My Approach to Teaching
This essay, summarising my approach to teaching students from a range of abilities and ages, is written in the context of recent shifts towards teaching language from a functional rather than structural perspective and the increasing importance of technology which supports language acquisition. For example, teaching and learning without geographical or temporal barriers is now possible via on-line resources and virtual learning environments.
For the purpose of discussion, let us consider two groups of students. ‘Group A’ is a small class of young beginners around 10-11 years from a local Spanish junior school.
‘Group B’ is three or four middle-aged adults who wish to improve their conversational English and whom are not part of a formal education programme.
‘Group A’s expected learning outcomes (to prepare for secondary language education) are quite different from ‘Group B’s where a general improvement in conversational English is required with no intention of further academic study.
2. Preferred teaching methodologies
I prefer to select elements of existing methodologies to create ‘arsenal’ of approaches tailorable to meet the requirements of a variety of teaching situations: Particularly, for my ‘Group A’ students, the, ‘Direct Method’ in which learners are encouraged to speak L2 in class. For them, an adapted behaviourist approach with more emphasis on the ‘carrot’ rather than the ‘stick’ builds confidence in their abilities.
The ‘Communicative Approach’ is favoured for my ‘Group B’ students whom are more concerned with the functional application of what they learn and their ability to use prior knowledge to make learning relevant and fun.
NB: In the event that older less able students were being taught the scale would slide back to a behaviourist approach – as it were - until such time their abilities improved and a more cognitive/constructivist approach could be taken.
‘Group A’ – Young beginners’ level
The teacher takes the lead and tightly organises the lessons to ensure the children work through a structured set of activities to enable them to make steady progress and achieve all the important aspects of the syllabus (basic, functional, dialogue-based skills) and hence their early academic objectives.
He builds upon the intrinsic enthusiasm of young children, motivating them through fun activities, with praise for success, and focuses on creating ‘magic moments’ that will contribute to their upward spiral of success and motivation.
Young students take part in all of the dialogue activities and engage with the teacher and other class members as directed by the teacher through careful engagement and inspiration.
The class is kept ‘up-beat’ at all times with plenty of structured activities for the children to undertake and any tensions that could lead to affective filters are dispersed through humour and parental-type authority.
For every student it is important at the outset to analyse and understand their learning needs and expected learning outcomes so that the syllabus and day-to-day learning activities can be tailored accordingly.
Young children are unable to articulate requirements clearly so one depends upon their learning institution to define the syllabus.
The priority is to develop their receptive skills (listening and speaking) to aid their comprehension of the language as a precursor to supporting their learning of productive skills (reading and writing) in future years.
Generic vocabulary is used provide relevance, immediate understanding and usefulness. New words are introduced slowly at around 4-5 per lesson in contrast to teenage and adult learners who ought to be able to cope with 10+ new words at a time.
Emphasis is on fluency over accuracy to help them become comfortable speaking the language. Fundamental errors are not ignored and are corrected either straight away or at the end of a lesson so they are not left to fester. For teenagers and adults more attention would be given to accuracy to reflect their improved language competence.
Emphasis is given to learning vocabulary and good pronunciation (which can be difficult to instil in later years) using cognates, where possible, to enhance early familiarity of L2. Elements of the ‘Total Physical Response’ method are useful in helping the students to associate words with actions and visual resources whilst having fun.
Lessons are highly scripted with adapted material to suit the level of these learners. Classes are set at 45 minutes per session to reflect the age and attention span of these students.
Our classroom has many pictures on the wall (some provided by the teacher and many provided by the children), a white-board for fast pictorial representations and a computer (with a good sound system) and projector linked to the internet to make use of fun, educational on-line resources. A basic on-line dictionary would be available for very occasional use to aid learning.
Mood music is often used at the start of the lesson to act as a prompt to engage discussion about a particular topic.
A ‘classroom within a classroom’ is accessed by the students who log onto an online learning support environment, using laptop computers and headsets - as they are familiar with technology and respond well to the visual aids and variety of exercises with which they could interact informed by elements of Howard Gardner’s ‘Multiple Intelligences Theory’.
Improvements in speech recognition technology allows them to be given small pieces of homework to complete via the system at home so they can continue to practice their speaking and listening skills outside of class.
Students are evaluated and assessed according to their institution’s prevailing policies and practices. The teacher formatively and continuously assesses them as he grows to understand their individual developmental pace and achievement.
The class starts with welcomes, a few quick questions based on the previous session to bring everyone up to speed and longer question and answer sessions in future weeks are used assist retain knowledge retention.
The teacher keeps a ‘lessons learned’ diary of what went well in the previous session and what he could have done better to feed into future lesson design – having analysed and taken into account the results of online assessments of the home work undertaken by the children.
‘Group B’ – Middle-aged intermediate level
The teacher performs a facilitative and play-making role, in contrast to the, ‘Group A’ teacher. The lessons are more loosely controlled with the teacher responding more communicatively to the mood of the adults and whatever the topic for discussion might be that day. There might be some music playing in the background which could serve as a starting point for practicing conversational English.
