Eclectic Language Teaching by Gavin Dudeney 


Many years ago when I was taking my first steps towards becoming an ELT professional at a well-known teacher training institute in London, ‘eclectic’ was pronounced by trainers with the sort of nervous giggle which usually accompanies the description of your future in-laws as ‘interesting’. Eclectic sometimes involved being interesting, diverse and able to adapt the world to the language classroom, but more often than not it was tainted with the notion of ‘wildness’ or the idea of being ‘out of control’. And this, it seemed, was not to be encouraged in the carefully structured and controlled world of the English class. 

Nowadays, I work closely with experienced teacher trainers and I can see that their world is changing just as quickly as mine. Yet every month as I give my small session to the trainees on the Cambridge/RSA CELTA course I find myself wondering why it is still the case that there is no programmed input on the use of technology in the classroom? During a typical four-week pre-service course, future teachers are introduced to all manner of techniques, options and ways of teaching - yet there is no requirement to learn about using computers or the Internet. 

Few trainees or indeed tutors seem to understand exactly what goes on in my domain and since my session is an optional extra, it attracts only a handful of dedicated trainees while the rest skip to the bar. The irony, of course, is that thse trainees almost always know something about computers already. So, when they later head off enthusiastically to join their colleagues in the bar, they are full of new ideas and heady on the potential of the Internet. This is due to the power of the Internet itself, rather than the skill of the presenter. 

When I give sessions at conferences and take workshops in different centres, I always like to point out the profound effect the Internet is having on everyday lives - the kind of effect that textbooks and dictionaries have never achieved. As the Internet becomes inextricably linked with our normal lives, providing us with news, contact with family and colleagues, shopping opportunities and entertainment, it is only natural (to my mind) to bring this medium into the classroom and make use of it in a meaningful way. The main thing holding us back is a lack of training. This is almost as true today as it was over four years ago when David Eastment wrote his report for the British Council, ‘The Internet and ELT’. 

The Internet lends itself very naturally to the ELT classroom. Having as its main goal the concept of communication and sharing of information, it squares perfectly with the goals of the language class. Structurally, too, it should be a very familiar place for teachers, with subject guides such as Yahoo ( closely resembling the thematic approach usually adopted by textbooks. 

And this then leads me to the question which I think deserves real attention and thought as we hurtle deeper into the information world. 

If teachers generally find the Internet to be interesting, stimulating and useful, and students share these views, why is it not being more widely used in classroom learning? Most teachers are extremely busy and can not find the time to learn the simple skills needed to use the Internet - coupled with the fact that very few centres have the magic combination of teacher and ‘techie’ to help their teaching staff through their first faltering steps in lesson planning and teaching using the Web. 

It is my opinion, however, that a small amount of training and support at the pre-service level would go a long way towards surmounting this small obstacle and open up the rich world of the Net to teachers and students alike. 

We’ve come a long way since the days when the old hands scoffed at the Internet as the next bandwagon for young ELT upstarts to jump onto, and whilst multimedia CD-ROMs and language laboratories have seen better days, the Net simply seems to go from strength to strength. There is, or at least should be, a natural blurring of the boundary between the Internet in the ‘real’ world and the Internet in the classroom. The skills needed to bridge this gap can be picked up in a four-hour training session, or from a little reading around the handful of ELT publications dedicated to the use of the Net in language teaching which have surfaced in the past year or two. 

Once the technophobia has been vanquished, teachers have access to a whole new set of teaching materials, giving true and positive status to the concept of ‘being eclectic’ and to my mind, that can never be a bad thing. 


[This article appeared in the Spring 2004 newsletter]

© Malta Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language