My teaching approach
Approaches to English teaching.
English is one of the most widely spoken languages worldwide. It alows its speakers the opportunity to communicate effectively, practically anywhere they go. For that reason, many different types of people want to learn English as a second language. There are as many different types of learners as there are people, but they can be categorized by some common traits, such as the best method for them to absorbe given information. This could be through visual stimuli, auditory stimuli or kinaesthetic stimuli. There are other factors to take into account, such as motivation, reasons for wanting to learn English, level of knowledge, etc.
Given that there are many different approaches that students have to learning, the range of teaching methods has to be fairly wide as well. These methods also vary depending on their focus when it comes to teaching. Different methods stress the importance of different aspects when learning English as a second language. Some focus on grammar as the key element, others refuse this and defend the importance of vocabulary over structure, while others focus on the importance of developing communicative skills; which after all, is what most learners need English for. Each method has its benefits and its problems, so not one method can be considered perfect. However, some of them do prepare their students more thoroughly than others. Nevertheless, preparation is subjective as not every students´needs and goals are the same. Some might want to acquire the language in order to use it on their daily life. Others might just want to acquire a certain set of skills for a specific test in order to obtain a title. Therefore, if we are to become the best teacher possible, we should carefully examine each method and determine what we consider useful about it, what may be incomplete or obsolete about it and how to complement it or adapt it to suit each of our students´s specific needs and goals. Each teacher analyzing the different methods will develop their own criteria for what they consider to be good teaching tools, and in doing so, they will adopt their own teaching style.
There are five widely known methods to English teaching.
- The Grammar Translation Method (GMT): This method focuses on written texts and exercises or often tests, aimed to improve the reading and writing of the learners. It also uses translation from English into the learner´s native tongue.
I believe this method is very limitted and outdated. It hardly devotes attention to the communicative side of language acquisition, the most important or at least practical part in my opinion. The students are taught by the teacher in a very traditional and old fashioned way. I believe a teacher needs to interact more with his students rather than just be an authority on the subject. That way he can encourage and guide his students to do all the hard work themselves, rather than handing them an answer and assume they will study it on their free time and memorize it. The learning process should occur during the lesson, studying should merely be a tool to reinfoce and consolidate the material learnt. Furthermore, speaking from my own experience as an English learner, the type of activities used to test knowledge in this method are often ineffective. Fill-in-the blank activities can often be guessed through a process of elimination or good old fashioned chance. Also, most people capable of reading will be able to extract a sentence from a given text and present it as the answer. This does not necessarily mean that they understood the question or the answer they gave themselves! It´s a simple matter of matching the format or the verb that appears in the question to a passage from the text. This does not ensure comprehension. The GMT can be a good method to show students grammatical patterns and help the students realize their correct usage. However even this is not done in the most effective way. The learning process in this method can be extremely repetitive and exhausting for the learners, as there is nothing engaging or exciting during the lesson. This approach assumes that learners will be so interested in learning English that there is no need for authentic materials or tasks. As a result, it can feel like students are in an English filology class analyzing the language, rather than practicing it in any kind of realistic context. Even when the language is practiced, it is done with a focus on the grammatical function studied. Therefore, scenarios are often artificial and forced caring only about the acquisition of said structure.
- The Direct Method: This approach focuses on the importance of vocabulary over grammar. Communication plays a more important role in this method. Many activities are focused on speech, paying attention to pronunciation from the first day. Students are also given the opportunity to practice the language in real situations, which I think is a lot more motivating and practical. The emphasis is mostly on oral activities, in order to develop listening and speaking skills. The reading and writing skills are then built upon what the students practice orally first.
Teachers in this method often use visual aids or objects to try and ellicit meaning, as the students´ native tongue is not allowed in the class. Also, examples are preferred over longer explanations. I believe this is a good rule for most cases. However, sometimes not giving a slightly longer explanation can be more of a hindrance than anything else. I´ve noticed cases where students walk away with slight misconceptions about the target language. For instance with some idioms. They sometimes use them in ways that, while grammatically correct, native speakers would never use. Another possibility is that they learn the correct usage but only on a very limited context. This means they are unable to use the idiom freely and incorporate it to their everyday speech, unless presented with a familiar situation similar to a given example. Another problem occurs with Grammar. In The Direct Method, it is learnt inductively. This makes systematic errors a lot more common, as each case is corrected individually rather than with a general rule. This can ruin the pace of a class if a teacher has to constantly correct structure usage on top of pronunciation and lexicon mistakes. Also, since the structure in question is never mentioned as such, it is easy for students to deviate from it as the emphasis is on vocabulary and pronunciation. The fact that authentic materials are used leads students to focus on the activity as a whole and they can sometimes neglect the structure we are trying to practice.
- The Silent Way: In this method, the teacher is silent, which encourages students to self-correct and to cooperate with each other. I think that although they may take longer to learn something, when they do they will retain it better. This is due to the fact that the teacher’s silence forces students to take the initiative and make sense of things in the way that works best for them. The teacher acts as merely a guide to help students reach their conclusion through visual stimuli and body language, which is why correction is not a part of this method, as it would interfere with each of the students’process. The Silent Way is also characterised by the fact that there are no linear syllabus.
I believe that this can be a very effective system, at least in terms of acquiring the language through a series of “magic moments”. However, I suspect that a lot less material could be covered using this method in a lesson, at least if I was the one using it. Also, while skills like pronunciation and vocabulary are very compatible with this method, I think that certain complexities of the English language could prove highly difficult to teach in this manner. In my opinion, it takes a very skilled and experienced teacher to use this approach effectively. In inexperienced hands this method could prove to be a total disaster. The fact that there are no linear syllabus would make it extremely difficult for inexperienced teachers to plan how to progressively teach English as a language, rather than just random aspects of it with little or no connection between them.
