Language Teaching Insights from Other Fields: Psychology, Business, Brain Science and More

Writer(s): 
Bruce Lander, Matsuyama University
Publisher: 
TESOL Press

[Christopher Stillwell. Washington, US: TESOL Press, 2015. pp. 177, ¥7,448. ISBN: 978-1942223481.]

Stillwell has gathered 15 current educators in the field of EFL and ESL who relate their past personal experiences in an array of professions to the modern-day language teacher. Several of these educators you may know well, with current Japan-based authors such as Marc Helgesen, Steven Quasha, Robert Murphy, and Luke Carson providing a chapter each. Language Teaching Insights from Other Fields: Psychology, Business, Brain Science and More is the second in the series, the first book had a similar title that focused on a different set of professions (Stillwell, 2013). 

In a similar fashion to the first book in the series, this text offers an in-depth account of how those past experiences can help practitioners plan lessons, build on pedagogical practices and help teachers develop professionally. The author of each chapter provides several tips or suggestions that can relate to their profession now as a foreign language teacher. Each of these tips provide invaluable insight into how the skill sets of other occupations are interlinked to both the theory and practice of foreign language education. The book is divided up into four different parts: (a) Getting students invested in learning; (b) planning an effective course; (c) expanding the teacher’s toolbox; and (d) enhancing teacher effectiveness.

In the first chapter of this book, Stillwell, the author and main editor of the series, makes the first analogy between teaching and what he learnt as a vacuum cleaner salesman. Metaphors to understand teaching through the experience of other occupations continue throughout the book, and in almost every chapter a new metaphor is introduced. This first one suggests that whatever a salesman sells, despite what you may feel about the product (i.e. your class goals and objectives), you must always trust what you sell and introduce it with confidence, pride and appeal. Following the metaphor of your teaching style as a product, Hendrickson suggests that as teachers we should identify our core message from an early stage and acknowledge how it can differentiate you from other teachers. 

One of the most profound messages that emanates in the early chapters is the principle of active learning. Robert Murphy introduces his innovative concept of NeuroELT which describes how studies in neuroscience may help to shed light on understanding foreign language acquisition. Murphy also provides other pieces of valuable advice that can help to keep students active. He suggests that we can captivate our audience by interchanging class plans to stimulate thinking and activate learning styles that may not normally be used. What these things do, according to Murphy, is help free teachers and students from potential ruts, foster a more social atmosphere, and increase learning across the board (Wilson & Conyers, 2013). Every chapter in this book also provides a reference list of further readings.

This book provides many inspirational words of advice and suggestions. For example, a parallel is drawn to marketing and teaching, and the harsh reality that students, as the customers, constantly compare teachers and classes as they would when shopping, and make internal judgements about which product they favour. Here the author declares that just like in the business marketplace, education is continually changing and evolving, and suggests that teachers improve their pedagogy by adopting new innovative ways to motivate students. Perhaps to maintain customer satisfaction teachers could include elements of surprise, intrigue, humour, and confidence building in every lesson (Smith, 2011). Throughout this book there are rational observations and remarks that make you think “that’s so true.” One such assertion was that our students will forget anything, from textbooks, bags, stationary and notebooks, but rarely if ever, will they forget their phones. As teachers, if we can harness this trait by establishing some form of language exchange through the mobile platform then we can subtly shift the consumer’s conception of the tasks at hand from onerous and time-consuming to fun and engaging.   

I think the premise behind Language Teaching Insights from Other Fields: Psychology, Business, Brain Science and More is very simple: There is a lot to learn from skills developed in other professions. This book is an excellent opportunity for current practicing teachers to contemplate their pedagogical approaches and provides countless examples of how you can improve and develop as a teacher. For this price, however, you would expect a volume twice or three times this size. Other than that, this is an excellent read. I would recommend this title for a teacher-training course, or for pedagogical studies at advanced undergraduate level or the early stages of a postgraduate course.

References 

  • Smith, M. (2011). The new relationship marketing: How to build a large, loyal, profitable network using the social web. New Jersey, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Stillwell, C. (2013). Language teaching insights from other fields: Sports, arts, design, and more. Washington, DC: TESOL Press.
  • Wilson, D. L. & Conyers, M. (2013). Five big ideas for effective teaching: Connecting mind, brain, and education research to classroom practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
 
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