Approach for English Language Teaching

Contributed by:
Gurjinder Singh
This white paper introduces the notion of a principles-based approach (PBA) for English language teaching policies and practices. PBA identifies six principles aimed at helping policymakers, researchers, and practitioners build effective and successful practices within varied contexts while identifying and engaging with the challenges that the implementation of these practices will encounter.
1. A Principles-Based
Approach for English
Language Teaching
Policies and Practices
A TESOL White Paper
March 2012
2. Table of Contents
Executive Summary..................................................................................... 1
Introduction: Language Policy and Proficiency Standards........................2
Approaches to LPP......................................................................................4
Factors That Should Be Considered in a PBA............................................5
Policy and Planning........................................................................7
Theories of Language Learning and Teaching...............................9
Language Theory...........................................................................11
The Principles............................................................................................ 13
Collaboration................................................................................ 13
Relevance...................................................................................... 15
Evidence........................................................................................ 15
Alignment...................................................................................... 16
Transparency................................................................................. 16
Empowerment............................................................................... 16
Implications of PBA................................................................................... 17
Summary................................................................................................... 18
About the Writers...................................................................................... 18
References................................................................................................. 19
Copyright © 2012 by TESOL International Association
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3. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
Executive Summary
T his TESOL white paper introduces the notion of a principles-based approach (PBA)
for English language teaching policies and practices. PBA identifies six principles
aimed at helping policymakers, researchers, and practitioners build effective and
successful practices within varied contexts while identifying and engaging with the
challenges that the implementation of these practices will encounter. The principles
are collaboration, relevance, evidence, alignment, transparency, and empowerment
(CREATE). While acknowledging the complexities inherent in the process of language
policy and planning, this white paper also includes a discussion of how these principles
have emerged as a result of the demands of globalization and the interests of the local
populations of countries in which the teaching and learning of English is having a
major impact.
4. A Principles-Based Approach for English
Language Teaching Policies and Practices
Ahmar Mahboob & Namala Tilakaratna
University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Introduction: Language Policy and Proficiency Standards
T his TESOL white paper introduces the notion of a principles-based approach (PBA) for
English language teaching (ELT) policies and practices. PBA builds on the current work
on language policy and practice, but instead of providing a set of standards, it identifies a
set of principles that can help policymakers in diverse contexts develop locally appropriate
language policies and practices. Previous work on the standards in relation to language
teaching in a variety of contexts has enabled language policymakers and administrators
to identify aspects of quality language teaching and delivery to measure the success of
their programs against. However, the development of standards and the application of
these standards across varied contexts can be problematic. The application of a set of
standards has to be based on assumptions related to the distribution of resources, access
to knowledge, and appropriate infrastructure. In addition, the types of methodologies
and assumptions about learning and teaching that underlie standards are also based on
notions of language teaching approaches which espouse “a particular view of the world
and [can be] articulated in the interests of unequal power relationships” (Pennycook, 1989,
pp. 589–590). Therefore, deciding which methodology is most suitable and determining
what standards the delivery of these teaching approaches are evaluated against could be
an imposition of criteria and benchmarks on local policymakers and practitioners, who
may not find these approaches relevant or successful in their contexts. Understanding
the limitations that such an imposition might pose in different contexts, with varying
capacity for achieving these standards, professional organizations such as the TESOL
International Association have attempted to collaborate with local ministries of education
to develop contextually relevant standards (e.g., Integrating EFL Standards into Chinese
Classroom Settings series; see Gu, Hughes, Murphey, Robbins, Zemach, & Zhang, 2006).
The collaborative development of context-appropriate standards is an important step in
developing higher quality language programs in a range of contexts where there is an ever-
increasing demand for ELT. However, the involvement of TESOL (or other such entities) in
developing these standards in such contexts is limited. In addition, standards developed for
one context that are taken at face value in other contexts may achieve variable results.
Ultimately, a set of standards developed to enhance ELT in one context cannot be applied
to other contexts. The unique sociocultural, political, economic, and historical aspects of
each individual country or setting need to be taken into account when developing language
policies and ELT programs and standards appropriate to these contexts. In this respect,
local consultants working and developing research in these countries are best suited to
determine what constitutes effective practices within those countries. Therefore, this TESOL
white paper recommends the development of a principles-based approach to influencing
and enhancing successful and effective ELT practices and policies.
5. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
This white paper introduces a principles-based approach (PBA) for ELT practices and
policies. PBA provides a set of six principles that emerge from a consideration of a range
of local and global issues that relate to, impact, and influence the ELT policies, practices,
and outcomes in diverse contexts. These principles, which will be discussed in more
detail, are collaboration, relevance, evidence, alignment, transparency, and empowerment
(CREATE). By considering these principles, various stakeholders will be able mold their
own ELT practices and policies in ways that suit their needs and reflect local conditions and
practices. As such, PBA moves away from a prescriptive approach to language practice
and policy and refrains from setting any standards or universal measures across diverse
contexts. Instead, PBA recognizes the need for using different approaches to ensure
effective delivery and successful outcomes of ELT practices and policies. To achieve this
goal, stakeholders can use the PBA principles to identify relevant issues, and, by doing so,
they can develop local practices and policies that can be easily implemented and that result
in achievable outcomes. This paper will show the need for a PBA and outline a tentative set
of principles that may be considered in pursuing a PBA. Follow-up papers will discuss the
implementation of this approach.
