Rob Carmichael





My teaching approach

A Proposal For a Holistic Approach to Teaching English as a Second Language

 

This proposal sets out to highlight the need for a holistic approach to teaching a second language. I will assert that a communicative approach is fundamental and should form the bedrock of any attempt to learn a new language. This essay will look at various SLA (second language acquisition) methodologies and highlight the aspects that can be merged to for a new holistic methodology that will will engage, motivate and allow students of various ages, divergent affective factors, learning styles, abilities and backgrounds to access an effective curriculum and learn and use their skills dynamically.

 

First, to give a firm basis for my perceived ideal methodology, I will discuss the theories pertaining to learning language, then briefly reflect on the concepts of Steven Krashen, highlighting the distinctions between acquisition and learning, which directly underpin the following concepts.

I will then build the ideals for my SLA methodology by drawing out what I consider to be the important aspects from various approaches already in use, highlighting the subtle 'affective factors' that can inhibit the learning of new skills. I will assert that each technique has valuable aspects and only though a combination of the key elements can a well balanced, student focused, language teaching program be most effective.

I will discuss how a 'communicative approach' is paramount to secure L2 (second language) acquisition. Understanding learning theory enables grounded critical reflections on individual practice and preparations for teaching, with respect to individual lessons and planning a continuing unit of learning.

 

Verbal communication is a foundation of humanity and has been evolving culturally and in our brains for millions of years. Naom Chomsky has asserted that our brains are prewired with the ability to understand grammatical structures, in opposition Skinner maintained that language is a learnt behaviour. Usefully however Steven Krashen has highlighted the importance of the two main aspects of language learning; ACQUISITION and LEARNING.

Krashen observed and defined the difference between the natural process by which our brains learn to use language effectively through subconscious ACQUSITION and the conscious LEARNING of grammatical structures and vocabulary through direct teaching/learning.

The importance here is that when teaching a second language, providing opportunities to communicate stimulates the natural ACQUISITION. To speed up this natural passive process we can 'input' LEARNING of grammatical structures in a finely tuned manner (ideally that are just above the learners level of application) so that in free communication the learner can begin to use and adapt these taught structures in dynamic and creative ways. Both these paradigms are relevant to teaching L2 and deserve different considerations and approaches when teaching, facilitating and planning communicative activities.

Therefore a fundamental aspect of SLA is the 'communicative approach'. In this proposal I assert that by creating interesting and communicative opportunities for L2 use will stimulate dynamic language acquisition. The roll of the teacher in this 'communicative' sense is to provide effective and meaningful activities that facilitate high STT (Student Talking Time), immediate reflections and self-corrections so to support and instil the correct 'learnt/acquired' structures, pronunciation and general fluency along side the taught vocabulary and structures.

 

The communicative approach (CLT) as I have asserted is paramount to dynamic language acquisition, allowing learners to use their vocabulary and grammar structures in meaningful contexts that allow dynamic and reflexive language production.

Facilitating learners to play with and explore their own knowledge (at a level just above their own), practice and find vocabulary in their lexicon and knowledge of structures, the teacher is able to create focused provisions that fully merges the two elements of Krashen's 'monitor theory'. This principle can be built into a lesson by teaching three elements, vocabulary, grammar structures and 'open' discussion based activities, though they are not mutually exclusive, it can be useful to see them as distinct elements, this allows the teacher to structure the syllabus in a coherent way and track where learning has occurred and where elements and structures may need to be practiced.

The teaching of vocabulary should be meaningful and functional to the learner, this generates motivation for learning and often a direct and immediate function and desire for use, thus securing L2 acquisition in 'open' learning times.

Grammar structures are taught through engaging and fun activities, the learner practices focused structures under the guidance of the teacher in closed situations to instil and secure the structural forms as a skill to practice.

Topic activities are where a student can apply their grammar knowledge and lexicon to a free and dynamic use of language, actively utilising (hopefully all) their L2 basis in a dynamic sense, often using their own innate skills to find words or contingency words from within their own minds. Teachers should appreciate here that giving the word or structure is not always the best way for student learning, teachers need to work with students to help them elicit answer from themselves.

It is important to note here that this system benefits learning in a variety of ways. Preparing and supporting the learner in this way alleviates stress other inhibiting factors for production, 'open discussions' can be easily differentiated to suit the ability of the learner with the use of aid memoires (e.g. vocabulary flash cards).

Open discussions can be centred around specific aspects of the language or completely free depending on the ability or learner and objective of the engagement. The learner is therefore given a toolkit to use before they are asked to start building sentences in a dynamic way.

