Dear members, colleagues, and friends,


firstly, of course, I wish you a very Happy New Year! I hope that 2018 will bring peace, tranquillity and success to you as well as to your family and friends.  

Perhaps you are enjoying a little well-earned time off from a busy schedule of teaching and if so, I hope it is a period in which you can recharge your batteries! I don’t know about you but when I’m on holiday, I still can’t stop thinking, reading, wondering about the areas of my work which interest me most –  I can’t seem to escape the tyranny of engagement!

And this holiday period is no different!

I have spent many years researching and learning about language teaching methodology. I have done so from an academic perspective but also from hands-on practice. Using E.M. Anthony’s 1963 definition of ‘method’ as:

Method is an overall plan for the orderly presentation of language material, no part of which contradicts and all of which is based upon, the selected approach. An approach is axiomatic, a method is procedural. Within one approach there may be many methods…” (my bold)

it’s interesting to note that no single method has ever proved to be definitively more successful than any other! Many people have claimed, and continue to claim great success from specific methods of teaching but the reality is that there’s no evidence that any method is better within a given context than any other! I have eminent friends who claim that what they do, the method they employ, is the very best; some teachers tell me that what they do “really works” and I am constantly coming across new methods, invented by teachers and academics all over the world who promote their ideas in any way they can.

I have come to understand that for me, the approach – the overarching philosophy of teaching and learning which, in a sense, manages the method, is far more important than any method!

The approach comprises the things which you believe to be true, the notions, ideas and principles which guide you as a teacher. You believe, for example that students should have a safe and secure environment in which to develop, you hold that students will do the best they can and that each will have a distinct way of working which may or may not agree with your own (I’m not talking about so-called learning styles but the innate approach to learning, every student brings). You subordinate teaching to learning and you know that part of your work must be to motivate unmotivated or demotivated students.

Your approach drives everything you do in the classroom! I have seen teachers allegedly using Suggestopædia with little real understanding of what Lozanov or his supporters intended and consequently, failing their students miserably. Likewise, I have watched teachers who purport to be generally ‘humanistic’ demonstrating that they have literally no idea what that term actually means and as a result, running drab, insensitive, teacher-centred classes.
But here’s the thing, after more than 100 years of recorded language teaching, we still don’t know what the ‘Best Method’ is, so it’s time to stop inventing new ones because if we haven’t discovered it yet, we aren’t going to! It’s time to examine in detail what our own philosophies of teaching and learning are. It’s time to chat about the context we would like to create with our students. It’s time to debate how best to construct an affective, effective environment and it’s time to confer with each other on philosophy rather than practice!

Happy teaching and learning
December 2017
Steve Hirschhorn
Chair of Gallery Teachers Membership Committee.