AT THE ELT SUPERMARKET
Principled Decisions & Practices
by Costas Gabrielatos
I use an eclectic methodology
are two interrelated problems with this attitude to ELT methodology:
the concept of eclecticism has been poorly defined and is
self-defying. In this section I examine problematic elements
in two definitions of an 'eclectic' attitude to methodology
(indicated in bold), and argue that as it is defined eclecticism
is not a viable solution to the methodological question in
Definitions & Appeal
to Girard (1986: 11-12), the eclectic teacher aims to achieve
"the maximum benefit from all the methods and techniques
at his or her disposal, according to the special needs and
resources of his/her pupils at any given time.
eclectic attitude towards methodology provides the] flexibility
and adaptability that will allow the teacher to select among
a variety of approaches, methods and techniques those elements
best fitted to the needs of a given class at a given time.
Such a decision will not be taken on the spur of the moment
in a haphazard way, but as the conclusion of a serious analysis
of the situation and of the available techniques and devices.
The eclectic teacher will make his personal choices
on the basis of the questions he will have to ask himself,
as he goes along, about the main issues of language teaching,
and on the basis of the answers he will be able to give in
connection with inescapable criteria".
similar attitude, termed a "complete method", was
proposed by Palmer (1922, in Girard, 1986).
"The 'complete method' is not a compromise between
two antagonistic schools; it boldly incorporates what is valuable
in any system or method of teaching and refuses to recognize
any conflict, except the conflict between the inherently good
and the inherently bad. The complete method will embody every
type of teaching except bad teaching, and every process of
learning except defective learning."
is true that the attitudes described above have intuitive
appeal. It does seem reasonable to combine the most suitable
elements of different available methods, instead of applying
a specific one. The intuitive reasons for implementing an
eclectic methodology are summarised in the following table
use of a variety of ideas and procedures from different
existing approaches and methods will increase the chances
of learning taking place.
need to use different techniques to hold the learners'
learning/teaching contexts require different methodologies.
of a range of available techniques will help teachers
exploit materials better and manage unexpected situations.
teaching is bound to be eclectic.
Limitations & Pitfalls
the intuitive appeal of eclecticism, a closer examination
of its definitions reveals that the selection and combination
of elements from different methodologies is much more complex
than it initially seems, and that its implementation involves
a number of pitfalls. In this part I examine and clarify the
terms indicated in bold in the definitions above, and discuss
the limitations and pitfalls of an eclectic methodology.
we need to define the terms 'approach', 'method' and 'technique',
and clarify their relation. According to Richards & Rogers
(1986: 16), "a method is theoretically related to an
approach, is organisationally determined by a design, and
is practically realized in procedure". The following
table (adapted from Richards & Rogers, 1986: 28) outlines
the three elements which comprise a method.
Theory of Language Learning
Role of materials
to this definition, eclecticism cannot be a method, since
it is neither informed by specific theories, nor consistent
in its design and procedures. It has also been argued that
the use of the term 'an eclectic method' defeats the very
purpose for the proposal of an eclectic methodology, as it
suggests "the need for a single, best, method to follow"
further problem with an eclectic attitude is that it "refuses
to recognize any conflict" between different methodologies
(Palmer, 1922, in Girard, 1986). The problem lies in the inherent
conflicts that exist between different approaches, as they
may well render incompatible the teaching procedures informed
by contradictory approaches. I believe that teachers who adopt
an eclectic attitude need to be knowledgeable enough to recognise
methodological conflicts at any level (approach, design, procedure)
and be skilled enough to be able to manage such conflicts.
A case in point is the problematic notion of "defective
learning" (Palmer, 1922, in Girard, 1986). What is regarded
as a satisfactory learning outcome is closely linked to the
approach and/or method one has adopted (see also Woods, 1991:
5). For example, is fluency/communication or accuracy the
target of instruction? What is the attitude towards errors?
What is considered acceptable pronunciation?
examination of different methods and attitudes in ELT shows
that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between approaches
on one hand, and design and/or procedure on the other (see
Richards & Rodgers, 1986). In the following 'matching
task', mock theories, procedures and materials are used to
demonstrate the complex relation between approach and procedure
the mock theories of language and language learning to
the teaching procedures.
a. Languages are like algebra: logical systems with a
clear & fixed structure. Nevertheless the structure
of each one is unique.
b. All languages share the same basic structure. Their
differences lie in vocabulary and pronunciation.
c. Languages are different in most respects. Nevertheless
they share one central characteristic: communication of
meaning always requires appropriate combination of verbal
and non-verbal elements.
of Language Learning
d. Learning comes about through negative experiences.
e. Learning takes place through individual mental reflection.
f. Learning is achieved when both body and mind are involved.
Procedures & Materials
1. As the teacher is explaining a rule he/she slaps learners
on the face. The teacher takes care that all learners
are equally slapped.
2. As learners are writing the answers to an exercise
they occasionally move about on their chairs, stand up
and hop for a while, do physical exercises etc. The teacher
goes around and urges the less energetic ones to join
3. There is complete silence in the classroom. Learners
are involved in writing an exercise, occasionally looking
at the rules on the blackboard.
4. All learners have bilingual dictionaries which they
use to understand reading/listening texts and translate
what they write/say.
5. Instruction consists mainly of memorisation of rules
and their accurate application in exercises.
6. The teacher not only corrects the learners' speech,
but also their posture, facial expression and gestures.
is clear that similar procedures may result from different
approaches, or similar approaches may be realised in different
sets of procedures.
terms of available techniques and resources, the specific
teaching/learning context imposes limitations on what is at
a teacher's disposal. Therefore, teachers may not always be
in a position to be truly eclectic and will need to utilise
available resources to the maximum (Gabrielatos, 1999, 2000).
are also questions regarding the "analysis of the situation",
which the eclectic teacher is expected to perform in order
to make methodological decisions. What are the principles
on which such an analysis will be based? How do teachers identify
needs? What sort of "questions" are formulated?
How do teachers act upon such questions? How do teachers form
"criteria"? How valid are they? Are such criteria
order for teachers to be able to ask helpful questions, identify
learner needs accurately and make informed decisions they
need to be aware not only of different teaching procedures
and materials, but more importantly of the approaches (i.e.
theories) which inform and shape such practices (see Rivers,
1972: 5). They need to have an informed, conscious, clear
and flexible methodological framework, otherwise "there
is the danger in eclecticism of creating a Frankenstein monster"
conclude, the idea of having flexibility, of being free to
select between alternatives, rather than being constrained
by the materials and procedures prescribed by a specific pre-packaged
method, and consequently by its limitations, is indeed an
appealing one. Unfortunately, in their effort to break away
from the domination of methods, the proponents of an eclectic
attitude failed to make it clear that there are a number of
prerequisites for such a selection to be effective. Because
of its loose and incomplete definition, eclecticism is fraught
(2000: 14, 2001: 40-41) uses the terms 'eclectic' and 'principled'
interchangeably. I believe that it is more sensible to distinguish
between the two terms for the reasons I have discussed.
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