My methodological approach to the teaching of English embraces a holistic vision of each student as an active participant and proponent of her linguistic growth. Teaching English as a second or foreign language requires a thoughtful analysis of the needs of each student, the particularities of the English language itself, and a reflective, responsive pedagogy. To that end, language learning should be at once designed for and driven by students. Students must be prepared to subtly and fluently express complex ideas. They should have opportunities to stretch their linguistic capacity, and work as active agents in the learning process. As teachers, we have the responsibility to carefully model, expose, and clarify the English language. Similarly, as conduits of language instruction, we must regularly assess, synthesize, and evaluate information so that language instruction is objective-driven and thoughtfully reinforced. As with so many disciplines, the study of a new language requires engagement across a wide variety of domains. The English classroom should thus be an exciting, dynamic place, where words, thoughts, experiences, voices, and beliefs are freely expressed in meaningful, practical, and engaging ways. Given the vast diversity of responsibilities for English teachers, each of us makes active choices to maximize learning opportunities within the framework of limited schedules and resources. It should come as no surprise, then, that copious theories of language instruction likewise compete for our attention and use in the classroom. For decades, various experts have developed comprehensive models of second and foreign language acquisition that attempt to provide a "total" approach to the teaching of the English language. Unfortunately, and for obvious reasons, there is no singular approach to English instruction that can provide all of our students with all of the answers. As a result, it's our job as good English teachers to thoughtfully develop our own model of English teaching based on our experiences. My own understanding of English language education is informed not only by my anecdotal experience as a student of foreign languages, but also by my previous work as a classroom teacher in a bilingual school setting. Above all, my methodological approach embraces a holistic, responsive, and flexible view of our students’ needs, enabling teachers to adjust and refine methods to ensure that thoughtfully planned objectives and lessons can be taught in meaningful, effective ways.
English language education is successful only insofar as our students leave classes better prepared to communicate in English. To that end, students' linguistic development should reflect the various domains of language expression: speaking, listening, writing, and reading. Naturally, each course, and the whole arc of the language learning experience, should reflect development in these areas. A carefully planned syllabus must include long-term linguistic targets. Students should, over the course of an English language intervention, be able to master progressively more complex grammatical structures. Concurrently, students should be exposed to a growing lexicon of practical vocabulary words that can enrich a student's expression and likewise facilitate even further structural language learning. Students might express interest in learning a specific set of technical or vocationally-driven language structures. Such language should be taught, however, within the context of a comprehensive syllabus that concomitantly exposes students to a wide variety of vocabulary and grammar rules. Just as the linguistic content of courses should be rich and varied, so too should the sources used for language instruction. Course materials should draw from high-interest, relevant topics, and be informed by a variety of different media. News stories, videos, music, political, and cultural topics should all help spark interest and ignite conversation in the classroom. To that end, an English teacher’s job is never done; New material can always serve to enhance and reinvigorate a lesson plan. Of course, syllabus and lesson planning should always begin with a particular set of linguistic objectives, and the activities and content selected to support unit and lesson objectives should be selected only after the language goals of a given lesson are established. In this way, content and activities serve to support, not dictate, the linguistic development of our students. If students are to be active and engaged learners, they should be aware, too, of the target goals and objectives of units and lessons. As teachers, we must be transparent about what we are teaching our students and why it’s important. Though in a smoothly run, engaging class, it might not be apparent what particular target language is being employed, teachers must always be aware that it is language learning, not the activities selected to support said, that is at the heart of our work. Clear syllabus, unit, and lesson planning is an essential part of teacher preparation, and it’s something we should share with our students. Students should know why they are learning the things they are learning, and should likewise understand how given activities and contextual material can and does support these learning objectives.
Language production and comprehension is challenging on many levels. From the first class, it should be clear to students that they are expected to (and should feel safe to) actively produce English. In this way, the Callan method’s emphasis on a student’s immediate immersion into a given linguistic context serves as a fruitful model for how English courses should begin. In this way, students can build confidence, as they learn quickly that they indeed can communicate basic and even complex ideas with only a limited vocabulary and set of grammatical tools at their fingertips. Of course, language acquisition cannot solely be accomplished through the back and forth questioning inherent in the Callan method of English teaching. While the confidence that this model provides early English language learners can be helpful, more direct (though still contextually-driven) instruction of various linguistic constructions should compliment the Callan question-answer model. The more structurally rigorous Grammar-Translation and Berlitz models serve as good examples of structurally-driven language learning. Though they differ in many ways, both of these models highlight the importance of not only producing, but understanding a foreign or second language. Indeed, English teaching should be located at this very crossroads of rigorous, structure-based learning and vocabulary-rich language and contextual production. Student and teacher talking time should be balanced to allow for this very exchange, with teachers modeling correct English and correcting as needed, while students actively and regularly contribute their own speech so as to practice and refine language production.
Of course, not only should English language instruction involve a variety of distinct methodological approaches, it should also engage learners of different types and ages in different ways. Teaching children requires a particular set of goals, norms, and practices that more actively involve young learners. The physical reinforcement, for instance, of total physical response, is not only an appropriate way for students of all ages to help remember vocabulary and grammar structures, it’s also a form of engaging students who are motivated by physical activity. In similar ways, some students might benefit from greater emphasis on the visual representation of vocabulary and structures. Others might need more exposure to the sounds of English. Every student has his or her own particular needs. As teachers, it’s our job to detect these particular tendencies and needs, and respond accordingly with activities and pedagogy that facilitate language learning for our students. Students’ particular learning needs will and should dictate what materials we use in the classroom. We should respond flexibly to students’ particular learning styles. For instance, students who seem to benefit from audio-visual aids in the classroom should be furnished with more opportunities to use such aids in their learning. If a student asks for a clearer explanation of a grammatical structure with written examples, a whiteboard might serve as a useful tool for helping clarify confusion and empower that student to learn better. Not all students are created alike, and we thusly must respond accordingly to different learning needs with distinct methods and tools to support vast diversity of pedagogical needs.
Lastly, it’s important to recognize that not all English language learners have had previously positive experiences with English. Perhaps it was previous failure, or embarrassment in front of peers, or mere disengagement with the particular content of a course. Whatever the reason, some of our students might show up for class presupposing that English is a challenge, that it cannot be fun, or that it will be a source of anxiety. As teachers, we must embrace ways of making the classroom a safe, open, and comfortable space for students to make errors, feel comfortable correcting themselves and others, and taking risks. Through careful and thoughtful planning, a positive attitude, and a clear set of classroom expectations, we can set a tone that is at once productive but also protective.
My methodological approach to the teaching of the English language rests on the assumption that teachers share the learning responsibility with students. While students must take risks, engage in challenging intellectual work, and likewise identify their own learning needs, we as teacher need to build the structure, support systems, and teaching methods necessary to ensure that a well-thought out syllabus can be effectively taught to students. The in-class experience should reflect a diverse set of methods and language domains. Successful English classes will involve movement, speech, listening, reading, and perhaps even writing. They are spaces where students are regularly assessed and where teachers regularly adjust their teaching to improve student outcomes.