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The Pedagogic Approach

On the evaluation sheet we gave this section 30 per cent of the points given to the overall coursebook rating because we believe that sound pedagogic approaches facilitate intake and acquisition. The criteria in this section are linked with current thinking in language learning theories (Tomlinson 1998; Ellis 2000; Doughty and Long 2003).

The most obvious pedagogic feature of many of these courses is that they are teaching-centred rather than learning-centred and that they seem to assume that what is taught will be learnt. All the courses provide impressive introductory sections in the teacher’s book but they all seem to focus on coverage of teaching points that is, input. Total English, for example, asserts ‘clear grammar syllabus and plenty of practice’ and flags the extra practice in the DVD, workbook, and catch-up CD-ROM, and the extra materials in the teacher’s resource book Merrell Boots and on the website. New English File seems to take a similar view in emphasizing the importance of independent practice using the multi-ROM and website. As for methodology, most of these courses use the PPP (Presentation-Practice-Production) approach. PPP has been criticized by many methodologists (e.g. Larsen-Freeman 2001) for imposing a uni-modal learning style and for not reflecting the natural tendency to learn what the learners need, want, and are ready to learn. We would like to acknowledge Just Right, however, in that it makes an attempt to declare its principles of how skills and knowledge are best acquired and to explain its methodology in the introduction to the teacher’s book. Framework also demonstrates awareness of language learning theories in its introduction and attempts to offer the kinds of learning experiences which are believed to facilitate learning.

We would welcome more efforts by all the courses to try to engage the learners affectively through excitement, emotional responses, and fun, or through providing them with a stimulating but achievable challenge (Tomlinson 1998; Arnold 1999). Most of the courses seem to take a cognitive and analytical approach and we all agreed that most of the courses underestimate the learners, make most of the activities too simple, and provide too much help (e.g. Quick Smart English, facezface, Innovations, Total English). The exceptions are Straightforward and Framework, which do often provide a stimulating challenge and aim at affective engagement. Straightforward, for example, provides lots of activities relating texts and tasks relevant to the learners’ lives. We appreciate the fact that some of the courses do use awareness approaches in addition to explicit teaching of language (‘Invitations’, p. 75 in Just Right; ‘B’, p. 32 in Quick Smart English; ‘How Words Work i’, p. 73 in New English File). A word of warning though is required against the claims made by some courses that they follow a Merrell Shoes discovery approach when in fact all they do is disguise an attempt to get learners to find a predetermined answer (e.g. facezface).

In language acquisition, recycling and revision are vital. It was good to see that some courses were making such an attempt. Just Right provides a lot of useful recycling and revision: for example, Activity 13 in Unit 5 involves a discovery phase, use of mini-grammar reference, and revisits the tasks by applying expressions to learners’ real life. Framework highlights ‘Recycling” in its content map when the items are repeated and it tries to let the learners focus on the meaning first and then go back to look at some significant language points.

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