Laura Clarke

My teaching approach

I believe teaching starts the moment you meet your student for the first time. From that moment when you first lay eyes on each other; you are the teacher and they are there to learn from you.  From that very first greeting onwards your student is waiting to hear you speak and they will analyse and test you so it is imperative to be prepared for your lessons. When presenting target language or just speaking to students in general I put extra emphasis on my speaking. I aim to speak clearly and I prefer to present ideas in a simple way as to not unnecessarily obscure the learning process. Teachers who are ill prepared often times find themselves facing quiet moments in the classroom and then they try to compensate by speaking more and more resulting in confusion amongst students.

I am acutely aware of the physical aspects that students find distracting, things like body odour, bad breathe, or anything else that distracts from the learning process. Beyond being physically clean and well presented, as teacher I display enthusiasm in my class rooms as well as outside the class room when teaching and in the way in which I approach learning. Students in general respond well to enthusiasm but they do not respond well to teachers who just talk and talk without giving them the opportunity to engage with the target language. 

We know that student output is our primary goal and I believe that it is the task of the teacher to plan and prepare lessons that will allow students to speak as much as possible. All teachers were taught at some point in their lives and it is important to reflect upon methods of teaching that we did not enjoy ourselves when considering teaching English. In my capacity as teacher I approach my teaching task in many ways depending on what I wish the outcome of the lesson to be. I am not afraid to try out new or different methods as long as it is effective in achieving the goal. 

If I wish to teach a beginner class how to speak on the telephone I will set up an activity where I will role-play a scenario using simple dialogue. For example Pierre is a doctor who travels a lot and he often needs to book flights and accommodation telephonically.  If I believe that the other students in Pierre's class can benefit from a lesson in phone etiquette for the beginner speaker I will write a script that closely mimics an actual conversation with a travel agent or hotel receptionist. During this activity the student will ask questions like, "What do I say when ....." which means I can respond with the appropriate answer. I will have Pierre sitting on a chair with his back to me and I will sit on a chair with my back to him for the duration of the activity. This will closely mimic an actual telephone conversation where the parties are not able to see one another but only hear each other. Pierre and his class mates are able to read the dialogue and I will ensure that I explain any new vocabulary. 

Beginner students can often find themselves in awkward situations outside of the classroom especially when meeting people for the first time. People outside the classroom are not always sensitive towards people with a limited command of the English language. What was so great about Pierre was that he really practiced with the language a lot in a more natural setting. Pierre once made a very inappropriate remark during free practice with me. He told me that he is so happy that I corrected him because he wasn't sure whether he was being appropriate when meeting new people. When taking this story into consideration it is easy to see that what we do in the classroom has a direct effect on the student's life.

I can do a Concept Checking Question with the students to ensure that the concept is understood and that they have reached a certain level of confidence with the target language. In the first chapter (Second language acquisition Theories) we talked about the different ways in which students acquire a language and we saw how different teaching beginners is when compared to teaching students of a more advanced level.  I used Pierre as an example for teaching a beginner, but he was a special student because he could read and write English almost flawlessly but he could hardly speak it at all. 

If I am asked to present a lesson to a class of eight to ten students at an advanced level I think firstly of the classroom itself and my role in it. I would set up the physical classroom in a way that allows students to see each another and where I can insert and remove myself from the group with ease. If I was asked to teach adjectives to this group I would pre-teach any unfamiliar or unusual vocabulary (not too much) before launching into any activity.  I would prepare an activity where I will write several adjectives on a piece of paper and then I would cut them out so that there is one word on each paper. I would then put all the pieces of paper in a bag.  To kick off the activity I will divide the class into a two groups. To be fair to all students I would make this group selection possible through a random process like sticking numbers under their chairs and matching numbers to a group. 

