Creative Education
2011. Vol.2, No.4, 363-369
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/ce.2011.24051
Eclecticism or Principled Eclecticism
Lianli Gao
China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, Beijing, China.
Received May 21st, 2011; revised June 28th, 2011; accepted July 5th, 2011.
The introduction of a new mandatory policy for the teaching of English at the higher education level in China,
College English Curriculum Requirements (CECR, published in 2004), had the intention of modernising and
improving the quality of English teaching at the tertiary level in China. The policy had a focus on student cen-
tred approaches to learning and the use of technology to support this process. This paper reports on a study that
investigated the views of teachers, administrators and policy makers about the intended pedagogical shift em-
bedded in the policy and the success of the policy in achieving this goal. The paper attempts to clarify how lec-
turers in higher education in China have been oriented by the CECR towards pedagogical change. To achieve
this purpose, the paper reviews current issues in the context of English teaching at tertiary level in China and at-
tempts to frame them in a conceptualisation of eclecticism and principled eclecticism. Then, the paper analyses
the responses of teachers, administrators and policy makers, based on an analysis framework developed by Ma-
ton (2004) from the work of Bourdieu (1993) and Bernstein (2000), to uncover the relationship between the pol-
icy and the reality. The study found that while teachers are eager to make change themselves, in reality, the re-
quirement of a student centred approach and new technical teaching in the policy, challenges teachers’ current
knowledge in terms of their current training in understanding curriculum and syllabus, their knowledge of prin-
cipled eclecticism and computer teaching, and how to deal with textbook teaching and the College English Test.
The paper concludes that there is a gap between the policy and reality, and that a gap exists therefore between
eclecticism and principled eclecticism in pedagogy in tertiary English teaching in the context of Chin a.
Keywords: Eclecticism, Principled Eclecticism, Tertiary English Teaching
One view of English language instruction at university level
in China is that Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) has
evolved into “eclectic” teaching (Liu & Dai 2003). The use of
an eclectic approach to tertiary English teaching in China was
initially described by Luo, He & Yang (2001). They define the
eclectic method not as a concrete, single method, but as a
method, which combines listening, speaking, reading, and writ-
ing and may include some practice in the classroom. They
claim that the current preferred teaching methods are an inte-
gration of Grammar-Translation, structural method and CLT
and advise teachers to take advantage of all other methods
whilst avoiding their disadvantages. They suggest that there are
five features of successful eclectic teaching: 1) determine the
purposes of each individual method; 2) be flexible in the selec-
tion and application of each method; 3) make each method
effective; 4) consider the appropriateness of each method and 5)
maintain the continuity of the whole teaching process, and di-
vide the operation into three stages: a) teacher-centred at the
input stage; b) learner-centred at the practice stage; and c) lear-
ner-centred at the production stage. While these opinions are
based on their personal experience, they tend to reflect the pre-
sent thinking of teachers and their confusion over English lan-
guage teaching th e or ie s and practice.
The policy document College English Curriculum Require-
ments (hereafter referred to as CECR 2004) for teaching Eng-
lish to university students with a non-English major was pub-
lished in 2004 with the intention of modernising and improving
the quality of English teaching. Some aspects of the policy, in
terms of teaching methodology, seem to be well considered.
Firstly, the document illustrates the basic structure of a sug-
gested model, indicating the role of students and teachers, the
content of teaching (five skills) and the model of teaching. It
suggests that there are two types of “environments of teaching”:
self-learning tutoring, which is based on computer-based teach-
ing and regular classroom-based teaching (see Figure 1 below).
In addition, the process of computer-based English learning
is also provided, as shown in Figure 2 although there is no fur-
ther interpretation for why it has been designed this way and
how it can be transformed into classroom practice.
