Breaking Rules

ALAN MALEY Visiting Professor, Assumption University, Bangkok

Our learners are all different, yet all too often we teach them as if they were the same. I shall argue that introducing diversity in the areas of content, roles and procedures brings benefits to both teachers and students. Diversification can however be perceived as a threat, as a challenge or as an opportunity. I shall examine each of these views with practical illustrations of ways in which we can keep our practice alive and vital. I conclude by setting the question of diversity in the context of ‘graded objectives’, arguing that we need to extend our view of outcomes to include wider educational and psycho~social considerations. Introduction ‘A rut is like a grave, only longer’ – so goes the old adage. As teachers, we tend to adopt routines which, while necessary in terms of time-saving and convenience, have the potential for becoming rut-like. As John Fanselow observes in his undeservedly little-known book ‘Breaking Rules’, ‘we tend to operate within a rather narrow range most of the time. The rules of the classroom game are remarkably stable.’ (Fanselow 1987:9)

In this paper I shall argue that our teaching can benefit from a greater measure of diversity. It is, of course, a truism that all learners are different: they start at different levels, progress at different rates, use different learning styles, are variously motivated, have different previous educational experiences, and so on. (We sometimes forget that teachers are similarly various!) It is also fair to say that we, as teachers, have become far more aware of this diversity following the work on Multiple Intelligences (Gardner,1985), Learning Styles and Strategies ( Willing1993, O’Malley and Chamot 1990, Oxford 1990, Wenden 1991), sensory dominance (visual, audio, kinaesthetic) and the now contentious ideas of Right-Left Brain dominance. Yet, despite this rich array of human diversity, Fanselow’s observation remains all too often true: we do operate within a rather narrow range, and the rules (overt or covert) are remarkably stable.



though misguided. This is particularly important for teachers whose career may span many years. (Islam 2003. • Enable them to discover things about themselves. usually an external expert. to depend less on ‘expert’ opinion. with undesirable consequences for learners. which would otherwise remain unnoticed. belief among many teachers that someone else. though in this paper they are not the primary focus of attention. convergent learners.Published materials show a similarly depressing tendency to uniformity. There is a natural. For students. The cumulative effect of ‘sameness’ can have a highly destructive effect on teacher motivation. Potential dividends from diversity My contention is that adopting a more diversified approach can bring demonstrable benefits to both teachers and learners. • Demonstrate that no one set of routinised procedures will ever work all the time. their students and the process. Trying out a more diverse approach tends to strengthen the sense of self-reliance so necessary for professional growth. With varied activities. we privilege ‘Leftbrain’. No one likes to be taught by a teacher who is either ‘burnt out’ or ‘switched off. When we change our customary practice. For teachers. the chances increase for everyone to shine at least some of the time. cognitively-inclined.’ (Fanselow 1987: 6) If they never try anything different. ‘…each rule we break provides us with another alternative rule that is self~generated and tests the validity of our preconceived notions. Rather. there are ‘horses for courses’ – we need to be able to call upon a diverse range of responses to different classes in different places. There is no ‘best method’ (Prabhu 1990). Maley 2003a.’ • Sharpen their powers of observation and awareness of their students. is better equipped to advise them on best practice than they are themselves. in all circumstances. • Make them more self~reliant. EA JOURNAL VOLUME 21 NO 2 9 . however small. we become more aware of the effects of what we do. diversity has the potential to: • Help them structure time more interestingly and thus to relieve the monotony of repetitive routines. at the expense of others. diversity can: • Help to equalise opportunity. Wajnryb 1996). with intuitions based on their own daily experience with a specific group of students in a specific setting. All too often. they never find out how it might have changed things. at different times. whose learning preferences are quite different.