>>> This paper is written This paper was written to help policymakers, practitioners, researchers, and other
to help policymakers, stakeholders recognise challenges faced when developing policy and consider how policy
practitioners, is translated into practice. In doing so, it will demonstrate that a PBA will help them design
researchers, and and deliver more effective policies and practices in a range of contexts. For the purposes
other stakeholders of this paper, we have assumed that the ultimate goal of any government, organization,
recognise challenges or institution involved in developing or using language in education policy (in the context
of ELT) is to ensure that students can use the language with the proficiency required
faced when
to enhance their prospects in accessing better opportunities in education, community
developing policy. membership, and employment within their own contexts and/or globally. Identifying the
impact of social, economic, and political forces on policymaking decisions on a macrolevel
and the needs of students, teachers, and community members within particular contexts
on a microlevel, can enable policymakers, practitioners, and researchers to identify and
engage with a range of issues that affect policymaking decisions. In addition, it can enable
policymakers to predict any possible challenges in relation to implementation and to ensure
that the process of policymaking takes into account these issues when developing ELT
initiatives and interventions.
Some of the issues identified in this white paper include the impact and influence of
extralinguistic factors on language policy and planning (LPP), such as the sociopolitical
context in which policy is formulated (Cooper, 1989). This issue is related to the political
and ideological orientations of LPP and the use of language policy, especially in relation to
more dominant and powerful languages, to serve the interests of particular political parties
and social hierarchies (Ricento, 2000; Tollefson, 1991). As Tollefson states, “language
policies are essentially political documents,” suggesting that policies serve the interests of
dominant groups in maintaining their power and prestige while marginalizing, excluding,
and even exploiting minority groups and speakers of other languages (p. 87). The PBA
principles aim to identify potential negative effects of policy by highlighting issues that, if
not considered, may further disempower local and minority communities. In the case of
English, which has been hailed a global lingua franca and the language of globalization, it is
increasingly important to identify and acknowledge the power imbalances that emerge as
6. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
English is given a privileged position. In deciding to focus on English over other majority and
minority languages within these contexts, policymakers are, deliberately or inadvertently,
further enhancing the economic and sociopolitical value of English, and disempowering
local languages and communities.
While understanding that LPP is motivated by primarily sociopolitical and economic forces,
the LPP research focus on the politics of the English language has shifted the gaze of LPP
away from understandings about language itself. Therefore, though LPP uses linguistic
theory and knowledge about language for designing and delivering ELT programs, the focus
on language itself has often been marginalized without clear acknowledgement of the fact
that certain forms or varieties of a language, for example, can have more social, economic,
and political privilege and currency than others. In addition, access to and proficiency in
privileged forms of language can result in better prospects for students and communities
(J. Martin, 1999). A further issue, which relates to the translation of policy into practice, is
the limited communication between practitioners and policymakers resulting in a conflict in
perceptions between the two (Kaplan, 2009). This paper will address some of these issues
by identifying a set of principles that can help ensure that the sociopolitical and linguistic
factors are taken into account when formulating policy and translating policy into practice.
We now turn to a discussion of previous approaches to LPP to identify how LPP research has
contributed to the understanding of policy and practices and shaped the development of PBA.
Approaches to LLP
C lassical LPP research focused on descriptions of policy and planning and goals within
varied contexts through the use of frameworks such as Haugen’s (1972) ecology
of languages, Cooper’s (1989) accounting scheme and other frameworks based on
understanding the delicacies of LPP from the macro to micro level of implementation. These
models are summarised and subsumed in Hornberger’s (2006) six-dimensional framework,
which divides LPP into three types: status (about the uses of language), acquisition (about
the users of language), and corpus (about language). Each of these types of LPP can take
a formal focus (policy planning) or a functional focus (cultivation planning), giving us six
dimensions of LPP. The six-dimensional framework provides a useful point of departure
for the analysis of LPP from the macroscopic to microscopic level; however, classical LPP
frameworks such as Hornberger’s have traditionally been questioned for their lack of critical
approaches focusing on power relations (Hornberger, 2006; Kaplan &Baldauf, 1997). In
addition, the frameworks are primarily descriptive in that they do not account for the actual
“process of language planning” (Kaplan & Baldauf, p. 87). Although we will not attempt
to describe the processes of language planning, it does aim to provide a set of principles
that can guide the process to ensure that it is more equitable, effective, and sensitive to
the context in which the policy is formulated. In doing so, PBA incorporates the notion of
“language ecology” in an education setting by taking into account the diverse sociopolitical
settings “where the processes of language use create, reflect and challenge particular
hierarchies and hegemonies” (Creese & Martin, 2008, p. i). PBA also acknowledges that
“schools and classrooms and their interactive practices [are] . . . part of a bigger and more
7. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
powerful political state in which ideologies function to reproduce particular balances of
power” (p. i). Because English plays a particularly hegemonic role in most postcolonial
communities and endangers other languages through its link with globalization, it is
especially important to keep these factors in mind when considering the sociopolitical
influences that language policy and practice have in maintaining, developing, and promoting
local languages (including minority languages) (Baldauf, Kaplan, & Kamwangamalu,
2010). In the following section, we introduce a set of key factors that contribute to the
development of PBA.
