Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Michael Butler.
Recently I discussed two broad approaches to materials creation, which I termed episodic and systematic.
Today I would like to discuss two approaches to instruction, which I term Incremental and Transformation. We have heard the second discussed by Arkady and perhaps Jason on this blog.
It is my belief that programs that promise incremental learning should probably be judged differently than programs that promise transformational learning. The proofs that I suggest we should look for from these two approaches are broadly discussed below.
|Incremental Programs||Transformational Programs|
|1. The inputs are well defined. A schedule is offered to insure that all the inputs are introduced and practiced. The program is a product of the sum of all the parts.||1. The inputs are generally defined but aren’t important as ends in themselves. They are a means to a transformational end. The program is greater than the sum of its parts.|
|2. Grammar and vocabulary study in particular lend themselves to a steady, incremental style of learning.||2. Speaking instruction tends to be transformation. Many students ask to be transformed into good speakers.|
|3. The more detailed the curriculum the greater is the chance that the inputs will be taught on a set schedule, in a set order, and probably reviewed. What, after all, is the point of specifying all the inputs and then not using them to build a more complex program?||3. The inputs are not necessarily intended for review or even retention. They are designed to help students “break walls”, free up “old resources” and help serve hidden ends. The inputs are sometimes only specified to give students confidence in the program.|
|4. This process is designed to result in a steady accumulation of knowledge. This accumulation process however may proceed at different speeds under different conditions.||4. This process should result in sudden, dramatic gains that can astonish outsiders. The main reasons for progress however are often psychological. These processes are not fully understood.|
|5. Almost by definition, complete beginners start here.||5. Many of these students are frustrated or failed learners.|
|Key Success Factors:||Key Success Factors:|
|1. How much is scheduled to be learned, at what intervals, and under what environmental conditions.||1. The psychological, attitudinal, and environmental forces that surround the learner.|
|1. The standards of the program are clearly defined. Data is available internally to measure if the standards are being met (quality measurement). Outsiders can decide for themselves if the standards are significant.||1. Learners claims are not sufficient proof. Outside testing needs to establish that a transformation took place. However if 33% of all learners are transformed, should this be considered a success? How about 50%? 5 per cent?|
For students who have endured years of incremental learning the transformational promise is tantalizing. After having spent years doing incremental learning who wouldn’t what to experience the catharsis of transformation?
The current ELT industry has a huge stake in slow incremental learning. Can transformational approaches that focus primarily on speaking be added to the mix? Do incremental learning systems sap motivation?
Teachers who teach beginners tend to be incremental in their approach. How can these teachers become more transformational?
Public schools are perhaps the most conservative incremental learning environments on the planet. Today transformation is often left to outsiders. Is this wise? Can Public schools start to kick-start the transformational process?