My teaching approach
The Holistic Method
My experience as a student in elementary and high school, as a children’s English teacher as well as my university studies in Occupational Therapy have helped me to develop this method.
At school as a child and teenager I had different kind of teachers, some who were better than others but in my opinion all of them had one major flaw, they couldn't engage the students. Classes were based on a syllabus using what seemed to us to be ancient textbooks while the teacher was always either sitting behind a desk or writing at the blackboard without even looking at us. Many of the teachers didn't seem to care about us at all and they usually spoke the whole time without ever bothering to check our understanding. It even appeared that teachers often looked like they were suffering as they taught us. English class was no different, we had the same problem, the classes in general were boring, the text books were outdated and unattractive and the topics were not at all interesting. We studied grammar like a mathematical formula (x + y = z), practiced writing, had to memorize long lists of vocabulary and irregular verbs for exams while all the time the teachers spoke much more Spanish and Catalan than English. After 12 years studying English at elementary school and high school the students were not capable of speaking the language at all. Luckily for me, English is my father's native tongue and I was able to grow up in semi English environment, part English part Spanish. At home my father spoke to us in English, and we usually watched TV, played computer games and listened to music in English. However in my experience, I feel I needed both my at home experience with my father as well as my school experience, although it was far from ideal, to develop my English language skills.
As an English teacher I had problems with my students at first. How could I properly engage a class of 8-10 children with different learning styles and interests? I found the answer was that I couldn't by using only one style of approach. The classes had to be visual, with loads of games, songs and drills to practice both listening and speaking skills. We also followed a course book and I made it habit of writing new words and structures on the blackboard to help their reading and writing skills depending on their age.
Finally as I have studied Occupational therapy (the use of treatments to develop, recover, or maintain the daily living and work skills of people with physical, mental or developmental conditions), I have learned the importance of helping patients achieve progress towards said patient’s goals. Occupational therapy interventions focus on adapting the environment, modifying the task and teaching the skill in order to increase participation in and performance of daily activities, particularly those that are meaningful to the patient. As I have worked in different hospitals I have seen the importance of providing meaningful and interesting activities so that patients can latter put them into practice in their daily life.
For this essay I will outline my approach to teaching English based on my aforementioned experiences as well as look at several teaching methods learned during this TEFL course. The essay has been separated into 3 sections:
- Teaching methodology
- Syllabus and lesson planning
- The teacher’s attitude and behavior in class.
In this section I will analyze different methods with both their positive and negative points.
The Direct Method focuses on vocabulary rather than grammar and its main rule is no translation allowed. The teacher will bring objects to help students understand the meaning as the native language of the students is restricted. The purpose of language learning is communication so they give the students opportunities to use language in real contexts. From the beginning of the course they pay attention to pronunciation and teach grammar inductively. The syllabus is based on situations or topics, and not usually on linguistic structures. Although work on all four skills occurs from the start, a greater emphasis is placed on oral communication. Reading and writing exercises are based upon what the students practice orally first.
The Audio-Lingual Method gives more importance to grammar patterns than to vocabulary, but the grammar is only induced from examples and they do not give grammar rules. It also, unlike the Direct Method, has a strong theoretical base in structural linguistics and behavioral psychology. The purpose is to learn how to communicate in the L2 in a process of habit formation, first students acquire the structural patterns and afterward the vocabulary. Here the teacher uses positive reinforcement to help the students to develop correct habits as it is important to prevent learners from making errors.
Another methodology is the Silent Way. Here the teacher is passive so that students develop inner criteria for correctness. If students are simply given answers, rather than being allowed to self-correct, they will not retain them. The teacher is silent, as silence is a tool to encourage group cooperation. Also the teacher neither praises or criticizes students because it is felt that if they do those students will be less self-reliant. The teacher’s actions can interfere with students developing their own criteria. There is no fixed, linear or structural syllabus.
The Suggestopedia method eliminates the negatives barriers that students set up at the time of learning. These barriers mean that we will be unable to perform and will fail. Suggestopedia has been developed to help students eliminate the negative association they may have toward studying and thus help them overcome the barriers for learning. To achieve this teachers relax the students with a cheerful environment so they feel confident. They use fine arts (music, art, drama, and classical paintings) to enable positive suggestions to reach the subconscious of the students and native language translation to make the meaning of the dialogue clear.
At last Total Physical Response involves all senses. They think the fastest, least stressful way to achieve understanding of any target language is to follow directions uttered by the instructor without native language translation. The teacher gives commands quickly and students learn through observing the actions as well as by performing the actions themselves. The goal of teachers who use TPR is to have their students enjoy their experience in learning to communicate in foreign language.