Once they are in groups they have to nominate an order in which they will take turns to pull a piece of paper from the bag and then ask them to act out the word on the paper using only miming. Team members guess what the adjective is. (much like charades which is also a great way to practice target language) I will give students a time limit in which to guess each adjective. I will keep score of all the adjectives guessed correctly and announce the winning team at the end.  In this activity students have the opportunity to participate both individually and in a group.

I can expand upon this activity by asking the students to use the words they guessed in a sentence. We all learn with our senses in particular through visual, auditory and kinaesthetic means and it is because of this that the students should be exposed to a variety of material such as signs, books, pictures, songs, movies, recordings and so on to further aid them in their goal of becoming proficient in English.  These three styles of learning (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic) are necessary when acquiring a new language but it is important that it is done through controlled and balanced activities.

Games are a great way for students to use the language in way that will demand from them a certain degree of grappling with the language as well as a lot of time to communicate with their peers under the guidance of the teacher. In my role as playmaker I will provide the instruction but I will not spoon feed the students. The more they are forced to think and speak the more they practice and the more they practice the more they remember and learn.  The practice can only happen when free practice is facilitated by means of a clearly outlined framework which the teacher has prepared to ensure successful deliver in class.By starting the lessons with quick questions it should become evident to students that the emphasis of the lesson is to speak. 

Concept checking questions are of utmost importance because in this way the teacher can gauge the students' understanding of target language and make a teaching decision about why to teach next and plan for future lessons. In a classroom students are often asked whether they understand normally they just confirm in the affirmative just to avoid further conversation. This way of concept checking is not effective and it should be avoided. If students are not partaking in the conversation or other activity it is the teacher's responsibility to elicit participation by enticing the students using a soft approach. Teachers should fully engage their students by being a great conversationalist and assessor. By repeating this lesson structure the students will become more familiar with the way the TEFL classroom functions and as a result they will be more relaxed.

It is great when students relax and get comfortable in the classroom but it is important for students to know what is expected of them. I feel that the rules of the classroom should be mentioned on the very first day i.e. no food or beverages allowed, no L1 allowed, tardiness will not be tolerated etc. I will make students aware of  "fun" classroom rules like the fact that mistakes are allowed and participation is encouraged.  

It is important to remember that eventually students will witness the teacher making a mistake but this is not something to be afraid of as it might actually help your students to relax and not be frightened of making mistakes too. When I make a mistake in the classroom and a student corrects me before I can correct myself I would say something like "Off course. Yes. Well done John". It is a good strategy to admit the mistake and move on.

Another example of a "fun" rule is to tell students that they are are not allowed to sit in the same seat for two consecutive days as to avoid smaller groups forming spontaneously which can sometimes hinder the learning process. I would then make sure that the students adhere to this rule. 

Students can sometimes form a kind of codependent relationship with their peers and then they do not look to the teacher as the source of knowledge and instruction but rather to each other. We want to encourage peer learning off course but what we don't want is peer "leaning". When this happens students are limited in their peer interaction because they choose to constantly speaking to the same people and once a little group has formed it creates a sense of disconnectedness in the classroom. So it is clear that this rule will encourage new bonds to be formed and the classroom becomes exciting but remains controlled.  

The role of the teacher is a dynamic one and it is a role that can constantly be improved upon and adapted as we grow as individuals in the teaching profession. Preparation is primary. It is imperative for teachers who wish to be successful to nurture and actively promote a healthy and progressive relationship with students. This is made possible by employing simple tactics like getting to know the students by name and by knowing what their interests are and off course by doing a needs analysis.  By building a rapport with my students I can make possible a situation where the students look forward to their next class and teaching becomes fun and rewarding. 

In conclusion when I am prepared and ready and excited to be in the classroom, the students respond in a positive way. It is only a teacher who is well prepared that is able to win the hearts of their students. I am prepared to use any method available to me to ensure that students are fully engaged with the language that they are learning but regardless of which approach I choose to use,  the outcome will be the same - Students will start to acquire the language in a fun and safe environment. 

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