presenting information through a variety of sensory inputs can reinforce learning. Learning style: visual/auditory/kinaesthetic. etc. Evaluation processes. Those who are more interested. that the essence of learning is experience. Pedagogical. indpendent learning. etc. creation of atmosphere. in terms of the range of topics/text~types offered. use of voice. ‘Diversified’ teachers demonstrate this through their daily practice. By creating a state of ‘expectancy’ (What will happen this time?) rather than of ‘expectation’ (Oh. thus admitting the value of unfashionable approaches. We can. for example. Some dimensions of diversity Before outlining the possible reactions to diversity. modes of working (whole class. mode of presentation.etc. intensity and frequency of activities. These are frequently very narrow. aims or objectives? Material. Level in relation to texts. duration. not that again!). There is a tendency to dismiss out of hand practices which do not fit the current paradigms. An important educational lesson can be conveyed to learners when they see that the teacher too is learning. Even for learners with a pronounced learning-modality preference. Logistics. Diversification can sometimes bring unexpected results! Content. rather than routine expectations. are generally more alert and aware. 2003). Help to sustain attention span. independant/dependant. Expected outcomes. groups. I return to this issue in the final section of this article. task complexity. Offer the possibility of learning through more than one sensory channel. we sustain the essential forward momentum of motivation. such as classroom layout. it will be useful to lay out the areas within which variation is possible. Psycho~social (Maley.) Technology: from pencil and paper to the Internet. Teaching style. 10 EA JOURNAL VOLUME 21 NO 2 . techniques. that knowledge is not a quantum of information fixed for all time. vary: • • • • • • • • • • Fundamental approaches: from highly communicative to ‘traditional’. etc. Methodology. cognitive/affective demand. Educational. etc.• • • • Raise motivation by creating a climate of surprise and expectancy. including activity types. etc. including cooperative/coercive.

without the participation or concurrence of those who will have to implement them. it is regarded as a threat.Three reactions to diversity I shall describe three possible reactions to diversity. ROLES: • In the classroom. and often do. ROLE (who is in charge and how they exercise power). • Setting up examinations which reflect the syllabus requirements and nothing else. preempt most of the decisions in the domain of content. and who organises and directs all activities. and PROCEDURES (how it is done in class). By some. both institutionally. I shall see how they apply to three major aspects of the teaching process: CONTENT (what is selected to be taught). Textbooks can. by others as a problematic challenge. to be coped with or channelled. and which sub-serve the examination. unsanctioned activities which might put the hierarchy at risk. by teachers. Diversity as Threat CONTENT Content can be controlled by: • Inflexible curricular frameworks put in place by the authorities. Yet others regard it as an opportunity to be eagerly exploited. and individually. Students do as they are told. order of presentation. which needs to be controlled or even suppressed. and method. it is the teacher who occupies the leading role. This helps ensure that no one engages in non-conformist. Any teaching which does not lead to success in the examination is thereby considered irrelevant. PROCEDURES: These are commonly ritualised in a number of ways to minimise the likelihood of divergent activities. which might otherwise be taken by the teacher or the teacher and the students together. In analysing these three perceptions. EA JOURNAL VOLUME 21 NO 2 11 . • ‘ritualisation may take one or more ostensible forms. This attempts to ensure that nothing will be taught which has not been prescribed. by Ministries and schools. • The system as a whole is characterised by a hierarchical structure which ensures that everyone in it ‘knows their place’. • Prescribing textbooks which serve the same conformist agenda as the syllabus. such as dress regulations.

spelling and vocabulary tests based on memorisation. as knowledge resource.) • Choosing a wider range of text~types and genres (Maley1993). not speaking unless spoken to. Many of the topics prescribed by syllabi and exemplified in coursebooks are astoundingly anodyne. as non-intrusive observer. the use of honorifics. • Varying focus between accuracy and fluency activities. to harness it productively. • Varying the teacher’s role in a conscious way: (T as director. • Varying difficulty level ~ both of texts and of tasks. • Varying the medium of inputs (spoken/written. Failure to produce such fictional materials can result in sanctions against the teacher: a further way of controlling diversity. which bear little relationship to the complex reality of the unfolding lesson event. T~S question and answer. procedures for punishment and reward. Roles and Procedure? CONTENT Teachers. How is this reflected in the three areas of Content.) 12 EA JOURNAL VOLUME 21 NO 2 . shared notions about the different phases of the lesson…. and drawn from a very narrow range.• • standing up to show respect.…. S~S. either alone or in collaboration with their students.) ROLES: • Varying the direction of classroom interactions (T~S. can introduce diversity in the following ways: • Choosing their own topics. etc. S~T) • Varying the mode of interaction (whole class. even if a little uncomfortable. • Varying between cognitively and affectively~focussed activities. groups. however small. etc. Diversity as Challenge In this conceptualisation. individual. Teaching techniques are likewise ritualised by using a restricted set of procedures: dictation. visual/verbal.) • Varying the degree of teacher control. there is broad consensus that diversity is inevitable. reading aloud round the class. (For details see Maley 2003b. choral repetition. It therefore becomes worthwhile to make efforts. etc. etc. opening and closing moves for the lesson…. legitimate and deviant behaviour…’(Prabhu 1994: 8). as coordinator/coparticipant. procedures for assignment and submission of work. Teachers are required to prepare elaborate (and impracticable) lesson plans.

