33 comments on “There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so

  1. That was me, wasn’t it? Yep, maybe I am mad.

    The Lamb has became a favourite, thanks to you, and I’ve spent two sessions of two or three hour this week looking for more Tavener, whose work I like.

    Perhaps I should have said ‘I don’t listen to folk,’ as it would have been more accurate. But either I agonize about what I write on Twitter, or I say what I think without thinking, and regret it.

    Well, this doesn’t contribute anything to your question, but it’s related to expressing opinions and hoping they’ll be shared by others, and how the fear of not doing so sometimes makes us say nothing at all. And posting on blogs and Twitter is sometimes a bit scary.

    • Hi Simon,

      I don’t think you are mad at all as it happens (and as this post must have made clear). And yes, of course, we do say things on Twitter that sometimes we regret. Luckily it soon passes – unless someone like me chooses to remind you!!

      Seriously, I don’t think anyone SHOULD listen top folk at all. Only that (perhaps as Ken says below) when you are in the mood you want everyone else to be in the mood too!

      In the meantime, what do you think of this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ni3_qUTFsps


  2. You made me laugh out loud so hard with your “I’m not having a go at dogme” statement that almost, she says, almost prevented me from leaving the Reader and coming on over for a wee chat.

    1. No standards necessary or possible. Universal consensus is impossible and should be an anathema as it most surely prevents growth.

    (There be more wisdom in disagreement than in agreement).

    2. Yup. And great, wonderful, interesting teachers simply adapt their styles to provide a middle ground between what they are and what their students want (if/when the students are capable of communicating their wants)… but great teachers probably don’t only serve up ice-cream because ice-cream is delicious – sometimes they have to take on Mommy roles and provide peas and carrots because vitamins are important.

    3. Ah, Jeremy, most noble Sensei: with regard to technology today and the use of it in the classroom, or not, we are simply in a moment of history and tomorrow there will be another shift in learning and the ways we teach and yes indeed, there will yet more methodological debates in 5 years, in 10 years, in 25 years and sometimes we will go forwards and sometimes we will go backwards because part of being a great educator, (most humble servant observes) is that this is what educators do – we challenge our own learning.

    And on to your final thought, I shall leave a quote from the Sufis, “too will pass.”


    • Hello Karenne,

      I really really really am not having a go at Dogme!! But I have thought more and more often that it reflects more of a kind of style belief than a real approach. And of course committed ‘Dogme’ teachers will probably do it really well (but offer peas and carrots too!)

      At dinner in Warsaw this evening a secondary teacher put it very well; I teach to my strengths, not my weaknesses!

      Yes, I agree with you about the ‘moment in history’ and things will change. But speaking personally, I don’t like complete techno lunatics but I DO like teachers who engage with what is current, what is happening, what is possible. And if you can find someone like, who keeps their head at the same time, then you’ve really got something to shout about!


  3. Hi, dear Jeremy.

    I think that anyone who writes or teaches methodology to teachers new and experienced must inevitably be resigned to the fact that there is no agreed “creed” to preach, no agreed “best method” to espouse.

    No conclusive research can back up any claims; anyone who has been reading education research or research into the success or otherwise of the various teaching methods and approaches, is familiar with the limitations we have as researchers in this “quest”.

    All we can do is familiarise our audiences – readers or trainee teachers – with guiding principle, which, it must be said, are the principles we have available at our current state of human knowledge. As more knowledge comes our way, even those principles may eventually change further down the line.

    But I don’t know if your post is about this or about your wonderment at the differences in human perception and enjoyment or disenchantment with all sorts of concepts, from great music, to dress sense or liking or hating twitter or second life.

    I know, they are both about interpretation but for me there is some difference, may be wrongly, but what kind of music moves me has to do so much more with my emotions (although my intellect may also be engaged, since I trained to be a classical singer some eons ago; hence went through all the gamut of studies that involves), my memories and associations with good or bad moments of my life.

    Other stuff, like which method, which approach, which Web 2.0 tool, I respond to in a more rational way – and I can probably even rationalize my values system which comes from a traditional educational background, and control it, in a way I cannot control the emotions I feel when I hear “Casta Diva” sung by Maria Callas, for example…

    This comment is getting too long and I am beginning to ramble. I’d better stop.


    • Hello Marisa,

      you’re not rambling at all – at least not as much as me anyway!

