TIP & Post-Method Era

2012-01-01

TIP & Post-Method Era
Educational Services Exchange with China (ESEC)

Danny Yu

 

Introduction

 

In our three decades of working and serving in China,1 more and more I have deduced that Chinese people on average have good English. I have come to that conclusion even though most Chinese would claim that their English is terrible. They are usually very strong in vocabulary and grammar. They know the rules better than most Americans, including our foreign teachers. Many Chinese can also read or even write English adequately. However, we found our purpose and function in focusing on the “use” gap in English learning and teaching. Using English orally is key to learning.

 

TIP (Total Immersion Program) shows how to shape attitudes and manage the English environment to promote English use – speaking and listening – via the joy of learning. As we talk more about TIP, which is an 18-day English total immersion program, some who have not seen the program in action may be skeptical of the results. We’re concerned that others will be turned off to our discoveries because they seem either too simplistic or grandiose. We have done a lot of work to simplify the process, and we are most proud that the program works even for those with low to zero oral proficiency. It can serve the Western areas and impoverished regions of China, which have less access to English training. In reality, TIP is possible because we are able to capitalize on the Chinese learner’s natural ability for hard work and what they have already invested in English language learning. We, in fact, get to do the easier part.

 

TIP, as a product, evolved from IOE (Institute of English), a program serving since 1981 Chinese scholars, professionals and government personnel who needed English for going abroad. IOE was an 18-week program. In contrast, TIP, which was developed in 2006, is a 3-week program with 18 days of total immersion in the English environment. Students stay on campus 24/7 and do not leave except in emergency. And they are not allowed to use Chinese when they are awake. They dress, eat, walk and talk, and sometimes, dream in English.

 

Through the years, the IOE program worked with the training departments of the academy of sciences, central and provincial governments, business institutions, and many universities. We listened, we learned, and we adjusted our programs and outreach efforts to meet the needs that were presented. This effort has involved close to 300 Chinese institutions, and 150,000 program participants. In the last 5 years, IOE has evolved into TIP and has trained more than 10,000 people, mostly English teachers in the Western provinces. Based on this experience, especially from the lessons learned and principles discovered at TIP, we present this paper.

 

TIP is designed specifically for English teachers in basic education, particularly in primary schools. It is our assumption that if these primary teachers achieve English oral proficiency, their students will begin English learning through speaking and listening. TIP is unique because of its speed in that a teacher from a Western province with very low or zero English oral proficiency will return home teaching in English after 18 days of total immersion. Another distinction is that the TIP way can be used in very large classes everywhere. Here in Beijing, one American TIP trainer can graduate 400 trainees yearly. Furthermore, the low-cost program can be proficiently and successfully duplicated. Participants have only one academic requirement:  2000 words. All participants are required at graduation to give a 10-mintue speech plus a 20-minute teaching demo in English. We claim a 98% success rate.

 

In this paper, we will explain our TIP experiences in three sections:

I. TIP and English Learning:  Filling the “Use” Gap

II. TIP and SLA Approaches:  Methodologies Shaping, Not Limiting

III. TIP and the Post-Method Era:  Finding Commonality

 

I. TIP and English Learning:  Filling the “Use” Gap

 

We claim that we have developed an effective and efficient English program for China; and we are glad that more and more people outside of the organization tell us TIP has helped them. Using the TIP way, Educational Services Exchange with China (ESEC) hopes to change English teaching and learning realities.

 

ESEC has come to the conclusion over the last 30 years that one’s learning mind-set will usually make or break his or her language development. Therefore, TIP principles focus on the joy of learning through attitude shaping and environment management. This education premise marries quality SLA (second language acquisition) methodology with learner integrity and responsibility. It fosters the distinctive aspects needed to meet the demands placed on the English education system in China. Creating joy in the learning process can spur oral proficiency success and lead to more effectual teaching. At TIP, we say that using English leads to learning it.

 

How did we come to these conclusions? We observed and worked with English language learners in China. Out of that reflection and integrating with realities and insights, we were able to 1) identify the specific needs of the Chinese English-language learner in general, 2) develop, implement, and showcase principles and informed techniques for addressing the needs, and 3) measure the effectiveness of the strategies and adjust along the way. We have been told that what TIP brings to the table is productive and changes the approach to English learning in China. For example, data collected on 4666 TIP participants shows the following improvement percentages based on entrance and exit interviews:  speaking vocabulary 85%; speaking fluency 61%; diction 14%; listening 58%; and reading comprehension 86%.

 

TIP’s 10 Key Principles

 

We have come to the conclusion that English learning requires a specialized program that targets the particular needs of the Chinese second language learner. As mentioned before, grammar, vocabulary, memorization, and effort are all strengths of the Chinese teaching and learning system. As a result, TIP’s tailored approach was designed to fill in the “use” gap. We focus on oral English and address the myths that keep students from speaking or progressing. The learner must overcome psychological and sound barriers, like face and comparative mentality, in order to risk speaking and listening. They must overcome mechanical and physical limitations to use English and build practical skills within the Chinese world. Learning English the TIP way transpires via 10 key principles, each of which addresses a specific challenge and builds off of each other. We don’t espouse a packaged teaching method2 “answer,” instead we have developed an eclectic and principled way that is valuable for everyone involved in the learning process. TIP seeks to transform how the language learner learns.

 

The TIP 10 key principles are:

 

1.      English learning is a long, studious process that many find impossible to endure in order to achieve proficiency. In TIP, we first shape attitudes to enhance motivation and interest.