Factors That Should Be Considered in a PBA
T o further our understanding about how a PBA can contribute to the successful
implementation of ELT, it is necessary first to look at some of the major factors that inform
LPP. As stated earlier, all language learning, teaching, and other education practices take place
within a broad sociopolitical and economic context. These factors influence the development of
ideas, theories, and policies that influence what happens in a classroom, with what resources,
and how. To understand and develop an appropriate set of principles, some of the key factors
that relate to students’ experience of language learning and teaching need to be unpacked.
Table 1 outlines some of the major factors in LPP. The top row in the table includes a list of
contextual factors that shape the overall agendas of a geopolitical region (e.g., a country,
a province, a state, etc.) or a unit (e.g., an institution, a school, etc.). Below this, we have
identified three sets of knowledge structures that are shaped by the contextual factors
that, in turn, bear on students’ classroom experiences. The three knowledge structures
that relate to PBA are linguistic theories, theories of language learning and teaching, and
frameworks of language policy and planning. Each of these knowledge structures is a
set of abstract ideas that are translated into tangible materials and experiences through
an interim stage in which the ideas are documented through a set of descriptions and
protocols. The ideas and knowledge become increasingly concrete as we progress through
each of the columns.
Table 1. Factors Influencing PBA
Socio-economic, ideological, political, and other contextual factors
Abstract Linguistic theory Theories of learning and Policy & planning
Grammatics; language Teacher education Curriculum
Texts, lexico- Classroom practices Textbooks, syllabi and
grammar, phonology, other material etc.
8. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
Linguistic theories are abstract ideas about what language is and how it works; this
knowledge is understood in terms of the study of language (through a creation of
metalanguage—grammatics—and language descriptions). These linguistic descriptions are
then taken into account in developing texts and other material that students are exposed
to in their learning environment. In short, different linguistic theories explain language
in different ways, which result in different types of language descriptions and influence
>>> Different linguistic the choices of texts and grammatical components used in the pedagogical material that
theories explain students learn and are taught through. Similarly, various theories of learning and teaching
language in different explain how (language) learning takes place and how this understanding can be used for
ways, which result teaching purposes. These theories are taught to the teachers during their training programs,
and the teachers use them in developing their pedagogical practices. Frameworks of
in different types of
language in education policy also influence the curriculum, which in turn, shapes the syllabi,
language descriptions textbooks, and other teaching and learning resources that the students use in their classes.
and influence Thus, the three broad theoretical areas are operationalized in different ways to shape the
the choices of learning–teaching behavior and material that students experience. These different theories
pedagogical material. and areas are not necessarily independent of each other and may overlap and/or influence
the other areas. Traditional approaches to LPP tend to focus on the policy and planning
factors just described; however, PBA builds its framework by integrating not only work on
LPP, but also in the areas of linguistic theory and theories of learning and teaching.
The factors outlined earlier are illustrated in Figure 1. The inner circle represents the students
who experience, learn from, and resist forms of language, material, and pedagogy that they
experience. These concrete experiences are themselves shaped by larger discussions and
beliefs about education, language, and curriculum that are, in turn, influenced by theoretical
positions. The more abstract theoretical positions are not neutral, but are, in turn, shaped by
the resources available and the cultural, ideological, and political contexts in which they evolve.
Theories of learning & teaching
Teachers and
teacher education
ph icog xts,
lex Te
s& l
ok teria
on ram
/gr e d
xt ma
l o
gy, mar,
Te her
ma scrip
tic tion
ic it Id
ol P lo
Figure 1. Factors That Shape Students’ Learning Experiences in an ELT Classroom
9. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
In the following discussion, we consider the factors identified in Figure 1 as we look at
their implications for PBA. In doing so, we discuss aspects of policy and planning then
consider learning and teaching theories and linguistic theory. This discussion then leads to
a presentation of the six key principles of PBA.
Policy and Planning
As Kaplan, Baldauf, and Kamwangamalu (2011) point out, language in education policy is a
complex process and includes a number of issues that must be considered for it to succeed.
Policymakers face the difficult task of planning goals and strategies that are ultimately
linked to and informed by larger issues of political, social, and ideological frameworks that
function in the context in which the LPP takes place.
The impact of globalization on LPP has propelled the teaching of English with greater
urgency and has major implications for the language teaching contexts in which English
>>> We believe that is prioritised above other immediate educational concerns and over the promotion of
policymaking bi/multilingualism. Additionally, a lack of communication between policymakers and
decisions should be implementers (and other stakeholders) means that successful practices occurring within
bidirectional and that the classrooms rarely inform policymaking, and that practitioners have access to policy
only as it is filtered down through the curriculum and textbooks to the classrooms. In
within each context,
advocating a PBA, we believe that policymaking decisions should be bidirectional and that
teachers and other within each context teachers (and other stakeholders, such as syllabus designers, textbook
stakeholders should writers, etc.) should be able to reflect on effective pedagogical practices and should be
communicate with able to communicate these practices to policymakers. The following section examines
policymakers. some of these issues and attempts to highlight ways in which the use of PBA can move
beyond these issues. The three major challenges that policymakers face when designing
LPP interventions include: (a) a deficit in understanding of planning goals (b), a lack of
collaboration between policymakers and implementers, and (c) the problem of negotiating
between local needs and the demands of globalization.
