Teaching Methods: An Analysis, Reflection and Personal Approach
‘The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way’, (Oxford Dictionary).
The development of language has enabled humans to communicate in one way or another for thousands of years. The ability to communicate in such a way separates humans from any other species. The constant evolution of language, over the years, suggests that it is equally as alive as the people that use it. Language can be used to communicate with others freely and creatively, providing it is coherent, to express any level of thought, feeling and knowledge in whichever way the speaker feels appropriate. The sole purpose of language is communication. It is my opinion that a dynamic and interactive communicative approach to teaching English is the most effective method.
The teaching and learning goals outline and define what the methodology is aiming to achieve. The most import teaching and learning objective is communication. Enabling the students to communicate effectively and express their own thoughts and opinions coherently is the fundamental objective of my teaching methodology. It is important to focus on learning through a communicative approach, enabling students to learn grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation in an applied scenario based around a theme. The context in which language is used significantly affects the meaning of the language and therefore teaching through a scenario results in a greater understanding of the target language. Furthermore, I feel as a result of learning language in this way, the vocational application of the target language to everyday situations becomes more natural. This style of teaching gives the student a deeper understanding of the target language within context and enables them to communicate freely away from the classroom as well as inside the classroom. This is not too dissimilar to both the Communicative and Direct (Berlitz) Method of teaching. Real functions and application to real life situations: “knowing when to say what to whom”.
In the same way as the Direct Method, I believe that the student’s ability to think in the target language (TL) plays a vital role in achieving a thorough understanding and gasp of the TL. If students are able to construct their thoughts in the TL, familiarization and structural understanding will be achieved to a much greater extent, as opposed to thinking in their first language (L1) and translating into the TL. Immersing the student in the TL, whenever possible, will significantly aid their learning and capacity to communicate. It is, therefore, my opinion that classes should be taught using the TL as the only vehicular language. No use of the student’s L1 is permitted.
Language function takes priority over grammatical structures. Even though structures are an important focus and are corrected, the context in which the language is used and the meaning it conveys is more relevant. This, again, lends itself to the notion of understanding context and that language meaning is essential when communicating accurately. This is one of the characteristics of the Communicative Method.
It is essential for students to be taught all four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. All four skills should receive focus from the start. However, speaking should be the predominant skill practised. This is essential for students so that they are able to develop a well-rounded skill range, which will, in turn, encourage and promote fluency, regardless of the task or situation. Learning both passive and active modes is necessary in learning how to interact in different communicative situations. The ability to adapt to different communicative situations requires students to apply their skills appropriately in response to each situation. With this in mind, all classes should cover a range of skills, passive and active, and stimulate students in different ways in order to cover different learning styles. Audio, visual and kinaesthetic tasks should be incorporated in every class in equal measure.
It is my conviction that a functional syllabus should be taught, incorporating a range of activities, which will develop their listening, speaking, reading and writing. The Communicative Method relies on three factors: choice, information gap and feedback. Without these three factors, the method becomes a dialogue-based syllabus and loses its functional nature. These three factors play an important role in every activity that is taught.
At least initially, a focus on vocabulary takes priority over grammar. Vocabulary precedes grammar in the teaching and learning sequence. This dos not mean that grammar is thought to be obsolete. Both are very important and should be focused on from the beginning of the course however, vocabulary takes a predominant focus. If a student has a wide range of vocabulary he can make himself understood regardless of whether or not he is grammatically correct. As the fundamental target of this methodology is communication, this plays a key role in the learning of the TL.
Grammatical structures should be taught through oral and written exercises but always in a functional manner, applied to context. Authentic material should therefore be used during activities, as it provides real life examples and context for students to learn from. This is particularly important, as it not only gives authentic, practical examples of how language is used but it also teaches students about the cultural and social aspects of language, which in turn dictates the context in which it is used. Students are able to learn about the different functions of language through the application of real life scenarios.
The teacher’s role should be one of a facilitator and instructor, enabling the students to learn through introducing relevant activities suitable for the age and ability of the class. The teachers are co-communicators, interacting with the students throughout each activity in the lesson. The teacher, in every class, should carry out continual assessment of students’ progress and needs. Mistakes should be corrected at suitable moments during activities and therefore timing of corrections is key. The appropriate moment to correct a student is left to the discretion of the teacher. However, awareness of the student’s conversational flow and fluency should always be considered. This is particularly the case with lower level students where confidence may be an issue. Correct pronunciation should be emphasized from the start, with the teacher acting as a model for correct pronunciation. It is essential that the teacher positively reinforces and praises the students at the appropriate moment.
Success is directly associated with student wellbeing and self worth. Similarly to Silent Method, mistakes should be corrected in a constructive manner so it does not damage the esteem of students. The teacher should encourage a, ‘give it a go’, mentality from the start, promoting the notion of ultimately giving a reflex answer based on deep learning as opposed to second-guessing or doubting oneself. Incorrect answers are not deemed as failure, but a part of the learning process. This is particularly important when considering the factors that influence each individual student. Creating a positive classroom atmosphere and boosting student self-confidence and esteem, coupled with eliminating the notion of failure, should create a positive learning environment where learning is optimized by reducing the potential affective factors that may negatively restrict some students.
Student-to-teacher and student-to-student interaction should be strongly encouraged. I believe students can learn a lot from one-another. Self-correction as well as co-correction is therefore encouraged. This is somewhat similar to the Direct Method also. The initiation of interaction should not generally be limited to the teacher as it is in the Grammar-Translation Method. Students are encouraged to initiate interaction too.
It is my opinion that there should be a difference in how students are taught; depending on their ability. The fundamentals of the method do not change, regardless of the student’s age and ability. I do, however, believe that every activity must be tailored to the needs of the class. Authentic material should be used wherever possible. The use of more basic authentic material, such as children’s books, is advised for younger, beginner students.
When teaching young students, there should be a change in the delivery of the lesson so that the class becomes more stimulating and engaging for younger learners. The use of physical gesturing as a stimulus should become much more prominent in the delivery and explanation of activities. I think this is a great way of teaching young children and an effective method of communicating for students with very little or no experience of the TL. Practical games and communicating through body language and gestures should be promoted when teaching these classes. It is important to maintain engagement, especially with young participants who are unable to concentrate on activities for prolonged periods of time. Lesson plans should be broken down into short activities, changing the stimulus and maintaining a dynamic energizing environment.
Class Level: Intermediate Adult Class
Class Duration: 60 Minutes
5-6 questions regarding the student’s hobbies.
Introduce and practise the ‘future continuous’ using applied scenarios based around hobbies.
E.g. I will be riding my bike tonight.
Introduce a semantic field based around the theme, hobbies, through the use of authentic material – an outdoor activities article.
Discuss the students opinions of dangerous hobbies e.g. rock climbing and other adrenaline sports
Ask questions about hobbies to recap the vocabulary and grammatical structures learnt in the class.
Recap and reinforce previous lesson.
Introduce the theme of the class. Ask questions around the theme to encourage student students to think about the theme.
To learn the grammatical structure in an applied scenarios around the theme of hobbies.
Introduce and practise the use of vocabulary specific to the hobbies in context.
Engage students in a conversational activity based around a relevant theme for the class.
Encourage the use of the grammatical structures and vocabulary covered in previous activities.
To recap and reinforce what has been learnt in the class