 

TIP helps students develop the right learning attitude. Learners develop “I can do it” tactics to strengthen ability and achieve competence. Learners build intrinsic motivators in English learning to maintain persistence and to build the self-esteem required for language use. Motivation to learn comes from wanting and knowing how to learn and how to meet expectations. Chinese learners already have intrinsic responsibility for studying and commitment to hard work. TIP capitalizes on these serious motivators and balances them with extrinsic confidence and encouragements. Learners are expected to develop a positive outlook and healthy attitude when interacting with others. This helps them overcome the need to compare. (Attitude towards oneself is even more important, which is addressed in depth in a later principle.) The learner has the “We can do it” attitude and is interested in working harder and persevering to the end.

 

At the introduction of this paper, we claim a 98% success rate. The reason is that we reserve the right to ask 2% of the people to leave the program if they refuse to undo their comparative mentality. Comparison with others is critical because the “superiority complex,” while never articulated but secretly dictating the language process, stops many Chinese from “wasting” their time with people whom they do not deem worthy. The hypothetical 2% rejection rate, I believe, is the secret to our success.

 

2.      It is overwhelmingly difficult to find the right language environment. In TIP, learners understand how to manage their English environment by creating their own effective classrooms in every situation.

 

TIP trains students to learn English via environment management in the Chinese world. Creating and managing effective language learning situations becomes more important than the actual teaching. TIP teachers, commonly called facilitators, still play a valuable role in preparing lessons. However, their main task is to encourage and train learners to take over responsibility for their own language development and strategic investment. Learners develop habits to take control of their “surroundings” and create conversations everywhere even after they leave TIP. English-only, no Chinese routines are modeled by the facilitators so that learners see their own potential, strengthen their abilities and take necessary risks to manage their learning atmosphere.

 

3.      Studying English is a source of aggravation and intense pressure for the language learner in China. TIP makes creating joy in learning a priority.

 

At TIP, joy of language learning is more important than expedience. As language is instinctual, more acquisition can be done in a relaxed environment.3 Learners participate in action-oriented, task-based activities to move beyond the “effort” that it takes to learn. Students find enjoyment in the learning process itself not in content alone. Confidence, which we mentioned earlier, always comes before correction. TIP avoids chronic criticism that stifles interest in learning or leads to burn out. Students find joy in learning how to learn and setting their own goals for progress. TIP also creates a comfortable place where learners can ask meaningful and significant questions of themselves and others to deepen critical thinking practices. Joy in learning can materialize when different learning styles and levels are appreciated.

 

4.      Most Chinese students consider English study as their top challenge – more difficult than even math. TIP contends that English learning can be made simple, especially psychologically.

 

English can be learned naturally like a native speaker and intuitively like a child. While language learning is indeed complicated, TIP shows that it can be made simple, at least mentally. Students first learn by speaking and listening. TIP learners open their mouth, slow down and speak up and try to respond subconsciously. On average, the Chinese university student will spend more time on English than their own major; yet results are usually less than adequate. TIP promotes studying less material at a time and pushing it deep to develop instinctual responses. Through repetitive usage in unrehearsed situations, the learner finds confidence to move to the next level. Confidence is extremely important because it creates the necessary environment for the right learning attitude. When everyone is talking, learning transpires effortlessly. Simplicity is no longer a mental trick of confidence building. It is a simplified process where every learner can learn from every situation and from everyone.

 

5.      Diction is a serious challenge that most English teachers have yet to overcome. In TIP, we have created a low-cost software program, which trainees can use even after they leave the program.

 

Diction is a top concern in China’s language education. According to our own surveys, we believe that 85% of China’s English teachers have a diction problem. This is a top concern because they will corrupt their students’ pronunciation. In comparison to all the other challenges in English learning, diction correction is the most difficult. In TIP’s training, while we claim very attractive numbers in many areas of language progress, diction improvement, not surprisingly, remains at a dismal 14%. To make the picture even grimmer, the amount of time the student spends in learning the wrong diction necessitates an equivalent amount of time to undo it. In TIP, high tech options offer a relatively satisfactory solution. We require our graduates to bring home our diction software and continue to use it for three additional months. They will continue to work on their corrections 30 to 45 minutes a day, just like in the TIP language lab. The objective is to reshape the vocal tract. If they have made 14% progress in the 18 days of TIP, we have confidence that they will be able to overcome their diction challenge if they persistently practice, practice and practice.

 

6.      Chinese are proficient in left-brain functions. By investing more in these “convenient” abilities, their English progress plateaus. At TIP, we do not simply change the cognition regarding the “use” part of the language, but we train learners in brain-based techniques, specifically to access the creative and critical language acquisition components.

 

As the Chinese are already good at rote-learning and exam-passing techniques, it defeats the purpose for them to spend more time in these areas. Recent discoveries in brain studies will help greatly as the Chinese grapple with the seemingly difficult, yet in reality relatively easy, part of language learning:  Communication. TIP addresses this situation, as we have said, by focusing on useful, productive learning that results in language use. The latest in brain research with artists and musicians indicates that the brain intuitively keeps us from responding innovatively to avoid undue risk and danger, e.g., such as speaking an incorrect sentence or jumping off a cliff. Self-preservation is a strong motivator either way. However, training can help the brain overcome these built-in mechanisms so learners respond comfortably and creatively – like the musician who invents a new composition. The oral part of language is creative, like music, and most of the time the learner must invent in unplanned contexts. Learners who concentrate on grammar and vocabulary all the time, aren’t usually communicating, they are just rehearsing. Therefore, their brains run into unchartered situations and often balk. We help students to be cognitively aware of what can shut down the creative process so that the learners will no longer be inhibited to make mistakes. Accepting or even embracing imperfections is a very important part of improvisation or the creative process.4 TIP purposefully incorporates real-life, communicative and creative activities to condition and prepare a learner’s brain for on-the-spot conversations. When new ways of using phrases and words are verified through previous exercises, TIP learners are conditioned to reach beyond the mental blocks that stall real-life conversations. We create experiences that may help make new neural connections.5 The neural activity in the brain is like the river flowing in a valley. At first the bed shapes the river, but eventually the river reshapes the bed.6

 

7.      Chinese students rely on the teachers or “masters” for most learning. TIP believes that oral language acquisition must become student-centered. Purposeful negotiation for meaning and learning will take place as students depend on each other.

