A Major SNAFU on the CUNY TESL-List

Oh well, the best intentions…

The City University of New York has a very active mailing list for teachers. There are often multiple postings every day. I can recommend it to anyone with the time and the interest to read. Not all posts are relevant, but sometimes there are real gems to be found. I finally posted a response to the following:

Dear members,
I am doing some research and would like to know, from any or all of you,
whether the Direct Method is now the leading method for teaching English
as a second language.  Any thoughts, numbers, statistics, etc?  I would
be most grateful.
I am currently teaching in Japan and the school that I am at has adopted
the Direct Method.  Actually, it is a blended method, they still teach
grammar points to the students, all junior high school students and all
true beginners to English.In any event, we are making presentations to
the parents for the schools choice in changing the curriculum from
Grammar/Translation to Direct Method. If you have any thoughts, I would
be grateful to you for your help. With much gratitude,
Eric Ross, M.A.TESOL, Hanno, Japan

I attempted to post a well-spaced, reasonable reply but it came out as a BLOB and I don’t know why? So, anyway, I wanted to at least see it as it was meant to be:

Hi Eric,

I’ve been receiving and reading this mailing list for more than a year now, and YOUR post is, at last, the inspiration for me to lose my posting “virginity” on this list. I’ve been in Japan since 1989, teaching at a great private girls JSHS, and am currently into the second half of my MA TEFL through the University of Birmingham ODL. After so many years of teaching ‘instinctively’, this course is fascinating to say the least.

Your question is very good and I hope you’ll receive many replies. I feel the need to ask a couple of follow-ups:

  • How do you define the DIRECT METHOD?

You inspired me to go back to my Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, by Richards and Rodgers (2001: 11) to get the nitty gritty on the DM. They list the following principles of the Direct Method (DM) which I’ve simplified because I’m a lazy typist:

  1. Instruction is exclusively in the target language.
  2. Only everyday vocab. and sentences are taught.
  3. Oral communication skills are built through graded Q & A between T and Ss.
  4. Grammar is taught inductively.
  5. New teaching points are introduced orally.
  6. Concrete vocab. taught by demo, abstract vocab. by association of ideas.
  7. Speech and Listening comprehension are taught.
  8. Correct pronunciation and grammar are emphasized.

They go on to highlight the pros and cons of that version of DM, and I certainly agree with most of what they say. Personally, DM seems great for highly motivated students in private lessons (a la Berlitz), but I wonder how it could work in larger classes?

  • When you say your school is changing to the DM, does that include the JTEs or only the NTs?
  • How does the DM jive with the reality of preparing for the high school/university entrance exams?

For the past year, I’ve been thinking non-stop about curriculum and methodology because I teach solo and have complete autonomy to dicide my program. The best I can come up with, at this point, for a methodological approach is a combination of 1) Task-based Learning and 2) Focus on Form activities (e.g. dictogloss type activities) all encompassed by Paul Nation’s 4 strands of a well-balanced English program. I have also thrown out all textbooks and invested in an Extensive Reading library (1200 books). I have a bunch of links, etc, and a blog, if anyone would like to read more. I also love to meet teachers with a desire to become better teachers.

I’m also currently doing MA thesis research concerning methods (especially – or initially – directed at JHS) and would love to share ideas anytime. I’m in a small network of edubloggers and JSHS teachers looking at similar questions.

In direct response to your question, I can’t imagine any methodology over-taking the Grammar-Translation method within my lifetime. That being said, I couldn’t have imagined a smoke-free anything in Japan either. So, what do I know…



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