Planning Goals
In LPP the purpose of the policy strategy needs to be considered with a view to achieving
particular goals and outcomes. Often the ELT programs’ need to enable enhanced English
proficiency and to improve delivery of language programs in local contexts conflicts with
other competing agendas by both the government and aid agencies. As Ricento (2000)
points out, language policy is determined by the ideological and political agendas of
governments and other organizations, which create LPP strategies. Therefore, the goal of
policymakers is often concerned with factors other than ELT and associated with political
and ideological issues. To ensure that the goals of LPP support the best interests of local
communities, policymakers should ensure that their policies and practices are transparent
and the public is given information regarding policy to allow them to participate in the
policymaking process. As Kaplan (2009) states, this includes getting the general public to
buy-in to LPP ideas so that LPP can be smoothly implemented and the general public can
enter into a dialogue with policymakers regarding policy implementation and relevance. The
Australian National Policy on Languages (Lo Bianco, 1987), for example, outlines principles
10. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
related to transparency in LPP, such as “explicitness and clarity.” Transparency of LPP
objectives will enable various stakeholders to engage with ELT practices that policymakers
advocate. It will also enable researchers and policymakers to capture (and critique) local
ELT practices to ensure that LPP decisions are made based on evidence of successful and
empowering practices from local communities.
Policy and Implementation
Policy may not be effectively translated into practice for a variety of reasons. During the
legislative process, for example, policy is transformed by political processes (Hornberger
& Ricento, 1996). Although the political influence on policy formulation is abstract and
difficult to change, the role of teachers in the translation of policy into practice is currently
>>> Although the political underutilized. Teachers themselves often believe that they have little power to effect
policy and do not view themselves as implementers of macro-level policies (Ramanathan
influence on policy
& Morgan, 2007; Tsui & Tollefson, 2006). Policy is also rarely accessible to practitioners
formulation is
working in classrooms and communities, and the underlying ideological motivations of
abstract and difficult policies tend to be implicit. Policy is formulated at the level of government, but practitioners
to change, the role responsible for implementation often have access to the implications of policy only through
of teachers in the the curriculum and textbooks. Some of the issues around formulating and implementing
translation of policy policy, then, are directly linked to the lack of communication and collaboration between
into practice is policymakers and practitioners—teacher trainers and teachers. This lack of collaboration
underutilized. is detrimental to the process of policymaking because teachers working in a variety of
contexts have access to the classrooms and students in a way that policymakers do not.
Policymakers at all levels need to consider teachers’ successful classroom practices.
Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that policymaking is a consultative process that takes
into account the role of teachers as the point of contact between the educational objectives
of language policy and the students. The policymaking process should be inclusive.
Teachers should be able to communicate their experiences to policymakers to ensure that
what is taught in schools is relevant to the varied contexts in which they work. Practitioners
should also work collaboratively with policymakers to determine policy goals, and policy
decisions should be made visible, transparent, and accessible to practitioners and aligned
with those goals.
Global versus Local
English has been referred to as the language of globalization with a strong emphasis on
the fact that English is linked to technology and hence to notions of development and
modernization (Block & Cameron, 2002; Tsui & Tollefson, 2006). Although this concept
is not unproblematic, it informs a great deal of LPP, which often requires policymakers
to ensure that English takes a primary position in the education system at the risk of
marginalizing local languages and other school subjects. The complexity of language
planning in relation to English is also linked to the fact that the demand for ELT comes
from several different sources such as aid agencies, which provide funding for educational
programs. Policymakers are in the difficult position of taking all these factors into account
while acting in the interest of the general public and representing local needs and global
11. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
One of the key issues in the conflict between the global and the local arises in relation
to the notion of World Englishes, which enabled varieties of English to be recognised as
“cross cultural and global contextualizations of the English language in multiple voices”
(Kachru, Kachru, & Nelson, 2006, p. 1). Although the World Englishes movement has
helped politically empower and legitimize localized varieties of language in the past 30
years, the inner circle varieties of Standard English nonetheless still claim prominence over
>>> The reason for the localized varieties in many different contexts. The reason for the continued hegemony of
continued hegemony inner circle varieties of English becomes clear when the uses of language are considered
of inner circle in relation to the users of language (Halliday, McIntosh, & Strevens, 1964). On the one
hand, language is shaped by the its uses; on the other hand, it carries markers that identify
varieties of English
the users or speakers of that language. The World Englishes movement focuses on users,
becomes clear when but, as increasing evidence is showing, the uses of English are determined by academic,
the uses of language educational, and professional communities of practice, which still rely on Standard
are considered in Englishes (Canagarajah, 2002; Mahboob & Szenes, 2010).
relation to the users
of the language. Thus, if ELT is to empower local communities by engaging with globalization and providing
them access to global resources, then it must answer questions about the relevance of
teaching English, and in particular about what variety of English is taught and for what
purpose. Initially policymakers should determine the purpose of English LPP, whether it is to
enable proficiency for global or local purposes, and whether it is for predominantly written
or oral communication. In determining the purpose of English LPP, they should collaborate
with local communities, practitioners, industry, and other stakeholders. Policymakers
should also ensure that ELT teaching practices are suited to the needs of the particular
context in which they occur. Again, consultation with local experts is key to ensuring that
ELT practices are locally and contextually relevant. Consulting with local experts and
practitioners will enable policymakers to assess and respond to issues that may arise when
(foreign) experts promote a particular teaching practice that might be at odds with local
sociocultural practices. As Rajgopalan (2005) states, “global, specialist knowledge” needs
to be readjusted “to suit local circumstances” (p. 119), which will ensure that language
programs are suitable to a particular context. When programs are suited to local contexts,
they will be well received by the public and implemented successfully by practitioners and
other stakeholders. In addition, evidence of program outcomes should be monitored to
ensure that they achieve the goals determined at the outset of the policymaking process.