 

In the Chinese classroom, teachers are accustomed to maintaining control over most aspects of the learning. Students don’t speak often, as their interests are not given a lot of attention. TIP philosophy tries to put students at the center and seeks to engage them in purposeful dialogues and activities. Students are responsible for 80% of the class time and speak to each other often. This is easier said than done. Interactive, student-centered classrooms ensure learning opportunity and progress for all students regardless of their levels or learning styles. TIP students don’t rely on books, especially dictionaries. The dictionary, in itself, is an important language tool. But they are banned in TIP classrooms because we ask students to work with each other to negotiate meaning and learn new words intentionally through usage. The six most important words for the TIP learner are:  Ask. Ask. Ask. Tell. Tell. Tell. When the learner doesn’t know something they should ask, and after they learn something they should tell. In TIP, we strongly believe that “You are your own best teacher.” When the learner takes charge of their own learning, they are also able to address their own interests and learning styles at the same time. Student-centered learning works when it’s purposeful.

 

8.      The Chinese tendency to compare makes cooperative learning difficult. Yet oral English learning is intensively collaborative. TIP trains learners to learn as a team, thus opening the door to creativity and serendipity, making the experience a “learning to learn” process.

 

TIP understands that working together for mutual development is a cornerstone in language learning. Research indicates that the most advanced learning processes arise through collaborative and creative activities.7 Learners who practice collaborative learning actually will be using all the TIP principles outlined so far. With the “superiority complex” removed, collaboration becomes the key to bringing in the resources students need in order to learn easily as they learn from each other and in all situations. TIP activities support student-centered learning that requires learners to become peers and compatriots. Collaboration enables the participants to have a positive mindset, at least of one another and of the process. Thus collaborative learning is always more interesting because it unavoidably allows for more contingencies. Additionally, the team dynamics usually create passion and momentum. And to jumpstart the process, TIP facilitators take the lead and demonstrate passion for English and learning the TIP way. But the students have to multiply it. As a team, facilitators and students can overcome great odds and many difficulties. Lastly, cooperation and collaboration leads to accountability. And for the Chinese, this is motivation enough to make it through one of the most challenging pilgrimages in education.

 

9.      Humility and reservation, famed Chinese traits, hinder the communicative aspects of learning a language. TIP, therefore, proposes:  English with a big “I. In TIP, we find that with initiative Chinese students can speak English easily.

 

Some university educators have told us that their students on average have spent 10,000 hours on English by the time they graduate. While the emphasis is not on how many hours they have spent, but that after all the hours, English is still not a functional language. Therefore, TIP recognizes all the work invested, and we are simply asking for a change of mindset. Of course, and as usual, in all mind-conversion processes, it is easier said than done. The most unique aspect of TIP is the concept of English with a big “I.” It means that the learner’s own strategic investment will determine his or her success. While TIP provides the tools and training mechanisms, the learner must step up to the plate and live out in real-life situations all that they have learned and known already about the English language. In TIP, students first develop confidence, so they feel qualified and mentally ready to tackle the challenges. TIP then trains them how to manage the environment by taking initiative and not waiting for the right type of learning partners to emerge. Obviously, the learner has to address his or her past erroneous perceptions of comparative mentality and losing face. In doing so, the learner finds an easier path. The English with a big “I” concept is designed to dovetail with Chinese learning psychology. The idea is not complicated; it is as simple as A-B-C:

A) Attack Your Limitations

B) Build Your Confidence

C) Commit Yourself

 

10.  China’s language reality is diverse. Many practitioners have sought to find the best SLA methods to solve the puzzle. From our experience, we have also labored from many angles; yet we did not discover the one method that would address all our concerns. Instead at TIP, we found that the China reality requires an eclectic approach.

 

In our three decades of English training in China, we have turned to many experts and scholars seeking to address the challenges we encountered. We analyzed competing schools of method and actually found some that were very useful. Yet, we have come to the conclusion that no easy (or perfect) method exists. Eventually, we developed our own eclectic and principled approach that addresses the various psychological and educational needs of the Chinese English language learner. As outlined in the previous nine principles, the language process we have tailored attempts to fit the realities of learning English as a second language in China. In short, we address attitudes and interests in learning through communicative and motivational learning theories. We incorporate joy of language learning practices based on task-based and TPR (Total Physical Response) learning strategies. We focus on brain-based and collaborative learning tactics by overemphasizing right-brain techniques, student-centered learning, and confidence building to balance traditional Chinese learning habits. While we have drawn from many schools, we also have developed our own uniqueness. Besides the ABC’s of oral English, TIP is most notably known for neither employing teachers nor dictionaries. However, we would prefer to be recognized by our simplicity, as represented by the S.T.A.R. of TIP. The reason that this is designed so simply:  TIP graduates can take this back to their own classrooms…

S – Learning English is Simple.

T – Learning English as a Team.

A – Learning English through Action.

R – Learning English by Repetition.

Designed to help the Chinese second language learner achieve greater success in oral proficiency, TIP is an eclectic and principled approach to teaching and learning English.

 

II. TIP and SLA Approaches:  Methodologies Shaping, Not Limiting

 

Many professionals have asked us over the years what philosophy TIP subscribes to in regards to SLA theories. It is always a difficult question for us. TIP draws from many well-known methods and practices to form its unique design and delivery of teaching and learning English for China. The following are the 19 ideas that we have drawn from the world of SLA.