- Suggest-o-pedia: The focus of this method is to tear down students’ psychological barriers when learning a new language. It uses positive reinforcement and a cheerful learning environment in order to build up the learners’ confidence. Suggest-o-pedia also uses the fine arts in order to subconsciously reach its students. Finally, it uses translation into the learners’ language to clarify meaning.
I must admit I am somewhat biassed when it comes to this approach. I am very skeptical about the use of fine arts and transmitting any sort of knowledge subconsciously. I like my knowledge to be very much tangible. I also get the impression that this method cuddles students way too much. We are not teaching babies, and while some people might be more sensitive or self conscious than others, I don´t think anyone needs to be treated with such a high degree of tact. I do believe fostering a cheerful and relaxed learning environment where mistakes are allowed is crucial to a good learning process. However, this can be achieved in other ways. Personally, I believe the use of humor and building a good rapport can be far more effective. Students learn to relax and show an increasing interest in lessons if they are amused by its contents, not to mention a faster acquisition. Also, a humorous atmosphere is created in which students learn to not take mistakes or difficulties so seriously.
- The Callan Method: This method focuses on the use of repetition in order to drill the language into its students. There’s a lot of “interaction” between the teacher and the students. By that I mean that although the teacher is constantly asking questions that the students reply, and although their attention is kept throughout the lesson, the interaction required is minimal. Monkeys and dolphins have been trained to perform certain skills that were considered human. This approach is not very different. If a student is asked one of the many questions he has been asked a million times before he will be able to give the taught response. This does not mean that his response is what he actually wants to say, it´s just what he knows he can say. For example, I could ask a student –How are you? And his reply might be –I’m fine, thank you, and you?. Now if that student had just been through a major tragedy, he could not express it as the response he knows would be that he is fine. Once again, my bias towars this method is difficult to mask. I believe it is outdated and lacking in understanding of the learners’ process.
After having carefully examined the advantages and disadvantages of these teaching styles, each teacher will draw their own conclusion as to what the best approach would be. For me, it is a combination of what I consider to be the best aspects of each method.
I believe the main focus of teaching should be on developing communicative skills. As Oxbridge says, once you learn how to speak, you can write. This is particularly true in today´s society. Most students aren’t looking to become the next Shakespeare. Rather, they want to have command of English at least for the needs that may arise in their lives. This is why oral activities are so important. In most situations, English is spoken and it is ironically the most neglected area of study. Many people have an impressive knowledge of English structures or even vocabulary, but have trouble with pronunciation or breaking their psychological barriers. That is why I believe that the emphasis should be on speaking. Speaking correctly means writing correctly, at least refering to grammar. As far as spelling goes, most practical applications of English will involve a computer in today’s world. That is why the good people of Microsoft created spell check, so teachers could focus on more important aspects of teaching English. However, I do believe that complementing oral skills with some written texts or assignments is a great way to consolidate the information practiced orally. Also, some students get very nervous and it can be harder for people to fully concentrate when performing oral activities. By giving them written assignments, we can give students a chance to think more calmly and thoroughly about the material previously taught and practiced. This will lead to a better understanding of the concepts taught. However, I believe that authentic texts and materials are always essential. Assignments should test the students’ level of knowledge in English, not their ability to circumnavigate the standard activities found in textbooks.
While authentic materials are paramount, as an inexperienced teacher, I would most likely enlist the help of a coursebook in order to plan my syllabus for a specific group at a certain level. I would simply follow the concepts that students are meant to learn, while adapting or completely replacing the proposed activities with current, engaging and whenever possible amusing or polemic material. This would be my attempt to encourage students to speak, as they would be interested in being funny like the activity or on giving their oppinion on a heated topic of discussion. By keeping a humorous approach throughout the lesson we can keep our students engaged. They will also feel they are in a relaxed environment where they don’t need to be afraid of making mistakes. In the event that they do make mistakes, we can take advantage of the humorous atmosphere and maybe correct them with a joke, or exaggerating things so much they realize their own mistake. The students will then realize their mistake but they won’t feel bad about being corrected. This technique would require some tact as some students are more sensitive than others and humor is also subjective. However, after a while you sort of know who can handle what and how to generate the best response from that student. It is also important to keep in mind that there is not only a correct use for a word, so a teacher has to find the explanation that can give students the widest understanding possible of that word, so they may apply it effectively in different contexts.
As far as how a teacher should behave and address his class, I lean more towards modern approaches. I don’t think a teacher should speak from a position of authority, but rather as the voice of wisdom or experience. The teacher is someone who has gathered a set of skills through their own experiences and they simply try and use those to guide students. A good teacher should speak as little as possible, giving clear instructions and explanations and then allowing the students to do the work, only speaking to correct mistakes or redirect the class in the right direction.
In conclusion, there are quite a few ways to approach teaching. However, the truth is that there should be as many ways of teaching as there are students. In my opinion, each student or group of students will require a teacher to behave a certain way. Although changes in behaviour may be minimal, it is a good idea to have all the different approaches in mind and to try and balance them the right way for each group. Some students may require more visual examples or synonims, others might be in need of a clear and concise explanation in order to fully grasp the versatility of a concept. I think a good teacher should identify and analyze the needs of his students. A great teacher, will figure out the best approach to take in order to meet those needs.