Theories of Language Learning and Teaching
Drawing on theories of language learning and teaching can contribute significantly to
the improvement of language training and delivery. Policies should be formed with an
understanding of this literature so that they can be translated into more effective practice.
However, theories of language teaching and learning developed in center contexts, with little
influence from major theories of language learning and teaching developed in periphery
contexts, presents obstacles to both the extension and development of these theories and
their application in noncenter countries. A theory is only as good (or bad) as the data that
it draws on. Most of the dominant theoretical frameworks are developed in the West with
data collected in those contexts. These theories are then often (uncritically) adopted and
promoted in the rest of the world, where the local practices (data) may or may not support
12. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
them. However, given an absence of visible local theorization, policymakers continue to
privilege the Western theories, leading to mixed outcomes.
Learning and Teaching Resources and Methodology
In contexts with few resources, financial constraints, and a lack of infrastructure, the
delivery of language programs and material promoted as “solutions” by major international
publishing companies can be problematic. In addition, methodologies are filtered down
through aid programs, nongovernmental organizations, and other state and nonstate
sponsored agencies, advocating pedagogies and methods that are largely theorized and
developed in the West and then exported without considering whether these pedagogies
are appropriate or effective in other contexts. The development of language programs
based on learning and teaching methodologies imported from developed countries is,
therefore, an inadequate solution with which to equip teachers who face a variety of
unique context-specific issues in their classrooms. The communicative approach, which
has been marketed extensively throughout the world, is an example. The use of the
>>> The use of the communicative approach has been questioned for some time because it has “a sort of naive
ethnocentricism prompted by the thought that what is good for Europe or the USA had to
communicative be good for KwaZulu” (Chick, 1996, p. 22). When faced with a variety of methodologies and
approach has been material imported from Western contexts and promoted by international organizations,
questioned for some educational institutions and consultants, the local experts, policymakers, researchers,
time because it and teachers within these contexts must determine what is and is not suitable for use
has “a sort of naive within their particular contexts and classrooms. In many cases, policies developed based
ethnocentricism that on Western theories do not produce the desired effect because the teachers in these
contexts do not see the relevance of the ideas and usually either reject them or adjust
what is good for
them to suit the needs of their classrooms. As Canagarajah (1999) and P. Martin (2005)
Europe or the USA demonstrate, effective teachers adjust practices that are handed down to them through
has to be good for policy and curriculum to serve the needs of their students. Other teachers who may not
KwaZulu.” have appropriate expertise, training, time, or resources, might reject and ignore the policies
and materials altogether. When such failures happen, experts and policymakers often jump
to the conclusion that the local teachers or their students are lazy or nonreceptive, instead
of reflecting on the nature of the material or the policymaking processes. As pointed out
earlier, it is important to give teachers access to practices, through training and ongoing
teacher development, that enable their students to achieve better proficiency rather than
to focus on promoting a particular method (Kumaravadivelu, 2006). To ensure that policy
is informed by effective practices, the knowledge teachers gain through their classroom
experiences needs to be understood, theorized, and presented to policymakers so that
decision making is based on evidence of local practices and to give teachers a stake and
voice in the policymaking process.
Language Testing and Evaluation
In addition to identifying practices that are more suited to the local classrooms, it is also
important to ensure that the goals of language programs are assessed through monitoring
and evaluation of classroom practices and student achievement. The monitoring and
evaluation of language proficiency within the classroom must be carefully aligned with the
13. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
goals of the original ELT program. Policymakers and practitioners must also be aware of the
power of testing and understand the ethical issues involved (Shohamy, 2001).
One of the major issues in language testing is administration of these tests to large
cohorts of students. In many countries, written tests are the only form of evaluation that
students receive in relation to language competence, and these evaluations prescriptively
test grammar rather than testing students’ control of genre and discourse strategies.
The testing of grammar itself is highly problematic in many contexts because of the
varieties of English that function within these contexts. These varieties are often viewed
>>> Because of the as substandard in educational settings. Because of the complexities involved in language
complexities involved testing, policymakers should consider collaborating with teachers in creating tests that are
in language testing, relevant to the context in which they are administered. Students should be tested on their
levels of achievement within the classroom itself as well as on a larger scale in relation to
policymakers should
national standards. One way to achieve a balance, one that empowers the students and
consider collaborat- measures their development within the classroom, is to equip teachers with appropriate
ing with teachers in knowledge about assessment so that (a) a variety of different types of assessment practices
creating tests that are used to measure achievement, (b) students are trained to succeed in national and/
are relevant to the or standardized assessments, and (c) students and teachers have access to transparent
context in which they evaluative approaches used by administrators.
are administered.
Language Theory
Language theory’s influence on LPP and ELT is rarely acknowledged, in part because
curriculum and textbooks incorporate knowledge about language (KAL) as discrete
grammar lessons (based on traditional or pedagogical grammars) with little focus on how
language creates text and meaning. In this section, we discuss issues related to a lack of
KAL by policymakers and teachers, which filter down to students. In addition, we discuss
the ways that invisible pedagogy, where the curriculum and pedagogy is hidden from the
students, disadvantages students. We also explore the notion of cultural sensitivity in
relation to how language in textbooks extends and promotes particular cultural values and
norms and ideological content.
