lunes, 21 de marzo de 2016

A quick reflection on what this blog is about

Hiya! Sorry I have not been blogging lately. Life is a bit too hectic these days.

I have received a few private comments on my blog posts regarding the lack of "scientific rigour" of a few of the tips and tricks and ideas that I have posted, and I wanted to make a few things clear, at least in terms of how I see this, my own, blogging space.

First of all, I think we all agree on the fact that pronunciation is still neglected in the ELT classroom. Worldwide. Even the latest books on pronunciation teaching I have read (Grant, ed, 2014; Derwing and Munro, 2015; Jones (ed), 2016) acknowledge that. One of the reasons listed for this is precisely the fact that teachers are either given too scientific and technical explanations regarding pronunciation teaching (essential, in my opinion, I don't disagree) but then are not guided towards making these "teachable". So teachers either fail miserably in their systematisation of features, or leave pronunciation aside altogether.

In my context, Phonetics as a subject is "feared". There are a myriad of reasons for this, and I am not going to mention them here. I see many graduate teachers see Phonetics with "fear" and "respect", and that is the reason they feel unable to introduce pronunciation in their lessons. Many teachers believe that pronunciation teaching needs to be done "properly" (that is, in their own words, "in the fashion of Lab or Phonetics lessons at College"), and that appears to be impossible in the regular ELT classroom. The question is, should it really be done in this way? My answer, in each and every post, is "not necessarily" ("no", I would say, even).

So what can I say regarding these two facts? How can I, from my own Teacher Trainer perspective, address this? Well, I teach my trainees all the "hard-core" Phonetics bits, I try to be persuasive as to the need to actually know the theory, and why this is necessary in our own training, in the tough task of diagnosing and correcting learner errors and difficulties. I try to instill in teachers the need for constant reading, and permanent professional development. Then, I try to show them these "silly" (if you wish), "un-scientific" tips, which are the ones that can ground the theory onto our everyday classroom practice. So there IS matter in my madness.

Then there is the other problem. The "scientific" problem. Well, Teacher Training is but just starting to develop a more research-based approach, and it will take time (decades, perhaps!) before we can actually give our trainees all the tools they need to get started in research. Plus, in my context, Teacher Training is a tertiary level qualification, and it is, by many, seen as just the development of "teaching skills". It is, of course, not the spirit of the training you get at the places where I personally work, but that is the overall view, the "collective misconception" of what Teacher Training is. We all know that teachers are pretty much looked down on, and let's be honest, at least in my country, the working conditions for teachers are appalling. I honestly cannot blame a teacher who is just looking for "recipes" to handle a class of forty 13-year-olds who just want to get away. I cannot blame a teacher who needs a "hands-on" approach because she/he does 40-50 hours of teaching every week and needs to do all the planning and grading at home in their free time (me, for example).

Then there's the other reality. There are fantastic teachers out there doing great things in their classrooms, and they never get any credit for it. Why? Because they cannot make their voices heard in the wider academic communities. Lacking experimental research tools (which, by the way, I myself lack to some extent), these classroom experiences "get lost". At times, I see, in many conferences, that some presentations  get accepted  because of the "form", rather than the "content". And teachers that do not get trained in the "form", because Tertiary level institutions hardly get the time or the resources to train in research, are left out.  And teachers may not have time or opportunities to join university life, or start a Masters'. So this huge "black hole" is created, a "gap" that leaves the real, everyday classroom apart from what gets published, that is, what people at universities do in more controlled environments. (Truth is, most of the research I've read is conducted at unis in countries where English is the native language and subjects have the chance to speak English outside the classroom....definitely not our case at all).

I cannot blame, hard as it may sound, others who look down on events for teachers. In many cases, some presentations stay at the "edu-tainment" level, and hardly any theory, or research, is found.  I have seen presentations with no "References" slides, even. For some teachers, conferencing is the only kind of "training" they can afford, time and money wise. So then again, are we going to leave these teachers out? Are we going to "settle for less"?

So some people lack the "academic awareness" that we may, perhaps, take for granted. Others believe it is not necessary. What is my approach here, my choice? To balance reading and creativity, research and down-to-earth classroom techniques, the voices of the experts and the voices of my "local experts", those teachers I train who are really well-versed in their own classroom contexts. I have tried hard to quote specialists in my posts, to keep apart those reflection posts from book review ones, the bits of theory from the bits that express my own personal views.

I want my posts and Facebook page to cater for those teachers who know very little about Phonetics, and for those who know an awful lot about it; I want to reach those teachers who fear pronunciation, who do not know what to do in the classroom, and those who do a lot of pronunciation work and just need a few more ideas. I wish I could have the time and resources to make a serious, complete, well-rounded research paper out of every post, but I cannot, and I do not wish to do so here. My job is done if I can inspire at least one teacher to do some reading, to want to learn further, while at the same time help him/her get a clear idea of how to make pronunciation teachable. 

/maɪ tuː sents/