Teaching and research assistant, Universidad Central de Venezuela
Masters degree in Geological Engineering, Universidad Complutense de Madrid
Geological Engineer, Universidad Central de Venezuela
My teaching approach
Teaching english has evolved from just repeating sets of grammatical rules and sentences. English has become an international language, not being linked anymore to a single culture or nation. An increasing number of people keep finding english in many aspects of their lives, and with it comes the need to use it. We live in a very dynamic and fast-paced lifestyle, which means that people need to use english in they everyday lives, but they can’t afford to commit a lot of time to learning it. Most people are simply not willing to spend their time memorizing grammatical rules, they just want to feel they’re actually learning, and acquiring knowledge that can be put in use right away. Therefore, it can be stated that the reasons to learn english language must come from the student, but it’s the theacher’s responsability to focus the student’s efforts into what will be really useful for them.
Even though the main objective is that students become able to communicate in english, I consider that some main aspects like fluency and overall comprehension should be prioritized. Some language areas such as grammar are taught by practical use, encouraging strategies like inductive teaching to notice and determine grammar rules. In order for that to happen, I consider every aspect should be considered, beginning from grouping students in small classes, considering their prior knowledge of the language, and if possible their needs and motivations. This last topic is very important and not often considered into lesson planning. If students are highly motivated, they’ll be more likely to be engaged by more challenging activities, and will profit even more from each lesson. As and example and since the necessity to learn is the greatest motivating factor, students which interest on the language is related to their profession could be assigned the same activities, even using proper material or vocabulary if available. To allow some flexibility to lesson planning for teachers to be able to adapt to students needs, the syllabus must also be loose. This methodology works under a function based syllabus divided into units. After assembling the classrooms, some of these units can be modified to include some target language that can be useful for those particular students. Units are divided as well into classes, and each class contains at least one activity of each type (structure, topic and vocabulary). This structure allows keeping classes adaptable without the risk of them appearing to be improvised. A typical class could be structured as follows:
- Quick questions
- Objective: get students to start thinking in L2, scout their prior knowledge.
- Description: How was your weekend?, How’s work?, etc. Random questions, not necessarily related to the rest of the class. Meant for the student to loosen up in the use of L2.
- Time: 5 minutes.
- Objective: Expressing quantity.
- Description: Controlled practice consisting in repetition drills related to telling age, ordinal and cardinal numbers, fractions and decimals. Controlled practice consisting in transformation drills.
- Time: 15 minutes.
- Objective: Learn vocabulary related to nationalities and languages.
- Description: Using cards or attachments, the students are intended to memorize vocabulary lists related to nationalities and languages.
- Time: 15 minutes.
- Objective: Start discussion with students, practice pronunciation.
- Description: scout students opinion regarding extreme sports. Share some curiosities and basics about skydiving.
- Time: 15 minutes.
- Objective: review mistakes and grammatical errors if there were any, summarize target language.
- Description: try to get students to associate target language taught in class with their lives, professions, etc. in order for them to really produce sentences and structures.
- Time: 10 minutes.
As it can be seen class structure is simple, yet it allows the teacher to invest enough time in each aspect. Visual material is extremely important, slidecards, realia and any material that can help students to memorize new vocabulary or develop activities fluently. Videos and songs should be used carefully, since they can sometimes confuse or even frustrate students. It is also important to consider the correct way to deal with mistakes made by the students, since constant interruption can affect each classes’s normal flow. At the beggining, while teachers get to know each students’s recurrent mistakes, they cant write them down and discuss them at the closure stage. Some mistakes should be corrected right away though, being that under consideration of the teacher. For example, recurrent mistakes related to interlanguage overgeneralization should be corrected right away, because they will always seem right for students since it’s easier to produce sentences if they all look alike.
Since the objectives each activity covers are very broad, not all of them shall be approached the same way, by teachers and students. Therefore theachers must play a variety of roles depending of the activity they’ll lead: organizer, facilitator and guide could be some of them. Same thing happens with students, depending on the activity they must choose the role that fits more accurately, from being imitators to communicators. They are encouraged however to choose from more active figures, trying to avoid as possible activities that require them to behave as passive receivers.
Another important aspect that defines this method is it’s use of students’s L1 in the classroom. As it has been said we try to improve the way students communicate (listen, read, speak and write) in english, being their teachers the main source of information, so the more they listen and imitate the teacher, the faster they’ll improve. Also suppressing as much as possible the use of L1 may prevent students from translating their own grammatical rules into english, which could result into several sentence structure mistakes. Finally, another advantage standardizing the use of L2 in classrooms allows teachers to work not only in one country or with a specific student target, since they’re able to express using english even when communicating with beginners. In order to assess students it has been stablished the course will work under a mixture of formative and continuous assessment. It´s important for the teacher to determine the level of each student’s prior knowledge, in order to keep classes challenging yet understandable. On the other hand continuous assessment gives the teacher the possibility to grade their students based on an objective scale (A, B, C, D and E), which can also be helpful for the students, since they’ll be able to assess themselves. It is also known that grades also lead to some sort of competition, between students and within themselves, which can add up to their personal motivations regarding english language learning.
Of course students may have some attributes that condition the way they learn, that not necessarily relate to their needs and motivations. For example, teaching beginners implies certain considerations to ensure students can truly profit from classes. Repetition drills, controlled practice and a lot of modelling from the teacher are required to make lessons more accessible for begginers. At this leves it’s really important that teacher’s try not to use L1, and the use of cognates as well as graded language are encouraged to help memorizing new vocabulary, as well as keeping students motivated. It is known that begginers get discouraged quite easily, so the main objective of these changes is to keep them motivated and aware of their own progress. Finally, having students with different needs and motivations may imply that sometimes teachers will have to deal with students from different age groups. As it was said before, these students should be placed together if possible, specially for kids, which will have more or less same interests. It’s important to keep classes dynamic, with short and direct activities that can prevent children from getting bored. Role play and interaction between students and with the teacher must be also encouraged when teaching children. Once again teacher’s must use graded language to ensure that students really understand activities.