Harrogate: Russel Mayne – Recognizing Pseudoscience in ELT

It’s been a long time since I attended a conference that I felt actually had deep and interesting content, interesting to me, I mean. It always seems that the content is mostly quite bland (so no one disagrees, I always imagine) or it’s just too rudimentary or it just recycles old ideas, but I’m impressed so far by some of the content coming from Harrogate.
I warn you that you may find this one a bit challenging to your view, or even offensive. (There’s some humor that may be difficult to get for those using English as a secondary language and that probably won’t cross cultural boundaries as well.) Proceed with caution if you’re easily offended, because Mayne confronts ELT practices that have no evidence backing them up and yet remain very popular. He makes fun of things you may be quite fond of, because Mayne talks about how to identify pseudoscience in ELT. He says…
“Pseudoscience is something which looks like science… but it lacks the crucial ingredient of science… evidence.”
The sound buzzes a bit in the first minutes, so mine starts a little into it and the sound evens out in a moment. If you want to watch from the beginning go to their site to watch. The video is a bit slow to load either way.

So, remember, I’m commenting on the videos from my point of view only, but, personally, I love this one, because Mayne specifically talks about a number of fields that I think are fluff and nonsense. Mayne refers to them as neuromyths: learning styles, multiples intelligences, brain gym, and neuro-linguistic programming. (I’ve done some ghostwriting in related fields so I relate quite strongly to this discussion. I’ve seen up close and personal, and been paid to fix, the way the promoters of these ideas make them look like science, when they clearly aren’t so I know what he’s talking about.)
I specifically don’t like these things being pushed on teachers because, let’s just admit it, teachers have enough work to do without dealing with fluff and nonsense.
Mayne, surprisingly since he’s at Harrogate with many of these people, specifically calls out some big names in the field and the British Council for popularizing these neuromyths that are “intuitive and plausible” and seemingly “learner-centric” but not evidence-based.
He says these neuromyths are believed because they “seem personal in the same way horoscopes do” and people believe what they want to believe.
Mayne then gives us a baloney detection kit – some questions for helping you evaluate techniques and recognize pseudoscience. These are a great way for our young pre-service teachers to think critically about their own practice and what they are learning and an especially important process for our young research scholars as they consider teachers topics.
Btw, he does say Thornbury, our interviewee from yesterday, looks at these things critically in the same way he does, and he quotes Swan (I’m a big fan), saying…
“You don’t make things true just by saying they are.”
For those of us who care about truth, this means something. If you don’t understand or don’t agree that testing theories with valid scientific methods has great value, you won’t appreciate this much, but do keep in mind that we in education have a long history of distorting pedagogical theory between the time it is theorized by researchers and the time it gets to teachers. One of the best parts of this talk is Mayne’s story about how Howard Gardner, the inventor of “Multiple Intelligences”, was disturbed by the way his ideas had been mis-used, so he intervened and had their use removed from a school!

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