 

1.      Audio-lingual was a popular method in the late 1940s, but most believe it lost its scientific credibility quickly thereafter. But in two ways we have benefited from it through a) learning via immersion – teaching only in the language to be learned and b) behavior reinforcement, specifically when used in relation to initiative and attitudes. By speaking, listening, and thinking in English all of the time, learners can develop and establish new habits for using the language.

2.      A second language can form, in the same way as the mother tongue was acquired, when students use everyday vocabulary and sentences as theorized through the Direct Method. We have concluded that by encouraging learners to speak in English to someone, speak to everyone and speak often, they can make great progress very quickly.

3.      Neither the Direct nor Audio-lingual methods above, however, promote Student-Centered learning, so as an end of themselves, they are not appropriate.

4.      On the opposite side of the method spectrum are the Communicative and Project approaches, which TIP also draws from. We emphasize meaningful, real-life communication in student-centered situations. The English-only environment demands that learners use the language in productive, daily situations.

5.      The Communicative Approach has proven one of the most successful in providing confident learners who are able to make themselves effectively understood in the shortest possible time; thus it lends itself well to TIP’s 18-day program. Learners are put into situations that are likely to promote authentic communication, and living in English makes this possible 24 hours a day. Communicative competence is placed above accurate grammar, so that students build confidence and keep trying.

6.      Learning must be made comprehensible, through modeling, and built upon only as learners are ready to acquire more knowledge, as advocated in the Project approach. Drawing from this theory, the TIP way is not just about book learning; it’s about learning for life, on purpose. It’s about dealing with the wrong habits students need to change in order to overcome the limitations they have imposed upon themselves. The learner experiences their time in the classroom as real life rather than seeing it as a separate and unrelated sphere.

7.      For the Chinese English learner, perfection and losing face are also stumbling blocks. So building student confidence in using the language, through Communicative and Project approaches, encourages learners to ignore grammatical and pronunciation errors. TIP recognizes the importance of speaking and listening first, and then learning the whys and rules later. Learners open their mouths and make mistakes while learning. They make mistakes and learn how to correct themselves. This leads to long-term retention.

8.      Uniquely, we try to combine components from these diametrically opposed methods, Direct and Audio-lingual versus Communicative and Project, to address the China situation.

9.      As mentioned previously, success in the immersion environment – actually living in English – requires a tremendous amount of learner accountability and self-motivation. Understanding this, TIP also incorporates useful aspects from both Learner Motivation and Community Language Learning theories.

10.  TIP promotes Learner Motivation theory by a) infusing the learning process with joy (intrinsic), and b) placing responsibility on the learner for maintaining the English environment and engaging others in meaningful conversations (extrinsic). The classroom environs are attractive, welcoming, and encouraging, both physically and mentally. The facilitators are encouraged to be patient and have a good rapport with the students who can feel safe and comfortable speaking English.

11.  Learning in a multi-level environment means that TPR is a necessary tool for communicating with low to zero proficiency participants. The use of body language and expressions cultivates even more interest, as spontaneous miming is the norm. We make students come outside of themselves to debunk the comparative mentality and the notion of saving face through synergetic techniques that underscore confidence and accomplishment based on individual levels and goals only.

12.  In continuing to pull in Learner Motivation aspects, TIP learners are provided with choices and challenges, e.g., effort does lead to results and mastering a topic is more purposeful than rote learning just to pass exams. Learning the TIP way entails finding use and purpose in the words and phrases students are learning. For example, students are only required to learn 20 new words each day – words they choose themselves.

13.  We draw from Humanistic approaches (or value-oriented learning) by incorporating character building into the curriculum to inspire the learner. TIP works to engage the learner’s emotional and social being in learning, not just the mind. Everyone is valuable; everyone is included in the conversation; and everyone is needed for the learning process. Slogans, proverbs, student-centered activities, topics of interests, and simple rewards are built-in extrinsic motivators that point TIP students toward learning for the benefit of learning.

14.  Participants learn to depend on their TIP family of classmates, a supportive community, that is created to lower anxiety and help students overcome fears associated with mistakes and peer competition. Here we take resources from Community Language Learning, in that TIP learners live and study in situations that encourage meaningful exchanges amongst friends that can be stored, integrated into their learning processes and reused in later circumstances.8 We also use extrinsic reward systems through cooperative learning activities, wherein participants learn to accomplish tasks and push for progress as a group. Competition is reserved only for team exercises to spur creative development and critical thinking for special projects and events. Cooperative activities, which take longer, help students develop the habits of encouraging fellow learners and persisting despite any challenges that arise.

15.  In structuring learning into living situations, students are required to communicate or “use” the language naturally and instinctively without understanding why they are using it in a particular way. This technique incorporates the Task-Based Method, where students are focused on “doing something” and using English rather than on the structure. TIP works to emphasize, as stated earlier, action and activity so that students don’t get distracted or stifled by the act of learning. Instead, learners can enjoy learning about the task at hand and learn for enjoyment as well.

16.  Continuing to pull from Task-Based theories, TIP involves the learner in activities first and does an analysis and practice only afterward. Facilitators present the topic and task, observe and don’t try to steer students during the activities. Students learn from each other and create new ways of thinking and doing things, which push them to even higher levels of challenge and achievement. Naturally, in unrehearsed situations, participants then learn to respond and think in English. They no longer just translate.

