Teaching by Principles

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  • Topic: Second language acquisition, Communicative language teaching, Language acquisition
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Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy

Brown, H. D. (1994). Teaching by principles: An interactive approach to language pedagogy. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall Regents. 416 pp. Reviewed by Gail Schaefer Fu
The Chinese University of Hong Kong

H. Douglas Brown's Teaching by Principles is intended for teachers in training -- those who intend to be teachers but who have little or no classroom experience -- and for teachers who train teachers. It is centered, not surprisingly, around certain principles of language teaching and learning, echoing Brown's own Principles of Language Teaching and Learning (1994). His new book Teaching by Principles is itself a manifestation of the principles which it espouses and, while one is again tempted to say "not surprisingly," it is not always a given that authors in our profession themselves "do as they say." Brown does.

The book is organized into four main sections: Foundations for Classroom Practice; Context of Teaching; Designing and Implementing Classroom Techniques; and Classroom Practicalities. In an early chapter, Brown takes "a broad, sweeping look at twelve overarching principles of second language learning from which sound practice springs and on which [the reader's] teaching can be based" (p. 16). These he groups as cognitive, affective, and linguistic principles: 1. Automaticity; 2. Meaningful Learning; 3. The Anticipation of Reward; 4. The Intrinsic Motivation Principle; 5. Strategic Investment; 6. Language Ego; 7. Self-confidence; 8. Risk-taking; 9. The Language-Culture Connection; 10. The Native Language Effect; 11. Interlanguage; and 12. Communicative Competence.

If we turn Brown's principled approach around and apply it to the book itself, we can characterize twelve "principles of recommendation" which put Teaching by Principles on the "must read" list for anyone intending to be a teacher or anyone involved with those who are. These principles of recommendation follow:

THE PRINCIPLE OF CONTEXT: Brown's first chapter "where Do I Begin?" itself begins with a detailed description of a class and the sequence of activities which were observed during the lesson. While the lesson, Brown tells us beforehand, is "reasonably well planned, efficiently executed, and characteristic of current communicative language teaching methodology" (p. 5), it is not "perfect" and the reader might question or take issue with some things that happen in the class. He encourages the reader to note these aspects of the lesson and then compare them with Brown's own comments and questions which follow the description of the lesson. The book starts, in other words, with a concrete example of a context and it continues, where appropriate, in the same vein: the book feels grounded, throughout, in the classroom.

THE PRINCIPLE OF INTERACTIVITY: At the end of the first and every other chapter, Brown provides "Topics for Discussion, Action, and Research" which encourage readers to interact both with the text itself, with classmates, and with their own beliefs, convictions, and ideas. In his chapter on "The Present: An Informed Approach" Brown offers topics which invite readers to compare their responses with a partner, to observe an ESL class, to share their ideas in a small group, to write out definitions of their own, and to think back -- with certain criteria and characteristics in mind -- on lessons that they themselves may have taught. He attempts, in other words, to bring as much reflection, discussion, and interaction as he can (within the confines of the printed word) into this enterprise of learning to teach by principle.

THE PRINCIPLE OF PRACTICE: At appropriate points throughout the book, Brown includes opportunities for the reader to try to put into practice some of the ideas or principles which he has been discussing. In the chapter on "Techniques and Materials," for example, he reproduces a few pages from a typical course book and then...
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