Knowledge About Language
For many teachers around the world, access to resources and a lack of suitable teacher
training means that their KAL is fairly limited. In addition, the opportunities for in-service
training are not always reliable and depend on the type of the schools in which teachers are
working. Many teachers, then, have to rely on textbooks for structured and well-presented
language instruction. As a result, the quality of the textbooks often determines the extent to
which students receive adequate KAL for English language proficiency.
To respond to this issue, policymakers should integrate KAL into teacher education
programs. This is true for many parts of the world—including the West—where courses
on language (and linguistics) are often limited and insufficiently detailed. The so-called
technical aspects of language are also often considered too complex and difficult and
are therefore left out of (or minimized) in teacher training curricula. This is an odd belief.
14. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
In training to teach other subjects, such as science, mathematics, and history, technical
and academic knowledge of the discipline is considered critical, but an in-depth study of
language and linguistics is often not considered as crucial for language teachers. This belief
is linked to the native speaker fallacy (Phillipson, 1992), the notion that being a native
speaker (or an expert user of the language) provides sufficient understanding of language
for teachers of their native language. In many contexts, the native speaker is also the
exonormative standard of proficiency that teachers and students strive toward. Increased
understanding of and access to KAL would enable teachers in varied contexts to understand
regional varieties of English and focus less on native speaker competence and more on
adapting effective discourse strategies that enable students to communicate intelligibly,
effectively, and efficiently in a variety of contexts.
Visible Pedagogy
As discussed earlier, policies must be made accessible and transparent to practitioners.
Simultaneously, classroom practices and pedagogy should also be made visible and should
>>> Simultaneously, aim to enable students to create discourses appropriate for communities of practice. In
visible pedagogy, the structuring of texts used within specific communities of practice are
classroom practices
made visible for students so that they can learn and effectively use these discourses in the
and pedagogy should relevant context (J. Martin, 1999).
be made visible
and should aim to Explicitly and visibly teaching discourse strategies and structures through analysis and
enable students to deconstruction of text through approaches such as genre-based pedagogies can enable
create appropriate students to access powerful genres and reproduce them effectively, empowering them in
discourses. the process. Visible pedagogy recognises that texts are produced within contexts of culture
and contexts of situation, and that certain texts are more privileged and more powerful than
others; thus, mastery of these text types can enable students to access opportunities for
employment, education, and research at a local as well as an international level.
Cultural Sensitivity
The manner in which textbooks are designed to promote a particular culture, ideology, and
nationalistic sentiment has been repeatedly discussed in research. In some international
textbooks, the focus has now shifted from promoting British and European culture to
creating and promoting textbooks that are regionally situated in terms of cultural content
or that, alternatively, have a global focus. As opposed to international textbooks, the
production of local textbooks by ministries of education or curriculum/textbook boards
around the world often focuses on promoting national cultural ideals. On the one hand,
this seems a positive move because it draws on cultural motifs that students are more
familiar with and celebrates and protects the national culture from Westernization resulting
in a more empowered engagement with globalization. This empowered engagement is
evident from examples such as Korean textbooks resulting in the dissemination of Korean
values and culture through the appropriation of American culture and language (Sungwon,
2006). At the same time, however, the promotion of a national culture may sometimes be
strongly linked with religious and ideological content which promotes one ideology above
others (Mahboob, 2009), and often, cultural content is limited to the culture of dominant
15. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
groups within the country, with little focus on the minorities and other competing cultures.
Ultimately, a focus on culture shifts the emphasis from teaching language proficiency
to teaching national and cultural values. Therefore, while remaining respectful of local
cultures, it is important that the teaching of culture is aligned with the initial goals of
language programs and does not subsume them. Inclusion of local material should not
exclude global texts and discourses, which currently form the dominant discourses in which
knowledge is constructed and which the students need to be able to understand and engage
with to contribute to these (global professional) communities.
The Principles
I n the previous sections, we hinted at some of the principles that should be considered
in developing language policies. In this section, we draw on the earlier discussion and
explicitly identify six principles that we are advancing as an initial conceptualization of
PBA. The six principles are collaboration, relevance, evidence, alignment, transparency,
and empowerment (CREATE). Before presenting these principles, however, we must point
out that these principles are an initial set of ideas presented to begin a discussion on
what PBA might eventually look like. This discussion needs to be undertaken through the
critical analysis of best practices and cases of ELT program implementation in a variety of
contexts from the perspective of the proposed principles. These principles are by no means
>>> These principles prescriptive or unchangeable; they should be evaluated through regular feedback and
are by no means consultation and revised as needed over time.
prescriptive or
they should be Collaboration
evaluated through
In the development of policy and its implementation, we advocate the principle of collaboration.
regular feedback Collaboration should take place at various levels and domains and give voice to local teachers,
and consultation and experts, students, and other stakeholders (e.g., parents, industry, etc.). These stakeholders
revised as needed. should be given power to influence the design of policy, curriculum, and textbooks so that these
policies are understood, accepted, and translated into appropriate practice. We see three key
areas in which cooperation can further enhance ELT policy and practice.
Policymakers and Local Teachers
A key component in policymaking should be the understanding of the students’ and
teachers’ needs gained by the sharing of knowledge from the grassroots level. With their
access to key stakeholders within the communities and often being community members
themselves, teachers have a clearer idea of what practices will work most effectively within
a particular sociocultural context. Collaborating with teachers will ensure that policy can
be implemented and that it will be well received by the public. Therefore, it is important to
collaborate with teachers in determining key aspects of policy.
16. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
Policymakers and Experts
Policy decisions should be informed by an understanding of current theories in a range
of disciplines. From a PBA perspective, we believe that consulting with experts in the
areas of linguistics, pedagogy, and language development (and also economics, sociology,
and anthropology) is as important as consulting with policy experts. As stated earlier,
policy decisions are sometimes made without an expert understanding of what language
and language teaching is and how it relates to socioeconomic development (including
knowledge construction). Both local and international experts in these disciplines need
to be engaged in the policymaking processes in order for the policy to be well informed in
terms of its theoretical foundations.
Policymakers and Other Stakeholders
Policymakers should not only consult with teachers and experts, but also engage with other
stakeholders such as the public (including parents) and industry.
In some instances after key policy decisions have been made, protests by the public
demonstrate that these decisions are not favorable to the local context for a variety of reasons.
For example, ELT policy might have a negative effect on local languages. The economic and
social value that English carries with it as well as the cultural aspects of ELT may be linked to
notions of Westernization and can be perceived as a threat to local cultures. In addition, the
public may speak a variety of the language that is not officially endorsed by the government
>>> Ultimately, for a but reflects their sociocultural identity in an empowering way. Ultimately, for a language
language policy to policy to be successful, its acceptance by the public is extremely important. Therefore,
be successful, its policymakers should make policy initiatives transparent and visible and disseminate them
acceptance by the through the press. Dissemination of policy should encourage public debates about the
relevance of the policies. Doing so will enable policymakers to gain the consent of the public
public is extremely
and ensure that the policy is successfully implemented.
Language in education policy has implications for industry in that it informs the training of a
population that will join the workforce in various capacities. As such, policy decisions need
to be taken with input from local industries. This input can be direct and indirect. Direct
input refers to consultation with the industry whereas indirect input can be based on an
analysis of the language needs of the industry (including linguistic study of the industry’s
discourse practices). Consultation and collaboration with industry can help policymakers
meet industry requirements and result in training a population that can succeed in their
future jobs.
In addition to the stakeholders just identified, it is also crucial to engage with and draw on
discussions with syllabus designers, (local) textbook writers, administrators, and others
who translate policies into concrete materials and procedures that teachers and students
will use and experience. These professionals provide a link between the teachers and the
policymakers, so it is crucial to engage them in policy-building processes.
17. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
The principle of relevance ensures that the practices, beliefs, and material that the policy
encourages attain the goals for which they are developed and accord with the particular
context. The principle of relevance can be understood in relation to the key areas of policy,
practice, and production of materials.
Although most policy aims to increase language proficiency, the outcomes of a particular
ELT project are more difficult to determine, but the project’s outcomes must be determined
to ensure its success. Identifying the particular goals of a policy will enable policymakers to
determine the relevance of proposed changes or lead to more relevant policy. In addition it
will ensure the materials designed to support the policy will achieve the desired outcomes.
In creating relevant practice, it is necessary for the government to clearly outline the purpose of
>>> If teachers are not the English language policy and then create materials that translate this policy into practice. If
aware of policy goals, teachers are not aware of the policy goals, they will create their own goals within the classroom
they will create their (many of which are aimed at increasing student success on exams). If teachers create goals that
own goals within the are not aligned with policy, when schools are assessed to determine whether policy has been
classroom (many of successfully implemented, the outcomes of the project may not match the policy’s intentions.
Practices also need to be relevant to the needs of the local communities and should be
which are aimed at
developed in consultation with them. When the purpose and outcomes of the policymaking are
increasing student determined in collaboration with local ELT professionals and local communities, the practices
success on exams). can be designed to better enhance the skills that the policy has prioritized.
Production of Materials
The production of materials that translate policy goals into practice must also be relevant
to the sociocultural practices within the context. Policymakers should determine the extent
to which ELT will have an intra- or international focus and whether the teaching of language
should also include the teaching of global cultural practices in addition to engagement with
local practices. The production of material also needs to reflect the diversity of the local
cultural cohort and sensitivity to the religious and cultural practices of all ethnic groups
within that particular context.
Basing policy on evidence shifts it from being an experimental endeavor to one that is
supported by analysis and best practices (Banks, 2009). However, gathering a large
quantity of quality evidence can be a costly and time-consuming challenge. In addition,
evidence-based policymaking has been criticized for its quantitative methods of
assessment focused primarily on accountability (Sanderson, 2002). Undoubtedly, the
18. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
quality and quantity of evidence will depend on the resources available within the context,
which will be varied. As result, it is not always possible to supply a large amount of evidence
to support successful practices. The strength of evidence-based policy in ELT is that it can
>>> The strength of safeguard against developing policy based on best practices from a variety of contexts
evidence-based and implemented as a one-size-fits-all solution without consulting local practitioners or
ELT is that it can considering cultural sensitivity.
safeguard against
developing policy In relation to teaching, then, teachers must share evidence of effective practices with
based on best policymakers, and that evidence must be translated back to practice through the production
of texts that provide the necessary framework and scaffolding and that enable teachers to
practices from a
learn from and adapt these practices in their classrooms.
variety of contexts
and implemented
as a one-size-fits-all Alignment
One of the key elements of determining success in policy and practice is ensuring
that project outcomes are aligned with the goals of ELT policy and that the knowledge
policymakers draw from is relevant to the goals of the policy. To determine whether policy
goals are achieved, it is necessary to design outcomes that are realistic to the particular
project setting and to ensure that monitoring and evaluation practices take into account the
sociopolitical and other elements that influence the project’s progress.