17.  The TIP way engages the whole brain using Brain-Based approaches like Taxonomy of Thinking and Multiple Intelligences. Again, in emphasizing oral English we over-emphasize activities that are interesting, creative, and child-like in order to balance the Chinese learning habits. Learners can develop new ways of doing things and overcome barriers to effectively move between the brain’s left and right hemispheres effortlessly. Activities throughout the three weeks grow increasingly more challenging from Phase 1 (Speaking), Phase 2 (Listening), to Phase 3 (Thinking). Students move quickly up the “apply, analyze, evaluate, and create” thinking levels to prepare them for their final assignments:  the 10-minute speech and the 20-minute teaching demo. The more often learners find themselves in unchartered language territory, the more comfortable they feel doing it again and again in spontaneous and real-world settings – especially when they return to teach in their own classrooms using English only.

18.  TIP participants also learn the importance of character and integrity from their facilitators, who are encouraged to value each student as a person and take an interest in their life. This technique is espoused in the Suggestopedia-Desuggestopedia method, which encourages teachers to love the students and teach them through personal participation. Facilitators take part in lessons and don’t worry about appearing silly when modeling activities. Leading by example, shows students how to “catch” the joy for learning and helping others. Our experience indicates that learning English can be joyous and passion for English is contagious.

19.  In summary, TIP’s design draws from different schools of methodology. We have incorporated immersion and behavior reinforcement (Direct and Audio-lingual); meaningful and real-life interaction (Communicative and Project); enjoyable learning (Learner Motivation and TPR); character building and learner responsibility (Humanistic and Community Language Learning); learning naturally (Task Based); inherent student value and interest (Suggestopedia-Desuggestopedia) and creativity and appropriate challenges (Brain-Based). But most suitably, TIP development parallels closely to many of the findings of the Post-Method Era (PME) school. Though TIP is independent and outside of the PME research world, it is interesting that we have arrived at the same insights.

 

We have learned much through study and understanding of the existing methods and schools over the years. By assessing their relevance to English learning in China and applying them in TIP, we have seen that an eclectic and principled approach can work for the language learner. Through our own experience, we have discovered that there is no one-size-fits-all method. We have therefore sought an alternative to method while leaning on the wealth of theories that has defined SLA for the past century. In short, methodologies have shaped the development of TIP, but have not limited it.

 

III. TIP and the Post-Method Era:  Finding Commonality

 

ESEC is a group of Chinese Americans committed to working with the needs of the Motherland as China was opening up in the 80s. English education is not our only involvement in China. But we have found it the most challenging, much more challenging than international trade training or special education for disabled children (enterprises that we are deeply involved with but are less steeped in traditions and past philosophies). For that reason, ESEC’s energies have been singularly absorbed in English education. For 30 years, we have consistently invested ourselves in oral language training and have reflected on those experiences hoping that we can give a more effective contribution to the needs of the Motherland.

 

TIP was developed a little over 5 years ago and as mentioned in section two, we have attempted to learn from every SLA school to see which would give us the most mileage. But we are very delighted with the most recent writings in SLA academics, those of the Post-Method Era (PME) school. After reading all that we can about this philosophy, we have come to the conclusion that TIP may be the largest application of PME in China. But first of all, let us give a brief summary of PME for those who may not be familiar with the school. We will attempt to introduce four underlying themes as we understood them, and of course, we will endeavor to draw parallels with TIP.

 

Post-Method Era Background

 

In consulting the publications on SLA research, by Kumaravadivelu, Brown, Richards and Rodgers, and Allwright and Prabhu, to name a few, teaching and learning in PME means giving up the search for finding a better, new and improved method to teach English. It means spending less time on theorizing what works and more time on understanding and practicing what works for the learners. The focus is on the learning process, not the teaching.

 

For 130 years, teaching method theories have been developed and presented; yet no panacea has been found. As a result, researchers since the late 1980s and early 90s have recommended dropping the search for the perfect method, a top-down approach, and instead concentrating on learner need, a bottom-up approach. As Prabhu put it, “That there is no best method therefore means that no single method is best for everyone, as there are important variations in the teaching context that influence what is best.”9 The experts have developed, instead, broad PME fundamental tenets to guide and prod teaching and learning practices. Teachers can take what they know and develop an informed approach to address the dynamics of the learning setting they are in. The fundamental tenets and accompanying frameworks serve as an alternative to “one” method. Therefore, teaching can better address and respond to local and specific learning situations.10

 

Four Underlying Themes of PME

 

1.      The search for the “right” method is futile and limiting. Instead, the practitioner must rely on good teaching practices and fully utilize their ongoing experiences and prior knowledge to develop alternatives to method.

 

H.H. Stern in 1985 said that method was a “century-old obsession,” and “In my view, the prolonged preoccupation with the new methods, useful as it has been to widen our horizon, is becoming increasingly unproductive and misguided.”11

 

Richards and Rodgers say, “By the end of the twentieth century, mainstream language teaching no longer regarded methods as the key factor in accounting for success or failure in language teaching. Some spoke of the death of methods and approaches and the term ‘post-method’ era was sometimes used.”12

 

Nunan says, “It has been realised that there never was and probably never will be a method for all, and the focus in recent years has been on the development of classroom tasks and activities which are consonant with what we know about second language acquisition, and which are also in keeping with the dynamics of the classroom itself.”13

 

Allwright in 1991 entitled his working paper, “The Death of the Method.”14

 

Allwright also offers his Exploratory Practice (a form of practitioner research) as “suggestions for linguistically productive ways of developing classroom understandings, by finding classroom time for deliberate work for understanding, not instead of other classroom activities but by exploiting normal classroom activities for that purpose.”15

 

Brown says, “As teachers and teacher trainees develop and carry out classroom techniques, they can benefit by grounding everything they do in well-established principles of language learning and teaching. In so doing, they will be less likely to bring a prepackaged – possibly ineffective – method to bear, and more likely to be directly responsive to their students’ purposes and goals.”16

 