The definition of teaching approach (or teaching methodol-
ogy) does seem to be implicit in the policy. CECR 2004 sug-
gests that a “teaching model” should be built on modern infor-
mation technology, particularly network technology, so that
English language teaching will be free from the constraints of
time or place and geared towards students individualised and
autonomous learning. The new model should combine the prin-
ciples of practicality, knowledge and interest, mobilise the initia-
tiv e of b oth te a c h e rs and students, and attach particular import-
Figure 1.
Computer- and classroom-based teaching (CECR 2004, p. 33 Graph 1).
Figure 2.
Process of computer-based English learning (CECR 2004, p. 35 Graph
ance to the central role of students in the teaching and learning
process. This model should technically attain a high level of
interactivity, feasibility and operability. In addition, it should
take into full account and incorporate into it the strengths of
the current model, while fully employing modern information
technology (CECR 2004: p. 23).
However, there is little explanation of the theoretical ration-
ale underpinning such a model and little guidance as to how
such a model might be implemented (CECR 2004: p. 23)
… The new model should enable students to select materials
suited to their individual needs, make up for the limitations of
the conventional classroom teaching of listening and speaking,
and track down, record and check the progress of learning as
well as teaching as coaching, … It is proposed that the credits
acquired via computer-based learning account for 30% - 50%
of the total (p. 23).
This model is technology-oriented with the intention to
achieve student autonomous learning. While the model makes
heavy demands in its implementation, it does not provide
guidance on what is meant in terms of language learning and its
related pedagogy, nor does it explain how to achieve students’
autonomous learning. Beyond these details, the policy also does
not define what “the current model” is. There is no explanation
of the theoretical rationale underpinning such a model and little
guidance as to how such a model might be implemented.
This lack of detail and depth in the policy does leave open
the potential for tertiary teachers to take up the most recent
teaching fad, typified by Ma’s enthusiasm for techniques in
grammar teaching such as “chain story”, “the hot seat”, or “in-
formation transfer” (Ma, 1998: p. 44-46). Such approaches in-
clude “the theme teaching model” (Ying et al., 1998) and “the
inquiring teaching model” (Liang & Gao, 2004). For instance,
Ying et al. (1998) propose a particular method based on the
rather unsurprising findings that teaching reading, writing, lis-
tening and speaking, based on the same topic, enlarges stu-
dents’ vocabulary and helps learners master “language points”
more easily.
Current tertiary English teaching in China also focuses on in-
troducing overseas teaching methods (Jia, 2004). Jia believes
that the purpose for doing so is that “as language teachers, we
need to learn something about language teaching, especially to
read some books on language teaching approaches and methods
by world famous applied linguists, so as to guide our teaching”
(2004: p. 74). Yi et al. (2004) advocate the genre approach
developed in Australia, “focusing on its assumptions about
language teaching and learning, the teaching and learning cycle,
and issues in application” (Yi et al., 2004: p. 33).
Such approaches can lead to uncritical adoption of whatever
is being promoted at the time by international “experts”, rather
than basing decisions on a well-considered theoretical position
in relation to the Chinese context. Brown (2002) has proposed
“principled eclecticism” as a possible way ahead where teach-
ers select what works within their own dynamic contexts based
on sound theories and research knowledge.
There has been some research on principled eclecticism in
English teaching at university level in China in the past few
years, such as the work by Yan, Zhou and Dai (2007) and
Wang (2001). The findings of Yan et al. (2007) came from
empirical research with a case study. The purpose of their study
was to “probe whether the real teaching practice of principled
eclecticism was as eclectic and principled as the proponents
described at the theoretical level” (2007: p. 2). The study re-
ported that
eclecticism and principled eclecticism have been widely
accepted and practiced with or without the College English
teachers awareness of the methodological issues. What is
more, the case study has proved principled eclecticism in IELP
in College English teaching to be warmly welcomed by the
students and fruitful in effect (p. 13).
