Elena Casasnovas





My teaching approach

                                                                                                               Elena Casasnovas Bou

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                                           Teaching Methodology

 

For many  years, different English teaching methods have been acquired by the different schools in different moments. The teaching of the English language and its methodology arises basically in the seventies, when many theories see the light. The aim of this essay is to compare three of these methods, the teacher role, the skills emphasized as well as, above all, what does the student learn ; that is, how does the student acquire the Second Language.

 

The first method appears in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and it is addressed to Greek and Latin students, that is the reason why it consists basically in translating whole texts. The main goal of this method was basically the translation of whole literary masterpieces and classics.  In America, it achieved its was adopted mainly  at schools and college language classrooms. Its main characteristics are, basically, that the languages are conducted in the native language, but grammar points come directly from a text. These grammar points are to be explained by the teacher, providing the rules for assembling words.  Thus, tedious translation and grammar drills will be used to exercise and strengthen the knowledge without much attention to the context. Its tools are writing and reading, as it works on written texts. Since primary skills are reading and writing, and the literary language is superior to spoken language,   productive skills remain untouched, that is, the learning appears to have several gaps.  These gaps are basically based on the fact that this method teaches about the language and not really how to use it.

The second approach is the Silent Method, a method  in which the teacher provides only minimal spoken information and then backs off to allow the students working together and solve the problems they may have. The main characteristic of this method is  the respect for the students’ capacity to work out language problems and to recall information on their own with no verbalization and minimal help from the teacher.

 The Silent Method was developed by Caleb Gattegno. As its name states, it is based on the word silent, as Gattegno wanted the students to learn mainly from the problem-solving:  learning is mainly a process of  problem-solving, a mainly creative and discovering activity. The  learner is not only a listener, but a very  important pillar for the whole class. It is basically for this reason that  learning becomes more and more motivating , as there is no criticism and  the barriers are removed. This is totally opposed to the previous method, that uses only texts and writing skills, and completely forgets about the communicative skills.

 Many objects , such as charts,  are used ;and these objects gather students’ attention and create images for student recall. Thus, the learning becomes much more active and entertaining, and not just a dull information drilling process.  The  teacher needs to look for progress at the beginning, not perfection; as a result,  learning takes place in time, and students learn at different rates.   This last characteristic is what mainly makes the difference about the two theories used so far, as the grammar approach’s main goal is that the students learn the same at the same time. In the  communicative approach language is taught artificially through artificial situations, separated from its social context, and mainly pronunciation is focused: stress, intonation, pitch are emphasized. In this sense, students learn something else: they learn how to use language in different contexts, and not only one.  Also vocabulary is very important in this method.  It is divided in two main groups: the ones used for daily life and the ones used in talking about more specialized issues. As it was mentioned before, the main characteristic is to work out the language problems, so that is the reason why errors are indispensable as natural part of the learning process,  this is when the main goal of the method is brought up: self-correction is emphasized. As it is clearly stated in this method, teachers can help much more if they stop interfering. Teachers are mediators, not dictators with the absolute truth in their hands, as there are different contexts the ways are different.  Only as a last resort the teacher will correct the language used by the student. “If the teacher avoids repetition strictly, this will force alertness and concentration on the part of the learners”. Native language can be used to give instructions when necessary, but it can be avoided if not necessarily required. The teacher evaluates the student learning all the time. It is expected from the teachers to be silent, as much as possible, to encourage the student, and avoid the criticism and remove psychological barriers as well as reinforcing self-reliance.

Basically, with what was mentioned before, the method achieves the use of what the students already know. The less the teacher helps, the more the students do: learners are expected to interact with each other and suggest alternatives to each other. Cooperation is preferred rather than competition, which is a completely different  approach if compared to the previous methodology.

 

Last but not least, there is the other methodology called Communicative approach.

The communicative approach emerged also in the seventies, and it is very different to other methodologies: it goes from the function and the meaning to the use of the language. It mainly focuses on the ability to apply the knowledge acquired.

In this approach, the materials used are authentic: newspaper columns, jobs advertisements.  Students can communicate for a specific purpose in many ways: one function can have many different ways. Students are given the opportunity to express themselves, as well as cooperative relations are established; as in the Silent Method.  The teacher uses many resources in which the students have to work together. Students learn cohesion and coherence, and errors are tolerated to a certain extent.

The social context of the communicative is essential, that is the reason why teachers use role-plays: learning to use language forms appropriately is important, and the teacher here is the main tool for the students; as he/she reminds them they are in a particular situation and the impact that is going to have on the communication. Thus, the teacher encourages students to develop independent learning skills. The language is being used in one way or another depending on the context. The teacher also collaborates with students to select goals, content and processes. Both the students and the teacher suggest alternative forms that could be used. Teachers lose their role of  “absolute owners of the knowledge” to become a mirror in which the student can project their learning and learn from their own experience.

Speakers are given opportunities to develop strategies, to debate, to listen to themselves and making the most out of the situation. The difference with the other two theories is that the native language is not used, but the communicative skills are emphasized in a different way than in silent method. Errors are needed in order to teach, but perhaps they are not allowed as much as in Silent Method:  and teacher interacts a little bit more the students: as there is a projection from the teacher to the students. This projection’s main is to develop the four skills equally : listening, reading, speaking, writing;  that is, cover all these skills building all the knowledge.

 

 

Personally, if  I had to take a little bit of each method, I would take some of the Grammar Translation method for the beginners, and I would mix both the Silent Method and the Communicative Approach Method. I believe that for the Beginner levels, some translation and use of the native language should be allowed, as in Grammar and Silent method. Probably instead of drilling the students with too much grammar and writing, I would rather teach them some rules and then apply them to written documents, as this is the traditional method that it has always been used. In addition to that, I would also mix some of the characteristics the Silent Method talks about, such as problem-solving by the students themselves. That would make them extremely self-confident from the beginning. Besides, I would add some games and role plays adapted to the most basic levels to help them developing strategies to use the SL from the very beginning and establish a solid foundation.

For the other levels, intermediate , advanced and proficiency , more or less the same would be done. I would skip the use of the native language, as they are supposed to use the SL to explain what they do not understand, as well as o ask the teacher and to understand the explanation of the vocabulary that they do not identify at the very beginning. For instance, if a student does not know the meaning of a word, and asks the teacher, I would explain the word in the SL, using gestures, very clear pronunciation and as many explanations as the student needs.

A very clear example  for the previously mentioned  could be Dulce y salado in Spanish  (Combination of  sugary and salty flavours).  In English,  this is said  in a different way, as it is Sweet and sour. If the sentence was translated to the students it could get to a confusion, due to the fact salado and sour do not have the same meaning. This is the reason why, then, we appeal to the context, to explain the terminology and state we are dealing with two different languages and different ways of thinking.

The affective factors, the criticism and the role of the teacher are key factors when learning a language.  Negative affective factors could cause a slight negative impact in the learning process, and that is manly the reason why the teacher must be cautious when correcting. Some of the Silent Method tips can be useful concerning this, as the teacher should give some clues with their body language and exaggerate some pronunciation when an error is repeated several times.

There is no ideal method when teaching, as well as no ideal teacher or student.  To me, it is a combination of many factors, in which the context plays an important role.  Be as it may, teaching is not a science, it can not be exact or precise, like mathematics or chemistry.  Nevertheless,  there might be times when both parts succeed, both in learning and teaching.

 



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