Review ~ Meaningful Action

Earl Stevick’s humanistic ideas about affect in language teaching explored and adapted in a collection of articles.
Reviewed for Teflnet by Stephen Case
Meaningful Action

Meaningful Action

Earl Stevick’s influence on language teaching is undeniable. Whether you have read any of his books or  not, making sure activities or teaching points are as meaningful as possible to students  is a familiar concept. We have Earl Stevick’s influence to thank for that.

Stevick’s work is mentioned throughout, but this book is not a biography of the man, or a summary of his work. Rather, this is a book that details the way and ways educators have taken his ideas and used, adapted and pushed them in their teaching. It is not an entry level book on the subject though. It is a book for someone who believes in the importance of affect in teaching and wants to take it further.

The book is divided into three parts with each part containing several articles. Part A focuses on interaction between students. Part B looks at creating meaningful and effective classrooms activities. The final part gives us ideas about how meaningful action can change the dynamics of classrooms and institutions, and how to manage that change.

Part A generally argues that to create meaningful exchanges between our students then, logically, we need to understand who students are and what makes them tick. In this section the papers all offer different ways of doing this. There is a lot here for teachers interested in the psychological and humanistic sides of language teaching. Indeed some of the articles seem to suggest a role of counsellor or life coach to the teacher. Some may feel uncomfortable with this level of intimacy this advocates. However, the overall message of this section is that a genuine interest in and empathy towards learners will create a better and more productive learning environment.

Part B focuses on more practical ideas for making classroom activities more meaningful. The advice offered in the articles should be helpful whatever the level or type of class you are teaching. Mayley’s article offers good advice on adapting any of the myriad of Suggestopedia-style methods you might have been exposed to on TEFL teacher training courses into something you can actually use in class. Dornyei offers a well thought-out compromise between hard-type communicative language teaching and more explicit instruction. There are also articles on vocabulary, drilling and fostering autonomy which also give food for thought.

The final part largely looks at how meaningful actions spreads beyond the classroom and how this may redefine the relationships between students, teachers and institutions. Many of the articles in this section give insight into what it takes to create a supportive institutional setting in which meaningful, affective learning can be fostered. Again some of the articles advocate a redefined counselling role for teachers where there primary task is to adapt study to learners’ psychological types. Other papers in this section give advice on how to let students have control over the language they are learning and how they are learning it. The book is aware of the fact that, at this point, some teachers become very uncomfortable with this loss of control and position and so it also explores how to manage changes in dynamics and so avoid failure.

If you have been teaching for a while you may have already come across institutions and teachers that share many of the values of humanistic teaching that this book advocates. If you have adopted these practices yourself, then you will find this book a reaffirming read. If you are more sceptical some of the more practical ideas may allow you to meet more humanistic principles half way or at least see where other colleagues are coming from. Either way it is an interesting read, especially the advice offered in section two. Those at the start of their careers should maybe wait a while before picking this one up.

Earl Stevick died just a few months after this book was published. The heartfelt testimonials at the end of the book from the great and good of language teaching are a beautiful tribute and eulogy to an influential and caring educator. This book shows that his influence will continue to be felt across language teaching.

Reviewed by Stephen Case for September 2013

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