However, there seems to be little information on how the re-
searchers constructed their survey and interview protocols and
the paper does not reveal why their analysis is appropriate and
While the above discussion sheds light on some of the issues
surrounding changes in tertiary English pedagogy in China and
the heavy demands required by the eclectic approach, they say
nothing about the relationship between the policy and the real-
ity in pedagogy. Additionally, the complicated relationship be-
tween the policy and reality in terms of principled eclecticism
in tertiary English teaching has not been seriously considered.
In order to investigate this gap in understanding of the cur-
rent situation in English language teaching in China following
the introduction of CECR, the study reported here draws on the
responses of teachers, administrators and policy-makers to cur-
rent challenges of College English Curriculum Requirements
2004. The purpose of the paper is to clarify how lecturers in
English teaching at university level have been oriented by the
CECR towards pedagogical change. In the context of this paper
pedagogical change is considered as being performed in prac-
tice and a broad definition of change is assumed. Accordingly,
change is interpreted as “a generic term, which subsumes a
whole family of concepts such as ‘innovation’, ‘development’
and adoption” (Marsh, 2000: p. 380).
In order to achieve this purpose, the study attempts to ad-
dress the following research questions:
1) What expectations were placed on university teachers of
English in relation to principled eclecticism with the introduc-
tion of the CECR (2004);
2) What were the responses to these expectations from
L. L. GAO 365
teachers, administrators and policy-makers?
Eclecticism and Principled Eclecticis m
There is a view that the prerequisite for adequate perception
of language learning and teaching is to understand theories
holistically, with no “black and white” prescription as to teach-
ing approaches. Nunan (1991: p. 228) states that “it has been
realised that there never was and probably never will be a
method for all”. From the standpoint of critical pedagogy, ra-
ther than representing the results of steady, linear progress,
Pennycook (1989) believes that current language pedagogy is
merely different configurations of the same basic options, wh-
ich are coloured by dynamic social, political or philosophical
Such complexity gives rise to the question of how teachers
are to evaluate the efficacy of the different theories. To address
this, Brown (2002) has proposed “principled eclecticism”, where
teachers select what works within their own dynamic contexts.
Brown claims that principled eclecticism helps language teach-
ers participate in a teaching process of “diagnosis, treatment,
and assessment” (Brown, 2002: p. 13). It requires that teachers
diagnose proper curricular treatment for learners’ needs in their
specific context, make effective pedagogical designs for appro-
priate objectives, and assess accomplishment of curricular ob-
jectives (Brown, 2002). Principled eclecticism challenges te-
achers in that any decision-making must be based on a thorough
and holistic understanding of all learning theories and related
pedagogies, in terms of the purpose and context of language
learning, the needs of the language learners, how language is
learned, and how and what teaching is all about (Brown 2002).
To address a similar issue, Kumaravadivelu (2001) provides
an organising principle—the pedagogic parameters of particu-
larity, practicality, and possibility—to bring learners, teachers
and teacher educators together, in order to construct a post-
method pedagogy. He defines the post-method pedagogy as 1) a
focus on a context-sensitive language education based on a true
understanding of local linguistic, sociocultural, and political
particularities, 2) enabling teachers to construct their own the-
ory of practice, and 3) emphasising the socio-political con-
sciousness, in order to aid the quest for identity formation and
social transformation (2001: p. 537). The conceptualising, actu-
alising and problematising of post-method pedagogy reminds
us to address the research question in terms of the practices and
perceptions of tertiary English teachers in China, in a way that
reveals whether their practices and perceptions have changed
over time.
Principled eclecticism in this study in the context of English
teaching at university level neither simply refers to “t he use of a
variety of language learning activities, each of which may have
very different characteristics” (Mellow, 2002: p. 1) in terms of
teachers actions, nor holistically stands for a method searching
for a linguistic or sociocultural theory for the context in China.
What it does help address is whether teachers are able to know
why they do what they do (Larsen Freeman, 2000) in terms of
their perceptions of policy in theory and their beliefs in practice.
