My teaching approach
It is estimated that there are 7000 spoken languages in the world today and I consider myself fortunate to have a decent command of at least two of those. I was raised in a bilingual home where Spanish and English were used interchangeably and in conjunction. Now as an adult, whenever I need to become familiar with a new language for work or personal endeavors I utilize a system very similar to the content based and task oriented exercise method. Prior to my training at Oxbridge I would not have been able to properly classify the method I use and furthermore, I can now see the drawbacks that using only one method creates. Therefore, my approach towards instruction of a second language would be a hybrid of suggestopedia and content-based activities while coordinating this style using elements of preparation and organization found in the Oxbridge method.
The use of suggestopedia, which theorizes that the learning environment should be one where students feel relaxed and confident, in my opinion will produce positive results. I believe it imperative that encouragement and praise be frequently used, especially with older students, whose psychological barriers or previous learning experiences may inhibit their learning and participation. On the flip side, younger students with fewer inhibitions may have less fear in becoming involved; however, in a large classroom setting a teacher will no doubt be challenged with a wide variety of personalities, some of which will include less mature or introverted students. There may be days where outside elements may affect a student’s ability or willingness to learn, so I will be flexible and patient so that the student(s) will reengage on learning the L2. Errors will undoubtedly arise, due to the influence their native language has on the L2, but that is perfectly fine and the teacher must choose the appropriate time and manner in which to correct these mistakes. Below I have gone ahead an elaborated on the specific ways I would incorporate suggestopedia in my overall method.
Competition, if kept friendly, could be a powerful tool in the teachers arsenal because it would encourage participation not only from the strongest personalities in class, but from the shier students as well. Positive reinforcement through point gaining or other rewards will indirectly boost a student’s confidence.
Suggestopedia also encourages the use of fine arts in order to reach the subconscious of the students. My Bachelors degree in Fine Arts could not make me anymore excited on using artistic works to better facilitate the learning of the L2. Using popular music, poetry, or works of art in association with Target Language will increase the likelihood that students retain the vocabulary. Using drama, comedy, or action in the form of role-playing could help in the more effective way of assimilating structures because cinematic works, theatrical performances or television programs can only be understood through a basic understanding of a language's structure. I would include in my structure activity a section where two or more students would have to re-create a scene from one of the previously mentioned entertainment medias. In addition to gaining a better command of structures the STT (student talk-time) would surpass the TTT (teacher talk-time), a ratio that is encouraged in the Oxbridge system. With topic activities, the inclusion of fine arts is fairly straightforward. Topics could range from famous directors, epic literary works, popular singers or groundbreaking styles of art.
Native Language Translation
I would be open to translate for those students whom are having extra difficulty in understanding the L2. If the ultimate goal of suggestopedia is to overcome psychological barriers and increase the students’ confidence to augment the learning experience, then having the willingness to translate is essential. The students will always be translating in their heads from their native tongue to the L2, so at times a simple translation through the use of cognates from the instructor will only expedite the process of understanding the lesson.
Drawbacks of solely using Suggestopedia
Relaying strictly on this method for instruction may run the risk of easily veering off topic. The unique and eclectic teaching exercises that may arise when incorporating fine arts may prove to large of a distraction with some age groups. I will need to be very mindful of the class make up and select only the appropriate elements of this method for them. For example, while role-playing may prove fun and exciting for a class made up teenagers, the same may not be said for adults coming straight from a long workday.
Content Based Activities
As I stated in my introduction, I have been unknowingly using the content-based method of learning foreign languages in my adulthood. As a theatrical technician I am required to work alongside other theatrical professionals from around the world so I focused on learning vocabulary relating to theater and its logistical qualities. Knowing I would encounter situations where this vocabulary would be repeated, recall was quickly achieved. I believe I was benefiting from this approach and coincidentally enough one of the core beliefs of this method is that language is learned most effectively when it is used as a medium to convey informational content of interest to the students. As my time with my class increases and also at the onset I will try become more familiar with their learning preferences and motivations for learning the L2. Asking questions pertaining to their occupations or taste in music will give me a more well rounded picture and in turn allow me to better tailor my activities or modify assigned activities to achieve positive results from the students. The use of tangible objects in conjunction with authentic materials like inter-office memos, equipment manuals, or excerpts from a textbook could also be highly beneficial. For example, if I found myself teaching a group of industrial workers vocabulary on safety equipment, then having actual examples of this equipment at hand will no doubt increase the likelihood of successful retention. Excerpts from the manuals that came along with the equipment could be utilized so that the vocabulary words were contextualized. The use of collocation would also be advantageous in this particular example. Finally, concept check questions could then be used to insure that information has been clearly conveyed by you and hopefully retained by the students.
Drawbacks of solely using content-based activities:
The major detriment to only using content-based activities will be the possibility of not connecting with some of the members of the class. While your activity may be engaging and interesting for some, others may find it dull. Again flexibility is key in this situation. I will be ready to shift gears away from an activity that may be to closely related to what the students do for a living or has a subject matter to difficult to understand to an easier concept.
The Oxbridge System
The Oxbridge system is a very communal way of approaching the teaching of a second language. Traditional textbooks are replaced with activities that help the student gain a more extensive vocabulary, have a clearer understanding of sentence structures and communicate a topic as a whole more effectively. The element of community manifests itself in how these activities are created. The teachers at Oxbridge create these exercises and contribute to a database that all instructors have access to. Community is again reinforced with the method of class management that Oxbridge advocates. The traditional set-up of a classroom where students are sat in rows and the teacher is in front of a blackboard is discouraged and a more modern and inclusive arrangement is the norm. The QQ (quick questions) segment of this system also provides the students with continuity. This attribute is desirable because teachers are rotated amongst groups of students. It is important to keep in mind that the questions should not be one that can be answered with a yes or no response and it should result in critical thinking from the student and prompt them to respond in the L2. At Oxbridge productive skills take precedence over receptive skills because communicative competence the most fundamental quality of this method. I believe all these practices seem innovative and together with the meticulous planning that the teacher will undergo before a session a well-informed class may be the result.
Drawbacks of solely using the Oxbridge system
This isn't to say that the Oxbridge system could not benefit from some modification. In my paragraph discussing suggestopedia, I explained that I would be open to native language translation. At Oxbridge translation in the classroom is not encouraged, but in my opinion this practice can at times be helpful for students who are truly struggling with a concept. In beginner classes this practice may be used more often, but only as a last resort.
To summarize my analysis of the methods above I would like to conclude this assignment with a short description of my syllabus and a sample lesson plan for a one-hour general English course for S1 students. Firstly, I would like to touch on the importance of a well-structured syllabus and lesson plan. Without them, a teacher will have no outline of how much subject matter he or she plans to cover in the allotted time and the make up of each class. In other words, it will keep the class on course and help it advance at an appropriate pace.
My syllabus would be function and vocabulary based. I do not anticipate these being mutually exclusive since functions cannot be created without vocabulary and once it has been memorized it is only useful when used in context through proper structures to convey various functions.
Quick Questions: 5 min.
Vocabulary Activity 1: 15 min.
Structure Activity 1: 10 min.
Vocabulary Activity 2: 15 min.
Structure Activity 2: 10 min.
Recap: 5 min.
I will spend slightly more time on vocabulary activities because for an S1 level class I believe that more attention should be paid to increasing their vocabulary. The use of visual aids for tangible items and modeling for more abstract nouns will help facilitate the learning.