The Art of Teaching English Language
Harmer (2007) interrogates if “the teaching language is an art or science?”. He actually incorporates both point of views and agrees that the teaching language can be both seen as an art and science. The methodological aspects that is understanding the language system and finding the best ways to teach it can be seen as a science. And, yet teaching can be understood as an art also. For example, the rapport building with the students can be seen as an art. I have to agree with Harmer (2007), and add that teaching English language in different learning environments (schools, academies and companies) has to be seen more as an art and, more general, I think that a good teacher should explore the use of art in the classroom as it may help to activate critical thinking in students.
First of all, a good teacher has to build a good rapport with the students. It can lead to a good class communication and interaction. It can positively influence both the teacher and the students. A teacher can learn some basic tricks that can help him to achieve a good communication with the students such as remembering their names rather than pointing at them each time he wants to make them talk. A teacher should also be very patient and be there to listen to his students, their needs and interests. The awareness of the students' needs should be the priority for every good teacher. During the first class, it is advisable to assess students' prior learning, motivation and, also, objectives they look forward to attain. Also, find out about the student as a person and ask about the students' age and level of English (from beginners to advanced students) as well as the students' educational and cultural background. In the communication activities, every student should participate. Never leave behind the quieter students or less self-confident students. A good teacher knows that the participation and interaction of all students is important. Also, it is important to maintain the students' motivation during the class. It can be reached if Teacher Talking Time (TTT) is lower than Student Talking Time (STT). It is necessary to make the students talk and make them use the language they learn. As the consequence, it can be helpful if the teacher starts the class in such a way that the students' interest is aroused and engages them from the very beginning. So how it can be done? One good example would be to maintain the element of surprise when the teacher arrives in the classroom. Although a clear start to the lesson is necessary, we can immediately gain the students attention by introducing an activity which has an element of surprise by using eye-catching visual materials. It all depends on the teacher's approach and what teaching method he will decide to use.
Nowadays, the teachers are able to choose among many different methods and can also choose to use a combination of different ones in the classroom. Although the choice of methodology may vary, it can be useful to keep in mind the use of the receptive and productive skills in the class. The receptive skills, reading and listening, are the acquiring skills and initially a student will use these first before being able to understand and make use of so called productive skills, speaking and writing. The receptive skills that a beginner student receives and acquires are also known as the passive skills. Beginners usually start with receptive understanding of the new concepts and only in the next learning stage is able to produce and make use of when he actually produces the productive skills on his own. In my opinion, there should be a balance between the both group of skills as it will help a student to build all four relevant skills necessary for a good knowledge of English. For example, beginners firstly need to have an input of a language before they are able to produce the acquired target language. Therefore, it can be also used a lot of mimic, repetition, and some translation into L1 at beginner's level in order to help them to learn the main concept in L2. Different skills acquisition leads us towards the choice of language areas to be thought for different students' age and level. The different language area can be thought in different stages and it can imply both explicit and implicit learning. For example, if we use a reading activity students will explicitly acquire new vocabulary and it will permit the teacher to implicitly teach grammar rules and sentence structures. Teacher's approach and the language area choice should vary between teaching beginners and more advanced students, and different age. Though the goal will remain the same – target language acquisition it is necessary to adopt teaching to learners' needs and objectives. For example, teaching English to kids will be different from teaching adults. Kids acquire language in a natural way, usually subconsciously, through games, songs and stories by imitating what they hear and see; and adults language acquisition requires more students' and teacher's effort due to many factors like previous studies background and therefore previous personal experience, the knowledge of some other L2 language and therefore its interference, the motivation, etc.
For a good teacher it is necessary to be prepared and have in mind a teaching syllabus orientation for the lessons. Also, it is advisable to maintain a record of what has been taught. For example, record keeping can be useful in order to evaluate how successful an activity has been in terms of students engagement and learning outcomes. It can help us to design class activities based on our professional experience. In my opinion, the combination of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and Task-Based Learning (TBL) are a good choice of class methods to be used in the classroom. They permit students to acquire and produce a language thanks to different communicative activities and performing real-life tasks and more students gets exposed to language the opportunities for language use will be higher. Moreover, it will permit the teacher to engage the students in different situational-communicative activities and games and motivate them to use the target language (speaking skills). It will also encourage the students to participate more and interact among themselves and in that way build their self confidence. In this case, a teacher acts as a playmaker who tails knowledge by guiding and the most common students' activity is a role play (based on different roles students play) or a debate (students own opinion on different topics). We can introduce and present the chosen method and different situational-communicative activities through a plan of lesson. I think it is helpful because it reminds a teacher what steps to follow and enable him to keep an eye on activities development (when it is supposed to start and end each activity). Although, an on-going lesson may change its initial teacher's intention, a plan will be useful as something to fall back on. A good teacher need to be flexible that is he need to adopt to changing circumstances that may occur during the lesson performance and, at the same time, he has to be creative in order to cope with any unexpected events that may occur.
A good teacher can also introduce art to plan a lesson. Different form of art will help keeping our methods and activities fresh and interesting for both students and teachers. Also, art can be introduced to talk about other target language concepts. For example, plan a lesson with the theme of war and piece for a group of intermediate-level students. The lesson can be introduced by some visual art – a picture or painting or video - Picasso's Guernica painting, for example. We can ask students what they See-Think-Wonder about it (What do you see? What are your thoughts? What does it make you wonder?) or How does the painting make you feel? It can be also introduced the historical facts behind the painting. Moreover, we can add another activity and put some pictures with quotes and students can chose whether they refer to war or peace, etc. Many other activities may be introduced in sequence and activate students critical thinking and make them start to communicate and interact. And, another element I would highly recommend is some listening activities. They can be useful for students to familiarize with the pronunciation and different English language accents.
Another example for teaching materials that can be used in the classroom is realia that is the real objects we can find around us and use it to “explain” to a student the meaning of target language and it is widely used for beginners. The use of different newspapers articles is also highly advisable. They can be find online and it is important to relate topic to target students needs. For example, we can use Financial Times for Intermediate - Advanced Business English students. Nevertheless, we should pay attention not to put too many information in one lesson. We should concentrate on one topic and introduce it through some a sequence of communicative activities. At the end, in order to check up the students comprehension, we can ask some concept-checking questions or so called wrap up questions to asses whether or not the students have learnt the objectives of the lesson. Also, in order to asses learning outcomes and students' difficulties they may encounter during the class, the teacher should pay attention on student's reaction when we introduce some a new concept or an activity and the eye-contact may also play the crucial role.
Some students' difficulties can arise from affective factors that may influence positively or negatively on students' L2 acquisition. It depends a lot on learning environment created in the classroom and some methods can be useful to help acquisition barriers such as suggestopedia – playing relaxing music in the class. Emotional factor plays a crucial roles it defines student's personality and less self confident and shy learners will have to put more effort in L2 acquisition. The other language acquisition interference are related to external factors and students' exposure to language outside the classroom. Learners also tend to be constantly influenced by the pattern of L1 who tends to interfere L2 acquisition. Spanish-speaking English language learners makes errors in their interlanguage by borrowing structures from their mother tongue.
Giving students the opportunity to interact with the teacher and with each other, planning lessons that include activities that promote these opportunities and explore art in the classroom from time to time, and target language placed in a context of meaningful learning tasks are all ways in which L2 acquisition is supposed to be applied in the classroom.
Harmer J. (2007), How to teach English, Pearson Education Limited, Essex, England
Teaching English – British Council Teachers' blog