My teaching approach
Teachers have existed since the beginning of time when animals have taught their young ones to survive and humans had their descendants, pupils, or students learn various things over the passing centuries. Teachers may have many names; professors, mentors, instructors, tutors, trainers, but one thing they all have in common is that they used various ways to pass their knowledge to those they taught. These ways are called teaching methods, and although in the past they might have being rough or even barbaric, with time people have focus on the study and psychology behind the ways of learning.
Today many methods exist such as the Berlitz Method , Suggestopedia, The Silent Way, The Communicative Approach, and The Oxbridge System. At a first glance one may think such methods are just useless theories that were meant to be learn for school or that can only be applied at more specific cases and/or greater academic levels, but in my experience I have notice that each one has useful characteristics and can be applied more often than expected. Am I suggesting one should select a preferred method and use it for teaching? No, this is not the answer I am suggesting. Each student is different, each class varies, each environment modifies the learning process, and even each subject taught might require a different approach. I have learned that the best approach is no approach at all; by this I don’t mean not use anything, but to combine characteristic that seem useful from various methods, a bit of your own touch, and adapt to the necessities of the group and the students despite what method you may have selected or customized. My experience as a ESL and TELF student and an English teacher has given me the chance to come with my own method, I call it Mix & Match approach as it meets the previous criteria.
The Mix & Match approach works on all 4 skills; listening, speaking, reading, and writing, in that particular order, and it has as a main goal for student to learn to communicate in the second language, mainly verbally but also have more than a basic knowledge in writing and reading. Many methods focus on the verbal communication and I believe that in such a modern era where technology is a part us, knowing how to write is very important; to write an email, to read the news, to send a text, or just to take notes are useful tools in a second language and not always develop to their best when just focus on verbal communication. I do agree with many methods that encouraging the students to think in the target language is a must since it develops fluency in the language. Nevertheless, sometimes explaining the meaning of a word, the function of a structure or rule, or to give instructions can be hard at a starting level, so in the Mix & Match approach translating to their native language will be allowed only if no other way can’t accomplish the task. Thru the levels of the method, grammar and vocabulary will have about equal importance, students will determine this with their interest, but both will be overlearned in order to be use with ease and fluency. In both cases, examples will be applied to show the meaning of the vocabulary and to allow student to understand the use of the grammar by osmosis, however they are encourage to look for the rules if they wish to do so. Another important detail to take into account is the pronunciation, which will be paid high attention from the beginning. A student that is fluent but mispronounces too often might not be understood. Last but not least, basic etiquette and tradition of the target language’s culture could be taught if they vary too much, this will avoid offences or misunderstands when travelling or interacting with the target language’s people.
The syllabus divides into classes and units. We start with the most basic which is a class to develop their listening skills, then speaking is integrated in order to proof comprehension of classes materials. Vocabulary and grammar will be taught as they progress, and as mentioned before, it will be explain in examples that can be written, mimicked, realia, or other ways. As levels progresses, students are given homework and projects to develop their reading and writing skills. At first, only reading small easy articles, short stories, and similar simple materials; later on student’s materials get more complex and will write summaries, essays, and even small projects. The idea is not to give them homework that will overwhelm their daily routine, as many of them have other responsibilities, but to keep them practicing the language and develop new skills. At the higher levels classes are more conversational focused, in order to help them practice previous vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and to develop fluency. Activities will be introduced by the teacher to create debates, conversations, and role plays in which the students interact between then in the target language. Materials that will be used to enhance classes, or help student, are such as but not limited to: Textbooks, videos, music, CDs, reading books, articles, and short stories.
In the Mix & Match method students are more than learners, they are partners in the learning process, their contribution is highly appreciated it and encouraged. As teacher we can sense when a student might be bored, distracted, or dislikes and activity, but we are humans as well and not always realize such things so feedback helps us improve our teaching, look for better material, adapt to a better middle ground were all students might be happier, or just re do the lesson if necessary. Teachers direct the lesson, they introduce the activities, and at times explain what is necessary; that can be a vocabulary, a grammar structure, or something else, but we prefer to be looked upon as friends by students, to let them know we are approachable and if they require something else they can tell us. More hours can be given to those student having trouble with lessons or moving on with a topic, time can be arranged or done just after class depending of the schedule of the teacher and student. One must take into account, that in bigger classes the teacher might not always catch all mistakes student make, and although these will be corrected as necessary, students are encouraged to correct their classmates as well; by correcting each others the student making the mistake won’t continue unaware of it, the teacher will be more attentive of it, and the student making the correction will reassure the teacher that s/he knows the right correction. Last but not least, students are encourage to have “hang out” time using the target language as it will boost their fluency and contribute to practice time in a nice, friendly environment.
As with the majority of courses, comes the nightmare of all students, evaluations. In this method we try to have a constant assessment of their progression, seeing how their skill was when they started and as it goes until the end of the level. However, some students are shyer and might not be as talkative, or just develop in different ways and that is why a final evaluation at the end of each level is used. The “Review of student’s knowledge” or exam is used to know what each student has learned, and if ready for the next level. One cannot deny that exams make us nervous and even if we change the title from test or exam to “Review of knowledge”, students might still get fussy and have a low outcome. We all deserve a second opportunity, so a recovery is allowed; this will vary and can be done in the way of another test, verbal review, or some assignment. Should the student fail on this second chance, the recommendation might be to retake the level or some of the classes of the level.
Is this the most successful method? As I mention before I believe there is no best method, but for me this works well for my personality type, my teaching skills, and personal experience. More importantly, this is not a step-by-step guideline, nor a script, for me is a criterion to use and modify as needed, to adapt to students’ needs, and to improve with experience, practice, and new developments.
Sample Activity (Level 4, Discussion and New Vocabulary)
- Student are handed an article that will be read in class.
They are given X amount time to read the article by themselves (depending of the length of the article)
- Students read the article out loud by taking turns, not always all students have a chance.
- Teacher tries to let weaker readers or students that need more attention to start with the reading.
- All topics introduce a new vocabulary. After reading teacher ask about the new vocabulary or introduces the structure, and asks students to give meaning of the new words.
- Those words that are left without meaning, the teacher gives examples to explain or if further explanation is needed then the definition is given.
- The article is then discussed in class and debated. The teacher has questions to start the discussion, but the debate will usually flows by itself afterwards.
- Students take turn on debate to avoid multiple conversations at once.
NOTE FOR TEACHER
- Teacher pays attention for pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar use; corrects as necessary but tries to wait to see if other students correct first as this is encouraged.
- Teacher takes notes of students’ participation and use of fluency.
- Teacher might introduce further debate or questions if students need encouragement to discuss and interact.
- If the topic seems to bore the student or too tedious, teacher will move to next activity to avoid losing students attention.
At the end of the class students are given another reading material (article, short story, or even chapter of a book) to read at home.
They should do a small summary of their reading. Additionaly, add at the end 4 of the new words learned in class with the definition and examples.
Their homework will be corrected and handed back with corrections and feedback on the class that follows.