Comparing and evaluating methods: some suggestions
In the preceding chapters of this book we have examined the fundamental characteristics of eight language teaching proposals in terms of approach, design, and procedure. The use of a common model for the analysis of different teaching philosophies has enabled us to define elements that are common to all approaches and methods and to highlight areas where approaches and methods differ. We have seen that in some cases (e.g., Communicative Language Teaching) teaching proposals have not necessarily led to a specific and well-defined method. In other cases (e.g., Silent Way) there is much less room for interpretation, and explicit specifications may be given for classroom practices.
One level of application of this model is in the comparison of methods. One might wish to know, for instance, if the procedures of two methods are likely to be compatible in the classroom or if two methods share a similar set of underlying theoretical assumptions. As an example, let us use the model to compare Total Physical Response (TPR) and Community Language Learning (CLL).
Superficially, Total Physical Response and Community Language Learning seem antithetical. Comparing elements at the level of design, we find that TPR typically has a written syllabus with paced introduction of structures and vocabulary. CLL has no syllabus and operates out of what learners feel they need to know. In TPR, the teacher's role is one of drill master, director, and motivator. In CLL, the teacher/knower is counselor, supporter, and facilitator. TPR learners are physically active and mobile. CLL learners are sedentary and in a fixed configuration. TPR assumes no particular relationship among learners and emphasizes the importance of individuals acting alone. CLL is rooted, as its title suggests, in a communal relationship between learners and teachers acting supportively and in concert. At the level of procedure, we find that TPR language practice is largely mechanical, with much emphasis on listening. CLL language practice is innovative, with emphasis on production.
There are elements of commonality, however, which can be easily overlooked. In approach, both TPR and CLL see stress, defensiveness, and embarrassment as the major blocks to successful language learning. They both see the learners' commitment, attention, and group participation as central to overcoming these barriers. They both view the stages of adult language learning as recapitulations of the stages of childhood learning, and both CLL and TPR consider mediation, memory, and recall of linguistic elements to be central issues. TPR holds with CLL that learning is multimodal - that "more involvement must be provided the student than simply sitting in his seat and passively listening. He must be somatically or physiologically, as well as intellectually, engaged" (Curran 1976: 79). At the level of design, neither TPR nor CLL assumes method-specific materials, but both assume that materials can be locally produced as needed.
Other points of comparison between approaches and methods emerge from the use of the present model of analysis. Although we have seen that all approaches and methods imply decisions about both the content of instruction and how content will be taught, methods and approaches differ in the emphasis and priority they give to content versus instructional issues. For example, the Audiolingual Method and some of the versions of Communicative Language Teaching we have considered are all language teaching proposals that see content variables as crucial to successful language teaching. Each makes concrete proposals for a language syllabus, and the syllabus forms the basis for subsequently determined instructional procedures. They differ in what they see as the essential components of a syllabus — since they derive from different views of the nature of language — but each sees a syllabus as a primary component of a language course. On the other hand, such methods as the Silent Way, Counseling-Learning, the Natural Approach, and Total Physical Response start not with language content but rather with a theory of learning. Each is the outcome and application of a particular theory of language learning and an accompanying body of instructional theory. Content considerations are of secondary importance.
But an approach or method is more than simply a set of instructional practices based on a particular view of language and language learning. Implicit in a method are the claims that (a) the method brings about effective second or foreign language learning and (b) it will do so more efficiently than other methods. But in order to assess the value or effectiveness of methods, it is necessary to consider them in relation to a language course or program having specific goals, objectives, and characteristics. In the remainder of this chapter we will outline a basis for evaluating the claims of methods by locating them within the broader context of language curriculum development.