Research Method and Theoretical Framework
The issues discussed above need to be addressed with a
means of analysing and interpreting appropriate data, rather
than simply describing. Maton (2004a) outlines a sophisticated
conceptual framework that builds on, integrates and develops
the insights of Bourdieu (1993) and Bernstein (2000) within a
major study of higher education with concepts such as Auton-
omy, Specialisation, and Temporality1.
The concept of autonomy addresses relations between agents
within higher education and other arenas of social practice
(Maton, 2004a). Bourdieu (1993) highlights relative autonomy
as central to the way a field like higher education is structured
and as the key to understanding how external pressures might
affect practices within it. Simply put, Maton (2004a) applies
Bernstein’s notions of classification and framing to this issue of
external relations to describe various forms of autonomy. Here
two simple modalities are highlighted: stronger autonomy and
weaker autonomy. Changes in autonomy, which originate from
a new policy (such as CECR 2004) would have a profound
effect on the context of TET in China because it would control
the nature of change, teachers’ perceptions of the change, and
the actual practice of teaching in English language classrooms.
A second key concept drawn upon is that of “specialisation”.
This concerns the basis of claims to insight and legitimacy
within the field (Maton, 2004: p. 89). Bourdieu (1993) high-
lights how educational fields structure education practices by
emphasising that each field comprises a “field of positions”
(such as an institutional map) and a “field of stances” (such as a
disciplinary map). Bernstein (2000) highlights the structuring
significance of educational practices for fields by emphasising
the underlying principles generating knowledge structures.
Maton (2004a) integrates these ideas to establish the ways in
which agents and discourses within a field not only are posi-
tioned in a structure of knowers (or field of positions) but also
in a structure of knowledges (or field of position-takings). Ma-
ton suggests that each of these can be more or less emphasised
in practice as the basis of what makes someone or something
special or worthy of status.
Most important is that Maton (2004: p. 90) points out four
modalities for specialisation, among which is a knowledge code
emphasising mastery of specialised procedures, techniques or
skills and a knower code that emphasises the dispositions of the
subject, whether portrayed as “natural” abilities, cultivated
sensibilities or resulting from the subject’s social position. Spe-
cialisation focuses on the issue of the knowledge or the knower.
The key issue, for Maton (2004), is whether agents emphasise
knowledge and skills, or emphasise the way of thinking and
knowing which deals with attitudes and aptitudes. This is im-
portant because, for example, if the curriculum changed things
from very detailed procedures to very loose procedures with the
purpose of affecting attitudes, it would greatly impact upon the
way that teachers see themselves and the way that they see their
practices. It is significant, therefore, to inform teachers of what
the move is (from the knowledge code to knower code or from
the knower code to the knowledge code), why the move hap-
pens and how the move needs to be coded. This is an important
way for teachers to identify themselves and the elements in the
field of tertiary English teaching, which closely relate to the
teachers thems e lves.
The final concept drawn upon is “temporality”, which deals
with the issue of time and change, or more precisely orientation
to change (Maton, 2004: p. 92). Bourdieu (1993) emphasises
agents’ trajectories within a field as central to its structure.
Bernstein (2000) suggests we can talk of prospective and ret-
rospective identities when mapping contemporary educational
identities by highlighting issues of change and exploring the
1In See Maton, K. (2004). The Field of Higher Education: A Sociology o
Reproduction, Transformation, Change and the Conditions of Emergence
for Cultural S tudies. Cambridge: Cambridge Unive rs it y Press.
temporal orientations of knowledge structures2. Maton (2004a)
draws on these concepts to talk of codes of temporality and
describes two principal modalities: prospective and retrospec-
tive. Retrospective temporality refers to established positions in
a field whose characterising attributes are based on inheritance
from the past. Prospective temporality identifies the attributes
that are oriented towards newer forms. In a major study of
post-war English higher education, Maton (2004) finds that
prospective and retrospective temporalities are the main tradi-
tional modalities shaping the field and its change over time.
