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Butterfly wings and all that

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Once again Willy Cardoso and I seem to be circling the same planet as we groove on the cosmos.

Where has all the SLA theory and experimenting and sudden waves of wide-eyed, staring proselytising led us? What great conclusion is there? Is there an answer or indeed The Answer to this question of how a second language is acquired? No and again, no. It just is. I think it was Stephen Hawking who said, “Leave some things be, they will always be mysteries”. And so to the next wave of “newness”…….

No one would ever call me a sceptic. No really, I try not to be an iconoclast, but I always seem to provoke sacred cows and glare with slitted eyes and think, “Not going to catch me out. Not going to fall into your devious little trap. No need to try and sell me your new ideas and gimmicks – it’s all baloney.” Well that’s a bit harsh, but not too far from the truth either. Okay okay, I’m a deeply suspicious cynic but, as someone once said, “Iconoclasm is good for the soul.”

So what’s “coaching” in the EFL classroom all about? It seems to be the “in” thing, with everyone talking about it, hailing it as the “new” way of getting people to do stuff and filling it with all sorts of panacea-like wonders. Someone I know calls it “transformational”. What? Like a religious experience that turns people from hard drinkin’, cussin’ and fightin’ layabouts to gentle, God-fearing, philanthropists? “Well,” he said earnestly, “if you don’t like the colour of your hair, you dye it. That’s change. The outward appearance is differnt, but the hair remains hair. Coaching TRANSFORMS THE HAIR INTO SOMETHING NEW.” Not that I want anything other than hair on my head, but I got the point.

So does coaching do this? Here’s a quote:

Coaching is a collaborative, solution-focused, result-oriented and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and personal growth of individuals from normal (i.e. non-clinical) populations.
(Anthony M Grant, Solution-focused Coaching: Managing People in a Complex World)

I suppose it might, but there never are any guarantees, and at some level it sounds like something gleaned from the Dilbert webpage on “mission-statements”.

And what about coaching in the BE language teaching environment? Does language really create reality, or is that just some sort of popular psychobabble? So much of what we say are sucked-up collocates we’ve heard somewhere. Do we really – I mean HONESTLY and TRULY – KNOW what we mean when we say “outcomes-based”, or “goal-setting strategies” or “owning the language”? Or is it just something we say that sounds quite cool?

Maybe we are trying to put words around something that is inexpressible – like last night’s dream. Krashen and Chomsky and The Bangalore Project notwithstanding, it remains – to me at least – a deep mystery that my student can say, understand and use in the correct context: “overcoming the crisis, using austerity measures”, but fails to be able to use in any meaningful context, “Could you tell me…….?” I just plain don’t know. Neither does he and we are at the point where neither of us is that bothered. Maybe it just doesn’t want to be part of his linguistic furniture for reasons that are neither here nor there. Accept it as a mystery and move on.


2 responses »

  1. I always take these statements and reverse them, and see if anyone is advocating the opposite:

    ‘Bafflement-focused, going-around-in-circles-oriented and deliberately unstematic non-process in which the coach obstructs the enhancement of work performance, life experience, etc., etc.’

    THAT’s what we need to be doing! The Plod and Muddle Approach.

  2. Hiya Steve
    Thanks for popping by. What’s your take on “coaching” – seriously?


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