TIP parallels this PME theme in the following ways:

a.    For the first 20 years, we were very embarrassed when anyone asked us what school or theory we subscribed to. Instead of following one method, our practitioners borrowed from many and developed their own learning theories and invented practices that fit the situations. Today, TIP is the resulting alternative.

b.   TIP integrates a variety of method ideas to shape classroom design and delivery. We have illustrated these methodologies and connections clearly in section two.

c.    We believe teachers are critical components in the language process and should have access to training. Facilitators have autonomy to choose lessons they believe will be most effective.

d.   Facilitators should take risks in order to incorporate new ideas and ways of doing things. In TIP, we reward students for pushing the envelope. Risk-taking is systematically incorporated into daily activities.

e.    Activities become more challenging progressively moving students up the brain-based learning levels.

f.     TIP treats the learners as active, autonomous players by capitalizing on interest and investment. Learners are given a role in the decision-making processes. For example, weekend work is modeled after weekday lessons, yet the learners are charged with leading and carrying out the activities in their classes.

g.   Educator training and teacher development are integral. Our S.T.A.R. program, outlined earlier, is designed for our trainees to take TIP back to their classrooms. We also are developing follow-up training for graduates in diction and teacher attributes.

h.   TIP incorporates ongoing reflection, feedback, and self-examination on part of both the facilitator and learner. Facilitators collaborate to design and share lessons. Learners document their daily experiences during journal time.

 

2.      Our experience in working with the China realities has greatly benefited us. Instead of imposing preconceived notions upon China, we have learned to respect and be sensitive to the local, practical needs and lived experiences.

 

Allwright says, “Very early on, then, we realized we were dealing with teachers’ (and learners’) teaching and learning lives, within which technical teaching problems were the least of anybody’s worries.”17

 

Brown says, “A principled approach to language teaching encourages the language teacher to engage in a carefully crafted process of diagnosis, treatment and assessment. It allows for us to account for communicative and situational needs anticipated among designated learners and diagnose appropriate curricular treatment for those specific learners in their distinctive context and for their particular goals.”18

Richards and Renandya say, “In the last 30 years or so, the field of Teaching English as a Second or Foreign language has developed into a dynamic worldwide community of language teaching professionals that seeks to improve the quality of language teaching and learning through addressing the key issues that shape the design and delivery of language teaching.”  …One of the four issues centers on “understanding learners and their roles, rights, needs, motivations, strategies and the processes they employ in the second language.”19

 

Allwright also says, “We should therefore consider the relationship between our global thinking and our local practice. We need global principles for general guidance, but then we must all work out their implications for our local everyday practice.”20

 

TIP parallels the second PME underlying theme in the following ways:

a.       TIP concentrates on speaking and listening.

b.      Mixed-levels, large class sizes, and space limitations affect how the Chinese students learn. In TIP, students practice handling these challenges and turning them into opportunities. TIP resources like the set of 275 Classroom Ideas for TIP Graduates provide alternatives for different learner circumstances. (Brown pg 11 English Language Teaching in the “Post-Method” Era article in methodology in teaching anthology)

c.       TIP trains teachers to address learning styles through brain-based models like Multiple Intelligence approaches. Learners are the priority:  their needs, motivations, strategies, and how they learn are foremost.

d.      While student-centered learning is the present requirement in China, most teachers find it difficult to apply. TIP facilitators monitor and provide simple instructions, but insist that the students do all the real work.

e.       English-only immersion forces students to confront cultural issues so they speak out despite grammatical and vocabulary inadequacies.

f.        “Confidence before correction” helps learners overcome mechanical blocks that keep them from speaking.

 

3.      Real learning begins with an attitudinal change. And when meaning and purpose are found, significant learning occurs. Quality of life, or joy of language learning, is a lot more important than competence.

 

Allwright says, “First, we should, above our concern for instructional efficiency, prioritize the quality of life in the language classroom. Secondly, instead of trying to develop ever ‘improved’ teaching techniques, we should try to develop our understandings of the quality of language classroom life. Thirdly, we should expect working helpfully for understanding to be a fundamentally social matter, not an asocial one.”21

 

Brown says, “Meaningful learning will lead toward better long-term retention than rote learning. One among many examples of meaningful learning is found in content-centered approaches to language teaching.” 22

 

Nunan says, “Role plays and simulations help to make the task-based classroom a lively and rich language environment for learners of all abilities… these stimulate the production of a much richer array of language functions than teacher-fronted modes of classroom organization. They also result in the negotiation of meaning, something which is largely absent in teacher-fronted tasks.” 23

 

Prabhu says, “There is a sense in which meaning is perceived as one’s own when one has, or sees oneself as having, arrived at it oneself; and there is a sense of pleasure in attempting to articulate one’s own meaning. “24

 

Kumaravadivelu says, “A primary task of the teacher wishing to promote learner autonomy is to help learners take responsibility for their learning, and bring about necessary attitudinal changes in them. This psychological preparation should be combined with strategic training that helps learners understand what the learning strategies are, how to use them for accomplishing various problem-posing and problem-solving tasks, how to monitor their performance, and how to assess the outcome of their learning.”25

 

TIP parallels this third PME theme in the following ways:

  1. As students must      apply what they are learning in future unrehearsed, natural real-world      situations, TIP learners find joy in the challenge that comes through      negotiating meaning spontaneously.

  2. Creating joy in the      classroom means students learn in a comfortable and relaxed team      environment. TIP overstresses right-brain activities to habituate students      to movement and action in classroom learning. Learning then becomes      natural and is easier to grasp.

  3. We believe      collaborative learning brings the most joy. TIP promotes cooperative      learning and teamwork. Everyone learns from and helps each other, as the      volunteer spirit becomes part of the TIP culture. Timed team activities      are emphasized to force students to work together as they solve problems      under deadline.

