[xmca] Re: Once Again, Learning and Development!

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Sun Jan 20 2008 - 09:11:39 PST

  Thanks for the long, thoughtful, wide-ranging (in places widely leaping!) reply. I think I would like to concentrate on one point in it only, namely "PPP" (for the uninitiated, this is "Present, Practice, Produce", the methodology of presenting a particular piece of vocabulary or a sentence pattern, getting children to repeat or reproduce it, and then creating some sort of game or task where the children can use it "freely").
  PPP is an ancient and persistent tradition in teaching. It is a part of a classroom culture that is centuries, perhaps even many millenia, old. It has survived many many attempts to "reform" it--in my school many of these attempts are, paradoxically, taught using PPP methods!
  Of course, merely because something is antique and traditional does not mean we cannot "detest it and all it stands for" as you do. Slavery, torture, and blackmail are also traditions of considerable antiquity. But we don't find slavery, torture, or blackmail necessary in the classroom, as you say you do with PPP.
  So those two things TOGETHER, the fact that it is persistent and the fact that those who detest it and everything it stands for still, to their shame and embarrassment, find it necessary, should give you pause. When something in a culture is both objectively (historically) persistent and subjectively (psychologically) necessary, and something outside a culture (e.g. a theory or a new set of classroom practices) says it is bad, it is not necessarily the culture that needs restructuring.
  At the very least, this persistence and felt necessity together suggest that there is some mechanism for the replicating PPP that inheres in the classroom situation. I find this suspicion is strengthened when I see PPP like structures at the level of the CURRICULUM, at the level of the LESSON, and at the level of classroom ACTIVITIES (if you like Leontiev's terminology, at the level of the ACTIVITY, the ACTION and the OPERATION).
  All of these things seem to me to consist of some kind of Presentation, followed by a controlled phase of Practice, culminating with some individual Performance which is then evaluated before the next unit is attempted. Even the IRF exchange noted by Sinclair and Coulthard:
  T: What time is it? (shows a flashcard) PRESENT
  S: Two o'clock. PRACTICE
  T: That's right. It's two o'clock (shows another flashcard) EVALUATION and NEW PRODUCTION
  Larsen-Freeman and Cameron see this kind of recursive structure as being like the fractal structure of a fern leaf or the self-similarity of the trunk, branches, and twigs of a tree. Such structures are supposedly produced by bottom-up, self-assembly processes. Here I think I disagree; it seems to me that at least some of the structure is deliberate and designed, and that it "inheres" from the top down, from the set curriculum to the exchange, rather than the bottom up, from projecting the exchange onto the curriculum.
  When we actually examine lessons, we often notice that teachers do NOT actually begin by presenting new information. They usually begin a lesson with some sort of reference to shared information (weather, weekend, etc.) or even old information (review of the last lesson). Skilled teachers often INTEGRATE this kind of old information into the new information they are going to present. It is only unskilled teachers, theoretically dogmatic adminstrators, unfamiliar subsitute teachers, programmed learning devices, and Monty Python sketches, and of course university professors, who start with "And now for something completely different!".
  Similarly, real PPP lessons in my data don't usually END with performance and evaluation. Often the whole production phase is truncated (because it is unrealistic or unworkable for some reason) and controlled practice is continued, or else the lesson simply ends where it ends and then the next lesson can start up where that one left off. So it seems that the REAL changes required to PPP are already taking place, in the way that teachers adapt it in the classroom, in real lessons.
  They are NOT, however, taking place at source, in the curriculum itself. I think the reason is that this curriculum is based on the kind of "words and rules" model of language that you sketched for us (and which is transparently the basis of books like "SuperKids"). THAT theoretically wrong, fundamentally Saussurean, model of language is what makes the various phases of PPP so hard to integrate.
  When we see practices like the subverted form of PPP occurring again and again and again, and we find that they conflict with our theories of how things SHOULD be in the classroom, we probably either need to change the classroom culture or change the theory. New theories are a lot cheaper. Besides, if we keep changing them often enough we may finally find a model of language that is new enough to be consistent with the culture that has been there in the classroom all the long. I doubt if it will be a big bag of words and a little tool kit of grammar rules!
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Sun Jan 20 09:13 PST 2008

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