including the teaching of ‘thinking’ (de Bono 1969. Diversity as Opportunity. presents them with enormously long texts.PROCEDURE: All the following parameters can be varied and alternated. The publication of resource materials which offer teachers the flexibility to adapt and supplement the course materials they are required to work with. The trend towards the re-exploration of traditional practices such as dictation (Davis and Rinvolucri 1988). Taylor 2001. • Sound with silence. • Intensity of concentration demanded. 2000). Wajnryb 2003. Those who decide that diversity is not simply a burden patiently to be borne. • Different seating and classroom layouts for different activities. Wright 1993. Buzan 2000). • Receptive with productive activities. This has been more recently followed up by his Contrasting Conversations (Fanselow 1992). Choral speaking (Maley 1999. but hugely influential ‘Breaking Rules’ (Fanselow 1987). and Story~telling (Morgan and Rinvolucri 1984. • In CLL the teacher only provides input when students request it. Nunan 1990). The already-mentioned. little~known. offers a comfortable environment. literature (Duff and Maley 1990). • Pace of activities. EA JOURNAL VOLUME 21 NO 2 13 . which advocates ‘doing the opposite’ as a heuristic for finding new ways of doing old things. 1995). It is also interesting to note how many of the innovative methodologies of recent years have been based on the reversal of accepted. • In Psycho-drama (Dufeu 1994) students speak ‘for’ someone else by tuning in to their body rhythm. takes liberties with ‘normal’ intonation. orthodox procedures: • The Silent Way significantly reduces teacher talk. • Task~types (Maley 1993) • Question types (Maley 2003 p:27. • • • • Work in creativity theory and practice. but a constantly self-renewing source of opportunity can find support from a number of sources. • Duration of activities: long and short. • Suggestopoedia requires students not to make a conscious effort. etc. • Quantity of inputs (and outputs).

so the suggestions can only be indicative. For example. CONTENT. teach some items. For example. • Encouraging students to make their own reference and learning materials. have ‘open book’ tests. grade in small student committees. • Questioning procedures are radically explored. as in project work (Fried Booth 2002). not exhaustive. or what McGrath terms ‘concept-driven material’ (McGrath 2002). Teachers from other subject areas teach English.• • TPR does not require students to produce language initially. Some activities take place in teacherless classes. not teachers. devise questions interrogation~style. students write their own tests. I am able only to suggest some possible angles on diversity. This restores the power of the teacher over content and order of presentation. evaluate answers. externally-imposed syllabus to a progression negotiated between teachers and learners (Nunan 1988). 2000). PROCEDURE. have unlimited time to complete tests. ‘what if…?’ In what follows. (There can be few better ways of learning something than being required to teach it!) • Switch persons. For example. For example. students ask another question instead of answering. etc. and to ask the question. • Using learning resources as well as textbooks. Tests are substituted by continuous 14 EA JOURNAL VOLUME 21 NO 2 . What seems to characterise teachers who embrace diversity as an opportunity is the willingness to question everything they do. answer a different question from the one asked. students. set the exercises. homework (Painter 2003). NLP helps the teacher to tune in to students’ dominant ‘modalities’. Non-teachers from outside school are brought in. • Developing text-based materials. • Teaching is moved out of the classroom. ROLES: • Switch roles. grade their own work. self~access (Sheerin 1991). Internet activities (Scott-Windeatt et al. ask all the questions. • Moving from a pre-determined. ask for clarification before replying. This is the area allowing for greatest diversification. teachers teach each other’s classes. • Testing is varied. mark each other’s tests. • Allowing students to decide which topics to work on.

