Woo watch

I’ve noted before that ETp (‘the leading practical magazine for English language teachers worldwide’) is quite the purveyor of woo. As two of its four person editorial panel, Janet Olearski and Susan Norman are ‘master’ practitioners of NLP, this is perhaps not surprising.

In the July 2014 edition we can read an article by Duncan Foord on how to cater for left brained and right brained teachers including a helpful lesson plan and mind map! In the article Foord tells us that ‘right brained dominant teachers and visual teachers will immediately identify with’ information presented as a mind map (4:2014). He also notes that half of the teachers he tries this approach on are ‘sceptical’ but that we ought to try to persuade them to give it a go. Next, he references a book called ‘teach for success’ by someone called Mark Fletcher. I wasn’t surprised to find the following quote on Mark’s website ‘Brain Friendly Books:

The book gives practical examples that will have a dramatic effect on teaching methods and learning expectations. It includes ways of using Mind Mapping, N.L.P., Suggestopedia, music, colour, learning styles and much more in your classroom.

All of this is somewhat ironic since ETP recently held their ‘ETP live’ conference in Brighton and who did they invite to speak? None other than Philip Kerr, debunker of ‘left-brained/rightbrained’ myths!


 *This post originally said that susan Norman was the founder of ETp. She is not. 

Intelligence test

Reading the latest issue of ETP this week I came across and article describing how to use multiple intelligences in the classroom. As I read the article two things struck me. The first was the incredible regularity with which ETP runs articles featuring somewhat whacky approaches. There were articles on learning styles (for examples Rosenberg 2011, Rosenberg 2013) Multiple intelligences (Fletcher 1996, Puchta  2005, Puchta 2006, Hoogstad 2008, Berman 2010, Hamilton 2011)  a surprising number related to NLP (see, for example, Revell and Norman 1997, Revell and Norman 1998, Owen 1999, Owen 2000, Owen 2001, Rinvolucri 2002, Fahey 2004, Baker & Rinvolucri 2005, Rosenberg 2008, Zoeftig 2012) and even a four part series on something called “spiral dynamics” by NLP trainer and master practitioner Nick Owen. Now don’t get me wrong, ETP publishes some great stuff, like recent articles by Rachel Roberts but considering the, shall we say, credibility problems with many of these approaches, they do seem to be very interested in devoting a lot of space to them.

The second thing was that despite all the talk of catering to students individual needs and so forth the actual activities described so often amount to the relabelling of standard practice as something quite exotic and revolutionary. Take the article I just finished reading for example. It describes activities you can use to cater for your students different intelligences. One such activity is getting students to write an email to their friends or a family member about a trip they took around the US. This may seem like a pretty regular TEFL activity but in fact, as the author points out, this will help students who have strong ‘intrapersonal intelligence’. Another has students teaching each other how to dance, which in turn caters to ‘bodily kinaesthetic intelligence’.

All of this reminded me of reading Mario Rinvolucri’s book on NLP. In it the authors seem to  list altogether mundane teaching activities, like a dictation listening and then under PRS focus (the NLP version of VAK) it would say “auditory”. I was quite surprised to learn that quite commonplace TEFL activities were actually NLP techniques!  You can play this game at home if you want, simply think of an activity, any activity in the classroom and apply a woo-woo label to it. ‘Grammar auction’ -students listen, so it goes under ‘auditory’ right? Hangman? Well they’re looking at the board so, visual it is. ‘Find someone who…’? – intrapersonal/linguistic (if you’re a fan of MI) or kinesthetic if you’re more into learning styles.

Of course someone always has to spoil the fun. In the  ETP article, The author suggests getting students to teach each other dance steps to work on their ‘bodily-kinesthetic intelligence’. twenty years earlier, commenting on this kind of classroom application one educator noted that he was “leery of implementations such as … believing that going through certain motions activates or exercises specific intelligences” (1999:90). And who was this anti-educational party-pooper? Howard Gardner, inventor of MI theory.

For more about MI check the great Kerr article on the 6 things website and the ensuing discussion or check this excellent page.