 

Choosing themes and topics to motivate, challenge or even develop contentions and allowing the learner to express themselves in communicative ways such as; role-play, interviews, playing verbal word games, and dialogues satisfies the acquisitional need for dynamic language use, which facilitates the best type of learning, experiential learning. However the communicative approach can utilise any form of discussion, using stimuli from exploring pictures, writing or real life elements, generally a familiar, exciting or controversial topic will often lead to high levels of motivation to communicate. High STT alongside highly effective error management leads to highly effective learning/acquisition. We have heard about motivations (extrinsic to learner) but some factors are personal (intrinsic to learner) and come with learners into the classroom.

 

It is important to appreciate a 'humanistic' approach when considering any form of learning. Always remember that a learner is a unique human individual who carries a variety of 'affective factors' that are personal to them. These elements can be both positive – such as being an extrovert or being personally motivated to learn - and negative – such as carrying anxiety or low self esteem, with language or pronunciation etc. Some methodologies such as 'Suggestopoedia' were developed to avoid certain psychological inhibitors of learning by creating an environment where learners are dislocated from their own personalities through totally immersing the learner in role playing. This concept however is worth noting as a point for strong consideration though lies on the fringes of the importance of this essay. I maintain that any methodology should create a calm and yet personally challenging environment to learn, learners should feel positive and happy about said learning, learning should be fun.

 

Methodologies such as Total Physical Response (TPR) that links the body, mind and soul are very effective, especially for children who don't carry with them the plethora of 'affective factors' that adults seem to accumulate. The concept of linking physical gestures and sign language with learning language is excellent as the brain and the body are linked in the same focus, in my experience this creates very meaningful connections and opportunities for quality depth of learning, so experiences and learning will be remembered.

If one can over come the 'affective factors' that may inhibit an adult to stand up and tell a story with elaborate gestures then learning will be secured. A practitioner needs to be particularly excellent at perceiving the nature of her students and finding the best motivations for them to overcome their insecurities. It is my attitude to teaching that learning should be physical and dynamic however this may be most effectively used at the early learning stages, where the teachers physical and verbal gestures work together to create higher quality input and understanding of the L2 (second language).

 

The 'Silent Way' is an approach has many useful elements. Not only for teaching and creating dialogues but also as a skill base for eliciting self-corrections and responses. The concept of using no criticism or praise doesn't suit my style, again however, I can see the value of the technique to create an emotively neutral environment for learning.

This factors leads me to assert that any methodology should have specific framework for presentation of sessions and in classroom communications and behaviour.

With respect to eliciting responses and self-corrections I feel that a well placed open or reflective question or gesture can work just as well, so long as you have taken care with other elements of your methodology to alleviate the 'affective factors'.

 

I have said that the focus of teaching L2 is to get the learners to apply their acquired knowledge in a free and fluent way and to increase the speed of acquisition elements of teaching and learning should take place in a structured way – to give the students the toolkit to use to create sentences.

The 'Direct Approach' focuses on learners learning vocabulary. The process by which grammatical structures are approached is through demonstration and not functional explanation. The approach uses fast paced and repetitive techniques to drill vocabulary with grammar bolted into the drilled sentence. This approach should only be used when kept short, pacey and well a bit fun. E.g. make a song with the target language, or use the techniques of TPR.

 

Even though the 'Audiolingual Method' is almost the completely opposed to the systems I am suggesting, such as, teaching grammatical structures first and then vocabulary and that all mistakes are immediately corrected – not supporting the fluency of a communicated thought or feeling, there are useful aspects to the method. Of cause it is in the application of the strategy; timings, motivations and presentation, that defines the success of a particular method. Building and repeating dialogues, checking pronunciation at each step will help to secure the learning of the structure. Though these skills can only be employed briefly, short chunks, meaningful contexts and short, pacey and fun presentations.

 

So in conclusion, a SLA teaching methodology at its fundamental should be 'communicative' in nature, presenting motivating lesson activities that focus on quality learning input and production rather than focusing on understanding grammatical form - teach in in context and use it creatively!. Activities can follow various pattens of vocabulary, grammatical structures and 'open' themes where creativity and dynamic use of language is encouraged.

The manner of the teacher is important, not to say that all teachers should be the same, but that certain classroom techniques are shared and used consistently, such as eliciting responses and encouraging self-correction with low TTT. Also teachers should be aware that 'affective factors' exist in students and should work to alleviate these before, during and after the session if needed.

All of the teaching methodologies have positive and useful elements to them, though I consider some of their applications to be only useful in small chunks, i.e. becoming part of a particular session and not the only focus, e.g. The Direct and Audiolingual Approaches. The communicative approach should be the basis of everything we do in the classroom, encouraging the learner to apply the taught vocabulary and structures in dynamic ways will assure quality learning and acquisition.

 

Most of all, no matter your age, background or motivations...

 

...Learning should be FUN!



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