These three principles provide a simple way of tracing change
over time. These concepts are used to “code” Chinese tertiary
English teaching in terms of its past policies and practices,
contemporary policy changes and the attitudes, and the beliefs
and practices of English teachers. This helps to see whether
they have changed over time and to perceive the insight into the
relations between the policy and the reality in terms of eclecti-
cism and principled eclecticism (Gao, 2010).
The research design adopted here is basically a mixed mode
of inquiry, driven by the broader research questions: 1) What
expectations were placed on university teachers of English in
relation to principled eclecticism with the introduction of the
CECR (2004); 2) What were the responses to these expecta-
tions from teachers, administrators and policy-makers? The
mixed mode inquiry was implemented in two ways: 1) by way
of a survey, in order to obtain a wide cross-section of views and
information; and 2) through individual interviews, in order to
explore issues in greater depth3. Policy statements and teachers’
responses were examined giving rise to questions such as how
policy was implemented and what were teacher’s general per-
ceptions and practices in response to these documents.
To answer the research questions, a semi-structured survey
instrument, with Likert scale was constructed, trialled, modified
and implemented to collect, describe, compare, contrast, clas-
sify, analyse and interpret the perceptions of teachers at six
universities in China. The survey included 12 closed questions
and 4 open questions. A pilot survey was conducted to facilitate
testing of the survey instrument and a number of changes were
made to the instrument. The revised survey was distributed to
510 academics and 293 surveys were collected.
The survey enabled the collection of information from a
large number of teacher participants in different places. The
survey results provided a variety of responses because the sur-
vey included open-ended responses from the participants. How-
ever, there were also some issues, which challenged the quality
of the survey data. Firstly, since the survey had to be adminis-
tered by other people in universities in other cities, it was diffi-
cult to control the process of conducting the survey. Secondly,
in the interest of practicality, the information was limited to
“yes/no” or short answers rather than “why” questions.
Interviews were conducted with nineteen teachers, six ad-
ministrators and three policy makers from six universities
across China. The document review process informed questions
designed for the teacher survey and interviews, such as issues
of curriculum, pedagogy and teachers’ professionalism. The
teacher interviews in turn provided the context for interviews
with administrators and policy makers. In this sense, the docu-
ment analysis and the responses of interviews were coded to
attempt to give some insights into the complicated picture of
tertiary English teachers at university level in China and to
answer the research questions
The semi-structured interview schedule was composed of 4
questions with 34 sub-questions and was designed to collect
teacher perceptions. Following analysis of the teacher inter-
views, the semi-structured interview protocols were developed
for administrators and policy makers with each tool being re-
viewed by academics working in the field for clarity, ambiguity
and alignment with the research questions before they were
translated into Chinese. Changes were made to the interview
questions to address issues that arose following trials of each
protocol. The revised interview consisted of a semi-structured
schedule with opportunities for probing where necessary and
for free response where the interviewees indicated the desire to
go beyond the schedule. Interviews were digitally recorded and
field notes were collected during this process. The advantage of
the interview was that it allowed participants to introduce their
own perspectives and to clarify their responses in a more dis-
cursive contex t .
The participants were identified in Harbin, Beijing, and
Shanghai and selected according to different age, gender, insti-
tution, qualifications, experience, and working status. Partici-
pants generously gave an average time of more than an hour
and a half of direct personal contact, which enabled the gaining
of the forthright opinions of those working “at the coalface”. To
maintain anonymity, the identities of all participants have been
coded as T (1-19) for teachers, A (1-6) for administrators and P
(1-3) for policy makers.
Initial analysis of the interview data involved coding emer-
gent themes and then, Maton’s (2004) three concepts of “tem-
porality”, autonomy” and “specialisation” were adopted to iden-
tify and interpret key relationships and interrelationships be-
tween policy and reality, teachers and the context in the social
scientific analysis of textual data.
