Rachel Hasler





My teaching approach

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

 

Throughout the history of foreign language teaching different methods have been developed and favoured.

As people, students and teachers alike, learnt more about the way in which we learn, teachers have been striving to improve and adapt theories already existing as well as radical new ideas being thrust into the learning arena.

I would like to discuss just three methods in this essay, exploring how they were developed, and how they contribute to the communicative approach to learning languages that is favoured today by students and teachers worldwide.

 

Through a communicative approach to learning and teaching (CLT) we focus on the student. The word approach implying that it is a family of related methods, not a singular, stand-alone method. The student is given input, vocabulary or grammar structures, in context.

Students are also shown the social and communicative purpose of what is being taught and this provides students with language skills and vocabulary that they can transfer and use in real life situations. There is little or no translation as immersion in the chosen language is favoured.

 

This method has come to be considered the most effective approach to learning languages, “In practical terms, whether assisting mixed-ability classes, aiding motivation, leading from a focus on form to one of fluency, or supporting learning, it (CLT) has a lot to offer the EFL teacher.” Rebecca Belchamber.

 

Previously it was perhaps assumed that a student’s goal when learning a foreign language was in depth mastery of the language itself.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s teachers began to focus on the fact that students had different needs and goals for learning a language and teaching methods began to reflect the individual’s goals.

But how have its predecessors contributed to its success?

 

Around the 1890’s and turn of the 21st century the method we now know as the Grammar Translation Method (GTM) was widely used for students wishing to learn a foreign language.

It consisted of translating large amounts of grammar structures from the desired language into the mother tongue. This resulted in students having a large amount of knowledge of the grammatical rules of their desired language but no way of transferring them into a useful form.

The teacher’s role was that of a dictator, their purpose was not to recognise the students as individuals, but to ensure that students memorised input. However this input was not authentic language but grammatical formulas and extensive vocabulary.

Depending on what is considered successful learning by the individual, this method could be considered positive. For example if your goal or aim is to pass a specific exam which requires extensive knowledge of structures then this method could help to prepare you.

 

However by the 1940’s-50’s it became recognised that for the vast majority of foreign language students this was not the aim. Their goal was to be able to communicate in their second language. It was apparent that students wanted to be able to use skills and vocabulary in authentic situations.

 

Methods such as the Audio – Lingual method began to appear in the foreign language teaching forum. Using audio tapes and having students repeat and “drill” on scripts of authentic language became a popular way to learn a new language. 

Although it is similar to the Grammar Translation Method (GTM) in that memorising a task is required by students. The teacher’s role within the Audio – Lingual method is to become a role model to be mimicked or copied by the students.

However students using the Audio – Lingual method simply memorise phonemes and still are unable to transfer the structure to be used in different but similar situations.

Simply put, students are left with an internal script which they can use only if a specific situation arises in which it fits. “It soon became clear to teachers that audio-visual approach could only assist in presentation of new materials. More subtle classroom skills were needed for pupils to assimilate material and use it creatively. This final vital phase was often omitted by teachers.” Being an argument used and backed by many favouring the communicative approach.

 

More development of this method led to people using it communicatively, by drilling on words and sentences that have a relative function in a student’s life, and focusing on these in context, the student then has a point of reference from which to transfer the structure into a different meaning or form.

 

Again, coherent to the GTM grammar would be reinforced through repetition and in some cases the individual’s needs would be ignored. For example, a whole class could be listening to the same recorded sequence despite having different goals. The teacher ensuring that the sequence is memorised effectively.

In contrast to these methods, many other alternative and controversial styles theories and approaches to foreign language teaching were touched upon during the 1960’s onwards.

Barriers to learning that previous styles had created were also being challenged by methods such as the Total Physical Response method (TPR).

It was widely recognised by this time that it was necessary to consider the function and relevance of a structure if it is to be used communicatively and not solely phonetically.

 

Using TPR students are given orders which they are to follow kinetically. The idea being that by using physical movement to react to verbal input, students reduce inhibitions and have a physical link to the relevance of the structure in relation their existence.

 

According to TPR method practises; when language is taught by lecturing or explaining, the cynical left brain is targeted and the information is kept in short term memory (if at all).

It is soon forgotten as it never becomes “real” to the student.

TPR allows students to react to language without thinking too much and combats students own fears of learning, much like the Suggestopaedia method which I will touch on later.

 

TPR facilitates long term input retention, and reduces student anxiety and stress.

Teachers using TPR methods often refer to themselves as “implementers of learning.” They encourage learners to make links between the grammatical structure of the item they are hearing and its function. Emphasizing that when language is taught actively through movement, the right brain “believes” the information and retains it, in the same way that skills such as swimming or riding a bicycle are remembered long term.

