Communicative approach and Direct method in today’s world
There is no key method for teaching. No magic. Everything is related to and depends on the development of us as teachers who are constantly learning how to teach. The more we are open and experiment new, and why not, old ways of teaching, the more we can get from this wonderful calling of teaching a second language.
In my opinion, there are as many theories and methodologies as learners. I believe there is not even one learner in the world whose learning process fits with a complete description of any theory. This is why we need to be familiar with most of the approaches, taking some of each, helping us to think on the best way, for a certain student, with his/her own characteristics, to teach them English. Not only regarding their learning style, but also taking into account their own needs and goals. Although not the only, but one of the main purposes we have when learning a second language is to communicate. Because we want to convey a certain meaning, negotiate it, to have something done, to cause an effect, we make use of communication. This is the focus of one of the approaches I feel more comfortable with: Communicative Language Teaching.
The CLT intends to set the teaching-learning process in the framework of real communicative events. It centers its work in the development of the four skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) with communicative proficiency, as opposed to the mastery of structures. Indeed, mistakes are not punished, but tolerable, as long as they do not deviate the flow of meaning.
Furthermore, from my own experience in public schools in Argentina, I could tell I have always been concerned with the improvement of my skills as a teacher. I tried to do many things, different tasks, games, activities, texts, videos, content, etc. I have always tried to innovate and to find out which method was the best; but a 30-students class, not enough resources, time, and the stress of a teacher's life, has not made my aim any easy at all.
Despite of the fact of being a crowded class completely unnatural for learning, even more in today’s world, it has been the challenge of my last four years. However, if we take a look to the world that surrounds us, we can see how fast our lives are changing because of technology and how we can take advantage of it. Why do still systems try to fill small classrooms with 30 hyperactive and overstimulated students who are supposed not even to speak or to move from their chairs? I believe technology is going to end with these systems, and one day students will not have to be tortured with such banking education. Someday, students will be involved in a faster interactive reality which will make them feel more engaged and with a meaningful purpose in their process of acquiring a second language.
For the moment, suppose we were to teach in one of these restless environments with highly demanding students, hungry for stimulation. How could we apply all of these premises in this class? How could we frame a communicative approach in this context?
First of all, it is extremely important to keep them motivated, it means students need to find a meaningful purpose. So, if we were in front of this class, lets say a 14 year-old one, without any doubt, and relating it to what I said, we can think of Instagram as the perfect context to maintain their attention, at the same time we keep our teaching in their real world. We are going to teach the function of description, so we should think of the pronouns, the verb to be, to have, for example, as the grammatical content; colours, sizes, measures, body parts, etc., as the vocabulary content.
The Direct method is perfectly suitable for our objective: to make students identify physical characteristics and to produce a physical description of someone. Visual materials are one of the strengths this method has, as well as the usage of authentic material. So, we can show students many different selfie pictures from real Instagram accounts which I would describe, making students repeat the new vocabulary (Blonde, green, tall, short, dark, etc.). Then I would ask them to say what they have just learnt and finally, make questions to which they should answer trying to make use of the words I have already presented (“What is her hair like?: Blonde!” or “Is he tall or short?: Tall!”, “What is his hair like?: Dark!”).
Once I make sure they have acquired the new vocabulary I would take them to deduce what is the rule behind each sentence. Here is where we are able to introduce the verbs: to be and to have (She IS dark-skinned, he HASN’T GOT dark skin, she HAS green eyes, etc.).
After this structural presentation, they would have to practice it doing different activities such as question-answer, ordering, matching, correcting, etc.
As a final task they should produce their own Instagram post, describing themselves, and writing comments on their partner’s Instagram posts with descriptive sentences.
Of course this method and approach would be completely useless in the context of adult classes with business purposes. But I still wonder, Is not also the purpose of language to organize our thinking? Rather than only being communicative? Do we only use language to communicate? What about thinking? Is only teaching-learning a second language a business affair? What about to be creative and to have fun?
I think functionalism should not only be seen from an utilitarian perspective, as it is defined many times: the idea of using language to obtain something or to have something done or made, making an accurate use of it, being polite, etc. Sometimes, we only use language for the sake of its function. What does it mean? It means to make it work just because; to play with it, to have fun, to enjoy making use of the language, to be creative, to keep it alive and moving. Not only being something static and usable for our benefits. This is the most meaningful purpose language can have.
The way I would apply this idea to the example above is adding a presentation to students of simple poems: rhythm and rhymes (“I am short, you are tall; we are black, they are white”), making them recite and then trying to produce one. Would not this idea make every student, regardless of their aim, acquire a second language in a faster and more effective way?