The Polyzos Method
Learning a second language is not an easy feat, and teaching it can be just as challenging. Over the years, the teaching community has developed a number of techniques – each of them very different from each other. So how would I approach teaching English? As someone who spent twelve years learning two languages (French & Greek), my experiences as a student (good and bad) will certainly have an impact on my proposed methodology. Before analyzing the principles of my approach, it is important to note that there is one variable that must remain constant – the teacher. Even if the syllabus is perfectly structured and the lesson plans are flawless, the students will not succeed without a strong leader. Throughout the learning process, the teacher must possess a positive and motivating attitude for their students and be able to quickly adapt or change the lesson plan according to his or her students’ needs. Looking back on my 16 years as a student, my favourite teachers were the ones who were patient, understanding, encouraging, always prepared for class, always on their toes, but most importantly, a friend or someone who I felt comfortable talking to about issues related to or unrelated to class.
This leads me into the first principle of the Polyzos Method – understanding a student’s skill level and reasons for learning. You can quickly test a student’s knowledge, and even get to know them a little better, by asking some simple questions that will give you an idea of grammar accuracy and vocabulary usage. For example: how are you, how old are you, what did you do yesterday, etc. Approaching it in this way will not only allow the teacher to test a student’s speaking skills, but also give them the opportunity to build a positive rapport with the student from the get-go. It goes without saying that when the students are relaxed, comfortable and respect the individual teaching them, they will learn the language with more ease. Instead of standing at the front of the class, like an authoritative figure, the teacher will sit amongst the students like a peer (of course, in a position where he or she can be seen by all). Once the student’s skill level has been assessed, the teacher will go on to ask questions aimed at determining the student’s reasons for learning. Are they applying for a specific job? Are they moving to an English-speaking country? Do they need English for school? By knowing the answers to these questions, the teacher can set aside time in the syllabus to address these specific student needs. As with Suggestopedia, let’s also eliminate any negative associations with learning English. The onus is on the teacher to remove these barriers by convincing the students that success is obtainable. This is especially important with beginners or students who may have failed at learning English once before. Constant encouragement and positive reinforcement will go a long way and help students develop good habits. As the course unfolds, this type of relationship will help the teacher identify and address student problems like L1 interference, frustration or even lack of motivation. It is crucial that the teacher pay attention to interlanguage, because it helps determine why students are making certain errors or mistakes. For the reasons mentioned above, I cannot stress enough the value of a strong student-teacher relationship; it makes a world of a difference.
After 12 years of study, it is upsetting to admit that my ability to speak French & Greek is far from fluent. Looking back on my classes, I am convinced that the emphasis on written activities over speaking activities was a detriment to my success. My classes involved spending countless hours memorizing outdated textbooks or completing gap-fill activities. If only my teachers had adapted more of a communicative approach, with the use of authentic materials and tasks, I am sure that I would have been more engaged and my communicative competence in these languages would have been greater. That said, the Polyzos Method’s #1 goal will be communication. Student Talking Time (STT) will always outweigh Teacher Talking Time (TTT). As someone who did not benefit from reading and writing activities, my teaching method will primarily focus on a student’s ability to speak English (without disregarding reading & writing skills). In this sense, I agree with the Communicative method of integrating all four skills – productive (speaking & writing) and receptive (listening & understanding). However, I think that the development of these skills should be approached in its natural order: listening, speaking, reading, and then writing. As with the Oxbridge Method, my method will be based on the Triangular Projection Model where the syllabus includes a calculated balance (based on the class level) of vocabulary, structures, and topic activities. No matter what the activity, the students will be encouraged to activate the target language and practice speaking at all times. Remember – communication, communication, communication.
