Experiences of an English Language Teacher

The Balanced Approach: Can It Be Personalised?

Incorporating Dogme ELT, Martin Sketchley © 2012

What is the ‘balanced approach‘ I hear you ask.  Well the ‘balanced approach‘ was a philosophy of teaching that I proposed after research and writing up my dissertation on Dogme ELT for my MA at the University of Sussex.  This approach to teaching suggested that the best method of incorporating Dogme ELT was including an eclectic range of modern teaching methods combined with more traditional structured forms teaching method.  However, I haven’t fully explored or really considered what a ‘balanced approach‘ is.

Within my dissertation I considered a “Balanced Approach to teaching would offer EFL teachers the best of both worlds: the prospect of structured lessons or the opportunity to incorporate more exploratory or experimental teaching techniques, dependent upon classroom expectations” (page 55-56).  Essentially, this form of teaching would incorporate a range of methods or techniques which is dependent upon classroom dynamics, as well as learner expectation and previous experience of language learning.  Nevertheless, I am starting to question whether the above statement is really what I expect from a ‘balanced approach’.  Since the previous ELTChat discussion on more experimental forms of teaching methods such as the Silent Way, TPR or Suggestopedia, I was chatting to other teachers about ‘striking a balance‘ between structured and experimental forms of teaching through personal choice and adapting them towards your teaching. Here are some quotes from the discussion:

As Jenny Ankenbauer suggests, a ‘balanced approach‘ might be considered vague with teachers being given the opportunity to claim their progress within teaching via this approach.  Furthermore, due to the ambiguity of a ‘balanced approach‘, teachers may hide behind their claim.  Granted, the approach to balance in the classroom is vague and is not without contention with other teachers.  However, the suggestion to incorporate a method that is both immediate and personal to all parties in the classroom (both teacher and students in this case) is something that should be developed by all teachers.  Rachael Roberts looks at personalising the ‘balanced approach‘ below.

Rachael considers that a approach which is personally developed, which I guess is reactive and student centred, is appropriate but this ‘personal approach‘ should be developed through informed decision making.  Essentially, teachers should be striving to develop an approach that is both conducive for language learning while at the same time supports learner expectation.  This key point of ‘learner expectation’ is something that Marjorie Rosenberg considers.
Marjorie considers that there is no one best method for all students or classes.  Much of this has to do with learner expectation, the culture of learning as well as the perceived role of the teacher in the classroom.  What Marjorie suggests from her own personal experience is to take the best out of all methods/approaches and adapting them appropriately for the classroom.  During the ELTChat discussion, it was mentioned that ‘cherry picking’ methods or approaches were seen as best practice and would also provide a personal lesson for learners.
Suzanne Guerrero also echoed Marjorie.  Suzanne suggested that a teacher could ‘assimilate the principles’ and then ‘adapt them’ to different teaching contexts.  It appears that most teachers which participated during the ELTChat developed a ‘personal approach’ to teaching and it was also seen as best practice.  This approach is available for teachers to develop as they see fit and can personalise their own teaching.  It is related to the whole context and principle of humanising the classroom.  From reviewing the latest ELTChat, I can see that a ‘balanced approach‘ is both limited in its focus: for example it either considers a structured form, less structured form or a combination of both forms of teaching in the classroom.  It does not really consider the teacher, the learners, the context or culture of learning and the perceived role of the teacher.  However developing and adapting lessons on a personal level is more open for teachers to develop as they see appropriate.  However, I would consider this a ‘bespoke approach‘.
A ‘bespoke approach‘ to teaching would provide a different experience to any learner (or teacher).  As teachers we are always striving to develop a curriculum which accommodates all forms of learners (or teachers).  I remember teaching two different groups but at the same level but present at different times. The first group was very active in class whilst the second group was quite passive.  Thus, I tried to stimulate the second group more using different techniques than I would with the first.  Essentially, I was offering a bespoke English course for learners: accommodating learner requests, expectations and experience of language learning.  I believe a ‘bespoke approach‘ would offer more opportunity for teachers to customise their lesson based on a number of factors, using appropriate teaching techniques as well as making informed decisions for learners, lessons, etc.
Nevertheless, do you think there is a difference between a ‘balanced approach’, a ‘personal approach’ and a ‘bespoke approach’?  As teachers, are we spreading ourselves too thin when trying to incorporate various different teaching techniques or methods?
As ever, please leave your comments below.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting post, Martin. The term I tend to use, and still like, is 'principled eclecticism'. Eclectic simply means deriving ideas from a broad and diverse range of sources, so, for me, ideas from the left-hand side of your visual (structured teaching) could be used eclectically just as much as those on the right.
    I think broad and diverse is good because a) it keeps things interesting (for students and teachers) and b) it allows us to choose appropriately for the context we are teaching in. But the principled bit is every bit as important. I feel strongly that a teacher should always be able to justify their choice of activity or task according to their beliefs about learning and language. It shouldn't just be a mishmash of fun or different ideas, as ultimately we are there to try and facilitate learning (though of course this is a very inexact science!)
    So inevitably every teacher will have a personal approach, based on their beliefs, their personality, their response to the context and the students. To a degree this will also be bespoke, as they respond to the class.
    I'm not so clear about the idea of a balanced approach, perhaps because I don't see the two sides of the diagram as being in opposition. For example, can't dealing with emergent language be as much about dealing with form as dealing with meaning? And is pre-planned teaching necessarily to be grouped together with being teacher centred?

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