I started this TEFL course in July with an idea of how I would approach my lessons. As I developed a deeper understanding of learning methods and the way people learn a second language I realised it was more complicated than I previously thought. Depending on its influence and where the teachers studied, lessons could be more grammar based, or instead focused on getting students to only practice translating texts. Many of these approaches are too rigid and mechanical leaving no room for students to talk and practice freely. While other approaches would have no language structure to speak of creating a disorganised lesson plan.
As a second-language learner too, I suffered through these two issues. That is why my methodology is focused on creating a middle ground where students can feel comfortable to thrive went through private tutors, high school lessons and exchange trips that allowed me to see and get a feel of almost every method to learn English. In the end, I feel the most impactful improvement came from my own motivation and interest in English. Based on my experience, I would approach English lessons by first creating an environment in which me and my students can have friendly, relaxed conversations. This more natural, calm atmosphere helps students and me provide the best environment for learning. The focus on the students’ interests and needs will only enhance the experience of learning a second language.
This brings me to the main point of my approach. By creating a natural, comfortable environment for students, and providing lessons tailored to their needs and interests I feel confident the experience of learning English will be a positive one. Through the course I learned to appreciate all methodologies, but the one that stood out the most was Suggestopedia. This humanistic approach to teaching developed in the 1970s by Lozanov, a Bulgarian educator. He based this approach on the power of suggestion in learning, which in other words means using positive suggestion to make students more receptive and stimulate their learning. Lozanov goes on to explaining the importance of a relaxed but focused state in order to create optimum conditions in the lesson. In order to achieve this Lozanov popularised the use of music, the focus on a relaxed environment and a specific relationship between teacher and student.
Music, in particular, is central to this approach. However, unlike other methods and approaches, there is no apparent theory of language in suggestopedia and no obvious order in which items of language are presented. Originally Suggestopedia made use of lengthy dialogues and/or texts, followed by lists of vocabulary and grammar structure. These long texts and scripts were read to students with background classical music. The teacher would then proceed to read a more casual text or script. This part of the lessons would be accompanied by less loud music. The relaxed, comfortable atmosphere would be achieved by providing armchair, with appropriate classroom decoration and lighting. These positive reinforcements would create a receptive and calm state that would help internalize the readings.
There are some obvious criticisms to Suggestopedia. The choice of music and relying on texts and dialogues so much could hinder students’ learning. Criticism on the budget-related issues dealing with creating a relaxed environment have also been brought up. Not all schools or private tutors can afford armchairs or a specifically decorated room as Lozanov intended. Its biggest flaw, in my opinion, is the lack of a structural theory of language. This flaw would create confusing lessons that, while free and creative, would not provide students with a base to further develop their knowledge.
Lozanov, however, brought up some interesting concepts into learning methodologies. These can be incorporated into lessons and have influenced my own approach to teaching. The use of music in the background can really provide a friendly, easy-going nature to lessons. Its use on activities can provide an opportunity for students to show their interests and motivate them to learn more from their favourite artists, and also discover new ones; this is a perfect example of using second language knowledge in an activity. Suggestopedia’s focus on decoration, lighting and comfort of the students can be applied to how the lessons are run. The teacher, in this case me, would have to focus on creating these positive, natural, amicable conditions in which the learners are alert and receptive, only focused on learning a second language, with nothing but positive things surrounding them. The main objective of this approach is creating a positive association between the lessons, English and learning a new language.
My teaching approach is not solely based on Suggestopedia. I have taken the concepts from this approach that I believe will improve how I teach. Mentioned earlier, I mean the focus on creating a friendly, relaxed environment. While still providing a language structure that will create a base from which students’ knowledge will grow.
My lessons are structured following the Oxbridge model. By having activities tackling different language parts I follow up a methodology that is based on the student’s interests, needs and goals. These activities are created by teachers for teachers and provide the perfect setting to create a free-flowing conversation between teacher and student. The combination of these structured lessons with the positive environment previously mentioned would allow me to have a real impact on students’ learning.
I have experienced language grading first-hand. I’ve worked in bars, cafes, offices… where I had to consciously change the way I speak for different reasons. My objective is to challenge the student. Keep them on their toes and interest them in the possibilities the English language offers. The curiosity to always learn different ways of expressing yourself is something I would pass on to my students. Repeating target language, or specific tenses is all part of the lesson so the student leaves with a clear idea of how it is used.
Before planning a lesson, I would consider the students’ level and their goal. This would allow me to create the ideal environment for the student to improve. Body language, visual and audio aids would be used during the lesson to get the message across and promote a more natural way of learning. The final objective being to get the students to communicate freely and confidently in as wide a range of topics as they intend.
All students would follow a similarly structured course. A lesson would be categorised in three types of activities depending on their focus: Topic, vocabulary and grammar knowledge. All these activities are conversation based, meaning that it would not matter if I am explaining the use or reported speech, discussing politics or learning vocabulary related to the human body, they would all be taught through talking freely. This is all done professionally in a way in which any errors are corrected calmly with explanations, and praise is provided to maintain a positive atmosphere.
My lessons don’t account for traditional homework. There would be no grammar exercises to do after classes and no essays will be requested of the students. I feel the need for this work is based on assessment that does not take into account the real need for conversational feedback. I am aboard recommending TV shows, movies, books, podcasts and music artists that would improve on to the lessons and activities I provide. But the traditional homework idea of hammering in grammar structure after grammar structure seems outdated and provides little improvement in the way a second language is learnt.
However, I’ve had to prepare English Certificate Exams, and follow a textbook through to the end. I understand the need for these exercises when applying to jobs or degrees abroad and I’d be glad to help during the lessons.
The use of mother tongue would not be allowed during the lesson as it would only hinder the goals of the students. This would only provide with a “fictional” crutch that would not exist in real-life situations. By removing it from the lessons the students have safety net to fall on and are encouraged to use their knowledge and creativity to express themselves. This is concept that is hard to grasp at first, but that quickly becomes and advantage when trying to be spontaneous and natural during a conversation.
Finally, there is no formal assessment to speak of in the Oxbridge model. Since there are no grades or exams, the traditional school way of measuring improvement would be different. Instead, a continuous assessment based on the lessons activities would be used. Here I would be the one in charge of using the feedback I get from the lessons. Fluency, use of more complex vocabulary or grammar tenses would be the cues I use to assess the improvement of students.