Whether it be visual, auditory, or kinesthetic, every student has a preferred learning style. For that reason, the teacher’s approach in reaching the class objectives is directly related to the student’s ability to acquire the language. With the Polyzos Method, every lesson will be planned in a way that stimulates all three of these senses in some capacity. This principle is very important, as the Polyzos Method does not allow for any L1 translation. I believe that there is a lot of merit in pushing the students to use the language with no help or prompts in their mother tongue. Instead of translation, the teacher will use visual (i.e. pictures), auditory (i.e. repetition) and kinesthetic (i.e. gestures) aids to convey the target language. This is especially beneficial for S1 and P2 students because it helps them understand and remember the target language, as they begin to establish their own vocabulary. White boards, specific cue cards, and pictures are essential class materials for the visual aids used in this method. On the other hand, the Total Physical Response is a prime example of kinesthetic teaching as it focuses on conveying the target language through actions. It not only helps the students internalize the vocabulary, but it also makes the learning experience fun. An example of an S1 vocabulary activity, where all three senses are engaged, would be teaching the different body parts by repeating the words as the teacher points to it on his or her own body; the students would perform the actions and repeat with the teacher before doing the same on their own. Seeing the body parts is the visual aid, repeating the words is the auditory aid, and pointing to or moving the different body parts is the kinesthetic aid. Although I recognize that it will not be easy to engage all three senses in all class activities, I think it is definitely obtainable to include at least two.
With listening being the first skill developed in language acquisition, it is imperative that the teacher properly demonstrates the target language from the very start – with constant repetition. This helps the students not only understand how to use it, but also adapt proper pronunciation. And with pronunciation receiving attention from the very beginning, students have a better chance of breaking habits related to L1 interference. Introducing the language as it is used in real context is also very helpful for students. Games, like role-plays and debates, will be used to mimic real communication events in a fun way. To breakaway from the traditional learning environment, students will be taken on trips outside of the classroom where they can be given the opportunity to use the target language in a real-life situation (e.g. the grocery store). This is not only a great way to practice speaking, but will hopefully help build self-confidence. As with the Direct Method, the students’ first priority will be learning vocabulary so that they are able to express themselves in these types of day-to-day exchanges. The Polyzos Method will focus on the students learning the target language through continuous communication, not memorizing vocabulary and structures (as done in the Grammar Translation Method).
As part of the triangular projection model, my teaching approach will also include principles for grammar acquisition. I was never a fan of technical definitions that I was forced to memorize; they were a waste of time. Instead of understanding the general meaning or rule, I conditioned myself to remember the information only for the purposes of the written exam. With the use of lots and lots of examples, as well as functional definitions and interesting discussion topics, the students will indirectly pick up English structures as they verbally practice their use. For example, a grammar activity could encourage the students to practice the past tense by having them describe their favorite concert. To further reinforce the acquisition of grammar, the Polyzos Method will adopt the Callan Method’s approach of high-speed interaction and lots of repetition for S1 and P2 students. This approach keeps the students constantly involved and attentive, with no time to translate into their mother tongue. We would not use this method in more advanced levels, as the students would likely be bored by this type of class structure.
The teacher’s preparation is key to the success of the Polyzos Method. Instead of relying on a textbook, the teacher will pull materials from other sources (e.g. newspapers, magazines, personal experiences) and tailor the lesson according to the class level and student interests. As with the Content-Based Method, we want to keep the learning environment interesting and fun. A class will be more effective if we use the lesson as a medium to convey content that is of interest to the students. This will ensure that the students are keen to participate and thus, willing to communicate through activation of the target language. If the students are not motivated to express themselves, the teacher has failed. Introducing practical activities to the class will allow the students to develop skills related to their reasons for learning. With the Polyzos Method, it is important for all students to know how to read & write in English because at some point they may need to read a sign or write a letter. For example, if a student is learning English for working in an office environment, a writing activity that has the student practice responding to emails or letters is extremely useful. As mentioned earlier, writing activities will only be introduced after listening and speaking skills have been mastered. Reading skills will not be focused on during class, but students at all levels will be encouraged to read, watch or listen to English materials (i.e. books, movies, radio stations, etc.) outside of the classroom. All in all, the more they expose themselves to the language, the faster they will obtain their goals.
In conclusion, I believe that the Polyzos Method will prove to be successful because of its positive approach to teaching and its focus on using tactics and materials that tailor each lesson to the needs of the students.