      Yes, I do wonder (and celebrate) difference. It’s great.

      As a methodologist, like you, I try and show what seems to me to be sensible and current. And then agonise like hell about whether I have the balance right or not!

      Emotion and reason! Where would we be without the first? Where would we be without the second?!!


  4. Hi jeremy
    That was a wonderful night on twitter no doubt about that 🙂

    I think that you are right, there is nothing either good or bad – unless it is taken to extremes! It can be far too easy for a teacher to totally eliminate one way of teaching or some tools simply because they do not like it or feel comfortable with it. I, for example, hate role play and would happily abolish it from my catalogue of methods that could be used, but as a teacher I know that I have to try to accommodate as many learners in as many different ways of learning as I can. IMHO saying no to any single way of teaching, or any particular resources is not good, it may be denying one of my learners the means of achieving a particular learning outcome.

    Good teachers, who use the best tools for the situation, employ as many different strategies to help their learners learn and vary the way they teach will have happy, confident, successful learners who will put up with the odd session that is not their favourite learning medium because they know the next one will be good 🙂

    I think teaching is a matter of style, no two of us will deliver the same lesson in the same way, I have done observations thinking ‘wow, I like that I am going to try that’ but mine is a different lesson with different outcome, I am a different teacher.

    I help teachers get to grips with technology in their teaching – that is my job – I help them start with something small that can be an instant success and engage their pupils, It is often just a simple text discussion where they can see pupils get totally involved in a curricular discussion, demonstrating understanding, questioning, or hypothesising and it is easy so long as the ICT resources are available!

    I am in the enviable position of having good ICT equipment at hand and frequent short training sessions where we can set something up, let the teacher try it out and them go on to the next stage and I do realise it is not the same for all but I would say that there is so much help on the web, so many training videos on skills and techniques, so many wonderful ideas for embedding ICT into the curriculum and useful tools to me it seems a crime to waste the opportunities that are on offer.

    • Hi Carol,

      I was reading your comment and the word that sprung out at me was ‘opportunities’. Maybe that’s what I’m after. The job of a trainer, of a methodologist is to offer teachers opportunities and some way of evaluating them – and then it’s up to them.

      That’s the thought I’ll take to bed with me!!


  5. Lovely post, young Mr H…

    I just wanted to say something about the first part, before you segued into methodology. Something that occurred to me when you talked about the reaction to the film Crash, which I too thought was a remarkable film from start to finish (and I’ve only ever seen it on a plane, which doesn’t usually endear films to me, as I prefer to see them in the cinema).

    I also wonder why certain art forms, but particularly the more immediate ones like cinema and theatre, create these polarised views. (I think the situation with live music is different, because we usually already know the piece before we see it performed live).

    As usual, my observation is fairly light-weight. It relates to a conversation I had with Andrew Wright several years ago. I was eulogising about a book for actors called Impro by Keith Johnstone. I was saying how it affected me more than any other book I had ever read, had changed my life etc etc

    Andrew gave me one of his serious, rather disapproving looks. ‘It only means that you were in the right frame of mind to be influenced by it when you read it,’ he said. ‘If you’d read it at a different time, it might have had no effect on you at all.’

    Do you think that could explain why we like/don’t like films and (gulp!) why we embrace/don’t embrace certain methodologies???

  6. Hello Ken,

    I am thinking about that conversation with Andrew Wright, and yes, he’s on to something. Like when you go to a play or a film and you are just ‘not in the mood’. Even a conference talk! You go in all ennervated and scratchy and you pick a mental fight in your head with everything the speaker says. In contrast you go to others and you kind of soak it up because you’re felling all charitable!

    Methodologies? Yes I am struck by stuff when I am receiving well.

    Maybe it’s not the ZPD, but the ZPA (zone of proximal acceptance)!!


  7. 1 As a die hard relativisit as far as absolutes go, I don’t think there will ever be consensus. As Karenne so wonderfully put it, disagreement is healthy.

    Everything changes with goals IMO. I do believe some methodologies work better than others, but it depends on what we want. I’ve met Japanese students that can write flawless doctoral theses, but can barely answer personal info questions. Obviously grammar translation works quite well for reading and writing. For speaking, a more communicative approach will be a lot better. It really depends on what you’re trying to do.