In my ideal methodology, which I call the holistic method, just as the word means, I want to emphasize the importance of it as a whole along with the interdependence of its parts. In the same way an occupational therapist doesn’t just see someone with a missing arm or other disabilities; they see the person as a whole. In the English classroom I feel it is important to focus on all four skills (Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing) in order to properly communicate a foreign language. To do so the students first must receive some type of input either through listening to it or reading it which in turn will lead them to be able to produce the language through oral and written expression. The characteristics of this method are that we don't prefer reading and writing over listening and speaking. In order to communicate in an authentic situation we have to emphasize all four skills as independent parts. In this method it's also important to create a relaxed environment so that all students feel confident enough to practice in the class, because without said practice they will never achieve their goals of communication. It is also very important to make sure they enjoy the class. By using creative fun activities and games with meaning, students should find classes much more enjoyable and interesting while they learn and practice. Another important point would be to introduce “Authentic language” adapted to the level of the students to help them with specific vocabulary, expressions and structures used in native English speaking countries. Since Errors are a natural outcome of the development of communication skills, the teacher, as in the Suggestopedia method and the silent way, won't criticize or allow criticism of students’ errors. However, the teacher without hindering students’ fluency will address them with positive teaching correction methods. Finally it is imperative to encourage and empower students to be self sufficient and to study and practice the language by themselves out of classroom.
Syllabus & Lesson Plan
A syllabus defines the learning goals of a program over an extended period of time. It helps to achieve more linear and organized objectives. The level of students when considering the material to teach is the first thing to be decided when constructing a syllabus. The syllabus of this method will focus on general English courses for specific aged students being that students of different ages normally have different interests. For this reason I fell that it will be better to follow a course book. The course books will have a clearly identified set of achievement objectives which include what the learners are expected to be able to do by the end of the course. These ready-made syllabi contain carefully planned and balanced selections of language content that can be easily followed by both teachers and students alike. When the teachers are teaching each unit in the course books, there is a consistency in the topics and genres in the four skills area (listening, speaking, reading, and writing). This allows for greater autonomy in the learning process. Finally, course books are one of the cheapest and most convenient ways of providing learning materials to each student.
Although course books have their advantages, it is necessary to remember that they are standard. The author of the book does not know the students nor do the students the author. It's the teacher’s responsibility to add, adapt, replace or remove an activity if they don’t work in achieving classroom goals. When choosing a course book there are some important issues to consider. It should be attractive and up to date, appropriate for the level and age of the students, and has to contain variety of topics covering all four skills.
The Type of learning material needed also depends on the learning style of the individuals. We have three: Visual style (we learn trough seeing written signs, books, pictures, etc), Auditory style (we learn trough hearing things being said, recorded, and sung) and the Kinesthetic style (we learn through movement and activity). In a class you can have different styles, so it's important to prepare activities that engage all three of them. For example to explain something to the students, the teacher will have to write on the board, say it, do the action, and make the students repeat all three of them.
At the beginning of each class the teacher will review concept checking question vocabulary and structures from the previous class. It could also mean going over any homework that had been assigned. The lesson plan of the class would then be taught through Engage, Study and Activate. The topic or task would be presented in a way that would catch students interest (Engage), it could be with a story, object, video, etc (Authentic materials). After the students are focused on the new target language, students may analyze language and work out the rules and practice the target item (Study). At the end the students activate the communicative use of language in as free a manner as possible. To activate we would present authentic tasks depending on the age and level of the students. In higher levels the lesson plan would be more of a boomerang approach (EASA - Engage, Activate, Study, Activate).
Teacher’s attitude and behavior in class.
Finally the attitude and energy of the teacher is key to motivating the classroom, and arguably the most important thing to create an environment where students are eager to learn.
First the class would be set up in a U form and the students would use arm tables that would allow the teacher to be able to directly approach students and be closer to them without barrier such as tables or desks. It also provides an easier way to be able to put students in different groups or pairs. Teachers should also do their best to have a friendly, extroverted personality. It is important that they smile and make eye contact with their students. They should also be prepared to take the role of playmaker and conversationalist and above all transmit the idea that they enjoy teaching. Along with the friendly comfortable learning environment they provide for their students, they must also assure that their students are self confident enough and motivated to work on their language skills on their own at home.
An English teacher should also be a guide, in confidently directing classroom dynamics and making sure that TTT and STT is balanced and appropriate according to the level of the students.
In conclusion, all students learn at different paces and have certain strong and weak points in their attempts to successfully communicate English. Taking into account my own learning experiences as a student, my opportunities to teach English to children, my work as a occupational therapist and both the theory and practical work I have done on this TEFL course, I feel that the Holistic method will provide all students the opportunities to better all four language skills regardless of their individual language learning abilities.