Annie Baker

My teaching approach

In 2006, Lantolf and Thorne introduced the Sociocultural Theory, stating that language is a “socially mediated process”, which is acquired by the learner being susceptible to input from social situations and a variety of people, not just one source or only learning structure and vocabulary. Lantolf and Thorne believed that learners acquire language by observing and imitating users, not by being directly taught the grammar of that language.

This theory provides a useful insight into how we learn, and I believe that a language is only learnt fully when its properties are understood by the user; a person can memorise all the vocabulary in a language, but without a good understanding of the grammar, an aspect which is reliant on the student, the vocabulary will be almost useless, and the learner will speak incomprehensibly. Taking into consideration the Sociocultural Theory, along with elements of various existing methods, I have created the Co-operative Creativity Method (CCM), whose main aim is to help students create their own understanding of a new language.

The CCM’s main focus is the student’s production of the language, from the first moment, and even if there are flaws in pronunciation, grammar or vocabulary, the fact that the student is producing language is already proof that they are absorbing and acquiring the language they are learning, and to improve by making mistakes. In this method, there is also an emphasis on team work and creativity. The method is taught in groups which, although more effective when smaller, could be a maximum of 15 students, and cannot be taught on a one-to-one basis. This takes into consideration the Sociocultural Theory, meaning that the students will learn not only from the teacher, but also from each other, bringing equality and companionship to the learning environment, whilst giving the students access to not only their own knowledge of a language, but that of their fellow learners. The teacher, as well as acting as a facilitator of learning and guide, acts as a peer and resource to the students, so they do not feel intimidated but use the teacher’s experience and knowledge to their advantage.

A highly structured method, such as the Callan Method, leaves no opportunity for the learners to figure things out for themselves without any pressure. For this reason, the learning environment is relaxed, organised so as not to seem like a traditional classroom, bringing positivity to the learning process, much like the principles of Suggestopedia. The teacher motivates the students to discover things for themselves, but keeping in line with their objectives, so as to motivate students to learn and acquire language as a relaxed pace, through subjects that interest them personally.

Creativity is a key part of the CCM, and students are always encouraged to use their imagination and creativity when completing tasks or participating in class. I believe that by using their own ideas, the students develop confidence in the language, and will see the language that they produce as their own personal creation, making it more natural, and eliminating the feeling that rules must be taught and memorised. Drilling is not used as it is an unnatural and intimidating approach to learning.

The method requires intensive study, which can be started at any level, but without the learner’s commitment and input, will not achieve a successful result. It is aimed at students who take responsibility for their own learning, and who need guidance, but not for passive students who are expecting to be taught, without making any effort. It is ideal for creative students, whose learning goal is to use their L2 in real life situations such as socialising or work. Many of the activities are based around the world of art, music and film, with the students creating a production of their choice at the end of the course, with freedom to choose their medium.

My method, like the Communicative Approach, concentrates on the four main skills used in language: speaking, listening, reading and writing. Although productive skills are given more attention than receptive skills during class time, practice and use of receptive skills outside of class time is highly encouraged, so that students are always in the learning state of mind. To encourage environmental awareness, minimal paper is used, with many writing boards available for use.

Much like both the Direct Method and the Communicative approach, all activities are presented in a real context, unlike many activities from the Grammar Translation Method, or the Callan Method, which provide outdated and irrelevant material. Often in writing tasks, students are responding to emails or letters, using prompts from the teacher, giving them the opportunity to explore various registers, writing structures while learning a lot about the culture of the language they study. Other writing tasks may include creating a story or play using prompts provided by the teacher, who at this point is acting as a modelfor the students, giving examples of how to use the language and then encouraging them to use maximum creativity in replicating the same skills. By doing so, this method looks to eliminate the negative reputation that writing activities have in the eyes of many students and teachers. Writing activities are used at all levels, increasing in difficulty with the level of the students, however, because of the importance of pronunciation, no word should be introduced in its written form, before the students have mastered the correct pronunciation. In lower levels, the writing tasks are conducted as a class, the teacher leading the group to create a written product. It is imperative that all students contribute, and part of the teacher’s role is to be sure that all students are given an equal chance to participate.

Reading exercises are given less importance during class time; however, students are encouraged to read in their target language whenever they have the opportunity. Some reading activities are conducted in class, such as collectively reading a review or magazine article related to arts and music and commenting on the contents as a group.

Listening activities are involved, sometimes from films, but usually the students gain their listening skills from the teacher and other speakers of the L2 with whom they are encouraged to converse.

Speaking skills are very important, and all students are obligated to speak in class. As the focus of this method is production, students are not pressured, but encouraged to participate, and errors, as with Suggestopedia, are seen as a learning process, however, they are sometimes corrected, depending on the severity of the error. Speaking activities occupy the majority of the class time, such as debates, role play and discussions. Grammar is approached in an indirect way, by introducing a topic dealing with a particular structure, rather than a specific grammar structure.

I have taken into account some of the aspects of the Total Physical Response Method when creating my own method, as I agree that language learning is more effective when it’s fun, and that the meaning of a word can often be understood through actions, this has influenced the CCM as it includes a level of relaxation and physical movement, and it is not conducted in a typical learning environment. Students are encouraged to move and enjoy themselves in the classroom. The teachers praise the students, as this builds their confidence and allows them to produce more language. An important part of the teacher’s role is to guide the students to make their own discoveries and find their own way to understand the language. The teacher must be experienced and well prepared, as this method is not heavily guided, they must be able to resolve problems on the spot. Materials come directly from the media or are created by the teacher or students, who are free to contribute, no course books are used.

Weekly practical lessons take place, ranging from a class excursion to a painting, dance or music class or even scavenger hunts around the area, the only requirement is that all students must participate, and everything must take place in the L2. This uses aspects of the Task Based Approach, where learners are not only focused on the language introduced, but the content of what they are learning, causing them to subconsciously acquire some of the language, rather than learning it. With less of a focus on the actual language, learners can learn L2 as they learnt L1, doing what interests them.

As the final part of the course, students must create a piece of work, as a group, using only the L2. All students must contribute, and students can allocate roles, but the outcome can be varied, such as a book, a film, a play, organising a trip or event or presenting a business idea. As long as all the students are involved there are no strict limitations. The teacher can have as much input as the students require, but learners are always encouraged to do as much as they can without the teacher’s help, giving students a realistic idea of the language, and an experience of using it in real life situations.

This method is not ideal for all aspiring students, as it requires a lot of time and commitment; it does not offer a quick or cheap way to learn. It does, however, offer students the opportunity for long term learning and practice of the language in a real life context, translation or use of the students’ L1 is strongly discouraged. Problems students come across will be dealt with as a team, so as to create a group learning environment.

The CCM offers students a relaxed yet effective way to learn a language, through fun activities which interest them personally. The main emphasis is the students’ production of the L2, working as a team and using maximum creativity to acquire language in real life context.

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