Teaching skills assignment
I´ve been an L2 (foreign language) teacher for a while now and experience, throughout the years, has provided me with different tools to best perform my job. On the other hand, after having done a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course, I have realized that many of the strategies I´ve used in-class along the years are part of a broader, and formally settled, group of theories and methodologies in language teaching and acquisition.
I´ll then try here to explain the approach to teaching english which I believe would be most benefitial for students of L2, and argue why it is so, through what I´ve learnt in the readings and discussion sessions I´ve had at Oxbridge.
Both, teaching and learning goals, have to aim getting students to speak the TL (target language). Meaning that the students have to be able to perform communication and express themselves in the wide variety of contexts that a language and its culture conform. From the most basic daily needs to a broader set of situations, where they can be involved in, in the target language environment, the main goal is then to get students to achieve communicative competence, which is defined as the ability to function according to the cultural rules of a cultural system and/or responding in culturally sensitive and appropriate way according to the cultural demands of a given situation.
As the Communicative Approach states, in order to achieve this, students need knowledge of linguistic forms, meanings and functions; knowing the what, when and how. I believe, language functions in context should be emphasized over forms, so students can develop strategies for understanding TL as it is authentically used and become proficient being given the opportunity to use it for communicative purposes.
This seems to be Oxbridge system´s aim too, but while I agree on speaking and listening skills being the most important skills, in terms of classroom duties, I do not share the opinion on writing being considered a secondary ability. I could consider the later as a skill that should not be developed as an in-class activity, due to its time consuming characteristic, but I do believe it to be a must to develop at-home one. Now a days, and due to arrival of new technologies and on-line ways of communication, I believe that writing should be given more importance and consideration in the learning process. In addition, I would highlight its visual potential, which I consider a great aiding tool through the learning process. I would always provide my students with writing activities to do out of class time. Besides, consider writing activities as the best way of assessment in learning process.
What is generally agreed is that pedagogy restricted to teaching grammar rules and vocabulary lists does not give students the ability to use the L2 with accuracy and fluency. I agree with it, as pure knowledge of grammar and vocabulary doesn´t provide the competence to speak it. On the other hand, I do believe there is a need of acquiring structure knowledge in order to facilitate understanding in further complexities of the language. Students of an L2 don´t have the advantage of intuitive knowledge, that L1 speakers have due to continuous exposure to it, and in most cases students need grammar input in order to achieve perfection at it. Although, the form should always be present in the input, as a secondary aim of learning.
Learning styles, or the way particular learners prefer to learn a language, can range from a variety of techniques, that students prefer in order to best achieve their learning. There are auditory learners, analytic learners, holistic or experiential learners, kinesthetic learners (which Total Physical Response method defends, consisting in doing something physical whilst experiencing the language) and visual learners. What my experience tells me is that, on top of all, visual aids, wether written and/or, in this case, physical, are of great help in the learning process, as far as they can provide many of the so called “magical moments” in the classroom
Authentic language, natural as used by native speakers of a language in real-life context, and authentic materials, which have not been specially written for classroom use, that replicate its use outside the classroom, are essential. This doesn´t mean, being the input that learners receive one of the factors that most affects language acquisition, that adjustments aren´t needed. In fact, Stephen Krashen defines it as comprehensible input, and claims it as necessary for it to be more approachable to learners of L2.
Also, adjustments that teachers do to language form and language function to help communication in the classroom, known as Teacher Talk, is a must. For example, at lower levels of the learning process, we can introduce pro-forms as a type of function word that expresses the same content as another word, phrase, clause or sentence, instead of the word that the learner doesn’t know. Gradually, we substitute the pro-forms of generic words by the concrete object, as the students gets to achieve a higher level of the TL.
Nonverbal Communication or paralinguistic mechanisms (intonation, stress, rate of speech, and pauses or hesitations) and non linguistic behaviours (gestures, facial expressions, or body language), are also very good tools when approaching students, mostly at a beginner´s level.
Further evidence for input comes from studies on reading, that assert that large amounts of free voluntary reading have a significant positive effect on learners vocabulary, grammar, and writing, and which I always like to encourage among the students. This again, is something that I recommend to do at home. This way, I would emphasize the important and need to develop of the four skills, although I would work on receptive ones over perceptive ones in the classroom and vice versa outside of it, in order to optimize the learning
Linguistic Competence describes the totality of a given individual's language ability, but what describes how long will it take to acquire it? This is one of the most common questions among students and, in my opinion, it has as many answers as types of learners. Many factors affect how long does it take to learn a language: including the motivation, exposure to the language, the perseverance of the student and, even, the teaching approach or methodology.
