Rawan Madanat

My teaching approach

The Full Circle

“Buy a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and he will never starve.” This simple proverb symbolizes the core of what the teaching profession is all about. For as long as history itself, people were in need of teachers. Teaching is not only done is schools and universities, where students are expected to complete their homework and undergo assessments in order to pass, it happens anywhere and everywhere. We learn new things through our interaction with others every single day. Consequently, it was this mentality that kept this profession evolving and transforming through different methods in order to achieve the same results in the traditional setting of a classroom.

Several methods have been created and tried out in order to achieve the maximum result with students. The focus or the goal of each of the methods differed. Some focused on Grammar others focused on Vocabulary, some focused on producing and others focused on receiving. Each one, however, was incomplete regarding a certain aspect.

The Grammar-Translation Method works really well if we wanted to perfect our reading and writing skills. However, it lacks in terms of; Vocabulary, as it focuses on meaning instead of use. Also, having the teacher as the sole authority figure puts the students in a back seat and hinders their development in the language. Finally, the focus on correct answers will block the students from wanting to use the language as it would create a fear of making mistakes, which is natural when studying a new language.

The Direct (Berlitz) Method is almost perfect as it focuses on areas where the student would be able to use the language. Vocabulary is taught to be used, which will help the student practice the language and build his/her vocabulary bank. The teachers' roles are to demonstrate not to tell, which will allow the focus be more on the students and what they are capable of. Speech and communication are key points in this method as they are the first indication that shows someone's ability to understand a language. Also, along side speech, there is a certain focus on writing which would make this method all rounded if it weren't its lack of focus on grammatical use.

The Audio-Lingual method is very similar to the Direct Method with the focus switching from Vocabulary to Grammar. Which will also make it lacking. The strong points in this method regarding positive encouragement and praising students make it worthy. However, the general approach to English is still insufficient.

The Silent Way and The Total Physical Response methods are two opposite extremes that can either be very helpful or very harmful to the students' learning process. They don't suit all students and that is what makes those two methods unpractical to apply. They might be fun to try out as a way to break a class' routine but not as a complete teaching structure. Suggestopedia, on the other hand, can work as a way to set a class environment not a total structure as well. It helps put the students at ease when it comes to learning a new language. It takes the fear and the anxiety out, but it won't help in the actual teaching of fine skills like writing. It helps put the students in a relaxed atmosphere to feel better about the task but not in teaching the skill itself.

In my opinion a teaching strategy or method should complete a full circle. It should teach the four main communication skills that any native speaker possesses; which are, listening, speaking, reading and writing. The four skills are the measure that students are able to communicate in a certain language. Speaking without listening won't achieve anything and reading without writing could hinder the students. Also, the method should have a diverse syllabus, allowing space for the teachers' own creativity and input. A restricting syllabus would create a blocked classroom which would defeat the whole point of teaching. However, the most important point is the teachers' attitudes towards the class, the students and teaching in general. A teacher who is not motivated can not come up with interesting activities which will eventually create a boring and unproductive classroom environment.

The focus, in the suggested method, should always be on the students and what they know. Tapping into their prior knowledge is a key factor of their development. A child learns how to walk, first by observing, and then by practicing. Similarly, students should have time to reflect on what they know, or what they will come to know before they practice it. A little kid who is asked to swim might not know how to, but he/she would know what swimming is if we allow them time and space to express. From that point on we can resume teaching the skill itself.

My suggested method works well with all age groups and all different linguistic backgrounds, from students who never heard about the language to intermediate levels. It collects the best practices of the above mentioned methods and puts them in practical use. I believe the focus in the class should stem from the students and putting them at ease with the lesson. A humorous start to the class with a smile and small talk goes a long way. It lets the students feel better about the class, making them imagine it's much like being with friends rather than a chore. However, when I say fun start, that doesn't remove the class' main guidelines and rules. In order to have a productive class it should have certain rules and routines. Especially with kids who tend to defy the teachers no matter how interesting they may be. Setting rules with the students themselves, however, makes them feel included in their own teaching process. Plus it denies them any chance to break the rules they themselves have set.

The focus of the Full Circle method, in terms of skills, is that it should cover all of them equally. However, the approach to teaching those skills should be indirect. When it comes to teaching a new language the main focus should be the ability of students to use this language rather than knowing how it works. An American, for example, will not be able to tell you about the future continuous perfect tense but would still be able to use it perfectly. So then the question is; Why do we expect the students to KNOW the terminology and the rules. Grammar, spelling and even vocabulary all would come naturally the more the students read, write, speak and even listen.

The outline of the class should be simple yet effective. Here is a suggested plan for an intermediate level. It should start by listening to a certain English song, conversation, T.V show...etc. Then a small discussion with the teacher about a designated topic that would induce the students' interests and their responses. Then reading from a book. In reading, the teacher first demonstrates so that he/she can show the right pronunciation of words, the second step is having all students read together so that if there were any unsure students they would feel no shame in trying out, as their voices would drown with the others. The the last step should be an individual reading. The three step reading process helps the students hear it properly and practice it more and more. After the technical reading, a discussion about what was read should happen, allowing each student a safe space to express his/her opinion. At the end of the class a small writing part. The teacher again starts by modeling and the students follow. They can write down their thoughts of the class, the subjects or even their day. All activities targeting each skill should have a common theme tying them together to connect them in a smooth, sensible and easy way, allowing the students time to understand the theme.

The classes should go simpler or more complicated in content depending on the level, while allowing some space to challenge the students into trying their best. Errors should be corrected and demonstrated, leaving some time for self correction first. The teacher's role in this method is more a guide than the source of authority. Vocabulary, grammar and even spelling should all be connected to their reading, writing and even oral practices. Teaching rigid vocabulary words that are disconnected to a theme or to a text leaves the students unable to use them properly. On the other hand, if we used a certain word in a text and used the same word in the oral discussion and the writing task the students will have more than one use and understanding of the meaning. The same goes for grammar; every class should focus on a certain rule through the skills. As for spelling, which some consider it the hardest to teach as the spelling rules in English are filled with irregulars, it should come through seeing the word in reading and trying it out in writing. Correcting spelling mistakes should let the student remember it which is through self correction. The teacher can point the mistake but it is up to the student to go back and figure out the correct spelling. Thus, making him/her able to remember and use it better the next time around.

All in all, I believe The Full Circle method would work well in all kinds of teaching facilities, from schools to academies, as it helps the student reach a native-like status by helping them acquire the same skills that native speakers have. Ultimately, no matter the method, the interaction between the teacher and the students cause the biggest effect in the learning process. Teachers with lots of experience using a certain method that has worked for them well before, if unable to click well with their current students will leave them unable to learn no matter how easy or fun the method may be. The best judge of any method would be the learners. In order to perfect a method that would help them learn and achieve their goals they should be asked how they would like to learn. Universally, I believe the focus should be on the four skills as they show the most results. However, how to teach should come through the students and what they think would work for them.

Our goal in teaching first and foremost is to make the students love the subject. Studying and teaching without any passion hinders the learning process. If we were able to get our students to like a language they will try their best to perfect it, even without setting homework or giving assessments. In conclusion, the teaching profession is ever-evolving and developing. There is never a right or wrong answer to how to teach something, only many methods and tested theories. The day we think we have reached the right method would be the day we fail as educators.  

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