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Why We Do What We Do?
Building a Better ESL Knowledge Base

Peter J. CastagnaroIn a recent exchange on the TESL-L listserv regarding the roles of experience and theoretical knowledge in determining classroom practice, Temple University Japan's Peter J. Castagnaro called for a new paradigm for developing sources of relevant knowledge about ESL teaching. He has contributed his comment here for the readers of ESL MiniConference Online.

When you say the "belief" aspect of teaching removes education from straightforward experimental designs, there is your "reason" at work based on your experience (as well as Prabhu's). But experience unfettered by controls is rarely enough (it is enough when it achieves replicable, pragmatic success, and can then be termed "craft").

Experience that uses controls is science, but needn't be the controls that you have mentioned, those that center on "groups" and the cult of the average (as has up to now dominated much TESOL research). There are single case experimental designs that might take us further. These days TESOL's over reliance on group comparison research is perhaps about to be eclipsed by qualitative methods or ethnography which are said to contribute to our "understanding" or "knowledge" (and NOT simply churning up variables for later "real" research).

Little will be accomplished, since for the most part these contribute only generic, metaphorical, or metronymical extensions within our TESOL "verbal community," discovering and isolating no new contingent relationships. It would be a depressing situation except for the fact that there ARE successful educational advances in parallel areas, and these in the area of language AND based on empirical research. Recent work in childhood autism and unmotivated, underprepared students, for example. These areas have brought in research based practices from precision teaching, direct instruction, and behavior analysis with remarkable positive effect. Check out Morningside Academy in Seattle, or the direct instruction, or precision teaching e-mail discussions lists.

Comment by Peter J. Castagnaro, M.Ed.
IELP/START/ Temple University Japan
Tokyo, Japan

2002 ESL MiniConference Online