    And, as Karenne again rightly pointed out, you have to find a space where both students and teachers are comfortable. As Luke Prodomou said in his ISTEK talk, the best teachers are not always who we suspect. I would also suspect that students in the teacher-centered, drill-oriented class were quite crap at conversation although I bet they could answer short questions and gap-fills pretty well (which again is really useful if your goal is passing the godawful exams many countries have set up).

    2 You have to be comfortable with your methodology. I always encourage a dogme approach at my school, but for teachers who aren’t comfortable with it, we work together where they are at. If the teacher doesn’t believe in the method, it will fail. I would rather have a teacher use a course book and learn to use it creatively than force them to teach in a style they aren’t comfortable with.

    3 Tech relates to numbers 1 & 2. What are your goals and what are you and your students comfortable with? I think being a global citizen requires familiarity with tech in various forms and so I incorporate it into my lessons. I also incorporate a lot less tech for older students than I do for younger ones.

    • Hi Nick,

      I think there’s a lot of wisdom in your comments (sorry, that is not meant to be as patronising as it might sound!!!)

      I DO agree with you that CONTEXT is all (e.g. cultural context, learning styles etc), and I completely agree that teachers have to find their own styles – the things that they personally are comfortable with (though I spend a lot of time advising people to get out of their comfort zone as often as possible!

      So if teachers and students have to find that ‘middle ground’ how do we help them to recognise it when they find it? Doesn’t that imply imposing some kind of standard?

      As for your Dogme/coursebook paragraph, I couldn’t have put it better myself!


      • Good point on pushing people out of comfort zones. I like to do challenges at our school where teachers have to teach using a different method or with or without certain materials and then meet and discuss the lessons. Always lots of interesting stuff that comes out in those.

        That’s a really interesting question on the standard of finding a middle ground. I guess my general three criteria are:
        1) Are the students happy?
        2) Is the teacher happy?
        3) Are the students learning?

        If those criteria are satisfied then we’ve reached a good middle ground. But I also go back to your pushing comfort zones. Just because the class has reached some common ground doesn’t mean it’s the best place to be, so experimentation and advice is still useful.

        The question really got me thinking. Thanks 🙂

      • Nick,

        of course even the question ‘are you etc happy? may not be the right question? Unless, of course, we find effective ways of measuring that…

        Middle ground is only good for the middle; it does not necessarily make up for dissatisfaction on the periphery.

        I completely agree about experimentation (of course)


  8. Not sure I’m going to add much to chew on here, as people have already said basically this:

    Surely it is ridiculous to set some sort of standard for teaching, if not impossible. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their teaching. I think part of the problem is who suddenly decides what is ‘good’ teaching – I’m thinking ofsted here in the UK. What gives them the right to measure everyone against some imposed (by them) yardstick? It is, to me, quite unfair.

    Maybe it would be better just to think of there being lots of different standards, nothing good or bad, just different. Simply put, we are all different and that makes teaching what it is.

    As for seeing the same movie, this is something I worry about a bit when teaching. Are the students learning, having a good time, bored… But you can’t really know this until you get feedback from them (or if you’re psychic). Then the idea to try and adapt what you do in some way. That’s what I think, at least


    • Hi Mike,

      yes, my comments were based, in part, on schemes like OFSTED, or even on those feedback forms that students used to fill in (digitised so only multiple choice responses allowed!!) at the last place I taught face to face.

      My answer has sometimes been to get groups of teachers/students to design their own ‘standards’ list and then use that to measure how we get on. That might do it?


  9. Marketing people often refer to the “marketing mix” – getting everything in the right place to make a sale. I think this way of thinking can offer a lot to teaching. There is a mix of teacher, learner(s), materials and goals (plus a few other aspects if you really want to be picky). With so many variables getting a consensus is going to be very hard.

    Of all these variables I see the teacher as the weakest link – the learner (mostly) knows what he wants, the goals are usually clear (if not always realistic!), and the materials or content should have been prepared. The problem for the teacher is sincerity. Several people here have already commented on the different styles that teachers can use and therein lies the problem. Not all materials work well with all styles and the most deadly threat to a lesson is a teacher teaching an exercise he doesn’t believe in.

    This is particularly common in schools where a curriculum is prescribed and the coursebook is king. Good teachers give bad lessons because they follow the book and use exercises and examples which they don’t believe in. the learners really can pick up on this.

