Collaboration and discussion in ELT

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by Sandy Millin, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence, http://bit.ly/tzwXS

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by Sandy Millin, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence, http://bit.ly/tzwXS

It has been very interesting to follow the recent discussion and reaction around the idea of demand high ELT following Geoff Jordan’s post. I’ve been particularly interested in understanding why it bothers or enthuses people and in examining my own reaction to it. I touched on it briefly in a recent post and, in the comments, recognised that I think the idea of demand high has a lot to offer. But, in trying to understand the reaction, it’s not just a matter of deciding whether we think the ideas of the demand high instigators, Adrian Underhill and Jim Scrivener, are good but it’s also important to wonder why they have drawn negative responses that are just starting to be aired.

There’s something very familiar about the reaction to demand high and, in particular, the idea that we do this already and that it’s just good teaching. But, as I realise, from reading comments and posts like that from Luis Otavio Barros, there is a need for what they are trying to convey. However, there’s also quite a strong feeling of “Who do they think they are to come and tell us how we should be working? What do they know about my experience, my training, my context?” as Geoff Jordan and Mike Harrison express in their posts. Other reactions seem to be along the lines of ‘Meh!’. I think I’ve personally felt a bit of each.

Chuck Sandy, when tweeting about Mike’s post, asks that we ‘start talking to each other. Don’t forget to listen’. That, I think, may be where the demand high people might be going wrong. They don’t seem to have asked or listened very extensively. If they have, I haven’t been aware of it and would be happy to find out more about that. They seem, rather, to have been making broad assumptions based on their own observations and now they’re telling us what we should be doing.

The arguments that this is just good teaching, we already do this, it’s nothing new, are ones that the Dogme in ELT (Teaching Unplugged) has drawn over the years. But, in arguing this, I doubt anyone is saying that we shouldn’t promote good teaching but perhaps that we don’t like other people assuming we’re doing it wrong without taking the time to find out more.

Thinking about it more over the last few days, one big difference between the two approaches/memes/methods (or whatever they are these days), however, seems to be in the level of collaboration involved in discussing and developing the ideas. Unplugged teaching was discussed in a dedicated forum for a good few years before Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury brought out the Teaching Unplugged book in 2009. In it, they recognised the contributions of the discussion list participants. ‘Since its inception in March 2000, the Dogme discussion list provided the forum where these ideas and beliefs were debated, challenged, adapted, and exemplified. Out of this ‘long conversation’ emerged ten key principles’ (p. 7). It’s still being discussed.

I like many of the ideas of demand high. I think there is a lot of good advice there. But I also think that there are areas which need to be approached with care. We need to be able to judge, for instance, just how high we should be demanding of individual students at any particular stage in their learning. When we’re getting a new student comfortable in the classroom, for example, high demand might be for them to say anything at all.

I think there needs to be a lot more listening and learning from the wealth of knowledge and experience that already exists in the ELT world and a lot more debating, challenging, adapting and exemplifying to develop and disseminate the ideas of demand high in ELT.

There is, as Geoff suggests a lot more strongly than I would feel comfortable with, very much a product approach to launching demand high in the ELT world. We, it seems, would much prefer to be part of the process.

4 Responses to Collaboration and discussion in ELT

  1. Sandy Millin says:

    “I think there needs to be a lot more listening and learning from the wealth of knowledge and experience that already exists in the ELT world and a lot more debating, challenging, adapting and exemplifying to develop and disseminate the ideas of demand high in ELT.”
    Yes. Thank you for sharing this Carol, and for encouraging us to keep the discussions going.
    Sandy

  2. Chris says:

    What you say here was nicely worded and important.

    Disagreement is vital to further the discussion, but equally important is how those who disagree convey their message. An attack generally draws people into three camps: the fors, the againsts, and those in the middle who feel it’s better to stay out of the melee. When this happens, little communication actually happens, and the conversation never moves forward.

    There may be a problem and real room for disagreement with “Demand High,” but there unfortunately doesn’t seem to be much meaningful conversation going back and forth at the moment.

    Thank you for posting this.

    • Carol Goodey says:

      Many thanks for this comment, Chris.

      I think that meaningful conversation is probably what Jim and Adrian have intended but maybe that hasn’t come across widely enough yet or been facilitated as it might have been.

      There probably is a need for a learning-centred focus, especially when learner-centred means so many different things to different people but, like you mention, there may be room for disagreement and it may need to be fine-tuned and properly understood for different situations.

      As with any learning situation, it’s probably better not to say ‘here, this is what you need’, but rather, ‘What do you/we do now? Can we learn from or build on that?’. If we want to be learning-centred we need to start with where people are, whether in language learning or professional learning.

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