Marjan van Rij
All people have different goals, desires, wishes, needs and beliefs in life. Yours probably differ from mine. Most of us have one thing in common though: to reach our goals, it will be useful to be able to communicate in English. Why? Most of the countries have their own language, but the majority of the people will be able to communicate in English next to that. So whether you're planning to travel around, approach some new business partners or simply just pursue your career elsewhere, speaking English is definitely useful to get you there.
So for me, the thing that a teacher should have in the back of their mind when teaching, is that the students must be able to use their English outside of the classroom. The main learning goal is therefore that students will be able to use English as a tool to reach their goals and dreams outside the classroom. What would be a possible way to do that? That's what I'm going to argue here.
Different methods have inspired me so I'd like to highlight some useful ones.
The Direct method came up in the early 1900's. As opposed to the traditional method (Grammar-translation method), students are not allowed to translate. This means that classes are held entirely in English. I think this is a big plus for students to get used to the language, to feel comfortable with it and especially for them to realize how much they understand. Of course, teachers can allow a little bit of translation, but I think English classes should be definitely taught in English. If students don’t understand it with a thorough explanation, a teacher can always rely on pantomiming.
Next to that (authentic) material or realia can be brought into the classroom. By this, I mean when a teacher is explaining new words like cutlery, he or she can bring some forks and knifes to the class. Of course, when the countries will be introduced, it will be impossible to bring them. In this case I’d say that a map or some pictures will definitely help a teacher in explaining and students in their understanding.
The Direct method focuses mainly on speaking, which is one important part of communicating, but during classes the teacher is mainly talking and students are repeating. This is not the situation that I consider to be ideal. As stated before, I feel like students should be using their English. Next to that I believe that it is also important to listen, read and write for further understanding. That's why I think the main strategies should come from the Communicative approach.
This approach is nowadays a popular one. It focuses on interaction and communication. Which basically means that the class will not be structured too strictly, the focus will be on students and they will be talking most of the time. This asks for an active attitude of the student and a guiding/coaching attitude of the teacher. Students should be motivated by the teacher to manage their own progress. If their are any factors which are influencing the student’s process (affective factors), these can easily be detected by a teacher. He or she can decide to change topics or create a structure accordingly.
If you picture English as a house, then a teacher must open the door for a beginner. It's up to the student to enter. For an intermediate, I'd say he or she must have the key and feel comfortable walking around. The well advanced student must see it as his or her second home. This means that students should be active learners and teachers should give them something to learn from. The teachers' roles will be mainly conversation playmakers, guides and facilitators to optimize the learning experience for their students. In order to fulfill these roles, a teacher must be able to read the students' needs.
I consider the participatory approach to be effective for a teacher to read the students' needs. This abandons the classic model of the teacher being in front of the class and puts the teacher amongst his or her students. Picture everyone at the same table and you'll have the base. Of course, if I talk about sitting at one table, it will be ideal that the group is not bigger than 10 students and 1 teacher. If there will be a bigger group, it can always be divided into smaller groups in the classroom.
Let's have a look at what all of this means in actual practice. During class students will be encouraged to participate instead of just listen and observe. After all, it should be about their results and progress. So enabling the students to be active participants who are in charge of their own progress would be ideal. For a teacher this means that he or she should motivate and activate his or her students and start the conversation, discussion or debate. Imagine that today we'll discuss the French cuisine.
The first question would be aimed to find out what their prior knowledge is: who can give some examples of typical French dishes? Next question will be to ask about the students' opinion, will there be anyone who absolutely loves or hates the food and why? Then we can introduce some new information. Anyone knows any examples of expressing their opinion? Then the teacher could give some useful examples. After the introduction, we can start to play around: let's practice some role-plays!
First situation: You (student 1) are in a restaurant in the middle of the city of Paris. It's quite fancy and you've ordered a dish recommended by the waiter. After the first bite you realize that you find it absolutely disgusting. The waiter (student 2) comes by and asks if everything is ok.
Second situation: You (student 1) have cooked a recipe for the first time. You've spend the whole afternoon cooking and are pretty proud of the result. Your friend (student 2) is coming over for dinner. He/she doesn't seem to be very impressed about your food.
Third situation: You (student 1) are a competitor in the program "Masterchef". The moment has come that you finished your dish and have to defend it for the jury (student 2). The jury is quite tough to convince.
After this exercise, there will be some time to discuss the findings of the students. If everyone is comfortable with it, the teacher can throw in a new grammar structure or some new vocabulary. This depends on the students' needs. Then it may be time for a wrap up. In this part, the activities can be evaluated through some questions related to the exercise.
Evaluating each class makes a big difference in the learning process in my opinion. It makes students aware of the little steps they make each time. Also it makes and the teacher aware of their progress. What the difficult topics are or where someone weak and strong points will be, can be known through short evaluations.
If students require a big assessments at some points, there should be room for it as well. If someone is studying for the Cambridge exam for example. It would be useful to keep this in mind during classes. An evaluation or assessment can then be done in the same style as the exam. I would not suggest to do this every class, but once the teacher sees a good moment, then it can be assessed in this way.
As you’ve might have noticed, I did not emphasize class structure too much. This is because I consider classes to be dynamic. Beforehand it is hard to see what will happen during the class. Students might get a concept straight away which the teacher had thought of as a difficult one or vice versa. In order to make sure that students still learn what they should learn, I suggest a syllabus which is grammar-based. In this way, a teacher can be sure he or she will not forget to cover anything and doesn’t need to teach only grammar.
The best way I can further explain this idea, is by an example. If someone asks you what you will be doing next week or in the weekend, you can answer it by saying “I will be hiking” for example. In this way you’ll learn how to use the future continuous without me telling you. This is a way of teaching grammar inductively which I have seen many times at Oxbridge. I can see an advantage from it since it is a playful and easy way of learning a language.
All in all, this is is my approach to it. Teaching English as a teacher in the middle of the class and speaking English. For beginners, a teacher could grade his or her language a lot, using examples and modelling questions and answers. Intermediates will probably understand it all a bit better, but still the same tools for the teacher can be applied. In an advanced class, a teacher can put mostly his or her students in charge. They probably need less explanation and pantomiming. For children as opposed to adults or teenagers, it should all be a little more active. Let them play it out. This applies as well for an active group of adults or teenagers. After all teachers should be kindling fires instead of filling empty vessels, right?