) and psycho~social outcomes EA JOURNAL VOLUME 21 NO 2 15 . volume. etc.) Educational outcomes. Process (what we do with Input). appropriacy to purpose.) Psycho~social outcomes.• • • assessment. use masks. Learning is commonly evaluated primarily in terms of such ‘objectives’. Criteria for marking are varied for different tasks: appearance/layout. attitudinal change. I shall conclude with some remarks on Outcomes.meta~compet-ence. visual displays. These are both ‘Objectives’ focussed. learning to learn. etc. group solidarity. use puppets. etc. performance etc. (increased social awareness. such as portfolio assessment. Vary physical aspects of an activity. visual displays. cooperation. using Widdowson’s distinction between objectives and aims (Widdowson 1983). (student texts. fluency. material outcomes focus on the physical products of learning. Varying Outcomes In a recent publication I suggested that materials design can be organised under three headings: Inputs (the raw material we draw upon). However.) Pedagogical outcomes. Vary correction procedures.etc. such as test results. such as student journals. etc.etc. 2004). test results. Pedagogical outcomes focus on evidence of learning. responsibility. vary speed. confidence. independence. change physical position ~ standing. critical thinking. (increased self~esteem. creative problem solving. and Outcomes (Maley 2003 b). handling feedback. there are also more general aims. The focus in this article has so far been on content and process diversification. For example. (evidence of learning. sitting. self~awareness. accuracy. expressed in terms of educational outcomes (developing critical thinking. cultural awareness. lying (Maley and Duff 1982. emotion. Vary the way repetition is done. For example.) As can be seen from the above chart. use mime. Outcomes Material outcomes.

Educational authorities increasingly opt for what are sometimes called graded objectives. group. etc. Yet SLA research over the last twenty years conclusively shows that this is not the case. which they put in their knowledge bank. usually weaker. and accountability. above all administratively convenient. hence a ‘lockstep’ approach to teaching. The focus is on ‘delivery systems’ rather than on integrating learning. If a learner does not meet the requirements of the test. or standards-setting. and cash in at the test or examination. It is top-down: one group of people decides what is right or good for another. It is. efficiency. Even if it were. and that an organic. It is typical of what Freire has called a ‘banking’ concept of education. and which has the appearance of rigour and discipline. which are then taught. if all the parts are properly tooled. Typically. I see the focus on objectives at the expense of aims as a powerful and damaging trend in language teaching (and indeed of all ‘education’) worldwide. This is hardly surprising in an age of cost-benefit analysis. it will fit together and function. It is convenient for educational authorities to opt for an approach which offers instant measures of progress. particularly in complex systems such as language. ‘We murder to dissect’. widely agreed that learning does not work like this. then divide them into their constituent components. confidence. ‘horticultural’ metaphor is more appropriate. these specify in detail the desired target behaviours. which tend to be overlooked (Maley 2003 b). and tested. It is this which • • • • • • • 16 EA JOURNAL VOLUME 21 NO 2 . The contention is that. But the whole is necessarily more than its component parts. It assumes that students will all progress at roughly the same rate. Most syllabus and materials designers are well aware that this is virtually impossible to determine. It assumes that an atomistic reduction of the key elements in the teaching stage will lead to an ability to recombine them at the using stage. Students work to earn credits of knowledge/skills. or competency-based learning (Richards and Rodgers 2001:141~149).(developing self~esteem. What is wrong with this? • It adopts an ‘engineering’ approach to learning. speed. the assumption is that teacher/materials input equals learner intake: that what is taught is what is learnt. It assumes that it is possible to predict (in the case of foreign language learning) which items of language it will be useful for learners to acquire. she is re-taught and re-tested until she does.). responsibility for self and others. It is however.

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