Category Archives: Asked and Answered

Tissue rejection

It seems that it’s been a while since I wrote an ‘Asked and Answered’ post, but here’s an interesting question that found its way into my inbox:

What is meant by tissue rejection in language teaching methodology?

‘Tissue rejection’ is an evocative metaphor that was used by Adrian Holliday (1992) to describe what happens when a teaching method, which is known to work in a particular educational setting, is introduced into a different setting where it fails to catch on.

In Holliday’s early writings, a distinction was made between what he called BANA and TESEP models of instructed language learning. In BANA (British, Australasian and North American) settings, learning tends to take place in private language schools or language learning centres affiliated to universities, and there is often ‘relatively clear contract between institutes and mainly adult groups who come specifically to learn English’. By contrast, in the TESEP model, derived from the words Tertiary, Secondary and Primary, language learning does not usually have an instrumental objective (Holliday 1998: 12). Holliday has since moved on from this rigid binary distinction, but I will continue to use it in this post because it helps to more clearly illustrate the ’tissue rejection’ metaphor.

Each of these two models has evolved different methods, which are in line with local cultural expectations, learning materials and resources, classroom arrangements and so on. For instance, BANA education is often underpinned by what Holliday defined as the ‘learning group ideal’, which sets the conditions for ‘a process-oriented, task-based, inductive, collaborative, communicative English language teaching methodology’ (ibid: 54). TESEP educational settings, on the other hand, might privilege a more traditional, transmissive, form-focused approach to language learning, which is closer to the norms of mainstream education in those settings.

The problem, Holliday argues, is that there is a tendency for TESEP to be perceived as less-than-effective, and the remedy is thought to be the adoption of BANA models. This is, in a sense, similar to a situation where a patient undergoes an organ transplant. However, when such innovations take place, we do not (and cannot) replicate the entire BANA model in the new setting. Rather, what is transferred is a limited selection of methods, which often do not fit very comfortably in the new context where they are transplanted. The new method (the ’tissue’), which was effective in its original setting, then becomes a source of disruption in the new setting.

Tissue Rejection
Figure 1. Relative positions of the language learning ideal in different environments (from Holliday 1994: 105)

A common scenario of ’tissue rejection’ is when a language teacher tries to introduce pair-work or group-work activities in a class where learners have been accustomed to working individually, under their teachers’ guidance. In such a case, it’s likely that the learners start engaging in off-task behaviour, or become disruptive; fellow teachers might complain about the noise levels in the language class; and parents might question the language teacher’s professionalism. The key thing to remember in this case, is that the problem does not stem from the teachers’ classroom management skills. Rather, it is rooted on the mismatch between the culture from where the method originated, and the culture where it is being implemented. Returning to Holliday’s metaphor, it is similar to what happens when a patient’s immune system attacks an otherwise perfectly good organ that has been transplanted into to said patient’s body.

The ’tissue rejection’ image is a powerful metaphor that helps us to understand the social and cultural intricacies involved in teaching English worldwide. Although the premises on which it was originally grounded (i.e., the existence of two incompatible English Language Teaching models) have given way to more nuanced thinking, the spectre of tissue rejection is still relevant in at least two ways. Firstly, it highlights the need for language educators to be aware of, and sensitive to, the subtleties of local educational cultures. And secondly, it serves to remind us of the complex, and often unpredictable, ways in which different cultures of learning interact.


Featured image by Rob Ireton @ Flickr, CC BY 

“Should I do a factor analysis?”

The following set of questions was sent to me by email from a colleague in a university in the Gulf:

I am conducting a research where I am trying to compare expectations of the teachers and expectations of the students about English studies under five different categories. The questions  are designed differently, but mostly on a likert scale with four options (Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree). The survey was distributed through Qualtrics which calculated the median for me. I contacted a statistician and he suggested Factor Analysis for statistical significance. […]Here are the questions that I wanted to ask:

(1) Is Factor Analysis a perfect test for this study?
(2) How can I spread data on an SPSS sheet? Screen shots will be very helpful in this regard.
(3) Running the test-a step by step process (screen shots).

As I have written often in this blog, the kinds of statistical procedures one should use depend on research questions.  Continue reading “Should I do a factor analysis?”

Dependent and Independent variables, using SPSS, and minding one’s manners

Every week, I receive between two and five emails asking about research questions, most of which I do not answer because I don’t have time, and because I have already answered them (or similar questions) repeatedly in this blog. When I do reply, it is usually because an email provides the affordance for a teaching point, and the message that follows provides no fewer than three:

  1. What is the difference between Dependent and Independent variables?
  2. Must we really use SPSS to do statistics?
  3. What are some good norms for requesting assistance?

Continue reading Dependent and Independent variables, using SPSS, and minding one’s manners

How many components must a complex system have?

A few weeks ago, Mark Moritz asked the Research Gate community how many components are required for a complex system to be truly complex. He argued that “Two components is not enough to make a system complex.“, but (he went on to ask): “would three or four components be enough for a system to become complex? What would be an example of such a system?”

In this post, I would like to challenge the assumption that a system cannot be complex if it only consists of two components. A complex system, as I understand the term, is defined as a system that displays complex behaviour. This may sound like a cyclical definition, and we don’t even have a shared definition of what complex behaviour is (but let us provisionally accept that it is something along the lines of dynamic, non-linear, unpredictable-but-not-quite, chaotic). However, it is an important point to make, because it underscores that complexity is all about the system’s behaviour, not its structure.

The number of components that make up a system are a red herring, really. A Swiss watch might have hundreds of cogs and wheels and springs, but it does not behave chaotically. In fact, it is the exact opposite of a complex system: its behaviour is (almost) entirely predicable, and we can tell with near absolute certainty where the watch’s hands will be even 100 years from now. Well, unless someone smashes the watch, maybe. Moreover, a complex system is -by definition- open, or ambiguously-bounded. It does not exist in a void: rather, it is enmeshed in an environment with multiple components ‘outside’ its boundaries, which interact with the ‘inside’. This seems to suggest that the number of components is not quite so important.

So then, is there an example of a complex system (i.e., a system that behaves chaotically) that consists of just two components? Of course there is: the double pendulum!


Image: Fractal flame | Credit: Wikipedia | CC BY-SA

Where is a good place to find calls for papers?

Another answer salvaged from the academia.edu soon-to-be-discontinued Q&A section:

Where is a good place to find calls for papers? I’ve never been published before…

That would depend on your discipline. A good starting point, judging by your listed interests [Anthropology and Middle East studyes], might be h-net. The major journals in each field often publish calls for papers as well, and academic societies usually have mailing lists that you can join.

Update: For people whose interests are closer to linguistics, the Linguist List directory of upcoming conferences and publications is an invaluable resource. I also post information about any conferences that is forwarded to me (usually Applied Linguistics and ELT/TESOL related) in this blog. The Doctoral Community at the University of Manchester Language Teacher Education group also post interesting calls for papers, and are well worth adding to your bookmarks or RSS feed.

If anyone can think of any other useful resource, I’d appreciate if if you could add it as a comment below.


Image Credit: Hindrik Sijens @ Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0