ELTABB Journal Volume 1 - Page 5

Scott Thornbury Teaching Grammar ‘at The Point of Need’ Compare and contrast these two approaches: Teacher 1: ‘Today is Tuesday so we’re going to do the present perfect continuous.’ Teacher 2: ‘Tell me something I don’t know, and I’ll help you to say it better.’ OK. I’m exaggerating, but these two approaches capture, respectively, the difference between ‘pre-emptive teaching’ and ‘reactive teaching’. In the former, the teacher assumes that there is something that the learners don’t know, and the teaching intervention is designed to fill the gap. In the latter, the teacher assumes that there is something that the learners need to say, and the teaching intervention is designed to enable them to do it. It is consistent with Scott Thornbury teaches on the MA TESOL program, both online and on site, for The New School, New York, and is the author of a number of prize-winning books on language and methodology. He is a regular guest at ELTABB events. He is currently blogging The (De-)Fossilization Diaries at www.scottthornburyblog.com the view that, as Dave Willis (1990: 128) puts it, ‘The creation of meaning is the first stage of learning. Refining the language used is a later stage.’ A marvellous account of reactive teaching applied to the teaching of writing is At the Point of Need: Teaching Basic and ESL Writers, by Marie Wilson Nelson (1991). This book deserves to be a classic, not least because it’s about more than simply the teaching of writing. It makes a convincing case for a pedagogy that, rather than trying to secondguess and thereby pre-empt the learners’ learning trajectory, is entirely responsive to it: that is, a pedagogy which is wholly driven by the learners’ needs, as and when they emerge. As Nancy Martin writes, in the Foreword (ibid.: ix): The concept of teaching only at the students’ perceived points of need, and as they arise, presents a different view of learning from that of planned and sequenced series of lessons. The former view depends on recognition of the power of the person’s intention as the operating dynamic in writing – and in learning. The book describes a five-year experiment at a college in the US, where writing workshops were offered to small groups of mixed native-speaker and non-nativespeaker undergraduates, each with a tutor, and where there was no formal writing – or grammar, or vocabulary – instruction. Instead, the students (all of whom had scored below a cut-off point on a test of standard written English) were – in the words of the program publicity – invited to: 1. Choose topics that interest yo ԁ