English Language Teaching as an Interesting Hypothesis
We know that learners learn. But we can never really be sure that teachers teach them. “That people learn,” Jakobowitz said, “is a fact of life, but that people teach them is only an interesting hypothesis.” The English Language Teaching Department of GS-TESOL allows you to test this interesting hypothesis in many interesting ways.
Let’s look at it from the point of view of the “E” in ELT: English first. On the one hand, we know that students learn (and forget!) vocabulary in a fairly linear way: ten words today, another ten tomorrow. On the other, we know that grammar is really not learnt like this: it seems to develop in a highly non-linear fashion, taking huge leaps today and then leveling off on a long plateau tomorrow. We know that grammatical accuracy, fluency and complexity don’t seem to be closely related to what we are teaching in class. It seems quite likely that there is a good deal—maybe most of—language learning that is only indirectly related to teaching.
We may also consider the hypothesis of teaching from the point of view of the “L” in ELT, that is, language more generally. Vygotsky argues that language really serves two distinct functions: one, to be sure, is interpersonal contact, but the other is intra-mental reflection: language is what makes our thinking permanent and recordable and what keeps the child from simply swinging from one form of psychological arousal to another. We can see that teaching is a form of interpersonal contact. Can we really be sure that it is a source of intra-mental reflection?
Finally, we can consider the hypothesis from the point of view of the history of teaching itself (and this is something we’ll do at some length in the Sunsu course “General Issues and Trends in ELT”). Although English teaching has been around for over five hundred years, we notice that it has meant completely different things in different periods. For the first two centuries, it was largely a matter of cross channel business transactions. For the next two, it became largely pre-occupied with great texts (especially Shakespeare!). And in the last century, teachers mostly concerned themselves with speech, structure, and exchanges of information. These three very different emphases hardly add up to a single coherent curriculum!
Towards the end of the last century, many academics appeared to lose faith in the possibility of teaching itself. Interest in naturalistic acquisition, immersion programmes, and even task-based teaching and content-based instruction all reflected a certain skepticism about the possibility of teaching the language explicitly and a belief in learning without direct teaching.
But even the most extreme learner-centred forms of teaching, such as the “learning to learn” movement associated with Gail Ellis, Rebecca Oxford, and “learning strategies” recognize the importance of teaching when they suggest TEACHING children how to learn. In the 1990s, research by Mike Long and others demonstrated that people learn more with teaching than without teaching. Almost every teacher has a clear feeling that some lessons work better than others, and experienced teachers can often tell that some parts of a language lesson, or even some types of exchanges, appear to be a lot more instructive than others.
So how can we teach ourselves, or learn, more about teaching? Some ways in the English Language Teaching department have to do with the “E”, with English. In addition to the Core Course in TESOL Theory and Practice, you can take courses in Academic English Reading and Writing, Literature, and Grammar, either functional or structural. Some of the ways have to do with the “L”, that is, language. We offer courses in linguistics, bilingualism, interculturalism, pragmatics and communication. Some of the ways have to do with the “T” of teaching. You will find courses in instructing young learners, teaching traditional “four skills” (reading, writing, listening and speaking), and a wide variety of information technology based methods.
Now, these classes are in the evening. Most of our graduates work during the day, and many of them work as teachers. This might seem like an impossible double burden at first, but when you start thinking analytically about teaching, you will find that there is a certain synergy to it. Teaching doesn’t allow you much time for reflection, but graduate school does. Graduate school doesn’t give you much time for practice, but teaching does. Particularly if you take courses like research methods, thesis writing, portfolio preparation, or the many courses we offer in course design, lesson design, and materials preparation, you may well find that teaching actually helps you find new sources of data for graduate school, and graduate school can offer new perspectives on what happens during teaching.
Of course, it’s not going to be easy! Our school is not a diploma mill, where you simply pay your money, do your time, and take your degree. Thinking about teaching is in many ways even more difficult than actual teaching, because it involves thinking about all those potential lessons you could have given but didn’t alongside thinking about the one you actually did give. You may find that learning about teaching will not automatically make you a better teacher; in fact, in the short run, it may make you a less confident and assured one.
But that insecurity, so very familiar to every learner, is the most vivid proof we have that learning—and learning about learning—is a real fact of life. At the same time, the insecurity reminds us that teaching—and even teaching about teaching—is still only a hypothesis.
Department of ELTCD
The Department of ELT Content Development (ELTCD) in the Graduate School of TESOL at HUFS provides a truly unique and exciting opportunity for individuals who wish to extend their English language teaching knowledge via technology and multimedia. If you are interested in learning how to administer your own educational website and create materials for both in-class and online learning, then this place is for you!
Not only will you learn about contemporary teaching techniques and theories of language learning that form the foundation of any good masters-level education in TESOL, but also about the design and development of online educational environments, and the proper application and implementation of technology in language teaching.
Students in the ELTCD are required to study four core courses. The first two – Lesson Design and Course Design – provide the necessary base of understanding about how to create lesson plans suitable for today’s language learning environment, and sequence them into full language learning courses. Simultaneously, students study Introduction to Learning Management Systems (Introduction to LMS) and Multimedia Assisted Language Learning (MALL). Introduction to LMS supplies students with necessary instruction in how to set up and maintain an online learning management system in which teachers can deploy content to learners, organize activities, monitor learner interaction, assign grades, and so on. This instruction in the more technical aspects of online learning balances with MALL, which centers on the more pedagogical aspects of online learning by relating TESOL theory, research, and experience with specific web-based teaching techniques. Taken all together, after just the first year of study in the ELTCD, student will gain proficiency in two learning environments – in-class and online. And this is where the real power of the ELTCD resides: fostering in teachers the ability to blend two environments for maximally effective language teaching!
In addition to studying the four required courses, students in the ELTCD have myriad options to pursue personal interests in language teaching though a variety of courses on topics such as grammar teaching, materials development, bilingualism, young learners, child development, using literature in the language classroom, testing, the four skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening, and so on. Please refer to the Graduate School of TESOL’s current curriculum for a complete listing of courses on offer.
Although the ELTCD is clearly positioned in the field of multimedia assisted language learning, it does not expect its students to have a strong background in the use of computers or educational technologies. We start right at the beginning in our multimedia lab, which is stocked with educational software, and a recording studio to assist students step-by-step in constructing their own digital artefacts. So regardless of your technical skills, feel assured that you will be able to confidently grasp key aspects of TESOL and language learning pedagogy, and confidently apply them to both in-class and online learning environments.
Education is quickly evolving and offering new opportunities as technology trends increasingly influence the way we teach. We are no longer simply bound by classrooms and textbooks; instead, digital advancements now offer teachers and students the opportunity to study anytime and anywhere using various online activities such as interactive exercises, wikis, blogs, discussion forums, and so much more, which ultimately leads language learners to play a more active role in their education. Perhaps the following thought best describes the focus of the ELTCD: if you have the passion and creativity for enhancing students' learning through content and material development – both in-class and online – then this department is for you!