Review of Values in English Language Teaching
Date: Fri, 24 Sep 2004 17:02:23 -0500
From: Nat Bartels
Subject: Values of English Language Teaching
AUTHOR: Johnston, Bill
TITLE: Values in English Language Teaching
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Nat Bartels, Oklahoma State University at Tulsa
[This review was received 24 Sept 2004, but was not posted at the time
because of technical problems in submitting it. We did not notice that it
had not been posted until now. We apologize to the reviewer, the author
and the publisher for the delay. --Eds.]
This book introduces the reader to the kinds of moral issues and dilemmas
which underlie language teaching. While discussions of language teaching
tend to center on general issues of language acquisition (input,
negotiation of meaning, etc.), Johnston's argument is that language
teaching is principally about navigating the moral issues that teachers
are constantly facing, such as whether to pass students who have not done
well, but face devastating consequences if they do not pass the course
(such as loss of jobs, scholarships, etc.
Chapter 1:The Teacher as a Moral Agent. This chapter explores the main
thesis of the book. Johnston first provides definitions of terms such as
morality, values, etc. and continues on to review the literature on values
in teaching in the field of education. Johnston concludes the chapter by
listing reasons why the study of values in English language teaching, for
example "ELT involves efforts to change people; we assume that such change
is meant to be for the better, and thus it is a moral endeavor" (p. 18)
Chapter 2: Morality in Classroom Interaction. This chapter is the heart of
the book. Using anecdotes and classroom transcripts, Johnston explores the
complexity of classroom moral problems, from enforcement of class rules to
responding to students' views to choosing and working with curriculum and
textbooks. For example, Johnston presents a transcript of a teacher
discussing what the students would do when they returned to their home
country. One theme that emerged in the discussion is the influence of
husbands on wives decisions to work. This leads to the following exchange:
Teacher: Guys? Do you want your wife to work?
Student 2: If she wants a job, I'll allow her to work
Teacher: You'll ALLOW her? [General laughter]
In this example, the teacher feels that it is important to respect the
students and their views, so she does not directly confront student's
argument. Nevertheless, this is an example of what Johnston calls "the
subtle ways in which what the teacher does and says sends moral messages"
(p. 31), even when they are trying to be respectful and unbiased. It is
argued that teachers need to learn to be in control of such subtle
messages. Chapter 3: Values and the Politics of English Language
Teaching. This chapter explores the issue of power and language teaching.
Johnston presents a very down to earth description and discussion of
English language teaching and problems such as the effects of colonialism,
the role of English in the decline of minority language, the political
effect of teaching English to US immigrants and refugees, the dominance of
English in world business and media, and the role of English in
globalization. He then, in a refreshingly non-ideological way, discusses
responses to these problems such as critical pedagogy and addresses, given
the political nature of their trade, whether English language teaching
needs to be politicized.
Chapter 4: The Morality of Testing and Assessment. This chapter continues
on to look at moral problems in assessing classroom work, such as
potential conflicts between the teacher as instructor and the teacher as
evaluator. These issues have been explore more fully elsewhere, for
example in Elana Shohamy's "The Power of Tests".
Chapter 5: Three Facets of Language Teacher Identity. All too often
teachers are treated as people who uniformly manipulate general factors
such as linguistic input and noticing, or who struggle with generic
problems of teacher-student relationships. This chapter, however, shows
how an important part of teaching is each teacher's individual identity
and how they choose to express this and live this, or not, with their
students. A range of factors are discussed from attitudes towards
authority vs. solidarity to students to the issue of religion and its
place in ELT. (While some, like Edge (2003) have only focused on negative
aspects of this relationship, Johnston presents a much more balanced view.)
Chapter 6: Values in Teacher Development. This chapter moves away from
teaching itself to look at how teachers develop over time. It not only
covers typical topics such as teacher education vs. teacher development,
teacher research, and expectations of advocacy and marginal status of
ESL/EFL teachers. However, the chapter also looks at career paths for
English teachers, an issue that is typically ignored in the academic
literature as teachers' career paths are often very different from
Chapter 7: Dilemmas and Foundations in English Language Teaching. In this
chapter Johnston summarizes his arguments that each teacher's stance on
moral issues is the foundation for their teaching and, thus, teachers need
to reflect on their beliefs and values. Johnston lists typical dilemmas in
ELT, such as content vs. form, process vs. product or authority vs.
solidarity, which can be used by teacher to reflect on the moral
foundations of their teaching.
This is a very important book which does a very good job of discussing a
central issue in language teaching which has received relatively little
notice in the literature. It is very well written in that it is
provocative without being ideological and Johnston uses examples and
classroom transcripts liberally to make his points clear to the reader.
A shortcoming of the book is that while the issue of values and ELT is
explored in depth, the question of the impact of knowledge about language
(i.e. knowledge of SLA, language analysis, testing, etc.) on teachers'
values and how these are enacted in teaching practice is virtually
ignored. Is knowledge of knowledge about language useless for teachers, or
does it help them achieve their values in teaching more precisely? This
question is not explored at all in the book.
Another potential shortcoming of the book is that, although it presents
the issues in general well, there is little concerted effort throughout
the book to help teachers thoroughly examine their own values for ELT.
There really aren't any examples of teachers' using the insights Johnston
presents to understand their teaching better and improve their teaching.
The examples presented are mainly static, situated in a specific time, and
do not show how teachers gain facility of using their values for teaching
over time. The idea seems to be that if teacher understand Johnston's
arguments in general, then they will be able to figure out to reflect on
their own moral stance without much outside help; an assumption that I
The book's primary audience is teachers who are interested in
understanding more about their own practice. Despite the shortcomings
mentioned above, I think this book would be very helpful and very
interesting for this audience as it presents central issues that are
rarely dealt with in the ELT literature. For the same reason, this would
be an excellent additional text for a TESOL methods course. Beyond this,
it would make good reading for those involved in applied linguistics (SLA,
language analysis, etc.) and really everyone involved in language teacher
education to help them better understand the complexity of language
Edge, Julian (2003) Imperial troopers and servants of the lord: A vision
for TESOL for the 21st century. TESOL Quarterly, 37(4), 701-709.
Shohamy, Elana (2001) The Power of Tests. Pearson.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Nat Bartels teaches applied linguistics and teaching methodology at
Oklahoma State University at Tulsa. He has published articles on teacher
education and teacher knowledge in the TESOL Quarterly and Teaching &
Teacher Education, and is the editor of "Applied Linguistics and Language
Teacher Education" (Kluwer, 2004).