Friday, January 23, 2009

Teaching Terminology

Recently, while clearing out my Google Starred Items, I ran across this article on the Linguist that I meant to read - but it slipped through my radar.

I do have to agree with Steve on some points. If you are strictly a linguist, the teaching terminology is jargon that just doesn't make sense. This is one of the reasons I decided to do a dual master's degree in Instructional Design and Applied Linguistics. While I have learned some teaching terminology in Applied Linguistics, most of it I learned in Instructional Design. Linguistics terminology has mostly been about...well languages and linguistics.

I don't know if it's me, or it's just "d'uh" knowledge, some of these terms give a name to phenomena that I have observed in the last ten years that I have been a university student. The fact that these phenomena have names mean that I can converse with others in the field about said phenomena and to be able to understand research written that utilizes this vocabulary.

On some level, I find the distinction between pedagogy and andragogy (the names, not the underlying theory), as silly. Perhaps it's because in Greek, pedagogy (παιδαγωγία) is used for education regardless of the age of the learner. If you want to be an educator and want to keep learning and improving your skills, the jargon is something you need to know. This is no different than knowing library jargon if you work in a library, management jargon if you work in the management field, and computer jargon if you work in the technology industry.

There was also a comment on this post that said something to the effect that language teachers want to keep you dependent. While I think this may be true of some individuals, most language teachers I had were eager to expand on what was covered in class afterward and to suggest resources for individual study. These teachers have been a role model for me. Even though I don't teach language, I do teach tech, and if students want more info, I am ready to give it to them.

The question is asked:
How important are these compared to the natural ability of the teacher to inspire, encourage, guide and stimulate the learner, aptitudes that are not necessarily learned at teachers' college.

A teacher's ability to inspire, encourage, guide and stimulate is really important. Some people are just born with it. Others are like coaches at the end of a game. They watch the replay after replay, they see what may have gone wrong and they formulate a strategy for future lessons.

Theory is important to shed light on learners that aren't receptive to your teaching style

Jargon is important for conversing with others in the field and applying new theory to the class.

Finally (don't want to make this a long post)
The bulk of language teaching today takes place in a classroom where students are taught a curriculum, which follows a prescribed time-table. The students are required to do regular tests to demonstrate how well they are able to perform according to that time-table.

While this is indeed true, it's not because of theory. This is where theory and practice diverge. The theory can be applicable, but the current classroom practices are practices of yesterday. It's like a train trying to slow down (or stop) to change direction - it takes time.

The problem may not be the instructor per-se. It is probably the organization that sets and approves the curriculum. If inspired instructors were allowed to change the curriculum and the testing methodology, I think you would see more improvements in language teachin
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