Jo Childs

My teaching approach

My approach to teaching.

Nowadays and even more than ever huge numbers of people have the desire to learn a second language.  English the international ‘language of business' is certainly in high demand for jobs and contracts throughout the world.  The motivation to learn has increased at a business level due to the ever growing global economy, but also on a more social level too.  Far more people are deciding to take holidays abroad or even travel overseas to try their hand at volunteering opportunities, with many benefiting from learning a new language.

Not only are there many different reasons why students are motivated to learn, but there are also a multitude of tools, techniques and methodologies that are available to enable the student to learn to the very best of their potential.  With the advancement of the digital age there are large amounts of multimedia available along with innovative activities and ideas to enable the teacher to maximise each students ‘learner journey’.

My personal style of teaching and what I believe is the key to effective learning, is to ‘keep it real’!  Content and topics should be up to date and relevant, reflecting current affairs and situations, making the learning experience as natural to everyday life as possible.  My goal as a teacher is to enable learners to achieve language authenticity, fluidity and above all effective language acquisition.  Enabling them to converse fully, naturally and with confidence in their target language of English.

As an advocate of technology I believe that paper based learning should be a thing of the past.  As a teacher I don't want to be handing out wads of course materials or queuing for the printer and neither do our students or our planet!  With huge advances in mobile technology, particularly in smartphones and tablets, today’s learners have higher expectations of how they receive information.  Because of the range of technology that people come across and use in their everyday lives, it also means that attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter.  If we as teachers don’t try to work with that, we are not going to be able to capture students’ interest effectively and keep them engaged.  On a daily bases information is sought from social networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, which can make traditional teaching methods like scruffy, and old textbooks look uninspiring and outdated in comparison. 

My role as a teacher is not only to facilitate the communication process, but to act as a resource, motivator, coach, guide, analyst and researcher.  Each student will be informally assessed on an individual bases by holding an initial conversation and gauging their level.  At the same time getting to understand how they best learn whether it’s visually by watching videos, logically by reading books or listening to podcasts for auditory learners.  This will allow me, to assess how best to present information to them and keep them engaged and enthused.

Affective factors are also something that I feel are very important to consider.  These are emotional factors which influence learning and can have a negative or positive effect.  Negative affective factors are called affective filters and are an important idea in theories about second language acquisition.  My job as the teacher is to reduce negative factors and develop positive ones by creating activities to build a positive group dynamic, by involving students in deciding aspects of the course and in choosing activities that are motivating for the age and interests of the learners.  

The syllabus I favour would be structured predominantly around ‘Communicative Language Teaching’ (CLT) by using the ‘Direct Method’ which means learning by using or by trial and error.  Communicative Language Teaching or the ‘Communicative Approach’ is a modern approach centred around achieving communicative competence.  As an avid traveller myself, I fully understand first hand the challenges of learning a new language.  Without a doubt in my mind the best way to learn it is to use it by interaction.  Yes it's embarrassing when you walk into a cafe, get completely tongue tied and just end up pointing at what you want…but it will get easier! Once you have embarrassed yourself like that you will go home and learn how to ask for a ‘coffee and a blueberry muffin’ next time, that's for sure!  CLT underpins my ideas on learning in a less formal and less rigidly structured format.  Methods such as grammar-translation, for example whereby students have to remember a multitude of rules, are not used in my clsses, instead I introduce Inductive grammar techniques.

Inductive techniques or inductive instruction as it is also called, makes use of students ‘noticing’ instead of the teacher ‘explaining’.  The teacher presents students with a concept and then gives 3 or 4 examples modelling how it is used. The intent is for students to “notice” by way of the examples, how the concept works and I feel this is a highly effective method of learning.  This method also applies when learning vocabulary and pronunciation.  

Another modern way of teaching is by using the ‘Direct Method’, it is widely used these days and highly successful. Although it covers all 4 macro skills speaking, listening, reading and writing, it particularly focuses on developing oral communication skills.  Also referred to as the ‘natural method’ it is used in teaching foreign languages as it refrains from using the learner's' native language and uses only the target language.  On occasions however there may be a need for some interlanguage but only as a last resort to simply get the point across rather than to act as a means of translation.  Perhaps when teaching an S1 lesson with graded language for example.

So how does this look in the classroom?  Firstly since communicative competence is the aim, it is essential that students are given every opportunity to practice communicating.  The Teacher Talking Time (TTT) must be kept to a minimum, controlled and appropriate.  In most classroom activities the teacher will monitor and intervene only where necessary.  The use of mother tongue is avoided and the learner encouraged to use other means of explaining what they are wanting to communicate with gestures or with synonyms for example. 

I like to introduce many types of activities to suit all age ranges and competencies, such as puzzles and sequential presentations for more logical or mathematical thinkers and with lots of games, role-plays and simulations for kinaesthetic learners, for example.  Lessons can be held in areas or locations that will be suit each style of learner and to cater for all kinds of class activities.  Whether it be at work, in the park, at a cafe or at home, even making Skype or other online lessons available for individuals that can not take time out of their busy schedules or for family lessons in the home.

Students are expected to participate fully, to motivate and encourage each other and to use the lessons as an open forum to ask questions and bounce ideas off myself and one another.  They are also encouraged to collaborate and design their own games and activities and to use their target language in creative and artistic ways if this is their style of learning.  Some students may even be inclined to write songs or poetry in their target language and use various apps or computer programs to record their work, including short videos or role-plays and simulations.  This is a really great way to earn as they can play back their progress, being able to hear and see any mistakes, then self-correct where necessary.  You will generally see musical/rhythmic learners working and learning in this way, and adopting the PPP method of Presentation-Practice-Production.

I am also an advocate of mindfulness and believe in the benefits of meditation.  I am happy to explain to my students the benefits and encourage a 5 or 10 minute practice before and after the lessons to prepare and to process what has been learned.  This is only be a recommendation of course and entirely at the students digression.

As mentioned previously, real life situations are a great way to learn and certainly bring lessons to life, so why not take the student to a cafe or shopping at the local food market for example.  These are all real life simulations that will resonate with the learner and provide experiences that will be fixed into the long term stored memory rather than just the short term.  Especially with the look, feel and smells of the objects to act as triggers for their memories.  This process is known as ‘Conditioned Response’ and is highly effective.  As humans we all have the ability to make these strong links and we do it instinctively from birth.

With regards to student’ assessments, I favour the formative approach, and by this I mean informal continual assessments rather than formal and gruelling summative assessments or tests at the end of each term.  These can put a great deal of unnecessary stress and pressure on the learner which isn’t productive.  I believe that learning is a continual process and that progress should be encouraged at the optimum pace for each individual.   The students needs should be identified on a consistent and continual basis and the future classes moulded around the outcomes of such observations.  

My personal style of correcting errors is with encouragement and by giving positive and constructive feedback.  I also encourage students to self-assess, and they can do so when they feel it necessary and can call on my guidance at any point.  All in all I believe it is vital to engage and drive the students enthusiasm and motivate them intrinsically by tapping into their hobbies and interests.  Sparking curiosity and excitement into learning the english language by making the lessons informal, fun and above all memorable.

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