Elizabeth Bryant





My teaching approach

Elizabeth Bryant's Teaching Methodology: "The Changeable Approach"

Success in any craft requires a depth of knowledge, many hours of practice, and an awareness of the complex systems that underpin one's work. To be an effective instructor of languages one must teach with an understanding of the common methodologies and practices that have informed present learning environments. The application, or practice, of theory is an essential period in acquiring teaching competency, however, what makes a teacher most effective is the ability to be flexible, spontaneous and responsive to the changing demands of their students. I believe that understanding established teaching methodologies enriches both teaching practice and student experience, for when a teacher is able to draw from a variety of approaches, they are better equipped to respond to their students needs.

Each teaching methodology has its merits, but none provides a complete and universal transmission standing on its own. For example, where the Grammar Translation Method gives rigorous attention to grammatical structures and literary competence, it sacrifices the requirements of general fluency and communicative skill sets. Where the Direct (Berlitz) Method applies unwavering focus on using the second language in verbal communication, it veers away from grammatical competencies and an explicit presentation of a language's structure, which could be useful, depending on the leaner. Contrary to the Berlitz Method, The Audio-Lingual Method uses verbal communication to focus on grammatical patterns, rather than vocabulary, drawing the teacher into the spotlight as the irrefutable model for how to appropriately sequence language. Moving away from a style that centers instructors is The Silent Way emphasizes students' roles as teachers and self-correctors. Where this could potentially create a challenging environment that prompts students in to greater language acquisition, this approach isn't appropriate for all levels of learners, and could potentially shut down participation rather than encourage it. Perhaps paired with the method of Suggestopedia, The Silent Way could provide cultural indicators from with students could derive meaning, but either way, teachers must maintain the role of active facilitator, even if that requires active—affective—listening.

To rigidly adopt just one of these approaches ignores the changeability that will inevitably be encountered both in teachers and learners. All parties involved in language learning possess varying styles, dialects and strengths; a fixed approach to teaching can suffocate where there is a certain possibility for every individual to thrive. Yet and still, each of these approaches has value, and as a classroom is never static (even day-to-day among the same students), it is very useful to be able to draw from each of these methods, coupling that knowledge with the confidence and spontaneity that has been cultivated in a wise and experienced teacher. Similarly, combinations of these methods often work well together to balance each other out, and while communicative, student-centered learning environments have been shown to bring about more rapid fluency, each of these approaches may be woven into a classroom to substantiate the material.

Acquiring fluency in any language is a comprehensive endeavor. It requires an engagement of both body and mind. For this reason, a broad understanding and varied usage of teaching methodologies is an asset, because it is an approach that aims to fully stimulate the learner, effectively impressing upon them a new language. Classrooms, from public schoolhouses to the back booths of coffee bars, should be multitudinous in their capacity to stimulate learners. Tools, active role playing, the consumption of art and poetry, scientific experiments, real-time immersion, reading, realia, kinesthetics, listening, spelling, history and word origin, all of these realms have their place in the classroom. As long as the goals are identified in a course or syllabus, a language can be taught either explicitly or implicitly through various models. Language acquisition goes beyond the bounds of verbal and literal understandings, and its introduction, especially to new learners, should demonstrate that.

The goals of any language teacher should be not only to facilitate SLA, but also to inspire their students to actively want to use their new language skills because they feel comfortable, confident and connected to the process. Similarly, the objectives for each teacher should reflect a knowledge of their students' desires and goals. As usual, all adjustments to teaching methods depend on the nature of the learning environment. The aims of a 62-year-old grandfather who wants to communicate with his grandchildren are not going to be the same as those of a 20-something businesswoman who is preparing for an international conference in the following year. Factors that are worth teacher consideration range from class size, location, student age, time restraints, specific aims as expressed by students or their institutions, expectations imposed on teachers, and teaching to a test, to more subjective variables like student/teacher moods on a particular day and how that may effect the energy of the learning environment. When teachers are fully present, aware and prepared, they are not only able to navigate these difficult teaching terrains, but they also inspire the same attitude in their students. 

