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TEFL Masterclass – Decluttering ELT

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Steve Hirschhorn – Award-winning Teacher Trainer, Former School Principal & Director of TESOL.

Steve Hirschhorn has been teaching and training teachers for around 40 years. He has lectured and delivered workshops from Peru to Japan and most stages in between, going the long way round! Steve has been a Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics, school Principal and Director of TESOL; he was External Examiner for three UK universities’ MA TESOL and English Language boards. He has written numerous articles on various aspects of teacher-training, teaching and learning language.

What you will learn

Since the 80s and more so the 90s, we have been encouraged to add to our load through associating topics and approaches alongside an already very difficult and burdensome job – teaching language efficiently. Even some very well-known publishers have contributed to this mass of extra weight.

I will try to show during this workshop that teachers already have enough to do without thinking about all of those secondary issues and that they actually get in the way of efficient and effective teaching and learning, simultaneously causing some teachers mistakenly to feel inadequate because of the complexity and disconnected nature of these add-ons.

I will also offer an explanation for this movement towards ever more esoteric and obscure embellishments.

These additions to established practice have appeared over the last 30-40 years and have served to conceal the fact that the mainstream teaching of language has not really progressed very much in that period other than a very few innovations such as Task Based Learning and the Lexical Approach.

In a recent video meeting, Stephen Krashen and Noam Chomsky both demonstrated that they have not moved very far at all from their initial positions in terms of, for example, the LAD, Learning vs Acquisition, similarities between SLA and FLA, the Interface Hypothesis and so on. No quick fixes have been created!

Teaching and learning (I use the term in a general way) language is difficult and time consuming – that is not to say it can’t be fun, engaging and rewarding. You’ll notice that I am emphasising ‘mainstream’, so I am not commenting on the several niche or designer approaches such as Suggestopedia and Silent Way, both of which I have been quite heavily involved with over the years.

Workshop Summary

Reassessing Language Teaching Methodologies

Steve Hirschhorn introduces the concept of “Decluttering Language Teaching” in a masterclass, aiming to critically evaluate the myriad of methodologies, techniques, and theoretical approaches that have inundated the field of English language teaching. Despite the accumulation of these practices, which often promise enhanced learning outcomes, there’s little evidence to suggest a significant evolution in language acquisition speed. Hirschhorn’s objective is to sift through these accumulated practices, identifying those that genuinely contribute to educational success while discarding the superfluous, drawing on his four decades of experience in teaching and teacher training.

Evaluating Popular Teaching Concepts

The workshop scrutinises the practical application and effectiveness of various teaching approaches and methods, highlighting the need for a deep understanding of pedagogical theories. It challenges the effectiveness of popular concepts like critical thinking and multiple intelligences in the specific context of language teaching. Despite their potential benefits in general education, Hirschhorn questions their direct contribution to language learning outcomes, suggesting a lack of critical examination regarding their relevance and application.

Questioning the Efficacy of Learning Styles and NLP

Hirschhorn critically assesses the validity and utility of learning styles and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) within language education. Despite their popularity, empirical evidence supporting their effectiveness in enhancing learning is scant. These theories, often embraced uncritically, are argued to serve more as distractions than genuine aids in the teaching process. Similarly, the flipped classroom model is scrutinised for its practicality and impact on language acquisition, indicating that strategies effective in one educational context may not be universally applicable.

Scepticism Toward Educational Fads

The allure of brain-friendly learning and the integration of neuroscience into language teaching are explored, with caution advised regarding their application. Hirschhorn points out that while understanding brain functions can potentially enhance teaching methods, there has been no significant breakthrough in learning efficiency from these theories. The session urges educators to approach such theories with caution, emphasising the need for proper training and methodologies grounded in reliable research.

Encouraging Critical Evaluation of Teaching Practices

The workshop addresses the broader issue of educators seeking revolutionary methods or theories to solve the challenges of language teaching. Teachers are encouraged to apply critical thinking to new educational fads and prioritise evidence-based practices known to support language acquisition. Hirschhorn advocates for a balanced approach, combining scepticism toward unproven trends with a commitment to methods grounded in solid research and pedagogical theory.

Advancing Language Education Through Evidence-Based Practices

In conclusion, Hirschhornl proposes a path forward that involves a judicious combination of scepticism towards unproven educational trends and a commitment to methods grounded in robust research and pedagogical theory. Educators are urged to critically evaluate new teaching approaches, remain informed about developments in language acquisition research, and ultimately focus on practices that genuinely facilitate learning. This approach prioritises evidence-based teaching over fleeting educational fads, aiming to better serve both teachers and learners in the rewarding endeavour of language education.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. Do you throw things into a drawer and then wonder why they’re there but keep them anyway?
  2. What do you feel is more important in your teaching: Approach, Method or Technique?
  3. Do you feel that our profession (ELT) has advanced since you started teaching?
  • Cleveland, B., (1987). Master Teaching Techniques – NLP. Metamorphous Press.
  • Furey, W., (2020). The Stubborn Myth of Learning Strategies. Teachers and Teaching v 20 #3.
  • Mc Greal, S., (2013). The Illusory Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Psychology Today.
  • O’Neill, R., (1970). English in Situations. OUP.
  • O’Neill, R., (1978). Kernel One. Longman.
  • Paul, R., & Elder, L., (2009). A Miniature Guide to CT, Concepts and Tools. Foundation for Critical Thinking.
  • Slavin, R., (2019). JHU Newsletter. Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University.
  • Spolsky, B., (1990). Conditions for Second Language Learning. OUP.
  • Chapelle, C. A.  Ed., (2013). The Encyclopaedia of Applied Linguistics. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
  • Various. (2011). Q Series. OUP.

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