Teachers’ Responses to Eclecticism and
Principled Eclecticism
Teachers appear to have an inadequate understanding of the
concept of principled eclecticism from College English Cur-
riculum Requirements (2004). This can be seen in the result of
the first question in the survey (Q1: To what extent are you
familiar with the national college English syllabus?). It shows
that 57.3% of teacher participants are very familiar with CECR
(2004) while 31.1% of them knew “somewhat” of it. 11.6% of
them did not know of it. However, when the interview partici-
pants were asked “In which way do you think the new curricu-
lum impacts on your teaching?” two of them said “vocabulary
is enlarged”; three of them mentioned that “we will make use of
the computer-based model in teaching later”. Half of the teach-
ers did not answer this question. This might suggest that many
teachers have not been made aware of the changes in the new
curriculum or they might not have sufficient background to
understand the implications of the introduction of CECR 2004
for them.
2Bernstein (2000: p. 65) describes various temporal educational identities,
which remains at the level of a mapping of possible positions; it is an “em-
bryonic outli ne”.
3Focus group interviews were considered culturally inappropriate (Hale,
2004), as teachers were unlik ely to rev eal their t rue feelin gs in f ront of t heir
Teacher’s understanding of the concepts of eclecticism and
principled eclecticism for English teachers at university level in
China seem to be blurred. This is also reflected in the results of
the survey, as seen in answers to Questions 4 (What are your
urrent approaches to your English teaching?) (See Table 1) c
L. L. GAO 367
Table 1.
Teachers responses a b o u t t h e i r c u r rent approach to Eng l i s h te a c h i ng.
Grammar-translation Communicative Mixed methods Missing data Total
91 (31.1%) 46 (15.7%) 68 (23.2 %) 88 (30%) 293 (100%)
cises to help students pass CET4; the textbook is not used any-
and Question 5 (Was there a change in your teaching ap-
proaches in the past few years?) (See Table 2). These comments show that textbook teaching could be
viewed as the predominant teaching approach since eleven
teacher participants emphasised this point. This matches the
result from Question 6 (Do you teach based on textbooks?),
which indicates that 87% of teachers were dependent on the
textbooks for their teaching. The comments above also shows
the dominant position of the College English Test—Band 4 in
helping shape the pedagogy in tertiary English teaching in
Table 1 shows that, 31.1% of teachers used the traditional
method; this might indicate that the teachers were lacking in
confidence, in their ability to implement the new teaching
model or that they perceived that a traditional teaching model
was appropriate for their context. It also shows that 23.2% of
teachers used eclectic approaches, whilst 30% did not answer
the question. The fact that such a sizeable proportion of teach-
ers (30%) did not answer the question suggests that they might
not have been sure of exactly what teaching methods they were
using or possibly they did not recognise the terms used for the
different teaching approaches. Other comments suggest that lecturers are not sure why they
do what they are doing in their practical teaching. The comment
below by T6, from a university in Harbin, indicates a willing-
ness to adopt a student-centred approach, but a lack of under-
standing of how this might work:
The responses to Question 5 on whether there was a change
in their teaching approaches in the past few years are in contra-
diction with the results of Question 4. I always adjust my teaching, because I have to find out what
students really like. I help students remember more vocabulary ,
to increase their reading ability, by teaching them to see how it
is formed and how to use them in context. I got to know this
method from my students, because they often gave up English
learning, because of the large vocabulary. I then put vocabu-
lary and sentence patterns into translation. This is practical,
because you cannot ignore Chinese meaning when you learn
The results for Question 5 show that most (90.1%) teachers
claimed to have changed their teaching methods in the recent
past, and that only 7.8% had not made any change. This figure
implies that almost all teachers were trying new teaching meth-
ods, even though responses to Question 4 indicated that only
23.2% of them used eclectic approaches and 31.1% used tradi-
tional approaches. This issue will be explored in the interviews.
These conflicting results could indicate that the teachers’ un-
derstanding of pedagogical methodology may be variable. Along
with the shift to computer-based learning, the change from a
teacher-centred model to a student-centred philosophy radically
challenges the inadequate teaching methodology of the teacher
transmitting knowledge to students who are becoming active,
independent learners and users of the language.
