I keep meaning to post something up on my blog, but as I originally feared life gets in the way! Anyway, I’m going to try to commit to posting something new every month. I think I’ll start by posting it here on the first page and then move it to another part of the site once I’ve got something else to put up – let’s see how that works. So, here’s a new post – enjoy 🙂

Earlier this year I was surprised at the IATEFL Conference in Glasgow when I went to see a panel discussion talking about key ideas for teaching in the 21st century. The panellists started talking about the 4 ‘Cs’ – what are these, I hear you ask? Communication, Creativity, Creative Thinking and Challenge. Now, I don’t think anyone would disagree that these are important concepts in pretty much all subjects, and not just English Language Teaching – but I still have a number of issues with the use of these words.

Let’s start with Communication. My understanding is that the idea that language is used for the purpose of communication had been around for quite a long time. I mean, just reaching up to my bookshelf I can find Communicative Language Teaching – Littlewood (CUP, 1981) and Communicative Methodology in Language Teaching – Brumfit (CUP, 1984) and these were by no means the first books on this topic. And even the work of behaviourists in the 50s, the idea of a functional / notional syllabus in the early 70s etc, mentioned communication.  So what makes this key for the 21st century?

Creativity – is there anyone who disagrees with the need for learners to be creative? Now, there might be a question as to whether creativity can be taught, but we can certainly provide opportunities for our students to show their creativity. We can encourage it and we can reward it.

Challenge – again any disagreement? The only disagreement would be over what constitutes challenge, the level of the challenge and what is actually challenging. But, stop! – let’s think for a minute. Won’t this depend on the individual students? Trying to set levels, define what challenge is … these are red herrings! What we should be addressing is why challenge isn’t already included in teaching, if it isn’t.

And finally that brings me to Creative Thinking. My first worry with this concept is that it seems to be a jump too far. I think we need to step back and ask ourselves: what about thinking? Again, I’m not sure how much we can ‘teach’ thinking. We can certainly provide opportunities for it to take place. We can look at different strategies and different ways of thinking about something. But surely, what we are doing is making students aware of the different possibilities and giving them the space in which to think. Of course, Creative Thinking goes back to theories such as Bloom’s taxonomy – nothing wrong with that, but why is this something special for the 21st century?

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