Use of Eclectic Approach in English Language Teaching
*Bhanu Chandra Joshi
Scholars around the world are advocating that use of a single and prescribed methodology for teaching language cannot be successful in all contexts. They rather argue that using multiple methods as per the need of the context is the best way to overcome the problems encountered. This approach, called eclecticism, advocates to be alternative to the existing methods in practice arguing that a single method and technique can never be absolutely suitable in all the situations. In fact, method based pedagogy leaves no room for teacher autonomy. If teacher does not enjoy autonomy in conducting class room activities, effective teaching learning may not take place. Through this article, I argue that teachers should make use of multiple methods and techniques depending on the contexts rather than following a standard prescribed method and technique for successful teaching learning process.
There is a growing tendency to support and use eclectic approach in language teaching programmes in recent times. In general, eclectic approach signifies not to subscribe to any particular approach or method. To be precise, eclecticism is the pedagogy that not only adopts imported mainstream instructional approaches and methods to local needs but also highlights the creation of local practices. The thing that is considered best and highly valued in one context may not be suitable in another. Supporting this view, MacMorrow (2007) opines that “methods are drawn from one set of circumstances and thus, cannot fit perfectly in different situations.” He argues that established methods are developed being based on the particular circumstances; and of course, they work absolutely fine in that situation but may not work in the another one because no two different situations are alike in every aspect. Moreover, the socio-cultural and socio-political context of classroom setting and socio-cultural and socio-political background of the students varies from place to place. Thus, the cry of the day is to be alternative to method, autonomous, innovator, critical thinker and strongly oppose the beaten path of the established methods by introducing the locally suitable pedagogy.
The single method and technique can never be perfect in every context. Mitchell and Myles (2004) state that “There can be no one best method … which applies at all times and in all situations, with every type of learners (p. 281)”. Their argument supports the view that there is no single best method which can work best in diversified situations and all the times. The method which worked best in the USA may not be appropriate in Nepal as the context of teaching and learning English in USA is different from that of Nepal in terms of learners’ background, expectations and motivation, and classroom contexts. Similarly, the method which is considered appropriate today and mostly preferred may not enjoy the same support and use tomorrow and the method which is most preferred and practiced in an English medium school in the Kathmandu valley may not work well in the remote areas of Nepal due to the difference in various aspects of school, teachers, learners, society and resources. Thus, it would be better to go beyond the barrier of particular conventional method and use a variety of methods while teaching English.
Method based pedagogy is top-down process. It leaves no place for teachers to be the in-charge as they are bound to follow the assumptions of established methods. Kumaravadivelu (2003b, pp. 541- 544) presents the issues of conventional methods from several dimensions:
- Scholastic dimension: Methods ignore local knowledge and emphasize western knowledge.
- Linguistic dimension: Methods encourage the use of English in the classroom preventing learners and teachers from using their L1 linguistic resource, and,
- Cultural dimension: Methods consider language teaching as a cultural teaching emphasizing ‘mono-culturalism’, which creates employment opportunities worldwide for native speakers of English making them privileged.
Similarly, studies by Swaffer, Arens, and Morgan (1982), Nunan (1987), Legutke and Thomas (1991), Kumaravadivelu (1993b), and others (cited in, Kumaravadivelu, 2003a, p. 29) clearly and collectively show that:
- Teachers who are trained in and even swear by a particular method do not conform to its theoretical principles and classroom procedures;
- Teachers who claim to follow the same method often use different classroom procedures that are not consistent with the adopted method;
- Teachers who claim to follow different methods often use same classroom procedures; and,
- Overtime teachers develop and follow a carefully delineated task hierarchy, weighted sequence of activities not necessarily associated with any established method.
These findings show the dissatisfaction of teachers towards ‘method- based pedagogy’ and the need to go beyond its barrier. As Widdowson (1990, p. 50) observes, “it is quite common to hear teachers say that they do not subscribe to any particular approach or method in their teaching but are ‘eclectic’.” The teachers happen to merge the methods that best fit to their own contexts. Having done so, their selection is essentially based on the principles of most of the methods that are appropriate to his/her pedagogical setting.
Eclecticism as postmodern thinking
Post-modernist thinking in language teaching emphasizes teacher autonomy, critical thinking, problem solving and localization of methods. Post modernism focuses on pluralistic thinking, away from the centre and addresses locality and ethnicity. Therefore, post modernism and eclecticism are interrelated at some point as both focus on localization and validating the ideas that are different from the centre. Eclecticism suggests language teaching professionals not to accept the established methods whole-heartedly and encourages them to be critical and develop their own teaching method and technique in accordance with the situation and context. In this connection, Kumaravadivelu (2003) states “what is needed is not alternative method but an alternative to method (p. 32)”. We should not strive for the new method but should look at the existing methods critically and modify them as per the context. Moreover, teachers should not be blind follower of established methods rather they should be innovators and independent practitioners.
Teacher is an artist and teaching is artistic creation of the teacher. Teachers’ experience as students, their inherent knowledge, and understanding of teaching plays vital role to make the teaching learning activities artistic and realistic. But adaptation and practice of particular conventional method leaves no ground for the teachers to adopt localized pedagogy. Supporting this view, Freeman (1991, p. 35) states that “the conventional concept of method overlooks the fund of experience and tacit knowledge about teaching which the teachers already have by virtue of their lives as students”. Teachers’ personal judgment about the teaching techniques and activities has no place if they adopt particular conventional established methods. Teachers are confined to follow certain principles and assumptions of the particular methods. As a result, teachers’ autonomy and creativity is totally shadowed. Furthermore, it keeps aside context-specific and situation-specific teaching and cultural and social diversity of learners. If teachers’ autonomy and creativity, context of language teaching and diversity of students are kept aside, longing for effective teaching learning activities in the classroom cannot be achieved. Therefore, teachers need to be eclectic, rather than the adopter and follower of the single established methods. The demand of the day is that teachers need to be alternative to the method, innovator, independent practitioner and critical thinker; and they should conduct situation-specific and context sensitive teaching techniques and activities by becoming eclectic practitioner.
Kumaravadivelu, B. (1993a). Maximization learning potential in the Communicative classroom. ELT Journal, 47(1), 12-2.
Kumaravadivelu, B. (1993b). The name of the task and the task of meaning: Methodological aspects of task-based pedagogy. In G. Crooks & S. Gass (Eds.), Task in a pedagogical context (pp. 69-96).Clevedon, England: MultilingulMattters.
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Legutke, M. and Thomas, H. (1991).Process and experience in language classroom. London and New York: Longman.
McMorrow, M. (2007).Teacher education in the post methods era. ELT Journal, 61(4), 375-377.
Mitchell & Myles. (2004). Second language learning theories: Second edition. London: Hodder Arnold.
Nunan, D. (1987). Communicative language teaching: making it work. ELT Journal, 41, 136-145.
Swaffar, J., Arens, K. and Morgan, M. (1982). Teacher classroom practices: Redefining method as task hierarchy. Modern Language Journal 66 (1), 24-33.
Widdowoson, H.G. (1990). Aspects of language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
(*Bhanu Chandra Joshi is the principal of Chanpabot Higher Secondary School, Kathmandu, Nepal. He has got an M Ed in English Language Education from Tribhuvan University, Nepal. Mr. Joshi teaches English in secondary and higher secondary level at present. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)