Approach to Teaching
To paint second language learning with a broad brush, or to adhere dogmatically to any one specific methodology risks leaving students wanting in certain areas of language learning, or worse, unable to achieve their own language-learning goals due to the fact that their personal needs have not been met. Although there probably aren’t wild, obvious, and extreme variations between the needs and motivations of individual students, teachers must still be aware of their goals and needs. To say that every class can or should be tailored towards individual students ignores the realities of conducting consistent classes. However, it can be said that a general method or approach can be established that can fit most people's needs. In defining my own approach to teaching, I find it imperative that it be versatile and adaptable while remaining true to a foundation of certain core principles. At its essence, I believe that my approach should foster the student’s ability to communicate effectively and think critically in their second language, while encouraging active participation and allowing my students some level of autonomy to direct their own learning. The versatility and adaptability manifests itself in the way I draw from different teaching methods to match with my student’s needs, ability, and motivation for learning a second language. My goal is to help students build a connection with English that goes beyond just confidence and competence in it’s utilitarian use, and to help them feel they can communicate authentically in English regardless of their level or quantifiable knowledge.
I aim to structure my classes to create an environment in which students can learn and communicate comfortably and effectively. I do this by adopting a largely communicative approach, managing affective factors within my classroom, introducing students to authentic texts and source materials, and focussing on language skills such as speaking, listening and reading as a vehicle for exploring language areas such as grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and spelling. The syllabus is an integrated type that is skill, function, content, situation and task based. Students will be able to use the syllabus to measure their progress in terms of “what I can do” while I can assess progress within structure and fluency in class on a daily basis. There is no real need for exams in my syllabus. However, allowances can be made for students needing to measure attainment in vocabulary heavy specialist areas (medicine, law, aviation, etc), or those working towards certifications.
Creating a good class environment involves several factors. Students should feel physically and mentally comfortable (as far as this is in my control), relaxed and ready to learn. Due to the heavy emphasis on speaking, the classes location should be quiet and relatively free of distraction. To put students at ease it is necessary to build a rapport with them, and to make a genuine effort to find out a little about their lives and interests. Not only does this make it easier to interact with students, but it opens up the possibility of understanding their motivations, and to find topics and material that apply directly to the class based on their own interests.That I come to class fully prepared and with a plan for the direction to take their classes is essential. The students trust in me is in a large part based on my ability to be ready to guide and help them.
Speaking forms the cornerstone of my classes. Above all else, I want my students to be able to speak well in English. Furthermore, I want them to be the ones doing most of the speaking; my role in class should remain largely that of a guide and resource. By keeping them speaking I have them engaged in class, and practicing the most fundamental function of any language: communicating ideas. The betterment speaking and listening in my experience forms a great percentage of the reasons people seek out courses in English. Businessman, waiters, university students, tourists etc. seem to share a common goal of wanting to be able to converse naturally in a second language. Focussing on speaking and listening keeps a large amount of students needs covered.
An emphasis on speaking and listening harbors other advantages within the class itself. It allows for a natural progression within class: Ideas flow more quickly, questions are more likely to be asked if everyone is speaking already anyway, and students can practice with each other. I can assess a student’s abilities and address areas of difficulty on the spot, pronunciation can be easily modeled and repeated, and corrections can be made immediately, and cemented before mistakes become habitual. A class based around speaking also allows for a good deal of flexibility.Classes can easily be modified to accommodate students of different levels (language can be easily graded when not reliant on printed materials), and activities and games can be smoothly transitioned to or inserted as needed.
There are however, several factors that I keep in consideration when taking a conversational approach. To encourage conversation, a teacher needs to build a good rapport with students, and encourage the same amongst them. Teachers also need to make corrections consistently, and with consideration towards the students response to corrections. The use of the mother language should be curtailed: eliminated in higher level classes and used as a last resort in beginner classes. Beginning classes may not have the abilities to launch into a full on conversation, so more care has to be taken in introducing target language and verifying that it has been understood. Children especially might have to be guided or motivated to speak, and topics and language need to be chosen carefully to be appropriate and engaging. Although it can be rewarding and tempting to allow a class to take on a “life of its own,” a teacher still needs to mitigate distractions and prevent a class from veering to far from the topic at hand. Furthermore, going “all out” on speaking and listening doesn’t allow for other forms of learning, or can lower a well-spoken student’s confidence when presented with reading and writing. For students preparing for exams, it may be essential to introduce reading and writing in conjunction with speaking, but the emphasis should never shift squarely to the latter two.
Despite all the focus on conversation, it should be noted that I find texts to be very useful and beneficial. Some grammar structures are very difficult to pick up on through speech, and spelling cannot always be inferred from phonetics. Written activities (though perhaps not as engaging as spoken activities) are useful in checking a student's understanding of complex structures. A quality text, authentic in tone and properly graded to the correct level is not only a good way to contextualize target language, but an excellent jumping off point for activities and discussions. A text itself can be an artifact for discussion. Was the text effective? Do you agree or disagree with the author? In high level classes especially reading and then responding is a good way to set the stage for a spoken interaction. If the ability exists to assign reading outside of class, then it is an excellent introduction to vocabulary and gives the students an opportunity to see vocabulary and grammar in use and in context. Using texts within class, the trick is to find a text short enough to be read, understood and discussed within the time frame of the class. With younger students appropriate videos may be more accessible but the basic idea is the same. Writing can be added to these exercises as seen fit, but often enough may be unnecessary. With younger or beginner students their level may not be up to writing out complex ideas. With older or higher level students, the ability may be there but the time may not be. If we can express ideas completely, authentically and accurately (in terms of grammar and vocabulary) writing becomes an exercise in spelling, which could be superfluous if the target language has already been introduced, practiced and assessed.
Despite having drawn comparisons between speaking and listening and reading and writing, there is absolutely no reason that activities can’t be designed to include all three, or go beyond them to include music or tap into physical response. Games are often employed and rarely based on singular language area or skill. Games are furthermore engaging, and can be graded to apply to all levels, and represent a form of task based learning. Assigning tasks to be accomplished within class is something I like to do that well encapsulates my approach to teaching. Tasks can draw directly from the target language, and can be written so as to force students to employ a particular grammatical structure. Tasks can be introduced through texts, and they can include an element of written work. Students are made to work together, communicate with each other in English, and then present their results in English. Students are thinking critically in their second language. Tasks provides the student with an achievable goal, and free me from the duties of presenting or lecturing and allows me to focus on guiding and assessing.
In summation, how does all of this fit together to form a class? The class begins with informal introductions, and questions about the students recent activities or life. As this discussion ends a new one is begun by introducing questions related to the target language or eventual topic. Target language is then “formally” presented, and understanding checked through quick activities, dialogues, or a short game. At this point a text (or video, or song etc) is presented and discussed. This can lead into a conversational activity, or be the introduction to a task for the students to complete. Students then present and share their work and (time allowing) discuss it freely. Class is wrapped up with questions regarding target language and structures as well as anything that came up organically throughout the class. This hypothetical, generic class fits into a syllabus that was designed after consideration of the students needs and goals, and the class itself designed to equip the students to handle or understand some sort of real life skill, situation or topic. The next class is chosen based on the assessment of this class and potentially revised to address any issues that had come up in previous classes.
This is my approach to teaching.