Tahila Rufat





My teaching approach

Compare and contrast several teaching methods and approaches by considering their effectiveness in creating a communicative lesson

 

The first step into analysing teaching methods and approaches is to understand what a teaching method is, and what its objectives are.  Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines method as “a systematic plan followed in presenting material for instruction”. We can therefore define “teaching method” as a particular plan or system used to teach.  In order to create a teaching method, it is important to understand what the objectives are. The following essay will analyse the teaching methods in terms of their effectiveness in achieving effective communication.

At the end of the sixties, a new teaching perspective that believed in the importance of the communicative approach or communicative language teaching was born. One of its major influences came from the Council of Europe that set a range of competences. A number of experts such as C. Candlin and H.Widdowson determined that the principal objective for students learning a second language was to develop a “communicative competence”. This new approach to learning a language started focusing on achieving effective communication instead of a perfect linguistic ability.  

Before analysing the effectiveness of teaching methods, I would like to summarise recent perceptions on the main characteristics of communicative method centred approach when creating communicative lessons.   

According to Johnson & Morrow, the main characteristics of the communicative method are:

1-     To create activities comprising extra linguistic objectives.

Example: In the following examples of a listening exercise, a) focuses on extra linguistic objectives and b) doesn’t

a)     Tomorrow we want to go to the beach. Listen to the weather forecast and decide whether to go or not.

b)     Listen to the recording and answer the questions.

2-     The ability to manage all the components of a language (pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, functions) simultaneously and with a real rhythm as you would do in real life.

3-     Communication processes are as important as dominating the forms that are being used.

4-     In order to learn something, practice actively.

-        Learn to communicate by communicating

-        It’s not about teaching, it’s about learning

-        Only the student can learn, it’s his/her responsibility

5-     Making mistakes is not necessarily negative.   

 

The Direct Method, was born at the end of the 19th century from a will to achieve “natural learning”. The aim was to develop an active oral interaction in the language that was being learned. Berlitz used it in schools and named it Berlitz Method. Its main characteristics are the emphasis on active oral interaction, very little grammatical analysis, learning of new vocabulary and sentences orally introduced through examples, oral communication structures created from an exchange of questions and answers between teachers and students, teaching how to speak and auditory comprehension, emphasis on correcting students’ pronunciation and grammar, small groups of students and individualised attention.

The main objective of the Direct Method is to gain abilities for conversation and to end-up thinking in the language that students are learning. The method was created under the belief that in order to learn language, the language needs to be used. The Direct Method has undoubtedly some very positive aspects that can encourage communication and that follow the principal of learning to communicate by communicating. Low teacher speaking time is one of the key elements of this method as it encourages students to use the L2. The vocabulary students learn through drilling is always introduced in real contexts, using realia or pictures, and it is generally vocabulary that students can use in everyday situations. I believe this is important for students’ motivation as they will easily recognise the need to know particular words or structures. Small attention is paid to grammar rules as the main focus of this method is to get students to communicate in the target language. This is why, being able to ask questions, is as important as answering them. One of the golden rules of the Direct Method is never to use translation or L1 but to demonstrate instead, and to act out instead of explaining concepts, vocabulary, or meanings. In theory this should help students to associate meaning with the target language, directly providing them the opportunity to acquire the language naturally avoiding translation.  

No exams are used and the way of evaluating a student’s progress is for them to show that they are able to communicate and not to demonstrate their knowledge about the language. The interaction taking place between teachers and students happens mostly through questions and answers. Teachers have to speak at the students’ pace, as naturally as possible, and never give a speech as the main focus is to activate students’ need for communication. Books are not used and lesson planning is essential in order to secure a natural rhythm/flow during the lesson.

One of my main criticisms about this method of teaching is the lack of affective factors. The interaction between students and teachers is somehow forced and unnatural (although that was supposed to be one of the aims of this method).  Students might learn how to create certain structures almost by heart and with a great pronunciation. They might also be able to respond quickly to set sentences, but it seems to me that there is little encouragement for them to initiate a conversation, and little room for free expression.  Having said, I do believe that including some Direct Method in teaching practice can be useful in order to get used to simple structures, and that it is certainly more effective for communication than the audio lingual method.

 

As its name indicates, the Audio lingual method combines listening and talking (audio- lingual).  It is based on the repetition and memorisation of structures of the language. The idea is to form and consolidate linguistic habits through drilling specific sentences. Grammatical structure because more important than vocabulary is not seen as important. Moulton defines five principles: 1) language is oral, not written; 2) language is a result of a set of habits; 3) language needs to be taught, rather than teaching something about language; 4) language is what native speakers speak, not what somebody thinks it should be; 5) languages are different. The syllabus includes different levels unities (phonology, morphology, syntax and vocabulary) selected depending on a frequency of use criteria, going from easy to more complex and grouped depending on particular communicative situations. The activities used for this particular method aim at teaching grammatical norms in an inductive manner, without explaining or translating them. The oral communication taking place is solely based on the form/structures that students repeat after the teacher, errors are corrected immediately and constantly, and much importance is given to intonation and pronunciation. This method might practice speaking but there the role of the students is completely passive and they take even less initiative than in the Direct Method. Although the role of the teacher is certainly active, the interaction that takes place is mostly based on a dialogue that is memorised without allowing students to actively find ways to create their own communicative strategies. I believe this method of teaching goes pretty much against all of what the communicative method is about, as much importance is given to the form, no extra linguistic objectives are aimed, students won’t learn to manage all the components of the language, and students do not participate actively.  Having said that, the role play activities commonly used in this teaching method, can easily be used as a base for a more motivating activity that could encourage students to speak and to find ways to communicate effectively.

 

The third method we will be looking at is called Total Physical Response. The incorporation of physical activities is in my opinion the most interesting factor about this method. It is based on the believe that memory increases when repetition is combined with physical movement. As in the Direct Method and the Audio lingual method, grammar is learned inductively.  Once again, students have little influence in the content of what they are learning and the role of the teacher is a lot more active than the role of the students. Students are given little opportunity to improvise or to find their way into creating effective communication, and their contribution to the lesson is mostly based on repeating teachers’ orders. The interaction taking place is almost nonexistent, and no communication takes place as students are not encouraged to communicate to the teacher or among themselves. Having said that, I can see how using this method can be very useful when working with young learners whose attention span is short and who need physical stimuli in order to concentrate and to be motivated. I do think that combining Total physical response with other methods can be very effective in certain situations and that there are always ways to combine movement and action with a more communicative approach.

 

Teaching methods can be used as a base that can be easily adapted to particular goals. Today’s tendency in language learning is to use a more communicative method but in my opinion no past method should be discarded as they all provide useful tools for teaching languages. Instead, methods can easily be adapted to the needs of particular goals or students.

 

 

 

 

References:

-http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/method

-Raquel Criado Sánchez, Patrones de secuenciación de actividades en la enseñanza de inglés como lengua extranjera y su incidencia en el aprendizaje: studio cuadi-experimental, Universidad de Murcia

-C. Candlin, H. Widdowson, Hymes). European Common Market.  1980: Van Ek and Alexander (the Threshold level), Wilkins, Brumfit (functional-notional categories).

-Johnson, K., & Morrow, K. (1981). Communication in the classroom. Harlow, England: Longman.



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