TESOL France: Chia Suan Chong on principled eclecticism

Blog - hancockmcdonald.com/blog/1

The closing plenary from Chia Suan Chong was a brightly delivered and entertaining history of ELT methodology, from rote learning through grammar translation, the direct method, the audio-lingual method, the ‘designer methods’ (suggestopoedia, etc), communicative approaches and task based learning. For each of these, Chia highlighted the assumptions, shortcomings and some of the ridiculous excesses that accompanied extreme interpretations of them. A good example of this was a video, apparently used in earnest in Korea as part of an audio-linguistic inspired course, with scantily-clad cheerleaders leading us in a chorus of 'I've got a bad case of diahorrea'. But then Chia went on to list the good insights that each method or approach brought to the profession, urging us not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but rather to be pragmatic and ‘cherry-pick’ the best from all of them – an attitude she labelled ‘principled eclecticism’.

Chia’s most scathing criticism was reserved for the kind of communicative approach that underpins recent generations of coursebooks, with their grammar-obsessed syllabuses poorly disguised under communicative packaging. For this approach, even the redeeming points that she listed were double edged – for example, that grammar syllabuses pander to teacher and student expectations, are apparently more measurable and so on. She insisted that language learning is in no way linear in the way that these materials seem to imply, and that instead of setting up a grammar agenda in advance, we should be dealing with emergent language and encouraging negotiation of meaning.

Chia’s plenary was in line with the reflective practice theme of the other two TESOL France plenaries in the sense that, in order to practice ‘principled eclecticism’, we need to constantly question our assumptions, experiment and evaluate. The three plenaries formed a satisfying set, all pulling in the same direction.

See another review of this talk from Leo Selivan here.


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