Similarly, T9, a lecturer from Harbin, shows a desire to change,
though his efforts demonstrate confusion, regarding what is
meant by learner-centred pedagogy:
I want to change what I am doing, because it is not only for
myself. I focus on the students language ability. I did an ex-
periment by adding one hour for listening each day. I asked the
students to repeat what they listened to.
Teachers’ ill-defined eclecticism and principled eclecticism
was also explored in the interviews to clarify the interpretation
of some of the survey results. Some comments from lecturers
suggest that the pedagogy implied in CECR 2004 is of little
relevance to their teaching, given the pressures of covering
textbook content and examination demands. T12 at a university
in Beijing, observed:
In addition, the administrators also noted the teachers’ blu-
rred understanding of pedagogy and the continued use of tradi-
tional methods. For instance, A6 in Harbin stated that:
Everybody knows that teachers teach vocabulary and gram-
mar in their English teaching in our universities. This is what is
known as dumb and deaf English4, which fails to make stu-
dents communicate with others. The reason for such a failure is
that teachers are not sure how to teach. We devote a lot of time
teaching English, but it is not done in an effective wa y.
To be honest, I do not know that much about computer
teaching. I use the CD-ROM for my teaching. For me, the
teaching model is exam teaching, before the College English
Test (Band 4/6), and textbook teaching after it. A1 from Shanghai pointed out that teachers were not guided
and supported in “how to teach” by both the national curricu-
lum as well as the university-based syllabus:
Further evidence of eclectic teaching including textbook tea-
ching and exam teaching were provided by T1, another Lec-
turer from Beijing: Principally, there should be something to interpret CECR
2004 further, to help teachers understand what to teach and
how to teach. However, in practical terms, the CECR and the
university syllabus do not offer anything for this.
…in terms of teaching method, I teach textbooks focused on
basic language knowledge, based on my own methods, such as
Grammar-Translation, or Audiolingualism in the first three
semesters. In the final semester, my teaching focuses on Col-
lege English Text (Band 4) by doing a large number of exer- Moreover, policy-maker participants have concerns about the
relationship between the policy and the implementation of the
policy. P3, one of the members of the committee for CECR
2004 from Beijing, stated that he worried that teachers might
not fully comprehend CECR 2004 because most of the lecturers
Table 2.
Teachers responses about a change in their teaching approach in the
past few years.
4“Dumb and deaf English”: stands for the unsatisfactory learning of English
in China, in particular, at university level. It means that after many years o
English language learning, students can neither understand English clearly
nor speak English fluently.
Yes No
Missing data Total
264 (90.1%) 23 (7.8%) 6 (2.0%) 293 (100.0%)
for English teaching at university level have backgrounds in
English for literature and linguistics rather than English educa-
However, P1, a policy-maker and key member of the com-
mittee for CECR 2004, pointed out that teachers’ present un-
derstanding of pedagogy matches the current English teaching
at university level.
Most teachers can be qualified for their present teaching,
because Reading, Writing and Translation are taught as gen-
eral English teaching. … Additionally, College English Test is
the main way to evaluate their teaching. Therefore, the present
methods they are using are sufficient for them.
The comments of policy-makers above might help interpret
the complication of current English teaching at university level
in China. The first comment shows that the confusion of teach-
ers towards principled eclecticism might come from their lack
of background. The second comment indicates that since the
main focus of current tertiary English teaching appears to be
general English teaching, teachers’ inadequate understanding of
principled eclecticism is not relevant for them in implementing
the national curriculum. All the responses from teachers, ad-
ministrators and policy-makers in the data survey and inter-
views suggest conflicts between the policy and the reality.
