Framework, which disapproves of different kinds of restrictions.  

He suggests sticking to the middle path in applying the theoretical principles of ELT. 

Here are some of the ideas:

  • Estimate the need for L1 on your own: contrary to the majority of methodological prescriptions, Stern doesn’t see any problem in using L1 if needed, especially with lower levels. “L1-L2 connection is an indisputable fact of life”, he says and encourages teachers to choose the level of applying L1 on their own, relying on the real situation in the classroom, rather than theory;
  • Be both form and content-oriented;
  • Decide on the degree of using explicit and implicit strategies: again, it is generally accepted to choose implicit teaching over the explicit. However, Stern claims that teachers should be able to choose what works better in a certain situation, and should be able to refer to explicit teaching if they feel like it will be more effective  in this exact situation;

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Tips based on Exploratory Practice

The key focus of Allwright’s framework is understanding the quality of classroom life, as a social matter, not effective instruction. 

Here are some ideas that might be useful: 

  • Focus on quality of classroom life;
  • Work to understand it before thinking about improving it;
  • Involve everybody as practitioners;
  • Bring people together;
  • Cooperate for mutual development;
  • Minimize the burden of studying something through meaningful interactions.

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Tips based on a Principled Approach

According to Brown (2002), there is no need for any new methods.  A unified approach to language instruction and the creation of efficient tasks and approaches should be the focus instead: 

“Methods, as we historically understand the term in the profession, are not a relevant issue in the sophisticated process of diagnosing, treating, and assessing learners of foreign languages. We have emerged well beyond the dark ages of language teaching when a handful of prepackaged elixirs filled up a small shelf of options”. 

Here is what Brown suggests:

  • Diagnosis which mostly focuses on designing and arranging curriculum as well as keeping an eye on the classroom;
  • Treatment addressing the interests and requirements of the learners in various circumstances;
  • Assessment that is dedicated to evaluating students’ achievement of course objectives, particularly by continuing evaluation of their performance as a course moves forward.

According to Brown, to complete these three stages, teachers need to create their own approaches rather than following certain methods and even go  as far as talking about the “death of the method”.

Conclusion

To sum up, it’s needless to say that post-method has both followers and haters who all have their powerful arguments for or against so-called old methods. 

It would also  be wrong to treat post-method pedagogy as a solution to all existing problems in ELT because of course it’s not. 

However, post-method pedagogy helps teachers fulfill their potential as practitioners and offers them a fresh perspective on language teaching and learning. 

While post-pedagogy does not signify the end of methods, it does call on educators to be aware of the certain limitations and to acknowledge their own strengths as major sources of method creation.

Post-method followers continue claiming that in order to transition from idealism to realism, educators should use their experiences and expertise and share them, turning into both researchers and practitioners, which definitely makes the more sense the longer we teach and the more we see that now everything is written in the book. 

All the professionals agree that post-method appoaches is extremely effective.

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko

    Author

    Teacher of General English & IELTS

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