My teaching approach
My Vision as an English Teacher
By: Karen Figueroa
What do I want to achieve as an English teacher? It boils down to 4 things. I aim to enable my student to develop language skills following the natural flow of language acquisition – listening, speaking, reading and writing. I hope to customize my approach, methodology, pace and language based on the student’s goals. I aspire to challenge students even beginners who are just imitators or passive listeners. I wish to develop advanced students to become more confident communicators and eventually more independent self-managers.
Among other things, I would like to play the following roles for my students: a needs analyst, a guide and a playmaker. First, I would like to assess the different needs of my students and gauge from there how I would customize my approach. Second, I would like to strategize how I could provide them proper guidance. Third, following the Oxbridge model, I would like to be a dynamic playmaker and not a mere facilitator of the class.
I understand that in Oxbridge, we are supposed to immediately start with quick questions. However, for me building rapport especially when I meet a student for the first time is important. Given this, I would like to open my first class with a student by sharing 3 key learnings.
1. BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND.
I attended a training about the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and this is one of the most important lessons that I learned. The first obstacle in any task is the MIND. The first thing I would ask my student to do is to share their goals for their English language learning as best as they can in English and if not possible, in Spanish. I want to know what they want to do, where they want to be, why they want to do it and when they want to achieve that goal. Once I have their goals, I will ask them to visualize that they already have what they wanted or they’re where they want to be. I want them to remember it and keep a mental picture of it. Moving forward, anytime we encounter any difficulties, I want the student to go back to that mental picture and believe that they’re already there. I believe as teachers we should play the role of motivators and provide the environment and opportunity to learn. At the end of the day though it will boil down to the students’ self-motivation and personality if they want to advance.
2. INCH BY INCH
I love Al Pacino’s speech in the movie Any Given Sunday. In a gist, he said, “We fight for that inch because we know that when we add up all those inches, that’s going to make the difference.” Nobody learns a new language overnight. We learn one word, one phrase, one lesson at a time. There were many times when I could barely understand a word from my Spanish professors and it made me feel frustrated. I was also afraid to speak because I didn’t want to look stupid. But slowly, as I completed each level, I gained more confidence and my comprehension improved. Eventually, all the lessons will fall into place and one day, the student will be surprised that listening would be easier and speaking will be more natural.
3. TECHNOLOGY CAN BE YOUR BEST FRIEND
I wonder if anyone can survive nowadays without their mobile phone. For me, it became a personal teacher and it expanded my opportunities to learn. First, I changed the language on my phone and some apps to Spanish. I would use Waze, my driving app, and I would learn new phrases like “Has llegado a tu destino”. I also downloaded a Spanish playlist in Spotify and soon I started to sing along Hace una hora by Juan Pablo Vega. Up to now, I still have Google Translate and a Spanish Dictionary in my phone. There are lots of ways to learn new vocabulary outside the classroom. Students just have to find what works for them.
Once I have conditioned the student’s mindset about the class, I will move on to the lessons.
I would give importance to grammar and pronunciation. I believe vocabulary can be learned using dictionaries and language apps and it would help more if a teacher explains the rules of grammar. A teacher would also be needed to correct errors in pronunciation which would be difficult for a student to understand if they were just reading the texts.
Given my emphasis on grammar, I would organize the syllabus based on structures (e.g. verb tenses), but I would always put it in a context – either task-based (e.g. ordering food) or situation-based (e.g. travelling in a new city). Following this structure of the syllabus, a 30-minute lesson for P2 student will include the following:
Structure – Present Simple Tense
Vocabulary – My home (Things that the student uses at home everyday)
Topic – My Daily Routine (Things that a student does everyday)
For materials, I would like to invest in a good book for teaching English and supplement it with adapted materials from reputable websites and authentic materials such as news articles and YouTube videos. To develop listening skills, I would recommend for the student to watch English videos/movies, ideally with English subtitles. The videos could help accustom their ears to English and the subtitles could help them understand dialogue that might sound garbled. I am also a very visual person so I like to explain by drawing on white boards. Realia for me is also extremely helpful as it immediately puts the language into practice.
If I would have the chance to teach children, I would probably teach the lesson through games 70% of the time. However, for adults, I would focus on direct instruction and perhaps just introduce games as ice breakers. From my experience, grading the language is not only about picking the vocabulary appropriate for the level but also about the speed when talking. I need to consciously talk more slowly for beginners and increase my pace for more advanced students who may feel offended if I talk too slow.
I had a Spanish teacher who would individually drill us in front of the class and would not proceed until she was sure that we got the lesson. Afterwards, she would reward us with praise. It was quite stressful (and sometimes humiliating) for the students but somehow her method forced us to study hard, focus and master the lesson. I would like students to be alert and focused during class and I don’t want them to be lax even if we’re in a bar. I noticed that for some students, they’re more intent on listening if the atmosphere has some background noise. However, I would like students to be able to be able to organize their thoughts calmly because I know how hard it is to think under pressure.
In another one of my Spanish classes, I was asked by the professor to describe a character in an animated video that we just saw. At first, I had difficulties because I didn’t know the proper vocabulary. The teacher then advised me to stop trying to translate directly and instead just use other words I am familiar with. It worked and from then on, I gained more confidence in speaking even if I knew my vocabulary was quite limited. This is why I agree with the Oxbridge approach to immediately use L2 in class. It will help develop the students’ listening and speaking skills and instill a strategic and resourceful mindset by encouraging the students to find ways to communicate based on whatever L2 language resources they have. This will also help avoid learning by mere translation and push students to build their vocabulary arsenal.
For the assigned activities for teachers, I hope I would be able to provide teacher-friendly materials. Some of the materials that I have encountered may be improved through a more organized flow, properly graded language and clearer instructions. I have also seen how the Oxbridge model encourages teachers to learn from each other. It not only builds rapport but also provides a dynamic source of information.
I enrolled in Instituto Cervantes one year ago to officially learn Spanish. I never told my work colleagues about it because I was sure they will wonder how I would be able to juggle work and school. I did my best to rush to class after work and I was often late because work ended at 5pm and class started at 5:30. There were days when I couldn’t attend class because I had a late meeting in the office or my boss suddenly asked me to do something. At first, I never thought I would be able to complete one level but surprisingly each level that I completed inspired me to push to the next. It was not easy but all my hard work paid off when I got my DELE certificate and when I realized that my ears have learned to adapt to the language. If you asked me during my first visit to Barcelona in 2015 if I will ever learn Spanish, I would have said “Maybe”. But now I know that learning a new language is possible if you put in the work. I want my students to know that I KNOW what they’re going through and to have faith in themselves and in me, their teacher, who will be their guide and partner in learning.