    So to offer my take on your questions, not only will we not agree on a common standard, we shouldn’t even attempt to. When it comes to the teacher’s style matching the learners’ style, I have experienced a group in a company that didn’t like the way I teach. My solution was to find them another teacher as I wasn’t prepared to teach the way they wanted, and I felt that I would not do a good job of it. My reputation is important to me and accepting money to do a bad job is not going to improve it. Since then I am much more careful to explain to new customers how I teach before I start, and that seems to help both sides to understand their expectations better. Equally, I do this with school classes too, where the option to change isn’t available.

    The technology issue is almost religious in nature, but in the same way that an electronic screwdriver does a great job as a screwdriver but a poor job as a hammer, technology in the classroom can be good if it is used appropriately. Most of the criticism I see of technology uses examples of inappropriate application and they very often include an unspoken fear of change.

    Thanks very much for a stimulating article.

    • Hi Olaf,

      yes, I really like the idea that trying to force teachers to do what they don’t feel good about doing is a huge waste of time (and I enjoyed your example of walking away from a class that you felt that you couldn’t teach).

      The trouble is, of course (as Mike points out above), that systems IMPOSE standards sometimes (and procedures if it comes to that), so the question probably becomes how to deal with that.

      As for unspoken fears…I think I’d better tackle then in a reply to Scott below!!


  10. “Olaf wrote: “Most of the criticism I see of technology uses examples of inappropriate application and they very often include an unspoken fear of change.”

    If the fear is unspoken, how do you infer that it exists? Not sure that this statement would stand up in a court of law!

  11. Now that is what I call tricky – and i would expect nothing else, I think!!!

    If someone is alone in a forest adn they tell a funny joke, is it still funny? etc

    I think you CAN infer attitudes toe.g. technology in the way people react (facially, body language, involvement etc), though you would have to check to be sure that you are right. I think you can infer attitudes by dismissive shrugs or ‘not for me’ etc when that reply is given thoughtlessly. In other words, the ‘yes but’ syndrome which all trainers and ‘look-at-my-new-idea’ evangelists are familiar with comes mostly from that kind of fear.

    Doesn’t it?

    Or am I guilty of too much inference?!


  12. I’m a bit late to the party! Sorry! I have been reading and digesting the various comments. I agree with Karenne that there won’t be absolute agreement which is a very beautiful outcome. I believe theory, research, technology and pedagogy is there to help us continually question and inspire us to continually learn. When educators stop questioning, they stop learning and I believe that is where the danger lies. I never want my students to accept everything they are fed. I want them to continually question so they become more grounded in what they believe. I believe in having a firm foundation but love when I explore a theory and reflect on my foundation. I used to have an extremely smart youth pastor who told me to read about every religion out there. He believed the more people explored the more grounded they became in their foundation and beliefs. He even encouraged us to explore atheism. I remember at one time I felt uncomfortable reading about viewpoints that were against my viewpoints. Perhaps I thought I might be brainwashed into believing something else by exploring the dangerous and unknown? Perhaps, it just simply made me uncomfortable to read beliefs that were different from mine and completely disagreed with my beliefs? I found that reading opposing viewpoints instead gave me a firmer foundation. I changed some of my ways at looking at the world but I found that I didn’t lose my grounding. I never once felt completely lost as if I didn’t understand myself or the world. This is the same with educational theory and the use of technology. Often I read about a learning theory and I have an epiphany. My mind says, “Wow! That is what I believed and now I know the words and name to give it!” At other times, I will disagree but have a better understanding and a greater respect of the opposing viewpoints.

    • Hi Shelly,

      I LOVED your comments.

      Yes, teaching (well, anything) is all about going out there, looking for/discovering new things. Yes, questioning is everything.

      Nevertheless, trainees, students, people all the time are looking for standards, benchmarks, guidance. That’s what worries me a bit. It is a fairly ‘western’ conceit to say ‘anything goes’ (which is not what you are saying at all, of course, but is the antithesis of agreed standards!)

      If a faith can stand a real examination, exposure to other beliefs, that’s some faith! Blind?

      That’s my dilemma, of course!


  13. Interesting post and replies. I especially like Shelly’s post here. I think most of us try things out – see what works – then distil that practice in a theory .. either formulating it ourselves or (as Shelly says) discovering that someone already has done this. (Though I think there can be a danger in using the shorthand of theoretical terms/ pedagogical descriptions as they can be very loaded / emotive / differently interpreted ..)(I could go on and on here but won’t!)