Putting emphasis on role play, pair and group work, among others, seems to be crucial strategy to learning process. Researchers have also pointed to interaction in the second language as being important for acquisition. According to Long's Interaction hypothesis the conditions for acquisition are especially good when interacting in the second language. “Specifically, conditions are good when a breakdown in communication occurs and learners must negotiate for meaning”, states Long. In other words, the modifications to speech arising from interactions like this help make input more comprehensible, provide feedback to the learner, and push learners to modify their speech.
Very often, students fall back on their mother tongue to help create their language system. This is recognized as a process that all learners go through and best known as interlanguage.
Also, the use of rules from the second language in a way that native speakers would not, known as overgeneralizing (for example, a learner may say "I goed home") and highly simplifying language forms, (similar to speech by children), are other processes that influence creation of interlanguage.
The correction of this errors and mistakes are not so important at early stages of learning, taking in account that production is more valued than correction of form at that moment. Although, is important to try and make the student realize them at higher levels so the errors and mistakes don´t get fosilized in the long run.
In L2 is accepted that not always a correct meaning implies grammar (or form) correctness, a linguistic form being how something is said and meaning being what is said. Throughout the years I´ve understood that meaning of things being communicated is more important for second language acquisition than their form, and I always encourage my students to just talk over think. Conveying meaning over correctness of speech is crucial at early stages of learning.
Modern theories insist more on the approach rather than the early age factor regarding proficiency of learning. However, for children it is more natural, as they don’t question grammar rules and act like sponges absorbing and imitating what´s being taught and said in the classroom. They are more flexible and lack fear of speaking, which makes them excellent learners. At older ages, learning theories insist on that “where there is a will, there is a way”. On the other hand, affection is very important in the learning process at any age. Both children and adults learn more if they create good rapport with their teacher.
TTT (Teacher Talking Time) has to be less in proportion than the STT (Student Talking Time), which should be mostly dedicated to student´s language production in class. As well, the teacher should reduce stress and anxiety and enhance their feelings of success. In opposition to Callan´s method teacher should be tolerant with errors, mostly correcting major ones in fluency based activities and primarily the ones related to the subject at hand. Doing so with tact is also a must. As students get more advanced, teacher can approach correction of minor errors.
Finally, the teacher will be a model and a facilitator of communication, being one of his/her major responsibilities to establish situations that promote communication. During activities acts like an adviser, answering students questions and monitoring their performance. Sometimes, teacher may be a co-communicator engaging in the activity and building rapport with the students.
Having all this said, I encourage a situation based syllabus, focused in functions in context, mixed up with a structure based one, giving the chance to develop communication competences plus implicitly acknowledge the grammar structures. A when-what-how syllabus.
Lesson plan: “at a stationary shop" (object direct pronouns)
Teacher asks the students what they would say when entering a store. What their approach would be to the shop assistant and how they would request what is desired (not important right now).
Students brainstorm and after, along with the teacher, build up sentences that would fit the needs stated above.
Teacher hands to students a written dialogue where a client- shop assistant maintain a conversation at a stationary shop.
They read along and comprehension questions are delivered, as well as vocabulary when needed.
Teacher states that in order to not keep repeating the object desired they can substitute the noun (always using the words in the text, not grammatical jargon) for an D.O. Pronoun, remarking that this only happens when the objet is well known by both speakers, client-shop assistant.
Examples are given by the teacher, so the students apply the rule on D.O to other contexts, they already now.
Vocabulary on stationary items is widen, trough students needs.
Class is divided in pairs and students have to role-play the situation, using what they just have learned (function and vocabulary)
Maybe students will require more in-context situations, so the teacher will facilitate it as earlier (but before will engage the class in trying to transfer it from their previous knowledge)
At the end of the lesson students will feel confident enough in going to a stationary shop and buying what desired without big trouble. For sure, somethings will be different at the shop, but for now they have acquired the basics to deal with a stationary shop assistant, which, with practice, will lead them to be proficient at it.