Sydney Bellows

My teaching approach

Audible, articulate, and a meaningful sound: a language.  It is a system of words or sounds that when strung together we use to communicate.  In today’s global community, the ability to speak a second language comes with endless opportunities for growth, understanding, and creativity.  However, learning a second language is not easy and providing students with the right tools to succeed is essential.  As teachers, there are many different approaches and methods we can adopt and utilize, but which one is right for our students?

            According to Jeremy Harmer, a language teaching approach “describes how people acquire their knowledge of the language and makes statements about the conditions which will promote successful language learning.”  I believe that the correct teaching approach depends largely on the characteristics of the student(s).  You are not going to teach children and adults the same way, just as you would not teach beginners and intermediate students in a similar structure.  Therefore, it becomes very important that we consider the needs and goals of our students and their reasons for learning a second language.  Once establishing that, we can decide what we would like them to learn and how best to teach it.

            When considering our student’s needs and goals, we first need to increase our understanding of who they are: their backgrounds, educational experiences, proficiency in their native language, what they are interested in, and their social and emotional needs.  Everyone has a different reason for learning a second language.  For some, it may be work related, while others may not have much say in the matter, but these factors will help to dictate our teaching approaches in many ways.  Getting to know our students on a more personal level will allow us to create an overall learning goal for students and help us to devise a strategic way for it to be reached.  This could include everything from the syllabus and its content, to the learning environment, class sizes, and materials we use.

            As we try to gain insight into our students’ needs and goals we are also hoping to learn more about what motivates them.  Motivation is an affective factor and therefore a fundamental condition to a successful learning outcome.  Classes should be based on increasing student’s intrinsic motivation and finding ways to connect them in the classroom with external motivating factors.  I want to help my students understand why they need to put in an effort and how hard they should be pursuing their goal.  I plan to do this by encouraging students to create their own short-term goals, creating situations that will give students a sense of accomplishment, and connecting their language learning to their interests outside of class.  When students are self aware they can monitor their own progress and therefore motivate themselves.  As in the Behaviourism theory, one learns through trial and error.  For teachers, that means that our role is to give students the confidence to make mistakes and the opportunities to succeed.  We can accomplish this by applying Constructivist Lev Vygotsky’s concept of scaffolding, which explains the importance of supporting or guiding a student when they are learning something new.  When the student is ready, the scaffold, or support, can with withdrawn.   

When thinking about how to structure a syllabus for my students, I want to consider the natural acquisition of a language so that they can learn with ease. Referring to applied linguist Stephen Krashen’s Monitor Model, my role as a teacher is to expose my students to comprehensible input that is slightly above their current competence, hopefully sparking intrinsic motivation in them.   Second language acquisition involves a natural order: listening, followed by speaking, reading, and writing.  This places an emphasis on the function of what is being said, rather than its structure and form, and also divulges the teaching of grammatical forms inductively, as it is stated in the Direct Method.  Inductive teaching will only be to the advantage of students because they will be more active in the learning process.  H. Douglas Brown, a professor emeritus of English as a Second Language, said, “While it might be appropriate at times to articulate a rule and then proceed to instances, most of the evidence in communicative second language teaching points to the superiority of an inductive approach to rules and generalizations” (Brown, 2007).  Taking from the Audio Lingual, Callan, and Direct Method, I agree that almost all topics should be introduced orally and only in the target language.  Speaking only in the target language will help students in the long run to think in their second language instead of translating from their native language.  Ideally, classes will be small and intensive and will involve a great deal of question and answer exchanges, repetition, and the use of visual aids and demonstration, with a constant focus on accurate speech and pronunciation.  This is especially important with beginners who will hopefully be able to retain the most information through listening, repetition, and association.  I feel that successful language processing is a step-by-step journey. We do not want to overload students with too much information, but rather start introducing some more complex concepts subtly from the beginning.  I agree with Oxbridge’s approach to this through their ‘Quick Questions’, derived from aspects of Brian MacWhinney’s Competition Model.   This will set students up to successfully learn more difficult structures when they are properly introduced later on.    

It is also important to consider that everyone has a different style(s) of learning when planning a syllabus.  Classes need to be catered to multiple intelligences in order for student’s goals to be met.  Creating diverse lessons with visual aids and drawings for visual learners, games and puzzles for the logical learner, etc. will help target all of our students learning styles and will allow them to learn in their own way.  Like in the Direct Method, it is best to begin teaching common vocabulary, topics, and sentences, using realistic situations in a personal context. Constant review of concepts is also very important when trying to tap in to a student’s long-term memory.  I believe it is important to go over difficult items at the end of each class and incorporate them into new lessons to ensure a student’s understanding. Reviewing of concepts also allows us as teachers to monitor our students’ progress and evolve lesson plans to strengthen student’s weaker skills.  Learning will come more naturally when we continue to build on prior knowledge and make concepts relatable to our students.  

The ways in which classes are structured will also depending on the age and/or level of our students.  Anyone can successfully learn a second language, but the ways in which they will acquire it can vary.   When teaching young beginners, I think it is important to incorporate mnemonic techniques to reinforce concepts and make the content as interesting as possible for them.  I can still remember many of the rhymes I was taught as a child to introduce grammar rules and vocabulary, which is something I will aim to achieve with my students.  I believe that the Total Physical Response Method makes a good foundation for teaching young beginners.  It involves the coordinating of language and physical movement, which is a good technique to keep children engaged while building recognition of meaning and introducing structure.

Adults and teenagers, however, are less likely to benefit from the Total Physical Response Method and are more likely to be learning in a generally formal and non-conducive classroom setting.  In order to make their language acquisition more natural, we need take a more communicative approach.  Depending on the needs and goals of adults and teenagers, they are more likely to benefit from a Content or Task Based Instruction approach.  Exposing adult students to stimulating content or real life tasks and scenarios will make their learning automatic and increase their intrinsic motivation.  Teenagers need to be broached with a little more caution and may need some more extrinsic motivators to get them going.  Extrinsic motivating factors could include giving tangible rewards or comparing past and present abilities to highlight students’ progress.  As teachers, it is important that we really play into the personalities of these students and give them a level of control over their learning process.  It is key that we understand their need to fit in and not feel humiliated when answering incorrectly.

Age can come with its challenges when learning a language.  Adults will already have an established style of speech, be conceptually and socially developed, and have habits that can pose more of a challenge than with younger learners.  But many of the modern theories for language teaching suggest the right approach can allow anyone to successfully learn a second language, no matter what your age.  Learners must have the opportunity to use the target language communicatively in order to be successful in speaking fluently and accurately.   

Teaching is not black and white; there is no right or wrong way to approach teaching second languages.  The needs of each and every student will always change, and with them our approach to teaching.  The modern teacher will not just follow one method, but will choose a variety of techniques and activities that will benefit each task, context, and the learner, always focusing on sustaining motivation so that they can become independent and inspired to learn more.  In my classes, this is the approach I intend to take.

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