Central to our jobs as teachers is to facilitate the transfer of information for that which our students desire to master, while encouraging them to understand their true capacity and potential as learners. Essentially, we must cover all our bases while leaving room in the outfield for greater possibility and growth. There are many variables that a wise teacher must keep in check, but most important is the exchange that exists between teachers and their students: input and output. In this sense I believe Audio-Lingual Methodologies and those of The Silent Way go hand in hand. Teacher Talking Time models for students correct speech patterns, grammar and vocabulary while practicing their receptive skills, however, TTT is not balanced without allowing student productivity, wherein they must be self sufficient, confident and demonstrate a command of their words. The subsequent participation by students requires a teacher's demeanor or attitude to be encouraging and relaxed with a general positive outlook.

A teacher's attitude or affect is important for the successful facilitation of language learning. There are many roles a teacher may need to play in the eyes of their students and for this, flexibility is essential. Humans are multifaceted, the learning process should be the same and teachers must be prepared to navigate the changing needs and dynamics of their classrooms. At times teachers may need to command the classroom as the authority, at other times sit back and silently observe as students take the wheel. In other situations they may need to abandon structure because of students' needs to express personal or political distresses that would otherwise keep them from concentrating in class. Teaching as a facilitator for the dissemination of knowledge/language allows for learning to occur successfully regardless of changing environments.

While spontaneity and flexibility are important components in the classroom, they cannot entirely abandon structure. A plan, syllabus, or projection of what students will achieve gives direction to learning. Just as a ship captain must be able to navigate the unpredictability of a changing sea, so to must they keep their course. A successful syllabus begins with the understanding of meeting students where they are, projecting where they will go and the path they will navigate to arrive at their goals. In line with the multifaceted nature of humanity, a syllabus must be diverse, including communicative practice, either explicit or implicit introduction to grammatical structures, and work towards acquiring literacy. The implementation of a successful syllabus acknowledges the many aspects of a language. This approach potentially veers away from the Communicative or Oxbridge approach to teaching languages. Depending on level or need, exposure to literature, the expectation of completing some work outside of class, and explicit study of grammatical structures can be of use to students. Of course communicative practice must be centered within the curriculum, especially for lower level learners who rely heavily on modeling, repetition and acquiring language chunks in order to get a grasp on the language. However, especially for higher level learners, their is value and a sense of solidifying concepts that comes with presenting explicit grammatical structures. It is also important to layer material in a syllabus appropriately. For example, students should be presented with simpler, new material at the forefront of a class. If students are gratified by their successful acquisition of new material, they will be more open to confronting difficult material. Therefor the brunt of the class should be focused on the material presented in the middle. This should be the most challenging, yet not impossible. Finally, students should wrap up with work that does more to incorporate the expression of personal preference and opinion, so that they are drawing upon themselves and their own knowledge while practicing the learned material. This is achieved in L1 and L5 very differently, for example, a concluding activity for an L1 after introducing the phrase "I like to eat_____" with vocabulary, could be a brief discussion about the things they they like to eat. Alternatively, an L5 learner may engage in a debate about why they choose not to eat quinoa because it is damaging to Peruvian agricultural systems. Beyond the  more personable concluding exercises, is the wrap up which is necessary for students as it gives them an opportunity to realize what they have accomplished throughout the class period.

Teaching is relative and depends on a lot on factors that are being externally imposed. For example, teaching to a test does not provide the same set up as teaching in preparation for an upcoming trip to another country. Yet and still, evaluation and assessment are valuable in monitoring student progress and priming them to enter high levels of language acquisition. Assessments, in the same vein as teaching styles, should be comprehensive, meaning, they should contain a degree of writing, speaking, reading comprehension, stimulating activity and listening. Often the design of a test doesn't allow for the full scope of a student's knowledge to be evaluated, therefor I think teachers should tailer tests to fit their students, following an initial self assessment by the students themselves.

An ideal classroom would have many outlets for multifaceted expression of language; tools, books and illustrations, music, space for movement, poetry, magazines, authentic material and other realia that could allow for real life transmittal, creative learning, and bare-bones study of the language. Small class sizes are beneficial to all of those involved, as they prompt greater participation and allow for focus on individual students. My ideal classroom would be small, however, as I have expressed throughout this essay, many of the factors that compose a classroom are out of the control of the teacher, and therefor the teacher must be prepared to design their classes as a reflection of their students and all external factors. In the real—not the theoretical—world, teachers must be well equipped to respond to the changing demands of the classroom. Preparation, passion, flexibility, spontaneity and presence will allow any teacher to enter a classroom and transform it to best fit the needs of their students.  



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