    This will sound very obvious … Do you think that an over-arching thing we could all agree on would be that good professional teacher does a ‘situational analysis’ of the teaching context (e.g. beliefs and experience of learners/teachers + practical considerations [T(rainig) E(quipment)A(ccess)M(ediation) and S(upport).. see, I was listening in Harrogate, Jeremy!] and selects the style appropriate to that situation .. even if it outside of their own experience / comfort zone. I can’t see how anyone could ever judge a method as ‘wrong’ if the outcome is effective learning. […unless the method contravened human rights!] For our school lesson observations, we watch the learners rather than the teachers .. are they all making progress during the lesson, whatever their starting point / background?

  14. Hi Jeremy,

    Since there are many ELT specialists in the room, I’ll disguise my comments ‘musically’.

    1. This post made me remember that as a musician I always wished I could’ve written and played in a band with two clones of myself – guitar, bass and drums, cause we’d all follow the same standards. That would’ve been the perfect band in my world, aka my living room.

    2. I love playing grunge tunes unplugged, many of my friends think it sucks, some others ask me to play Britney Spears unplugged, which I do for the kicks.
    Just read on the paper today that the most played song in Brazil last year was Halo by Beyonce and I’ve never heard this song in my life. It’s a matter of style or of wanting to be stylish?

    3. Great albums were made in 4-track analog recorders, great albums were made with electronic samples on the latest version of Pro Tools. Some people even say that LPs sound better than MP3s. Who knows better? In my opinion, the listener (metaphorically aka learner).

    You can play stuff you like and/or you can play music that pleases the larger audiences. If you manage do to both, you’re a hit!

    ->looking forward to seeing you in Sao Paulo for the BRAZTESOL. Will you have a music session there as well?


    • Hey Willy,

      I just LOVED this post! And yes, music messes up taste and standards completely. A small example. I used to (still do sometimes) play a song called ‘Tequila Sunset’ by Ralph McTell. A couple of years ago my grown up daughter heard Ralph McTell himself play it live. She reckoned (and who am i to disagree?!!) that my version was much better!

      I totally agree with you about vinyl vs MP3/digital etc. It is never about what you use it is always about how you use it.

      I’ll be at BRAZTESOL, doing the final plenary, and that includes quite a lot of music!


  15. Hi Helen (and thanks for bringing Karelia along too!),

    I completely understand your point about watching the students rather than the teachers during observations. When I first started doing that it was a revelation to me (in terms of observation, I mean).

    The problem (and I don’t want to keep on ‘flogging this one) is that sooner or later we have to judge what effective learning is, and that involves coming up with standards of some kind. Oh damn. See this argument is never-ending, but Shelley is right. Question question question!


  16. I think you can separate out the issue of standards (what progress would you expect learners to make in a skill and how would this be evidenced) from what methods are used to bring them to that standard. Or am I missing something? (It is late!)

  17. Pingback: TEFL blog roundup: May

  18. Hi, Mr Jeremy. my name is Angeline and I’m a final year university student who happen who work on a thesis entitle the use of the communicative approach in a speaking lesson.. i’ve read some of your books regarding communicative approach and i would like to get some comments from sir regarding the method that i should use in order to get the data that I need. what will be the most effective method to get the data? Can I actually use this approach to provoke my future students’ ability in speaking? English is the 2nd language in Malaysia, will it be a problem to implement or introduce them to the approach ?

  19. How can I start this message which, I hope, you will get. I didn’t have a chance to bid you a proper farewell after the concert from Fischer conference in Bucharest as we had to leave earlier than planned. But it was extraodinary for me because I was given the opportunity to come and talk to you again, to listen to you during the conference and while you were reciting. These are the events which make somebody’s life richer. There was a Romanian writer, Mircea Eliade, who stated that miracles are all around us but we are too blind to see them. We come across them every day and only the fortunate can notice them. And I can say I am fortunate. Because I have reached a turning point in my teaching career after talking to you in Rm. Valcea. I realised that you gave me hope and confidence. I knew that very moment that if somebody like you treated me so kindly and friendly, I had to be on the right way in my career.
    I liked the four songs from your web page a lot. You have quite an escape:music!I know you love it because I could feel it! You might be among the luckiest men on earth.
    Steve is a wonderful person, too. And he plays magnificiently.
    Hoping I haven’t taken away much of your time,
    Best wishes,

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