My first confession is that many academic articles and books in our profession put me to sleep. There are exceptions, but I find much of the scholarly output boring and uninteresting.
However, I strongly believe in the importance of theory in everything we do, including teaching, research and materials development. Even though we might not be aware of it, our professional lives rest firmly on a theoretical foundation. Nothing is as important as a good theory.
Is there a contradiction between my first confession and my belief about the importance of theory? I do not think so. It is not theoretical concerns that I reject but the theoretical foci of much of what I find in scholarly books and journals: issues not relevant to my major interest -- the teaching and learning of foreign languages in general, or of English in particular.
To capture my attention, scholarly work has to have teaching and learning as its theoretical focus. That means I usually ignore articles, for example, that have a section entitled "Implications for the Classroom." Such sections are generally tacked on to reports of investigations that had little to do with teaching and learning and have little to offer language teachers. The audience for such writings is other scholars or researchers, not language teachers.
That brings me to my second confession. I confess to enjoy teaching English to speakers of other languages. I really like it! Even though I have an academic appointment in a university where a premium is placed on research and publication, I try to keep one foot firmly planted in the ELT classroom.
Is there another contradiction lurking here? What does teaching have to do with theory and research? I believe that the classroom informs both theory and research. Theory and research properly can have their origins in the classroom. The dominant position is the opposite -- that we apply theory and the results of research to the classroom, but I disagree. Important theoretical and research questions easily flow from our classrooms.
I believe that my scholarly activities reflect the centrality of the classroom to theory and research. For example, my work in extensive reading (e.g., Day & Bamford, 1998) emerged from an elective reading course I taught in a private Japanese high school. I felt something was missing from the skills and drills approach and realized I wanted my students to enjoy reading, to realize the benefits that come from reading for reading's sake. My search for ways to this led me to extensive reading.
My interest in failed lessons, the subject of one of my JALT99 presentations, Busted Lessons: When Bad Things Happen to Good Teachers, arose from teachers' classroom experiences (including my own). I was talking with an ESL teacher who related how a recent class she taught was a "complete bust . . . everything went wrong." I commiserated and told her a similar event of my own. This led me to investigate, and I learned that experienced and inexperienced teachers handle busted lessons differently; that has implications for teacher development.
The JALT99 workshop that I will offer on developing comprehension questions grew out of my ELT reading classrooms. I got tired of the repetitious comprehension questions in the materials I was using. So, like most teachers, I made up my own. Once I started, I read articles on the nature of comprehension. Then, to save myself from re-inventing the wheel, I developed a chart that displayed levels of comprehension and types and forms of questions. My unhappiness with the commercial materials I used in my reading classes also influenced my work in developing ELT materials. Because the materials I used were so trivial and boring for both my students and me, I vowed that any materials that I developed would deal with important and interesting concerns. So when Junko Yamanaka and I wrote Impact Issues (1998) and Impact Topics (1999), we included subjects such as capital punishment, spouse abuse, and infidelity.
My third confession is that I find developing materials as satisfying, rewarding, and challenging as doing research. It is exciting to write a compelling and comprehensive story on a real-life topic such as sexual identity or stealing and then make an activity that helps students examine and express their beliefs on the topic. I close with a declaration, not a fourth confession: I find the annual JALT conference a stimulating and well-balanced mixture of pedagogy, research and theory. There is always something for everyone interested in teaching, materials, and research. I hope to see you there!
- Day, R. R. (1999, October). Busted lessons: When bad things happen to good teachers. To be presented at the International Conference of the Japan Association for Language Teaching, Maebashi, Japan.
- Day, R. R. (1999, October). Developing comprehension questions. Work-shop to be given at the International Conference of the Japan Associa-tion for Language Teaching, Maebashi, Japan.
- Day, R. R., & Bamford, J. (1998). Extensive reading in the second language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Day, R. R., & Yamanaka, J. (1998). Impact issues. Hong Kong: Longman Asia ELT.
- Day, R. R., & Yamanaka, J. (1999). Impact topics. Hong Kong: Longman Asia ELT.