My teaching approach
ASSIGNMENT ON OWN APPROACH TO TEACHING
The idea of learning a language seems daunting. There are complex grammar rules to adhere to, endless lists of vocabulary to learn, and a whole other viewpoint in terms of semantics and meaning to grasp. Unless you like the idea of a challenge, learning a language in this manner would be unappealing and any original incentive you may have had at the start is likely to be diminished in the process. Yes – granted, ‘where there is a will, there is a way’ and many people have learnt languages in this way. However through my own experiences and what I have learnt on this course, I have found there are many other ways languages can be learnt which are more enjoyable and more effective. As a result my personal approach to teaching takes into account many different factors to do with learning and at best could be described as an amalgamation of the different methodologies and approaches.
The Student and Teacher dynamic
To begin with, an approach needs to take into account the student and their needs and goals (and level). After all the purpose of teaching is for their benefit. Once their needs are addressed (eg: English for certain business/global market/exams) that would dictate the course syllabus and the objectives. This would also determine the type of assessments needed. Since if a student needed English to pass a Cambridge exam I would focus on relevant targets and do practice summative assessments, as opposed to my other students where I would check their learning primarily through formative assessments done by myself. I believe the course should also be easy to adapt around the student(s) if different interests or preferred learning styles arise throughout the course. So as a teacher I would need to have an open mind and be flexible to suit my students. If I am willing to adapt the material to suit their interests it is likely they will stay more motivated and engaged throughout the course.
Also I would need to bear in mind the attitude of the student. If they are keen and driven, that’s great, but if they enter class with preconceived ideas that learning languages can be a chore I need to make them realize it can be fun and it can be achievable. Equally, other affective factors could be if they approach classes with low self-esteem and confidence in their abilities. It is then my duty to encourage them. In this sense, I take inspiration from Georgi Lozanov who explains learning is enhanced when students feel positive, relaxed and have belief in themselves. I would do my best to make the student feel at ease, consistently praise them, and most importantly, create an atmosphere where the student is not afraid to speak or make mistakes. When learning a language in its early stages, you make many mistakes and can look silly. But that’s part of the learning process – trial and error. By building up a good level of rapport with the student, it creates a friendly atmosphere where they can be silly, and it also enables the student to feel confident enough to ask questions or express any concerns they may if they don’t understand something.
Approach to Teaching and Learning
I place high importance on speaking and listening skills when learning a language, especially in the early levels. After all children acquire their mother tongue proficiency through listening, then speaking, and then later on reading and writing in school. Speaking and listening are the main source of communication in daily interactions and they rely on an understanding of the language, and are used spontaneously, without pre-meditation. By speaking the language, and practicing speaking it, I believe students internalize the language more effectively.
a) Meaning over form
In order for students to gain an understanding of what they are saying or listening to, I think, similarly to the direct method and the Oxbridge method, meaning should be derived through example rather than direct translation. Direct translation would lead to the common problems in interlanguage of overgeneralization or simplification of the language being learnt. If teachers use the target language in practical examples, (mime/realia/video), demonstrating the meaning of the words using common phrases, different structures or contexts, students can gain a deeper understanding of the word being taught. Seeing or visualizing the situation will make it more memorable/tangible for the learner. In this sense I also think that grammar should be taught inductively. Stephen Krashen explains in his acquisition hypotheses that meaning is more important than form. This is particularly clear when looking at language acquisition in children, who use nouns, adjectives and verbs instinctively and correctly without being taught the category of the word being used. Instead they learn from observation and use of the word in context.
b) learning and the communicative approach
I also think that repetition and recontextualisation of words and phrases are very important for concreting concepts. When looking at the cognitive processes of learning and memory, it is all about creating new connections through associations. Learners build on previous knowledge and create memory hooks to link ideas when decoding information. If we as teachers recontextualise words, we are creating more connections for them to be associated with. In order to get the learner to be more active in this process it is a good idea to use them and their life so we can personalize explanations and make it more meaningful and memorable for them. After all, most people quite like talking about themselves and this is another way of engaging the student and keeping them interested. It also involves contemplation on the new word and links it to the world outside of the classroom. This is known as the communicatative approach and it is one that I think is very important to teaching. At Oxbridge, this approach is used when learners are asked questions that encourage them to recall the target language and put it into practice. This act of recall is another method of deepening the memory and it also links the target language to the learner making it more interactive, relevant and enjoyable.
The Class Structure and Syllabus
In terms of class structure, like the Oxbridge method, I believe you should explore the vocabulary and structure first and then let the students apply what they have learnt to the topic. It is my role as a teacher to provide them with the means of language production through various examples. The students should then create the meanings themselves through practice in speech. It is important for them to feel a sense of achievement, by working things out for themselves. If the class is enjoyable, it wont feel like a ‘class’ at all but rather an informative engaging conversation. In order to create this sense of achievement early on in the lower levels, I would use a lot of cognates. This way they could see that actually they already know some English. It would make them feel more confident and encouraged in learning this new language. As sentence comprehension builds up I would develop in complexity and remember to grade my own language depending on the level. This idea is based on the processibility theory, in that learners can only concentrate on so many things at a time. So it would be pointless and overwhelming for the student to start of with a variety of complex structures to grasp. Classes should not be too difficult, they need to be achievable and they also need to be challenging enough that there’s a feeling of progression. In this sense, I would develop the macro skills (listening and speaking) and the micro skills (grammar, spelling and pronunciation) along side each other at a gradual rate, developing in complexity as different sentence structures are assimilated. However for the lower levels I would be more concerned with fluency and the macro skills than accuracy (as opposed to the higher levels) since at lower levels its important to be able to communicate, even if it’s basic.
I think that learning languages should use all the senses. After all language is experiential – it is a metaphor for how we experience the world and a means of communicating this to others. So I believe activities should be varied, using a mixture of objects, news paper articles, role play, discussion, images, music or even interpretive dance if it felt appropriate. Either way, I would incorporate the VAK model into my classes. However if it became apparent that my student had their own particular style of learning or preference then I would do my best to build the activities in this particular way. I think it’s also important that activities flow smoothly, following a semantic order, so conversation flows naturally around the activities. When it comes to teaching children I think it’s very important to keep the activities varied. Children love to move. It would be too difficult to keep them sat in a chair for an hour. In the past experience I have created diverse games for children so that they are having fun and are unaware that they are actually learning English. They also have a very short attention span so I would keep most of the activities to 10 – 15 minuets at a time. They also love to sing, so what better way to teach them English than to do it under the guise of singing.
Overall, everyone has their own individual way of learning and there are many different types of learners. However, taking this into consideration, I want my teaching approach to be effective, by using interesting activities that not only engage the students, but engage them in a way that’s productive to their learning and language acquisition. Mostly, I want people to have fun and not realize they are in a class. So classes should be personalized and learning should be made enjoyable and achievable. This is what I will hopefully set out to do!