Jerome Kusters





Bachelor European Law - Maastricht University

My teaching approach

Our everyday lives are heavily influenced and dependent on international  aspects since the world has become more ‘globalized’. In this process the English language has played the key role of a communicational tool that connects people. It is therefore of no surprise that people have become eager to learn English as a second language in order to, for example, increase their opportunities in an international network or simply to be able to interact with people from all over the world. There are many methodologies towards learning a second language. My preferred method is characterized by the teaching of communicational skills (language functions in a particular context), an emphasize fluency, and the objective to give the students the confidence to use a second language.

This method is  influenced by the Communicative Language Teaching approach (CLT)  which focuses on enhancing the students’ communicative skills rather than analyzing the technical aspects of a second language. When students are aware of the context in which they can use English, they will become more confident to use it in ordinary social situations. My teaching goal and objective is thus for students to become fluent (i.e. being able to express oneself easily in particular situations) rather than accurate in the technical aspects of language (such as grammatical structures and spelling).

There are four language skills: listening (oral receptive), speaking (oral productive), reading (written receptive) and writing (written productive). In my opinion, writing is not essential in order to become confident in using a second language. However, when the student’s goal requires the ability to write in English, the teacher has to take it into account. Since I have taken a communicative approach towards language teaching, I will give more importance to pronunciation, vocabulary and contexts rather than structures and spelling.  There is no doubt that these latter (micro) skills are essential to the learning process of a language. However, according to my approach these skills should be taught inductively (i.e. provide examples in a context and then generalize the structure) rather than deductively (i.e. provide the technical rules and then examples). This becomes more clear when I elaborate on the course syllabus.

The course syllabus for this method is function and topic based. That means that the classes throughout the course will deal with language functions and situations in a specific context (topic). Examples of language functions are: to give advice, to clarify, invite, offer, command, etc. Examples of topics are: the office, shopping, the hospital, etc. Functions and topics are interrelated and often dependent on each other, i.e. when we talk about shopping (topic) we will also apply the function of advising and asking (formal) questions. The student’s learning goals throughout the course are thus on the one hand being able to perform language functions and on the other hand to use these functions in the relevant context. This will engage and motivate them and eventually enhance their communicative skills. Vocabulary is an essential part of the topic/function- based course. A student needs vocabulary in order to express itself. Vocabulary may be found back in the so-called target language (TL), the words or aspects the student should be able to use at the end of the class (student goal). In the early stages of language learning vocabulary can be thought by repetition (listening: input of the TL  – repetition/speaking: output of TL). In the more advanced levels, the students will be expected to be able to place the TL in a context. Certain techniques that will be applied are association and categorization. Then, in order to assess the student’s understanding the teacher can ask concept check questions which again refer to a particular context. Another important aspect of language learning is pronunciation. The ability to pronounce correctly is essential for the student’s confidence. Speaking and reading activities take this into account. Grammar however is taught inductively and is embedded in the activities. The student applies structures that are relevant in a specific function or topic that is taught. So, throughout the course and by advancing to higher levels the student will be able to grasp more and more structures – not by having expressly learned those structures (in a theoretical way) but by having to understand the use of them when applying functional language skills or language topics.

In order to engage the students in class a teacher can make use of a certain set of materials. For instance, a short video in the beginning of the class to trigger the students’ minds and about which they can be asked questions or their opinion. An authentic text or article, illustrations, dialogues and discussions are also tools to emphasize the active role of the student.

 

This is how a class would look like:

Unit 1 –P2: Traffic and asking directions

Timing

Activity

Objective

10min

Introduction

An ice-breaking introduction which can be questions to engage the students in the topic or for example a short video on which they reflect their opinion

20min

Topic activity: Traffic

 

Get to know the different aspects of traffic and be able to identify these

20min

Function activity: Directions

Be able to ask and give directions

10min

Wrap up

A wrap up to check the understanding, either by questions or role-play or dialogue

 

This method considers the student as the central actor in the learning process. It is therefore important to be aware not only of the students’ level, but also their social backgrounds and prior knowledge as mentioned by the constructivist theory. The students’ needs and levels can be determined by either a placement test or a questionnaire.

Overall, this method encourages teachers to consider the students as active participants from the first stage of learning onwards. By giving the students more opportunity to talk (more student talking time) they can continuously practice their active skills by means of dialogues, role-plays, etc. Obviously, the teacher’s role is thus not of an authoritative nature. The teacher will have a more controlling role with beginners but will eventually evolve from a controller/monitor to a guide and finally a mere facilitator. The teacher is on the same level as his students and often acts as a conversational participant. The equality between teacher and student will shape a productive and safe class environment.

The atmosphere is one of the affective factors that have to be taken into account. Next to that, students motivation, their needs and their learning goals are factors that will determine the progress, pace and productivity of a class. The pace is heavily influenced by the correcting behavior of a teacher. Therefore this method advices to correct only when the errors or mistakes are relevant to the activity and the ‘flow’ of the class will not be affected. Nevertheless, it is important to assess the students’ progress in a formative way: i.e. as a tool of learning that will eventually be beneficial to the students’ progress. There should also be room for self-assessment, for example after every month they will come up with points they think they have  managed well and points that they might spend some more attention on. Since this method often involves group works and activities in a social and interactive setting it is also possible for students to be assessed by their peers. One particular error is inter language. A phenomenon that usually comes up in the beginning stages. These mistakes are often linked to their mother tongue language and include the use of mother tongue structures and vocabulary, over-generalization and simplification. In order to avoid inter-language a teacher should strictly prohibit the use of the mother tongue in class. Nevertheless, when talking about errors and mistakes, one should always keep in  mind that praising a student is as important as pointing out their weaknesses.

Every student and every class is different. It is therefore important that the teaching approach is adapted to these characteristics that define a student. First we take into account age, secondly the level. It is held that children are tend to be cognitive learners, i.e. they learn through observation and participation – once input is given (and received) and understood they will be able to produce (output). Then, by practicing and participating in activities they will be able to communicate. For adults, it is more important to build on their prior knowledge and take into account their social backgrounds and environment since they tend to learn in a contextual way (constructivism). A teacher can thus adapt his way of teaching: for children it might be necessary to adopt a more controlling role in order to comfort them with the language. For adults and advanced students it is better to take a step back and give them the opportunity to practice and intervene when necessary. Also, the age difference often implies a difference in why they learn English. If a student learns English to get a job, the progress needs to be consistent and focused on vocabulary and functions related to that branche of business. Again, in a functional or topic syllabus this would be most beneficial. It is thus important to adapt a class to a student’s goals and motivations or environment preferences/needs which are influenced by their age. Another important factor is the student’s level. When it appears that certain students in the class are of a lower level than others the teacher has to make sure these students will get as much opportunities as the others (who will be able to participate easier). When a student feels off track this will possible affect its motivation in a negative way and soon the student will not be engaged in the class or even bothered by it. By making sure all students in the class feel ‘safe’ and being given the same opportunities as others they will stay engaged, motivated and eventually confident enough to speak.



Madrid

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