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To grammar, or not to grammar?
by Kendall Peet
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What then is the role of the teacher in PT?

PT states that the role of the teacher is to:

  • Provide comprehensible input
  • Facilitate interaction
  • Facilitate item learning
  • Facilitate pattern detection
  • Provide output opportunities
  • Provide feedback
  • Motivate learners

Looking at this list, the role of a PT teacher does not appear radically different to that of say a PPP teacher. However, as Rule 2 suggests, there is greater emphasis placed upon TTT. Furthermore, as Rule 4 suggests, the nature of communication within the classroom is also quite different. During conversation, the teachers seeks to provide "scaffolding," by means of correcting, prompting, recasting, by supplying needed language, and by making comments, to exploit any learner small talk. In this respect, the teacher is more a facilitator than "A teacher!" However, as mentioned, at some stage the teacher will need to highlight certain language points that emerge from the conversation. The teacher will also need to help the learner to develop effective learning strategies with regard to recording and recycling the language that emerges, so that the items "start to cohere and fuse into generative patterns"(18). One particular learning strategy, which the teacher models, is the practice of "noticing" patterns present in language. In time, the learners will also begin to "notice" patterns and in so doing will take an important step toward becoming autonomous learners. Another important aspect of Process Teaching is feedback, both positive and negative. Thornbury argues that teachers need to highlight the gap that exists between the learner's language and the target language, the gap between effective and less than effective communication, in order to motivate learners to internally restructure their language.

To highlight more clearly how the role of a traditional teacher differs to that of PT facilitator, it is perhaps most useful to look at the changing assumptions(19).

PPP   PT
I am:    
A Teacher   A Helper/Facilitator
We focus on:    
What   How
Product   Process
The topic   The way we work on the topic
Therefore:    
I know it/they don't   We are on the same side of the learning fence
We do it in:    
A Classroom   A Workshop
One implicit message is:    
Be correct   See what happens
As a result mistakes are:    
To be avoided   Welcome; part of the process
And I ask questions:    
To elicit a right answer   To learn something myself
So I tend to:    
Listen to their language   Listen to their process as well as their language
I treat learning as being:    
From outside in   From inside out
Starting from the book   Starting from them
I view the syllabus as:    
An Outer Syllabus   An Inner Syllabus
Linear   Organic
Imposed   Determined by the learners
Activities are:    
Decided by me/the book   Negotiated & naturally arising
Time is:    
Mine   Ours
This means:    
I can get impatient   I respect the time it takes

As you can see, one of the most significant differences is that a PT teacher is a member of the class that shares in the learning experience. The teacher does not hold a divine position in the order of knowledge, preaching to his subjects from the towering pulpit. No, instead, learning is regarded as an interactive, living, breathing process, that seeks to broaden and strengthen the highway of communication through the process of communication. The teacher is there to facilitate the emergence of language, rather than to instruct or teach.

Problems inherent in the process of implementing the PT approach

It should be noted that any teaching model that deviates considerably from the traditional top-down transmission model of teaching is going to face problems. One major hurdle can be the learners themselves, who often come to class with preconceptions about the learning process. The idea of learning grammar and writing copious amounts match up in the minds of many learners to the model of a good lesson: I have struck this attitude myself on many occasions, particularly with the older adult students. There can also be a problem in matching this communicative style of learning to the particular learner, as not all learners are best suited to a communicative method. There can be syllabus constraints, owing to exams, and then there are also the constraints which are placed upon the teacher in having to take full responsibility for the syllabus, which is normally left to the coursebook in conventional teaching. This final point is of particular importance for less experienced teachers. I initially found coursebooks extremely useful and cannot imagine how I could have taught without them. Underhill likewise emphasises the important role that published materials, particularly coursebooks, play in the the early stages of teacher development. As with most things learnt, for example the piano or driving a car, it is only after one has received proper training that one has the luxury of making ones own way unassisted. Therefore, in view of these arguments, like Campbell and Kryszewska, Thornbury conceded that a compromise must be struck in regard to the use of a course textbook. The compromise, in keeping with the emergent view of grammar, therefore stipulates that teachers should:

  • Work from texts, tasks, and topics rather than from a structural syllabus.
  • Generate language and then look for items and patterns.
  • Talk to learners and scaffold their language.

PT Activities

So what type of activities fall within the confines of PT? The answer quite simply is any activity that is about something, that is topical, that draws on real language, real communication in a way that activates interest in the learner and as a result produces a lot of rough language, from which the grammar can emerge through the process of noticing: in brief, activities such as free discussion, questionnaires and surveys, teacher anecdotes, student stories, CLL (Community Language Learning) activities, and paper conversations (for a more comprehensive list refer to the Appendix 3). When selecting an activity, teachers might do well to bear in mind the belief that "the best classroom activities are those that incorporate elements of real life language"(20) such as making plans, arguing a point, negotiating, reaching a consensus, or finalising an arrangement, etc. The question to ask is: How will this activity and the inherent language benefit the learner?

Conclusion

The world is undergoing a period of rapid change. In the 1915, the modernist poet, Ezra Pound, declared the need to "Make it new"(21). Today, in this postmodernist age, where pastiche reigns supreme, the call going out is to Make it real. Is process teaching the way ahead? I leave you to answer that question. What I will say is that as teachers we continually need to redefine our role within the classroom, which can only be achieved by experimenting with different methods of teaching. I am not sure that there is, or ever will be, a single best teaching method, for the simple reason that there are many types of learners with differing learning preferences. What I do believe, however, is that every teaching model or approach has something to offer and that what is most important is that teachers seek to rewrite themselves again and again, for it is in rewriting yourself that you find you have something new to say, something that you can say with enthusiasm and conviction; and if the teacher is enthusiastic and motivated, it is likely that the students will be too.

18 Thornbury,S. Ibid, p64
19
Thornbury, S. Ibid. p. 64
20 Underhill, A. "Teaching without a course book". p. 3
21 Thornbury, S & Meddings, L. "Dogme and the coursebook". MET.

Biodata

Kendall Peet has taught in Thailand, South Korea, and Turkey, and is currently teaching at FIBSB in Bucharest. He has completed the RSA DELTA and is presently completing his MA in Applied Linguistics. His key interests include teaching academic writing and developing a needs-based (learner-led) approach that encourages greater learner autonomy. Kendall can be contacted at: kendallpeet@hotmail.com Kendall

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