How many times did you hear reference to ‘teaching principles’ during the recent IATEFL conference? Appeals to one’s principles can preciptate effects akin to those prompted by urges to maintain ‘values’, assuming one has any. ‘Family values’, being more consistently shared than the ‘social’ variety, have been a prominent theme of more election campaigns to mention (though messrs Cameron and Miliband have given it a wide berth his time around) through efforts towards mass appeal, while values of more colourful variety are touted in order to sure up existing support and sentiment.
What interests me is where this amounting concern for teaching principles stems from. In one sense I think we can quite safely say we already know the answer, while in another it remains elusive.
The proliferation of CLIL, drives towards the technological classroom and the possibilities of online learning have converged to cause serious educationalists to feel compelled to remind teachers not to get ‘carried away’ and to remember principles that ought to remain at the heart of what we do. Various aphorisms are presented to this end which, though may not be known in the precise constituency and order of words in which they appear on the PowerPoint slide, every sane individual present must be willing to patronise.
Collect the various maxims together, however, and you may find that the principles underpinning much of the existent approaches in ELT, a relatively youthful field unknown to Behaviourism, those we would likely recognise and share, are extraordinarily conducive to these new modes of learning. Learner autonomy, student-centred learning, the insistence on regarding the teacher as a facilitator primarily and as an instructor only secondarily, if at all- are these not the principles we most value?
I wonder whether we ought to have more faith in ourselves. It is not inconceivable, I think, that the prevalent (and accelerating) trend towards modalities which satisfy our most inalienable principles may in future be viewed as symptoms of a peculiar, underlying orthodoxy, rather than representing an incremental, principle-endangering orthopraxy.