  4. We establish      values, especially values of self-examination, through daily motivational      classes. Students learn how to learn and define success for themselves as      they raise the questions of “why” and “how.”

  5. Learners are given      choices and set their own goals. For example, students make their own word      list for vocabulary learning in a blank pocketbook.

  6. The TIP schedule      includes lunch- and dinner-time classes as well as “Walk and Talk” time      between classes. Learners must use English in enjoyable and meaningful,      yet unrehearsed, situations

 

4.      PME as a whole embraces an eclectic philosophy with a strong emphasis on an informed approach and a principled framework. We fully subscribe to such a pedagogic parameter.

 

There are already four proposed frameworks or informed approaches that we have found though the PME school is still a very new development. We have presented Allwright’s “quality of life” fundamental tenets in the third underlying theme. TIP appreciates, particularly, that he has developed them into broad principles for a framework. Allwright’s Exploratory Practice principles include:  “Principle 1, Put ‘quality of life’ first. Principle 2, Work primarily to understand language classroom life. Principle 3, Involve everybody. Principle 4, Work to bring people together. Principle 5, Work also for mutual development. Principle 6, Make the work a continuous enterprise. Suggestion 1, Minimize the extra effort of all sorts for all concerned. Suggestion 2, Integrate the ‘work for understanding’ into the existing working life of the classroom.”26

 

Kumaravadivelu’s macrostrategies include:  “1. Maximize learning opportunities; 2. Facilitate negotiated interaction; 3. Minimize perceptual mismatches; 4. Activate intuitive heuristics; 5. Foster language awareness; 6. Contextualize linguistic input; 7. Integrate language skills; 8. Promote learner autonomy; 9. Ensure social relevance; and 10. Raise cultural consciousness.”27

Stern’s three-dimensional framework includes:  1. The Intralingual-Crosslingual Dimension. Stern advocates using both the language to be learned (L2) teaching strategies, e.g. immersion and no translation, as well as first-language (L1) references and comparison techniques, depending on the learners’ needs, situation and teacher abilities; 2. The Analytic-Experiential Dimension. Here he promotes a mixture of strategies that focus both on form, e.g. grammar, vocabulary and function, as well as purpose and communication, e.g. learning through interaction; and 3. The Explicit-Implicit Dimension. Stern supports incorporating teaching techniques that treat language learning as both a conscious intellectual exercise as well as an unconscious intuitive one.28

 

Brown’s principles provide the fourth framework, which includes:  “1. Automacity; 2. Meaningful Learning; 3. The Anticipation of Reward; 4. Intrinsic Motivation; 5. Strategic Investment; 6. Language Ego; 7. Self-Confidence; 8. Risk Taking; 9. The Language-Culture Connection; 10. The Native Language Effect; 11. Interlanguage; 12. Communicative Competence.”29

 

These four frameworks do not dictate the PME, instead Kumaravadivelu challenges all practitioners to undertake similar tasks:  “Any actual postmethod pedagogy has to be constructed by the classroom teacher. The pedagogic frameworks offer certain options and certain operating principles… I firmly believe that practicing and prospective teachers will rise up to the challenge if given an appropriate framework that ‘strikes a balance between giving teachers the guidance they need and want, and the independence they deserve and desire.’30, 31

 

Though eclectic, TIP fully subscribes to and agrees with the PME emphasis on developing an informed approach and a principled framework. It is important that TIP not degenerate into a convoluted, though convenient, amalgamation of assorted ideas. TIP parallels this final PME theme in the following ways:

  1. TIP’s 10 key      principles, described in section one, have been developed as an eclectic      alternative to method to guide the TIP facilitator as he or she tackles      the above mentioned themes:       developing good teaching practices, addressing the needs of the      learner and situation, and creating joy in learning. Section one of this      paper adequately illustrates how we have formulated our principles from      all of the China realities.

  2. At TIP,      participants learn the TIP 10 key principles and they are to apply them to      their own language development experience. Then, students are challenged      to be innovative during the 20-minute teaching demo.

  3. TIP’s framework      allows for learner autonomy to identify how and when to best invest their      time and effort. The TIP environment encourages students to focus      attention on individual challenges.

  4. TIP participants      are challenged to develop a big-picture mentality informed of these      principles and a China adjusted framework. They also bring back to their      classrooms a new sense of mission, passion and confidence.

 

For most of the beginning part of the 30 years that ESEC has been involved in China’s English education, we have meandered through different schools of SLA methodologies. TIP, which began in 2006, has helped us to develop our own framework. And we are very pleased that it is proving to be useful. Through TIP development, and with delight, we discover the many parallels between TIP practices and the most recent PME findings.

 

Conclusion

 

As said in section one, we believe that using English orally is key to learning it. TIP was designed to fill in the “use” gap in English learning in China. We have drawn from traditional theory, as presented in section two, and adopted an alternative to the method approach. Linguistic experts lament that the attempt to find an English language teaching “holy grail” limits practitioners and their ability to address the needs of their particular set of learners. We have argued in section three that this alternative to method approach has worked for TIP in China.

 

ESEC is extremely pleased to play a part in China’s English language education through our many partnerships here. Next steps for TIP include expanding our follow-up training for graduates by focusing on diction and teacher attributes. We invite you to give us your suggestions about TIP and the conclusions we have drawn in this paper. We also invite you to commit to making China a nation of excellent English speakers by supporting our efforts to give English teachers the opportunity to participate in TIP.

