Language Teaching Materials and the (Very) Big Picture

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Language Teaching Materials and the (Very) Big Picture by Mind Map: Language Teaching Materials and the (Very) Big Picture

1. the objective is to retrace the development of materials for language teaching, and to show how this has always been intimately connected to the wider social and historical context in which it occurs that is, to look at the very big picture surrounding materials production

2. Littlejohn (2013) sets out an argument for the seeing the evolu-tion of language teaching itself within the ongoing historical context, and this article elaborates upon those ideas by showing how the development of materials has to some extent similarly been a reflex action to social developments which occur far, far beyond the classroom.

3. Marx’s formulation of the relationship between historical context and forms of thought and action is well known:

4. Upon different forms of property, upon the social conditions of existences, rises an entire superstruc-ture of distinct and peculiarly formed sentiments, illusions, modes of thought and views of life. The entire class creates and forms them out of its material foundation and out of the corresponding social relations. The single individual, who derives them through tradition and upbringing, may imagine that they form the real motives and starting point of his activity. (Marx, 1969, p. 421)

5. ELT materials the 1950s to the 1980s : the prior to the 1980s, the influence of the wider social context on the design of English language teaching materials has generally been one of inspiration. That is, the zeitgeist provided the intellectual backdrop which generated new imag-inings in language teaching – most notably seen in the experimental ideas of the late 1960s and 1970s. From the 1980s onwards, however,it has been significant shift towards a standardisation of materials design, particularly evident from the way in which materials are in-creasingly aimed at scripting the interaction of teachers and learners.

6. 2.1 The 1950s/60s and the Cold War: the ‘iron curtain’ had descended across Europe, with Britain, the United States, and other capitalist economies to the West, and Russia and the communist economies to the East (Churchill, 1974). The ensuing tensions produced the ‘Cold War,’ anguage teaching owes its origins to this ‘iron cur-tain,’ but one particular event in this period effectively changed the history of language teaching for all time. In October 1957, the USSR launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, opening up what came to be known as the Space Race, as Russia and the United States entered into open competition to achieve control.foreign language teaching came to take on a particular priority. The 1958 National Defense (Foreign Language) Act was swiftly ushered in, providing massive funds for the development of language programmes. In an era dominated by technical advances (such as the space race), the technical, ‘scientific’ ap-proach of mim-mem exercises, language laboratories, pattern-practice drills and atomised samples of language – often repeated to exhaustion – provided just the kind of focused, efficient methodol-ogy required by the zeitgeist.

7. 2.2 The late 1960s to the late 1970s:The period from the late 1960s onwards is characterised by the emergence of numer-ous ‘fringe,’ humanistic methodologies, which, although rarely implemented, were much talked about and cited. A well-known book from this time was Stevick’s (1976) “Memory, Meaning and Method,” which featured methodologies such as Gattegno’s Silent Way (Gattegno, 1972) and Lozanov’s Suggestopaedia (Lozanov, 1978). Also well-known from this time is Moskowitz’s “Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class” (1978), which offered a blending of language aims with humanistic aims. Figure 2 presents an example of this in an exercise from a section enti-tled “Discovering Myself.” From today’s perspective, where language teaching is much more in-strumental in nature, it seems rather quirky to ask students how they relate to a geometric shape and how they see themselves in it. In 1978, however, this apparently seemed a reasonable thing to do, in some quarters at least.

8. historically

9. 3 New imperatives on materials design: the mid 1980s onwards It seems that ELT materials reflected the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, as some language teaching professionals sought to implement shifts in social attitudes into the design of classroom work.The variety and exuberance of experimental and new approaches through the 1970s–1990s has now been su-perseded by a sameness throughout commercial publishing. Within the logic of publishing itself, it is not difficult to find an explanation for this. Why are ELT materials the way they are? To answer this, I want to focus on two major concepts in the analysis of contemporary post-industrial society, and advance the proposi-tion that the nature of contemporary language teaching materials is intimately related to these con-cepts and to the direct influence of social context in a way hitherto unknown. The concepts I will discuss are McDonaldization and Neo-Liberalis

10. 3.1 McDonaldization McDonald’s, the well-known hamburger chain, is character-ised by an absolute emphasis on efficiency and total predictability. To achieve this, McDonald’s insists on a number of strict policies including fixed, deskilled work routines for its employees and fixed language scripts for interactions with their customers, to generate a totally predictable, glob-ally standardised McDonald’s experience for those customers. Ritzer argues that for all involved the outcome is a dehumanising, standardised environment, in which workers and customers are effectively ‘caged.’The relevance of Ritzer’s analysis to English language teaching has been demonstrated by a number of writers. McDonaldization is evident in the standardisation of teacher training such as the Cambridge CELTA courses and UK PGCE course, where, for example, teacher reflection has seemingly been reduced to routinized exercises – scripts, lacking face validity

11. 3.2 Neo-liberalism Ritzer’s analysis appears to offer a detailed framework which we can apply to an analysis of what contemporary materials propose for classroom work. The concept of neo-liberalism, however, relates to a much broader analysis of the social context in which language teaching takes place, that of the nature of society as a whole.For the market to function as the determiner of all, neo-liberalism requires the commodifica-tion of interactions, whether they involve a physical product or an intangible service. The key to the ‘successful’ function of the market is atomisation - the subdivision and specification of goods and services, such that ‘added value’ can be determined through monetisation – that is, that a de-tailed breakdown of interactions and products is given a monetary value, which can be accounted for, traded, accumulated or invested. Thus, we have seen over recent years the increasing com-modification and monetisation of all manner of otherwise intangible things. Education has been at the forefront of this process – through such devices as the league tables amongst schools and uni-versities, ostensibly showing the ‘value’ and ‘extra value’ a ‘provider