Challenging standards and methodolatry in TESOL: Implications of post-structuralist perspectives on educational research and the transcultural turn in language education

Year: 2016

Author: Mercieca, Paul

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This presentation explores the implications for TESOL practice of a number of related critiques of educational research, teaching approaches and linguistic ‘standards’. It examines critiques of ‘evidence-based’ research (Pierre, 2015) and the move towards using ‘big data’ to inform practice (Snook, Clark, Harker, O’Neill & O’Neill, 2009). It will be argued that much educational research has over-emphasised reliance on classroom strategies and failed to give consideration to the more complex range of dynamics impinging on specific learning contexts. In advocating and describing a more principled and less technicist orientation in TESOL (Mahboob & Tilakaratna, 2012), the presentation should also be relevant to many other areas of language teaching, and teaching in general, where similar forces are at play. The paper outlines post-structuralist challenges to the nature and relevance of educational research, whereby careful applications of both quantitative and qualitative research methods, likened to ‘methodolatry’ (McWilliam, 2006 & 2014) have become almost self-justifying. The instructional approaches legitimised by such research over and above aspects of learner context and identity will be identified as an issue of general educational concern. The presentation will examine the way in which teacher agency continues to be regarded as the key compensatory factor for all kinds of perceived social deficits, despite earlier warnings about such socio-political underpinnings (Bernstein, 1970). Further, the presentation will focus on the double impact in language education of both general teaching standards (O’Brien, 2015) and linguistic standards. In TESOL, this effective double constriction tends to narrow pedagogic attention to classroom micro-strategies (Kumaravadivelu, 2006), which may further enhance the hegemony of English and disempower other languages, cultures and communities. Framed within a transcultural perspective (Canagarajah, 2013: Kraidy, 2006), the practical implications of a number of crucial macro-understandings (Kumaravadivelu, 2006) and principles (Mahboob & Tilakaratna, 2012) will be explored. It is hoped that, in discussion with presentation participants, if not quite a fully transformed perspective, at least a more nuanced view of contemporary TESOL practice might emerge.