 


Endnotes

1 ESEC (Educational Exchange with China) is a nonprofit organization that began operations as a non-government education service in 1981 to serve the people of China through education and exchange. ESEC offers English language learning programs, international business training programs, service to the disabled and special education, higher education evaluation, and economic development programs and medical services to the underdeveloped regions. Thirty years ago we presented our first educational service IOE (Institute of English), a program serving Chinese scholars, professionals and government personnel who needed English for going abroad. It was an 18-week program, which included a writing component. TIP is an expedited 18-day version of IOE.

 

2 We use the term method as “the notion of a systematic set of teaching practices based on a particular theory of language and language learning.” Richards, Jack C. and Rodgers, Theodore S. (2001) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, New York: Cambridge University Press. p.1.

 

3 Richards, Jack C. and Rodgers, Theodore S. (2001) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. New York: Cambridge University Press. p.75.

 

4 Braun, Allen R. and Limb, Charles J. (2008) Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance:  An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation. PLoS ONE. February 27, 2008.

 

5 Seung, H. Sebastian (2009) Reading the Book of Memory: Sparse Sampling versus Dense Mapping of Connectomes. Neuron 62, April 16, 2009. pp.17-19.

 

6 Seung, Sebastian. (2010) I am my connectome, TEDGlobal 2010, July 2010,

http://www.ted.com/talks/sebastian_seung.html.

 

7 M.B. Tinzmann, B.F. Jones, T.F. Fennimore, J. Bakker, C. Fine, and J. Pierce (1990). What Is the Collaborative Classroom? NCREL.

 

8 Richards, Jack C. and Rodgers, Theodore S. (2001) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. New York: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 7.

 

9 Prabhu, N.S. (1990) There Is No Best Method-Why? TESOL Quarterly, 24,2. pp. 161-176.

 

10 Kumaravadivelu, B. (2008) Understanding Language Teaching from Method to Postmethod. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Publishers.

 

11 Stern, H. H. (1985) Review of J.W. Oller, Jr. and P.A. Richard-Amato’s Methods That Work: A Smorgasbord of Ideas for Language Teachers. Studies in Second Language Acquisition. 7,2. pp.249-251.

 

12 Richards, Jack C. and Rodgers, Theodore S. (2001) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. New York: Cambridge University Press. p.247.

 

13 Nunan, D. (1991). Language Teaching Methodology: A Textbook for Teachers. New York: Prentice-Hall. In Brown, H. Douglas. (1997) English Language Teaching in the “Post-Method” Era: Toward Better Diagnosis, Treatment and Assessment. In Richards, Jack C. and Renandya, Willy A. (ed.) Methodology in Language Teaching: an Anthology of Current Practice. New York: Cambridge University Press. p.10.

 

14 Allwright, Dick. (1991) The Death of the Method (Working Paper 10). Center for Research in Language Education Working Papers series. England: University of Lancaster.

 

15 Allwright, Dick. (2003) Exploratory Practice: rethinking practitioner research in language teaching. Language Teaching Research 7,2. pp.113–141.

 

16 Brown, H. Douglas. (1997) English Language Teaching in the “Post-Method” Era: Toward Better Diagnosis, Treatment and Assessment. In Richards, Jack C. and Renandya, Willy A. (ed.) Methodology in Language Teaching: an Anthology of Current Practice. New York: Cambridge University Press. p.17.

 

17 Allwright, Dick. (2005) Developing Principles for Practitioner Research: The Case of Exploratory Practice. The Modern Language Journal 89,3. pp.353–366.

 

18 Brown, H. Douglas. (1997) English Language Teaching in the “Post-Method” Era: Toward Better Diagnosis, Treatment and Assessment. In Richards, Jack C. and Renandya, Willy A. (ed.) Methodology in Language Teaching: an Anthology of Current Practice. New York: Cambridge University Press. p.12.

 

19 Richards, Jack C. and Renandya, Willy A. (2002) Methodology in Language Teaching. New York: Cambridge University Press. p.12.

 

20 Allwright, Dick. (2003) Exploratory Practice: rethinking practitioner research in language teaching. Language Teaching Research 7,2. pp.113–141.

 

21 Allwright, Dick. (2003) Exploratory Practice: rethinking practitioner research in language teaching. Language Teaching Research 7,2. pp.113–141.

 

22 Brown, H. Douglas. (1997) English Language Teaching in the “Post-Method” Era: Toward Better Diagnosis, Treatment and Assessment. In Richards, Jack C. and Renandya, Willy A. (ed.) Methodology in Language Teaching: an Anthology of Current Practice. New York: Cambridge University Press. p.12.

 

23 Nunan, David. (1999) Second Language Teaching and Learning. Boston: Heinle & Heinle. Chapter 3.

 

24 Prabhu, N.S. (1987). Second Language Pedagogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p.49.

 

25 Kumaravadivelu, B. (2008) Understanding Language Teaching from Method to Postmethod. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Publishers. p.171.

 

26 Allwright, Dick. (2005) Developing Principles for Practitioner Research: The Case of Exploratory Practice. The Modern Language Journal 89,3. pp.353–366.

 

27 Kumaravadivelu, B. (2008) Understanding Language Teaching from Method to Postmethod. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Publishers.

 

28 Kumaravadivelu, B. (2008) Understanding Language Teaching from Method to Postmethod. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Publishers.

 

29 Brown, H. Douglas. (1997) English Language Teaching in the “Post-Method” Era: Toward Better Diagnosis, Treatment and Assessment. In Richards, Jack C. and Renandya, Willy A. (ed.) Methodology in Language Teaching: an Anthology of Current Practice. New York: Cambridge University Press. p.12.

 

30 Kumaravadivelu, B. (2008) Understanding Language Teaching from Method to Postmethod. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Publishers. p.213.

 

31 Kumaravadivelu, B. (1994) The Postmethod Condition: (E)merging strategies for second/foreign language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 28. p.44.

 


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