My teaching approach
I approach teaching English as a foreign language as a student of second languages myself. A keen traveller, for many years I have been acquiring French, and more recently Spanish, as a means to communicate in two of the my favourite countries. I understand the frustrations and the delights that come with learning a second language, as well as the hard work required. Over the years I have been exposed to various styles of tutoring; from being taught French at school using textbooks and grammar drilling, to travelling there every summer with my family and being encouraged to converse with local children. As an adult, I have learned Spanish in a classroom with other adults - heavy on the written materials and light on verbal practise. Then entirely opposed to this, a simple one on one weekly conversation class with a native Spanish speaker. I know myself that my summers in France and my Spanish conversation classes, both with a focus on speaking, accelerated my learning and fluency most effectively. This personal history, along with further research has led me to develop a teaching style that merges elements of the Communicative Approach with the Direct Method to give a holistic learning experience with the main goal of improved communication.
Taking from the Communicative Approach, my teaching method places emphasis on using students’ own personal experiences to enhance understanding. It places great importance on students expressing real means of communication and has focus on form over content. It encourages fluency from students by letting them put into practise the language they already know, offers new target language and uses authentic texts to build a knowledge that can be directly transferred into the real world. The influence of the Direct Method is evident in my use of pictures, props, visual and auditory materials to teach vocabulary through demonstration, linking ideas between the two languages and cultures to help embed and retain new information. Students should speak for the majority of the lesson and they are encouraged to ask each other questions as well as answer them. When it comes to mother tongue, the Communicative Approach allows of varying languages in the classroom, whereas lessons conducted by the Direct Method allows only for speaking in L2. My approach would only permit use of the students’ native tongue at beginner level and in isolated circumstances when a translation of one or two words would help the speed and flow of a lesson. This ensures the student is fully immersed in the target language and therefore learning by instruction, demonstration, practise and osmosis. While both of my guiding methods encompass all four macro skills of speaking, writing, listening and reading from the very beginning, and encourage an ultimate goal of communication, it is the Direct Methods’ focus on listening and, more importantly, speaking that I adhere to in my teaching. Speaking is arguably the most powerful form of human interaction and the most transferable skill in everyday life. Being able to speak a foreign tongue leads to writing and reading in a natural way. If you can speak, you can try and spell and therefore you will be able to read and write.
When it comes to grammar, both the Communicative Approach and the Direct Method make a point of moving away from systematic methodologies such as Grammar-Translation Method whereby students are required to memorise grammar rules and apply them to translations of the source language into their native tongue. Instead, in my approach, grammar is taught implicitly using examples in the target language, role play, question & answer, and correct phrasing. In this way the student begins to think in and feel how the language is spoken, rather than trying to form rules in their head, thus encouraging a more natural progression to fluency. So long as the lessons are graded correctly (slower speech and simpler vocabulary for the beginner and intermediate levels, growing to a faster and more naturally paced speech for the advanced students) and plenty of examples are given, this method of teaching grammar should have successful results.
Students’ needs and motivation for learning will vary from case to case - they may be required to attend English classes for a job, to accompany their school or college education, as a mandate from a parent, or simply for fun and self development. It is important to be aware of the individual needs of the student so that specific learning objectives may be determined to create an appropriate syllabus. When dealing with a student who wants to advance their communication skills specifically within their professional field, (eg. law, science, medicine, arts, tourism) then an English for Specific Purposes (ESP) course is the most suitable. In this instance, my course and activities would contain target language that is relevant to their occupation. There would be a greater focus placed on vocabulary and structure practise within their specific business context. Alternatively, for a student who wants to improve their English for everyday communication, a functional syllabus may be the best route to take. Within the course, learning function language would be prioritised over grammatical structures and long vocabulary lists. These areas might include ‘Introducing Yourself’, ‘Ordering at a restaurant’, or ‘Seeking or Giving Directions’, with the most common phrases - ‘Hello, nice to meet you. My name is…’, ‘Please can I order the fish…’, ‘Continue straight ahead…’ being taught to expose the student to most practical usage of the second language. This sort of syllabus helps students to develop their overall ability to function in the L2.
Teachers themselves will, and should, adopt certain roles within the classroom. More traditional styles of learning would have the teacher as an authoritative figure, with all organisation and direction coming from them. This role opposes my teaching approach as it contradicts the objective of enhancing student communication. Instead, I aim to embody the position of playmaker and guide. I introduce activities and guide conversation, offering corrections and opinions only when necessary and appropriate, thus encouraging the students to drive their own communication and develop their fluency. Further to this, the great importance I hold in understanding the needs of students would have me embrace the role of a needs analyst. As previously discussed, it is so important to be aware of what a student aims to achieve from their learning as this helps form course objectives and also assists in judging how to keep them motivated.
Ideally, I would want my students to be communicators - contributing verbally to class, responding to the course materials, offering their opinions and practising the target language. Of course this is not always immediately possible. As well as considering individual needs, as a teacher it is also crucial to understand that students enter the classroom at different stages in life and with different personalities. Teachers must be adaptable and flexible, always looking to build a rapport with their class through enthusiasm and positivity. One of my strengths has always been my ability to read different personalities and situations quickly and adapt accordingly to fit the environment. With an introverted personality, encouragement and praise is crucial, to build their confidence and gently guide and motivate them into contributing and therefore learning and retaining more. Extroverted students can bring a fantastic energy to class and an eagerness to learn, but it is essential that this is met by their teacher to sustain the level of motivation. As an extroverted person myself, this is never a challenge! A student’s age also plays a large part in their role within the classroom and a teacher’s response to this. While I would argue that both children and adults respond positively to visual stimuli, with children, visual props, music and plenty of interaction is required to cater for their shorter attention spans! With adults, the key is finding a balance between providing enough tools to enhance their learning experience while giving them the opportunity to convert input into real communication.
Except when there is a specific exam a student may be working towards, such as the Cambridge IELTS, I prefer to keep formal assessment of my courses light - the odd piece of homework and a straightforward exam at the end of term would suffice. While homework and tests can encourage a student to revisit information covered in class and apply it to the outside world, it can also be very time consuming and add unnecessary stress to the already extremely challenging task of learning a foreign language. Find me an adult that has happy memories of homework from their school days and I will find a way to introduce it more frequently in class! This also applies to note taking. I approach this as purely a choice matter. If a student simply wants to arrive and use the time in class to practise and gradually build on their knowledge, there should not be any pressure to behave in a different way that could be uncomfortable. In my opinion, anything that risks hampering a student’s motivation to learn should be avoided where possible.
The main aim of my teaching approach is to provide a positive, encouraging and immersive learning experience for students. My key objective is to have a student communicating as effectively as possible, as soon as possible, regardless of the starting level. Learning a second language is demanding enough without bringing in the outdated grammar techniques, unappealing homework tasks and the detached and controlling teacher. By listening to student needs and focussing my classes on developing a potential that every individual has within them, students leave with new transferrable knowledge and a heightened confidence in their own ability to speak and communicate in English.