June 1997 — Volume 2, Number 4
Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language: A Teacher Self-Development and Methodology Guide
Jerry G. Gebhard (1996)
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press
ISBN 0-472-08231-0 (paper)
US $24.95; UK £19.95
Gebhard’s book Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language is aptly subtitled A Teacher Self-Development and Methodology Guide. The book is intended for those who are already teaching and want to continue their professional development and training. Throughout, the text assumes that teachers will be able to try out the various methodologies, teaching techniques, and self-development exercises with classes of students. The text is not intended for the experienced teacher; it is written for an audience of novices. It would be especially useful for teachers in English as a foreign language (EFL) contexts who have not had much training and those who do not have access to teacher education programs.
The book is organized into four sections. The first section addresses the idea of self-development and explains the author’s purpose: “[This book] includes how you, as an EFL or ESL teacher, can develop your teaching through a process of exploration” (p. 1). The second section discusses general issues of teaching such as classroom management and culture. The third section has to do with language skills and methodology (listening, speaking, reading, and writing). The fourth section has two appendixes: one is a list of professional journals, the other a list of other resources for teachers.
Each chapter has a separate topic: professional development, language as interaction, classroom management, materials, culture, listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The topics are addressed through explanation and numerous examples. While some of the examples seem to be hypothetical, many of them are from real teaching situations, either from the author’s experience as a teacher or from the experiences of teachers he has trained.
All chapters are organized using the same format. An interesting quotation related to the chapter topic is presented, followed by a short set of questions to start the reader thinking about the topic. Explanation of the topic is given with several examples from teaching situations. At the end of each chapter, a set of “Teacher Self-Development Tasks” is included. The author intends for the reader/teacher to choose from among these tasks and try them out. These are practical activities, not readings. In most chapters, there is a discussion of possible teaching “problems” that can occur. Finally, a list of supplementary readings and resources is given. [-1-]
The explanations and examples are quite readable and should be accessible for all language teachers. For example, in chapter 2, “Exploration of Teaching,” Gebhard provides good explanations for why and how teachers should involve themselves in self-development activities. The tasks are relevant and do-able. Most teachers would find one or more of these tasks to be interesting and possible without disrupting normal teaching procedures unduly. The suggested readings at the end of the chapter are also useful. My only argument with the presentation is that the author does not include references to relevant literature in his discussion. For example, in discussing teacher questioning patterns, there is no mention of well-known studies on teacher questioning patterns and classroom interaction (e.g. Long & Sato, 1983; Long & Crookes, 1987).
The book is light on theory throughout; there is almost no discussion of research. When research and theory are presented, the author gives summaries. For example in chapter 7, “Teaching Students to Comprehend Spoken English,” the focus is on how to teach listening skills. The chapter begins with a few comments on top-down and bottom-up processing. The author also refers to interactional and transactional functions of language. There are no citations in these discussions. There is only one mention of issues surrounding comprehensible input and second language acquisition (SLA) in the chapter, and there is no discussion of simplification, elaboration, foreigner talk or negotiation. These are all topics that are usually brought up in discussions of listening, comprehensible input, and second language learning. Instead of discussing these issues, the author focuses on methodology and issues which directly relate to teaching practice and teachers’ lives. Those who are looking for introductory reading on SLA theory will have to look elsewhere.
In every chapter, the author gives examples of activities that teachers can use. In the chapter on culture, Gebhard provides some specific suggestions for ways that teachers can involve themselves in a foreign culture when teaching in an EFL context. In the chapter on materials and media, clear examples of how to supplement textbooks with teacher-written materials are included. The skill-based chapters–listening, speaking, reading, and writing–have numerous activities and examples. Clear instructions for how to do the activities in class and good explanations for why these activities might be used are included.
In the chapter on teaching writing, for example, process writing is discussed in detail. The author explains why process writing is taught and gives concrete examples that teachers can use at each stage of the process. The novice teacher could easily pick up this book, read the explanations, and introduce these activities in subsequent classes. These activities offer more than “What to do on Monday,” however, because the rationale behind the activities is included, and teachers are encouraged to think about why the activities are used. [-2-]
The “problems” section of each chapter seems less well motivated than the examples and activities. For example, in the chapter on classroom management (a useful chapter on a somewhat neglected area of ESL/EFL teaching), the section on possible problems that teachers face includes the “I never have enough time!” problem, the “How do I get students to use English in class?” problem, and the “Name remembering” problem. As a reader, it is not clear to me how these three problems were chosen from among all possible classroom management problems. Target language use is an issue in most classes (both ESL and EFL); therefore, it seems reasonable to include a discussion of possible solutions. However, completing a planned lesson may or may not be a problem; this varies considerably from situation to situation.
Gebhard’s solution to the time problem is to use time-saving tricks, but saving time may not be the best solution in all situations. For example, in a conversation class in an EFL context, doing every part of a pre-planned lesson probably should not be an issue since the teacher’s plan should be subordinated to the students’ interests. Perhaps the teacher should simply give up one part of the lesson if students take longer than expected on another part of the lesson. On the other hand, in a highly structured school setting where students across classes must satisfy a pre-set curriculum and prepare for a universal examination, keeping up with the syllabus is certainly an issue. The presentation of this “problem” might have been a good place for Gebhard to include a discussion of student needs and flexible lesson planning.
The “name-remembering problem” seems out of place beside the other problems presented. While it can be a problem for teachers, it is certainly not restricted to teaching situations. In classrooms, related issues such as whether or not, and how, to call on students, or how to help students work together in groups, seem to be more important issues for classroom management and language learning. Despite the unevenness of some of the problems presented, however, the author deserves credit for trying to address some of the puzzling aspects of teaching.
One small note for those who are interested in teaching and technology–there is little about technology and/or media in this book. There are some references to uses of video and cassette tapes, but no mention of computers or different types of audiovisual aids. There is also no discussion of possible problems with technology. For example, what do you do in a country where photocopying privileges are very limited? Or in a class that requires you to teach using IBM computers when you’ve only used Macintosh–and that for word processing and games? A few comments on this within the “Materials and Media” chapter would have been useful.
For experienced teachers, the book offers little that is new or useful. However, for teachers who lack training, this book would be [-3-] helpful. Its clarity, conversational style, and numerous examples make the book interesting and easy to read. The tasks for teacher development in each chapter are a strength. In fact, a look at these might be of interest even to experienced teachers who are looking for ways to rethink their practice. The discussion of teacher development at the beginning of the book is a good reminder to all of us that we need to rethink and renew our practice occasionally.
Long, M. & Crookes, G. (1987). Intervention points in second language classroom processes. In B. Das (Ed.). Patterns of Classroom Interaction. Singapore: SEOMEO Regional Language Centre.
Long, M. & Sato, C. (1983). Classroom foreigner talk discourse: Forms and functions of teachers’ questions. In H. Seliger & M. Long (Eds.). Classroom Oriented Research in Second Language Acquisition. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
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