3 home truths about research evidence in TESOL

Research doesn’t affect anything except practice among some university teachers or a small number of school teachers. It does not affect materials to a degree significant enough to affect teachers’ general classroom practices. This is OK; those of us with lab coat envy can feel good about our principles while others can feel good about being in touch with teaching realities.
However slavishly you believe that you follow a method or approach, you’re probably following your interpretation of it rather than something the developer would regard as a practice they prescribed. This is fine because it is also informed by judgment of how the people in the classroom would respond to your methods.
We can talk ourselves blue in the face about IATEFL, but I have met approximately two members of that organisation in the time I have been teaching. For most teachers, IATEFL has as much bearing on our professional life as Paris Spring Collection has on the clothes sold in Topshop. You can choose to enthuse or dissent about points of view expressed there there but your enthusiasm or dissent is irrelevant to most teachers. It is your own, and it affects mainly your own practice.

2 Replies to “3 home truths about research evidence in TESOL”

  1. Thanks Marc.
    In response, for those of us who live beyond the outer circle of IATEFL (pun intended), what would you recommend – or what would you like to see?
    I am a member of IATEFL, though I’ve considered giving it up as the benefits of membership for ELT professionals living and working in places like Taiwan and Japan don’t quite seem to match those enjoyed by residents of the UK and Europe.
    I actually won a scholarship to attend the conference a couple of years back, and while a lot of the talks I saw were inspiring and useful (and I remain grateful for the opportunity), I also felt a little alienated at times, as the assumptions being made by a lot of well-known authors and speakers didn’t really relate to what I had seen – and continue to see- in Korea and Taiwan.
    There are exceptions of course, but I wonder if IATEFL is becoming (or at risk of becoming) a clique that pays little or no attention to developments in places Ryanair can’t reach.
    Should IATEFL (or perhaps TESOL) try to expand and establish a greater global presence? Personally I’m not sure whether that would be a good thing, but having said that, if I were working in the UK or Europe I probably would remain a member and would go to the conference every year.
    There are some great conferences here in Asia as well, though I’m reminded about your comment re Paris Spring Collection and Topshop when I see the ‘lineup’ for some Asian ELT conferences; it seems that if you wow the crowds at IATEFL or maybe TESOL in 2016 you can give essentially the same talk in KL or Macao in 2017 or 2018 and nobody will notice. Great for the speakers, but it also means that if any of those labcoats really does make a major breakthrough – it might happen – the news might not travel as fast as it perhaps should.

    1. Hi Martin, thanks for your comment.
      The exact reason for me not joining IATEFL has been the expense and that a lot of things (obviously not everything) talked about are irrelevant to my settings.
      I think that the organisation could do with being smaller or much more decentralised because I think this would help foster links with other teachers in other regions more easily. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, but if you are a member of, for example, JALT, and feel a bit cut off from knowledge about ELT practices in other countries you think, “Ah, I will use a popular search engine to find out what others are doing.” I think this personal reward is more likely to foster some kind of links between practioners than an umbrella organisation.
      As for the conference, there are some great presentations and some that are less so. It’s the nature of the beast. I don’t think a conference talk is the best way to disseminate knowledge, though. A conference presentation should be about verifying things for the speaker and giving the attendees food for thought. When the speaker gets home, hopefully the pertinent questions should help them improve the work they presented. After that, probably a popular book (not an expensive brick for university libraries) or some kind of teachers’ magazine article would be useful.
      Thanks for giving me something to think about as well.

Comments are closed.