September 2003 — Volume 7, Number 2
Values in English Language Teaching
Bill Johnston (2003)
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers
Pp. xiii + 171
ISBN 0-8058-4294-2 (paper)
ISBN 0-8058-4293-4 (cloth)
$19.95 (paper), $45.00 (cloth)
The focus of this book is on the values and morals that play a role in English language teaching (ELT), primarily concerning the role of the teacher. The author cautions the reader by stating that he is in no way using this book as a soap box for imposing his personal values. Rather, the arguments of the book are surrounded by real-life examples in an attempt to raise English language teachers’ consciousness concerning their own values in the decisions they make concerning their teaching.
Chapter one begins with the author’s definition of important terms such as values and morals from a general educational perspective as well as in the context of English language instruction. The rationale for this book is that every teacher has a set of values that determines how he/she handles the various situations which occur in the classroom, but until now there has not been a focus on such issues in the English language classroom. Based on the premise that it is impossible to teach without values, the author contends that “it is only by confronting the moral complexity and ambiguity of our teaching that we can hope to identify the good and right things to do in any given set of circumstances, that is, to know the right way to teach”. (p. 21)
Chapter two focuses on moral decisions that English language teachers must make as they interact with students, with the curriculum and with their role as a representative of their school. These categories include such issues as classroom rules, teachers’ expectations of their students, cross-cultural issues between the culture of the teacher and that of the students, values in the textbook, choosing which variety of English will be taught and the teacher’s role as agent of the school or other institution versus the teacher to the students. Perhaps the most important argument made in this chapter is that teachers cannot make general, blanket decisions on these issues, but that decisions must be made based on the teacher’s own values along with how these values interact with each individual context or situation.
Chapter three delves into the relationship of values with politics in ELT. The author defines politics as “anything that has to do with power and the control of resources of every conceivable kind.” (p. 53) He identifies and discusses five major areas where ELT is affected by politics: language education associated with colonization, the imposition of the English language on indigenous peoples, the education of immigrants and refugees, the use of the English language in the advancement of technology (e.g. the internet) and the use of English in the process of globalization. The author presents one potential approach to the problems that come with the politics of ELT: critical pedagogy, which is defined as education that has social change as its desired outcome. He cautions, however, that such an approach still requires certain moral choices which some may not find appropriate.
Chapter four presents the issue of testing/assessment and values. The author presents two paradoxes which are a part of testing in ELT. The first is that testing will always be subjective regardless of the desire to make it objective. The second is that most teachers feel the need to evaluate their students, yet do not like giving tests for various reasons. There are several ways that testing is value-laden: it places a value on students (i.e. a grade), it compares students to others, it can affect their present and future lives and lastly, despite what one might think, testing is not just about the content being tested, but it includes the real world surrounding the student. The author also argues that the distinction between formative and summative evaluation is rather blurry. The next section of this chapter explores various types of assessment, including how assessment is related to the teacher-student relationship, how to assess a student’s knowledge of the language, and even going beyond the student’s knowledge to assess the student’s effort, participation and attitude. The author also raises the dilemma of determining who is a good student and who is a bad student. The next section tackles standardized testing, and in particular TOEFL, claiming that the major problem with such tests is that it is impersonal and does not take into account any individual circumstances. The final section of this chapter discusses the issue of alternative or authentic assessment, including such things as journals, portfolios, and other types of writing assignments. While the author admits that he believes this latter form of assessment to be more desirable, he acknowledges that it is also value-laden. The primary argument of the author is that the educational experience is contextual and individual, and assessment should also follow suit.
Chapter five deals with the English language teacher’s identity, in particular three aspects of this identity: teacher-student relations, the professional role of the teacher and the place of religious beliefs in the classroom. The first argument is that each teacher will face the moral dilemma of how much to become involved in students’ lives. Some involvement is inevitable, but much of the teacher-student relationship is based on moral choices. Another choice teachers must make is to determine the balance between the authority and respect as the teacher and yet remain approachable to the students. The issue of professionalism raises the question of how English language teachers see themselves, as well as how others (e.g. administrators and other colleagues) see English language teachers. Religion plays a part in teacher identity for several reasons. The author presents the historical background on religion and education in general. It is also noted that teachers’ personal beliefs do affect how they conduct their classes. Others may even make moral choices in deciding whether to talk about their religious beliefs and practices. Lastly, there is the issue of students’ beliefs and how teachers must be prepared to deal with students who believe differently than themselves.
Chapter six raises the issue of teacher development as a moral choice. The author has defined teacher development from a European perspective. It is professional and personal growth “that teachers themselves undertake and that is guided by the teachers concerned.” (p. 120) This is in contrast to the typical North American teacher development which is usually conducted by a teacher educator, presented to teachers. Teachers make a moral choice for teacher development in order to become better teachers, to understand their students and what occurs in their classroom, and simply to care for themselves, not as teachers, but as individual people. Teachers have been engaging in their own research over the last several years with the idea that university researchers are too removed from the classroom, allowing the teacher to gather information and then to make sense of the data. This type of research promotes collaboration with both colleagues and learners. The author states that this type of research brings with it a set of values about teaching and further allows teachers to explore the interaction of morals in the classroom that may not be apparent to outside researchers. One of the major themes of this chapter is the perception of ELT, on the part of the English language teacher and the outsider. One important question is: Is ELT a career/profession? The issue of the marginalization of ELT is also discussed. It is also expressed that many of the debates surrounding ELT and teaching as a whole are due to differing values. There is also the question of values in teacher education. [-2-]
Chapter seven is above all a summary and conclusion to the book. The major dilemmas presented in the previous chapters are reviewed.
Overall, this book is well written with a nice balance between the scholarly support of current research literature and real-life situations of the author’s friends and colleagues. The author has written with a very personal style, and is very upfront about his own beliefs and experiences, without imposing those beliefs on the reader. The author admits that what is presented in this book is nothing new or surprising, but that English language teachers often avoid but need to address these issues openly. He also suggests that further research is needed on several of the issue raised in the book in order to understand further their impact on ELT.
The topics selected for this book are indeed important and popular topics in the profession of language teaching. While the author indicates that the book is addressed to practicing teachers, I believe this book would also be beneficial as a supplemental text in various types of language methods classes, in particular ESL/EFL methods. What is more, the author has included several discussion questions at the end of each chapter which would contribute to a classroom setting. The questions might also be used for introspection of the practicing teacher.
Paul Chamness Miller
Dept. of International Communications & Culture
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