The larger goals of the project also need to be translated into and aligned with the design
of curriculum and textbook materials, which in turn need to be aligned with classroom
practices. These practices must then be assessed according to whether the students
demonstrate the required level of proficiency and skills in the language as determined in
relation to their particular context.
The principle of transparency requires that policy objectives, goals, and outcomes be
visible, easily accessible, and justifiable to all stakeholders. Transparency will ensure that
policymakers are able to (a) get the support of the various stakeholders in the implementation
of projects; (b) get input from teacher trainers, administrators, and teachers on the perceived
success of the program; and, (c) prevent corruption, hidden ideological agendas, and
political motivations that may hinder the success of the program. Therefore, in all levels of
policymaking and implementation, information must be disseminated to the public through
the media and other channels.
The principle of empowerment means that the ultimate objective of any ELT project should
be the empowerment of local communities, teachers, and students through collaborative,
relevant, evidence-based, and transparent practices. To ensure that policy and practice is
empowering, consultation with experts should provide initial scaffolding for the projects,
and the projects themselves should be sustainable within the sociopolitical, economic, and
19. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
cultural environment in which they function. Empowerment is difficult to ensure because
policymakers and teachers will have to take into account the politics of ELT and how this
affects their communities, cultures, and language in positive or negative ways.
The six principles outlined in this paper are not mutually exclusive. In fact, as presented,
they relate to each other in a variety of ways. The principles are applicable in a range of
contexts and have a number of implications. However, before outlining the implications of
PBA, we should note that these principles can be operationalized in different ways and may
yield different answers and lead to different positions. These positions will be shaped by the
context in which a policy is developed and by the participants, experts, and organizations
that contribute to it. We believe that such heterogeneity of responses is healthy as long as
the principles are engaged with in an ethical and judicious manner. As noted earlier, it is also
important to remember that these principles themselves will need regular reevaluation and
updating to maintain their relevance, validity, and applicability across a variety of contexts.
Implications of PBA
The principles outlined in this paper have implications for a diverse range of stakeholders. We
have enumerated some of these implications below for policymakers, teachers, and researchers.
>>> These principles can Implications for Policymakers
be operationalized • Identify policy that works and policies that balance the complex needs of the
in different ways and public with national interests.
may yield different • Formulate policy that takes into account national interests while considering the
answers and different interests of the funding bodies and international agencies.
positions. These • Provide policy suitable for the context in relation to the capacity, training, and
positions will be expertise of local teachers and the availability of resources.
• Set reasonable goals and use approaches to measuring achievement that are
shaped by the
suited to the local context.
context in which the • Provide access to quality language education in English while maintaining the
policy is developed. position and prestige of local languages within the country (including minority
• Ensure that ELT issues do not take priority over other, more immediate
educational and social concerns.
Implications for Practitioners
• Increase understanding of the principles behind the policy.
• Increase understanding of how to translate policy into curriculum, textbooks,
and practice through case studies and other accessible resources.
• Increase understanding of how to maintain a balance between teaching
international languages such as English and international culture through access
to English.
• Increase understanding of how to measure achievement according to the
standards outlined locally.
• Increase KAL, best practices, and understanding of how to adapt methodologies
to suit the particular context and objectives of the ELT program.
20. A Principles-Based Approach for ELT Policies and Practices
Implications for Researchers
• Identify case studies and best practices that focus on the formulation of
macro-level policy and its implementation at the micro level.
• Produce context-informed research and theory that can be used by policy
developers and practitioners.
• Draw connections between national, regional, and international policy
frameworks to identify best practices for use by policymakers and practitioners.
• Critically evaluate existing, proposed, and past ELT programs to determine what
is culturally and contextually suitable and develop methodologies relevant to
the context in which implementers practice.
L anguage policy and planning is a complex task with a long list of stakeholders and
factors that shape it and an even longer one of things that it influences in turn. In
recognizing these complexities and realizing that it may not be possible to take all these
variables into account in developing a language-in-education policy, a PBA recommends
that policymakers instead consider a set of guiding principles that can inform the process
and give a principled orientation and structure to the resulting policy. Thus, instead of
setting standards or specific guidelines, PBA outlines a set of principles that lead us to
ask critical questions and take appropriate measures in developing a contextually relevant
and socially responsible language policy. PBA also draws our attention to the importance
of working across disciplines and interest groups, and suggests that policymakers need
input from economists, educationists, linguists, and sociologists, among others, to identify
and work out the issues that need to be addressed through a language-in-education
policy (and the best ways of achieving these). PBA outlines six broad principles that can
help guide this process of consultation and policy development: collaboration, relevance,
evidence, alignment, transparency, and empowerment. These principles raise questions that
can guide the policy development process and result in a language policy that is robust,
responsible, implementable, and sustainable.
>>> About the Writers
Ahmar Mahboob teaches (applied) linguistics at the University of Sydney, Australia. He has
published on a range of topics in linguistics and has a special interest in understanding
language variation and its relationship to issues in education.
Namala Tilakaratna is a doctoral student at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research
interests include World Englishes, systemic functional linguistics, and language policy
and planning.
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