Once a learner, now a teacher;
After traveling around the world, I have arrived to the conclusion that the most important aspect of knowing a language is to be able to use it to communicate. As a language learner, I experienced different approaches, all of which were mostly grammar based and did not provide me with the tools I needed to be able to speak. This kind of learning caused me frustration, as I was not really able to communicate. Thus, I learned that if language is used to communicate with other people, learning a language should be based on speaking, and from there move on to developing the rest of the skills in the natural order: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
Based on my own experience as an English learner and as a teacher, I believe that to teach English is to provide the students with the tools that are necessary to be able to speak fluently and, ultimately, communicate. Therefore, the main goal of my teaching approach is for students to communicate effectively developing the four skills. Based on this goal, speaking becomes the main productive skill to be developed. Listening also plays an important role, since the first stage of learning a language involves listening and goes hand in hand with speaking. Even though reading and writing are important, they will be explored depending on how the first two are improved. This is due to a very simple reason; a person who can speak fluently is more likely to be able to read and write that one who can only write. Before going any further, I think it is important to established that students are the center of this approach, and all should be considered based on their needs. Therefore, I decided to divide the types of students a teacher may be faced with into four different groups: children of lower level, children of advanced level, adults of lower level, and adults of higher level. This is due to the fact that the learning process will change according to the students' age and level. That being said, for the sake of this essay I will only explain what my approach will be for adult groups.
There will be some areas of language equally emphasized in both groups; pronunciation and vocabulary. Pronunciation will be worked on since the beginning to avoid bad habits that will make it harder for them later on when they begin to read and write. Vocabulary will be targeted in both levels, but it will be more emphasized in the higher level. Since the learning will go from listening and speaking to reading and writing, spelling will only be emphasized in higher levels, although it might be introduced in the lower levels according to the students' needs. In terms of grammar, the first consideration regarding adult groups is that they already have structures built in. Thus, I think it is necessary for adults of lower levels, mostly beginners, to have a grammar emphasis that will provide them with a reference they can go back to at any moment. This will accelerate the process of establishing a foundation for them to build upon the language. This should by no means leave out the idea of functions; all should relate to real life situations and to how language is used. Different from this emphasis, for adults of higher levels there will no longer be grammar rules. They will be taught structures through other means, aiming at students acquiring a more natural use of the language leaving specific areas of language behind.
In this trend to thought, the syllabus will also be adapted to the students level as long as it aims at the same goal. Since communication is the final target, all syllabi should have a more functional approach. However, lower levels will need a more grammar based syllabus in which the structures should be targeted, but which will also have a built in framework for students to contextualize their knowledge. In contrast, higher levels will have a subject/topic based syllabus. In the case of adults who learned structures and rules, learning through topics will make it easier for them to progressively detach from structures. In addition, it will provide them with a well rounded framework in which they can apply their knowledge and polish their skills. In order for this to happen, it is important to have a clear axis that can link and relate the content of each class so that knowledge can be built up and the learning process is accelerated. Finally, it should be noticed that, in my way of thinking, the syllabus is only a guide for the learning process, but it should always be revised and reorganized to meet the student's needs.
In this context, teachers are mostly facilitators of a framework for students to communicate, but they may also act as a model for beginners. This makes students active communicators who interact among themselves, helping each other achieve those goals, and interact with the teacher. Students also become engaged in the learning process, which facilitates their production of the language. Thus, similar to the communicative approach, under the guidance of the teacher, students are responsible for developing their own criteria for correction of errors. This will be of utmost importance when communicating outside the classroom. This does not mean teacher will not provide corrections, but that they will guide students in developing such a criteria instead of just giving them the answers. Furthermore, teachers are responsible for correcting errors at any given time. It is important to notice, however, that it is up to the teacher to consider which errors he or she will correct immediately and which ones will be explained later on in the class or even emphasized in the following class. Characteristics such as these, make it essential to have feedback from both students and teachers at all time. Only then communication is achieved. Allow me to make a note here; feedback is not characterized by set responses students need to have for the teacher to move on. Instead, students have the choice to react and respond in any way they find it suitable. This gives them freedom and a more independent use of the language.
Such a scenario requires positive reinforcement, so that students will feel they are accomplishing goals at all time. I believe that the emotional state of a person plays a big role on how and how fast they learn. Thus, affective factors are taken into consideration very seriously. In order for students to communicate, it is necessary to grasp their interest and to make learning fun. This is why their interests will be considered when planning a class or even when doing an activity in an ongoing class. It is the teacher's responsibility to always be prepared for each group's dynamic and to really understand each student and his or her needs. Therefore, authentic material that reflects those interests and needs will be used as much as possible. This material can be of any source as long as it relates to the goal of the activity and it is adapted for the level. Such kind of material will relax the student and ease the nerves of facing a complete new world since it will be something they can relate to in "real life." This type of environment enriches the learning process; one in which students feel safe and even free to explore the language. Due to this reason, there will be no traditional exams to asses the student knowledge and understanding of the language. Instead, the teacher will asses the students at all time to see how well they can communicate, and will based his or her analysis mostly on this factor.
Thus far, I have explained the characteristics of the method in an abstract manner. Now, I think it is necessary to see what a class would look like. This is why, I will continue to describe how a lesson plan would be for this approach. This class would be for a lower level adult group and it will be one hour long. In any case, for an hour long class there should be no more than four activities, so that students are not overwhelmed and can actually learn the content aimed for that specific session. After greetings and setting the environment, which would take about five minutes, each class should start with a recap of the previous class. The aim of this part is to see what students have learned and to refresh their knowledge in order to move forward. This part should take five to seven minutes. So, fifteen minutes into the class the first activity should be introduced. Since this is a class for a lower level group, this activity should be about grammar. The objective of this type of activities is to introduce new structures that act as tools for the students to build up their language little by little. Explaining the grammar and practicing should take about ten more minutes. So, almost half way in to the class, a vocabulary activity is introduced. This activity should be related to the grammar one, it should be arranged by semantic fields, and should take no longer than ten minutes as it consists of introducing new vocabulary and practicing it. The next part of the class should be directed to a topic activity, in which students will listen to a song and/or read a short text, depending on the level, and discuss the content. Since this activity should also be related to the grammar and even include the vocabulary previously studied, it will provide the student with time to apply their knowledge and practice in a more natural situation. This activity will be the longest one and may last up to twenty minutes, leaving five minutes to wrap up and go over all the content of the class to see how much students actually learned. Thus, in one class as a whole, students will have a grasp of different skills and this will evolve until they can practice all four of them with the same outline.
All these factors, I believe, will lead to a successful learning process. Based on my experience both as a teacher and as a student, and after learning about different methodologies, I have come to form this approach taking what I think is better from each teacher and method. I have encountered. As I said previously, in my approach student are the center, this is why although I provided a detailed description of my approach, it can change at any time. I believe the most important part of being a teacher is to be able to adapt to the students' needs while guiding them in the learning process. As teachers we do have goals and set ways to accomplish them, but I think those ways can always be improved. Being a teacher is a responsibility, as we not only provide knowledge, but also help students become a better version of themselves by acquiring new skills and improving the ones they already posses.