Oxbridge October 2014
Personal Approach on Teaching English Language
From the past month observing, co-teaching, and teaching English language classes, I’ve learned that there is an infinite amount of ways to approach effective teaching. I’ve learned how one must grade their language when dealing with specific student levels, how to alter lesson plans to work better depending on the number of students in a class, how students understand certain vocabulary words or concepts, and how keeping a constant level of fluency is key to a student’s success. To me, the process to teaching a language should be about focusing on the right things at the right time, student-teacher conversation, and making sure the students have a real life understanding rather than always finding a way to translate something into their native language. There are many different approaches towards teaching English and I have developed my own personal approach.
Oxbridge has a set three activities per class – one vocabulary activity, one topic/discussion activity, and one structure activity. The classes are focused on fluency and heavy with teacher-student interaction. I am a big fan and supporter of this style of teaching. There is no direct translation and is in fact discouraged all together. I believe kinesthetic explanation (i.e. moving your arms in a swimming motion to explain the verb “to swim), is very effective in having students develop a true understanding of a word. I think matching games – whether it’s matching random vocabulary, verbs, or idioms to their correct meanings – is also very useful. It causes the students to find the answers themselves. Making the student work for the right answer is always a better way for them to learn rather than to just tell them an answer directly. I have to say I 100 percent agree with how Oxbridge approaches teaching English because personally, I believe it to be very effective.
One suggestion I have, or one thing I would increase in my own ESL class, is vocabulary. One the negative side, it can often times be quite boring. As a student, it can feel like you strictly have to memorize what certain vocabulary words mean, and that can be the case at times. However, as a Spanish learner, one of my biggest challenges when conversing with someone is having a lack of words. My grammar is okay, as well as my fluency and pronunciation. I simply do not know the word for something I’m trying to say. With this said, the positive side about adding more vocabulary within a course is that there are endless ways to teach it. You can play games, bring in physical items, use pictures, or even use videos. Teaching vocabulary is great because there are ways to reach every student’s learning style. You can teach the same word to five students in five different ways, and it is useful for them.
With my personal approach, I not only keep in mind current methods and things I’ve experienced as a teacher, but as a language student. I took over five years of Spanish classes in high school and college, and although I had impeccable marks, towards the end of each semester I could barley have a conversation in Spanish or comprehend an article. My student experience has helped me realize what I do NOT want to do as a language teacher. I do not want my students to do busy work. I don’t want them filling out work sheets or circling the correct answer. Structure and grammar are extremely important, but what’s more important is that the student understands. One thing I would implement in my classes, regardless of level, age, or class size, is where to put focus and where to make corrections when needed. If we’re focusing on structure, I will focus on structure mistakes/make corrections. If we’re focusing on vocabulary, grammar won’t be as stressed. If we’re focusing on having a discussion, I will make sure the students have clear speech and pronunciation. This is key because it helps the student organize what they are learning and not feel overwhelmed. If they consistently use their native language, I want to make sure they know that I understand why they are doing so, but discourage it. I will explain to them that constantly translating words and speaking aloud in their native language will not help them learn in the long run. I believe it’s important to stress you understand why they’re using it as well as to not make them feel belittled.
As a former English literature teacher, I am a big fan of class discussion. I think class discussion is an excellent form of evaluating a student’s comprehension. If they truly understand something, they should be able to explain it. I think the same goes for ESL classes. Of course, the ideas and concepts are not the same, but if a student can carry on a conversation about something we have just read or vocabulary we have just learned about, it shows that they get it. Even if a discussion is full of grammar mistakes, they are still attempting to prove that inside their minds, the comprehension is there. This ties in with implementing confidence within students. If a student does not have confidence they will not participate and therefore never progress. Within ESL courses it is especially important to make sure your students feel comfortable speaking out loud. As teachers, it’s a way for us to monitor their understanding, and it makes class go a lot smoother. As students, if they don’t practice speaking and listening English, they will never master it. If I don’t speak Spanish after a while, it starts to slowly slip out of my brain, and the same thing happens for ESL learners.
In regards to age and skill level, of course consistency and objectives will be different. I think syllabi really come into play with these factors. With early learners, you’re not going to get results as fast as you would with intermediate or advanced learners. You will have to organize your classes based on appropriate speed and basic understanding. Where as with intermediate students, because they already have a base set of skills, you can organize a syllabus to include more material and expect them to learn at a faster pace. As a former student and teacher, I think syllabi are extremely important into having a successful class. If you’re on schedule, great. However, if your students aren’t doing as well as you’d anticipated, you can look back and see where they started to struggle. Perhaps next time you can move things around a bit – start teaching a certain structure later on in the course or introduce certain vocabulary earlier.
Student goals can always be entirely different when it comes to English for specific purposes (ESP). A student always has different motivational reasons for taking an ESL course in the first place, and in some cases they are very specific. An intermediate learner could want to strictly focus on his line of work, like hospitality for example. In that case, it is the teacher’s job to focus activities – structure, vocabulary, and topics – around hospitality. That students’ goal is to use English to progress him occupationally, so we must plan to make that happen.
I am strongly opinionated on teacher’s attitude, material selection, and preparation. Firstly, a teacher’s attitude is everything. Passion is what makes or breaks a teacher, and if she is lacking in passion, the student’s motivation will shrink. It is easy for students to sense whether or not their teacher truly cares about their success, so I always make sure to make myself clear – I want to see you succeed and learn. I previously mentioned the importance of making your students feel confident, and teacher’s attitudes in class go hand in hand with how students feel. With ESL, you want them to feel comfortable making mistakes in front of you knowing that you will be patient with them and help them understand what they did wrong. You should be able to creative an informal environment yet still keep them on track, teach, and make corrections when needed. Material selection and preparation tie in with teacher’s attitude. It’s not always the most riveting thing to teach structure, but with the proper materials and preparation, you can always effectively engage students. I’ve had some materials that I glanced over and thought, “Oh boy, this is boring.” With the right alterations, you can turn a dull lesson into something a bit more exciting. One personal approach I have towards teaching is making connections with your students. This is to achieve a level of comfort between student and teacher, but also to literally be able to relate to them. When choosing materials, pick topics to discuss that you know your students will care about. If you’ve got adult students at a law firm, choose to discuss an article about a current lawsuit. If you’ve got a class full of 16 year old boys, choose a topic that will get them out of their seats to get their comment or opinion across. With this, preparation is key. You’ve got to always set aside time to prepare your materials so you can have a more effective class. Also, preparation is correlated with time management. A lack of preparation can lead to a teacher organizing mid-class, which wastes everyone’s time.
As an English language teacher, I believe my role is to act as a sort of executor. I do want to interact with my students to increase audible learning, however I do not want to dominate the conversation. I am there to introduce activities, ask questions, make corrections, and guide their learning. Using a new language is very intimidating whether it is speaking with your best friend or a stranger in a classroom, and we must keep that in mind. I understand the first few classes may be a challenge, but it is my role to make sure participation progresses.
I think my approach to teaching ESL will change in various ways as I gain more experience. As of now, I’ve never taught ESL to anyone but adults in a business setting, so I can only have limited ideas and theories. However, I think my beliefs on confidence, patience, materials/preparation, passion, and establishing student-teacher relationships will always be set in stone. I am excited to learn how using pictures with young children works better than using them with adults, or vice versa. I’m excited to work with low level students who do not feel confident enough to participate in class. Every student, at every level, at every setting will help me change my approach to become a more effective teacher.