The teacher helps the students achieve their objective of improved conversational English through both listening and speaking with formal written and reading exercises are kept to a minimum unless it aids understanding in some way.
He builds upon the intrinsic enthusiasm of the adults, motivating them through fun topics to discuss which have a direct bearing on their daily lives. The creation of ‘magic moments’ is important in maintaining motivation and student satisfaction.
The students are expected to take part and contribute to class discussions.
The class is run on an adult-to-adult basis with wide-ranging topics up for discussion and a sense of equality and friendship fostered between teacher and student.
There is no formal syllabus but clear progression of topics for discussion must be developed by the teacher to give the students a sense of direction and achievement.. The adults have articulated a desire to improve their conversational English and want to understand English dialects more clearly. The teacher puts together a function and skills-based syllabus to give the students authentic, practical, functional applications of their to-be-acquired knowledge.
‘Group B’s priority is to develop their receptive skills (listening and speaking) to aid their comprehension of the language in the presence of native English language speakers thereby improving their social skills and enjoyment.
We introduce more specific vocabulary that they would encounter in their daily lives – perhaps connected to current events, sport, politics, and so on. There are discussions around American English and the use of slang to reflect what they hear and see around them on the radio, on television and in their day-to-day lives.
New words are introduced at a rate of 5-10 per lesson depending on the prevailing topic.
Again, emphasis is on fluency over accuracy as this is what they are seeking to achieve with fundamental errors of grammar or pronunciation addressed.
Lessons are broadly outlined in advance with the agreement of the students using authentic materials to suit the level of these learners. Classes are set at 1 hour per session to reflect the longer attention span of these students.
Unless dictated by numbers (in which case a village hall or the like could be hired) lessons are taught in the home (either that of the teacher or student) and resources are in the form of print-outs from websites or the occasional use of ‘YouTube’ videos to make specific topics for conversation. Alternatively, lessons are conducted online via Skype (or an online learning environment) should the learners be geographically dispersed and sufficiently computer-literate.
The aim is to create a fun, sociable environment with the possibility of ‘field trips’ to bars, restaurants, the theatre or cinema, for example, to provide real-life examples of language comprehension and usage – simulated for online students, of course.
It is more difficult to evaluate and assess this group using formal metrics as this is not required by the group. ‘I would like to improve my conversational English’ is a more subjective learning outcome and perceptions of success rest more with the adult, paying learner than the teacher, perhaps.
Prior to the planning of each lesson, the teacher keeps a ‘lessons learned’ diary of what went well in the previous session and what could have been done better to inform future lesson design gleaned from feedback from the students via questionnaires.
Formal homework is not requested of these students but it is recommended that they carry a notebook and pen to record instances of language use they would like to discuss and clarify at the next session.
Teaching adults is very different to teaching children and teaching people who are beginners presents different challenges to teaching intermediate and advanced students.
There appears to be no decrease in the advances of information and telecommunications technology and, undoubtedly, these technologies will play an ever-increasingly important role in the means by which we learn, our interaction with teachers and where an when we learn.
This underlines the importance of continual work with colleagues to develop the best possible learner experiences and to invest in one’s continual professional development.
As Babbel and Duolingo have illustrated, to some extent it is not even necessary to have a human teacher in the classroom at all!
Perhaps, the best way forward is to strike a balance and maintain what is one of the most human, basic needs – that of communication between ourselves and our fellow man.
- Sample Lesson Plans -
‘Group A’ – Young beginners’ level (45 minutes)
Topics – simple future tenses & the concept of today & tomorrow with days of the week
Objective - to be able to articulate present and future events
New Vocabulary (Generic) - Today, Tomorrow, Days of the Week (not expected to learn all 7 in this class)
Resources - Pictorial chart of the days of the week
Icebreaker (5 minutes) – Individual Greetings using TL & topic for today’s class
TL Review (5 minutes) – Q&A on simple present tense of ‘to go’ from previous lesson
Days of the week (5 minutes) – Pictorial representations and repetition
Today and Tomorrow concept (10 minutes) – Q&A what day is it today? What day is it tomorrow?
What will I do today? What will I do tomorrow? (10 minutes) – Q&A
Where will I go today? Where will I go tomorrow? (10 minutes) – Q&A
‘Group B’ – Middle-aged intermediate level (approx. 1 hour)
Topic – Language Skills – ‘Syrian Refugee Crisis’ & ‘UK vote on staying in the European Union’
Objective - to be able to hold a conversation on a current event
New Vocabulary (Specific) - Crisis, Asylum, Refugee, ISIS, Shelter, Humanitarian
Resources - BBC video clip
Icebreaker (5-10 minutes) – greetings and pleasantries (e.g. how are you? How is such and such, etc.)
TL Review (5 minutes) – Review of previous discussions about the weather and the homonym ‘fine’ with regard to weather and its other meanings
Conversational Language Skills (20 minutes) – guided discussion on the Syrian Refugee Crisis supported by news clips from the internet
Conversational Language Skills (20 minutes) – guided discussion the forthcoming UK vote on staying in the European Union
Close (5 minutes) – Guided discussion about what we will be doing between now and the next class?