Policy versus Reality
In terms of temporality, CECR 2004 mandates great changes
in pedagogy, such as the new computer-teaching model (2004:
p. 23) and two types of classroom teaching, which are required
to remould the traditional teacher-centred approach. In reality,
there is little evidence of change in the practices of the teachers,
administrators and policy-makers on the ground. In most cases,
teachers are confused by the lack of clarity of the computer-
teaching model and the two types of classroom teaching, what
the teaching model is based on and how the model should be
implemented. As a result, they are unsure themselves as to how
to implement the model and so would have difficulty justifying
their approach in terms of principled eclecticism. Although
CECR 2004 requires a learner-centred approach, instead of a
teacher-centred one, it does not explain what the teaching phi-
losophy is in detail and does not provide any guidance about
what this teaching philosophy means in the Chinese context, or
how a learner-centred approach can be implemented. The push
for the use of new technologies was not understood thoroughly
as employing innovative techniques, but simply as a way to
reduce the burden of large classes, as stated in the interview of
an administrator (A6).
In terms of autonomy, CECR 2004 maintains that “it should
not bare song” (2004: p. 2) which means the policy should offer
teachers more autonomy in their practical teaching rather than
to be restricted by the policy.
In reality, however, when teachers are lost and confused by
the lack of explanation of the theoretical rational underpinning
the technical teaching in CECR and little guidance as to which
way such a model might be implemented, there might not be
so-called autonomy in their selection between eclecticism and
principled eclecticism. As a result, there remains a strong pref-
erence for teaching via textbooks in “what to teach”, vocabu-
lary and translation teaching with traditional methods or eclec-
tic approaches in “how to teach” and a reliance on the College
English Test in determining “what to assess”.
In terms of specialisation, there is no evidence that the
CECR policy has recognised teachers’ current knowledge back-
ground to implement the new teaching model since there is no
specific training that has been designed or implemented that
can help teachers change their behaviour in their classroom.
While teachers are eager to make change themselves, in real-
ity, the requirement of the student centred approach and new
technical teaching in the policy challenges teachers’ current
knowledge in terms of their current training in understanding
curriculum and syllabus, their knowledge of principled eclecti-
cism and computer teaching. Their continued reliance on text-
book teaching and the College English Test mitigates against
pedagogical change in English teaching at university level.
The gap between policy and reality is reflected in the differ-
entiation between eclecticism and principled eclecticism in the
context of tertiary English teaching in China. Using Maton’s
framework (2004a), analysis of the data collected shows that
teachers are tending to focus on eclectic approaches in China,
and their views indicate this is because of insufficient interpre-
tation of policies, textbook teaching, College English Test-
oriented teaching, and their lack of knowledge of pedagogy.
Principled eclecticism, in the context of China, should not be a
simple configuration of different options. Instead, it should be a
systematic decision based on a specific dynamic context. Prin-
cipled eclecticism should be a complete understanding of all
learning theories and related pedagogies in terms of the purpose
and context of language learning, the needs of the language
learners, how language is learned, and how and what teaching
is all about (Harmer, 2003) in the context of general English
teaching at university level.
In order to address these issues, there at two major initiatives
that could be implemented.
1) Teacher access to targeted professional development to
support their implementation of new pedagogical approaches.
2) Redrafting and remodelling of the policies concerning ter-
tiary English teaching to incorporate the support and underlying
explanations of the approaches needed to effectively interpret
the CECR 2004 policy.
Additionally, in order to achieve these goals, the Ministry of
Education could appoint a team with specialist knowledge and
expertise in English language teaching theory and practice, to
develop a coherent policy statement that is grounded in re-
search and sensitive to the Chinese context. Then at least there
would be a strong base to build teacher skills from and if such a
statement should be supported by detailed documents providing
practical guidance on how the syllabus can be implemented at
the levels of the institution and the individual classroom then
teachers might have the confidence necessary to embark on
pedagogical change.
More practically, local provincial governments could organ-
ise or establish teachers’ training centres in some universities to
help teachers’ to clarify their pedagogy and guide them to im-
plement the policy properly and effectively.
I would like to acknowledge the support of Professor B.
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