Learning through movement, referred to as kinetic learning. It is commonly assumed that there are three types of learners, visual, audio and kinetic. Most people need a mixture of all their learning needs catered for in different percentages – there are very few people who can solely learn through visual techniques – which is perhaps where traditional methods targeted in the past.

Howard Gardner of Harvard, however has identified seven distinct intelligences. His theory stems from recent cognitive research and "documents the extent to which students possess different kinds of minds and therefore learn, remember, perform, and understand in different ways."

The communicative approach is adaptable enough to respond to this whereas the more traditional tend not to focus on this, instead respond to students needs in a more uniform manner.

 

TPR; like GTM, still suggests it is necessary to plan regular sessions that progress in a logical order and follow a progressive syllabus.  It also uses repeated “drilling” techniques in order to improve information retention. This can be helpful when using the communicative approach, solely for the purpose of practising the pronunciation of a repeatedly problematic word.

However this is perhaps where the similarities between these two methods stop as one of the main principles of TPR, in contrast to both Audio – Lingual techniques and Grammatical Translation methods is that no translation is used. This use of immersion in the desired subject language is a technique considered effective and transferred widely across many of the foreign language teaching methods and communicative approached to foreign language teaching.

 

TPR also recognises the divide between students goals and abilities and begins to explore why learners encounter problems with traditional teaching methods such as GTM.

 

TPR and Suggestopaedia both explore the benefits of attempting to activate both sides of the brain and the consequences of teaching methods which have solely focused on activating one side of the brain.

The left brain can be described as logical, one-track, and cynical. It is used when analysing, talking and discussing.

The right brain is used when moving, acting, using metaphor, drawing. It is considered by people practising the Suggestopaedia method that learning is not an active state, and that information is adsorbed, semi-subconsciously.

 

When asked for a description of her field a professor of Suggestopaedia named Lori Ristevski stated that “this method of teaching is based on the idea that effective learning is suggestive in nature, not direct. In other words, learning takes place through a combination of different types of right and left brain functions.

 

It is thought that long-term memory is semi-conscious and that we must distract the student with other activities in order to allow them to receive information through peripheral perception.  

I believe there to be a parallel in TPR methods, where students are “distracted” by the physical, body movement that correlates to their target language and thus it is added to their long term memory.

To “distract” students and to activate both sides of the brain during the lessons using the Suggestopaedia method, classical music is played and the content of the lesson is relayed using stories, songs and activities.

Again, in parallel to TPR, students stress levels and the effect this has on learning is considered and combatted. This is something that is echoed in a communicative approach where the teacher plays a less authoritative role than with the GTM.

 

According to Suggestopaedia students learn more when they are relaxed. This is because of an “affective filter”, a mental barrier between the students and the information, is raised when students are nervous or uncomfortable. When the affective filter is high, learners find it harder to understand, process, and remember information.

TPR and Suggestopaedia help to reduce the affective filter because they strive to create a less threatening learning environment than traditional methods such as GTM.

Unlike the GTM, mistakes are unimportant and easily and calmly corrected by the facilitator. This means that the emphasis in lessons is on communication, not primarily on grammatical correctness.

 

In most methods post GTM it is widely acknowledged that giving students large amounts of information to memorise not only contradicts our natural method of absorbing input as we do as an infant but also puts unnecessary pressure on students which is not conducive to successful language acquisition if the students goal is to communicate with others using the language skills they learn.

 

In creating a communicative lesson I would hope to be able to combine techniques from many of the tried and tested methods of ELT used worldwide.

I agree with Howard Gardner and his theory regarding different learners and how they successfully (and unsuccessfully!) take-in and retain input. For this reason I think the communicative approach will continue to evolve, as it has already from GTM to now, as we learn how to adapt our knowledge and experience of teaching to our student’s needs.

 

When considering the communicative approach, I try to remember the reason we use the word approach. We can draw techniques from different methods and apply them communicatively.  Teaching methods are constantly evolving, quicker than the people using and benefitting from them is another topic for discussion.

 

 


Sources:

 

·      Rebecca Belchamber - The Advantages of Communicative Language Teaching

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XIII, No. 2, February 2007
http://iteslj.org/

·      AUDIO-LINGUAL AUDIO-VISUAL METHOD

www.aber.ac.uk/~mflwww/seclangacq/langteacht7.html

·      Howard Gardner

Multiple Intelligences

http://www.tecweb.org/styles/gardner.html

·      Lori Ristevski

Scribd Inc. 2012



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