In this essay I will define and compare several different approaches to teaching English as a second language. I will determine what I believe to be the most important factors, and outline the key considerations one has to address when developing an effective method. I will then explain how the Callan Method and the Oxbridge Method tackle these challenges and define where my approach agrees with and differs from them.
One of the first points to consider when teaching is measuring your students level of English, and choosing appropriate content to deliver. Being able to gauge student ability quickly and effectively when working with a new class is essential to the success of the lesson. If the class is of a mixed ability then we need to make sure the more advanced students are stimulated, but that those with a lesser ability are not left confused, or without enough confidence to contribute. When speaking with a class the teacher must be able to grade language so that they are understood by all students, and this means carefully considering the speed of speech, the choice of tenses, words and whether or not to use such features as phrasal verbs and idioms. Though these are common in everyday speech, they will only serve to confuse lower level students, and distract them from the essential information you are trying to convey.
The most important thing is to understand the essential language you want to convey in your lesson, and to have several methods by which you have prepared to do this, so that you can adapt to the class. If a group is not particularly engaged, then you'll need plenty of exercises that allow you to call on individuals to contribute. If the conversation is flowing smoothly, and the class is engaged then you as the teacher need to know how you're going to steer the conversation in such a way that your target language and concepts become relevant, but you don't upset the momentum of the lesson when you introduce them. When preparing for a class the teacher must also consider the size of the class, with activities needing a more rigid structure for bigger classes, for example, organised debate rather than open conversation will ensure everyone speaks and gets involved in the class.
My method is largely based around an inductive approach, using conversation and specific examples to guide students towards noticing grammatical patterns and using them to overcome limitations in their language. Considering the affective factors, such as attitudes, interests and emotional reactions of students is key to this as it allows one to plan ways to make discussion topics relevant to them. It is essential that students are discussing topics they find interesting and stimulating, so that they feel a desire to get their point across, and are not just contributing to the class with only the broader objective of improving their English. I consider speaking and listening to be more important than reading and writing, as almost all students are primarily working towards a more fluent level of communication. By providing scenarios in which they want to communicate we will be using the vocabulary and grammar that is most relevant to them.
I do however feel that reading is an important part of learning another language, and recognizing how words are written is a vital skill and a tool for memorizing new information, especially for visual learners. When introducing new words and grammar, I demonstrate with visual aids such as flashcards, and then test recognition of the word after removing the visual aid, to ensure the target language has been understood and committed to memory. I believe that visual aids also help when correcting interlanguage. When a student is speaking it can be difficult to interrupt and correct all the way through, so while they speak I take note of their over-generalizations or simplified language, and provide alternatives once they have concluded, writing out the new words phrases or rules as I explain, so they are learning through auditory and visual stimulation.
Neil Flemming's VAK model is extremely useful in considering how best to deliver effective classes, by being aware of three different types of learning: auditory, visual and kinesthetic. My lessons focus on pairing visual techniques such as pictures, handouts and diagrams, with auditory stimulation through constant conversation in English, whilst also including at least one exercise per hour that involves some level of movement to keep students interested, which can be as simple as props to be given out, or standing instead of being seated, so that the entire lesson does not follow a standard format that may become tedious. Howard Gardner's 'Multiple Intelligence theory' resonates with me greatly, as he looked to empower learners through offering different modalities of learning, and not restricting them. I believe similarly that variation is key to keeping students learning, remembering and using their knowledge. People learn in many different ways and some will respond better to problem solving and mathematical approaches, whilst others may learn best through rhythm and repetition. Ultimately teachers should aim to create memorable situations that will enable the language to be rooted in experience and not just taught in abstract, which could easily be done from an exercise book without the need for classes or a teacher.
The Callan method promises a fast track to speaking another language, using intensive day long courses over a number of weeks, where new language is introduced through a simple question and answer format. I believe we can learn a lot from the teaching techniques of repetition and the fast paced back and forth, maintaining focus in the classroom and ensuring a large amount of stock phrases and vocabulary are covered in a short period of time. This method is undeniably effective in giving students the necessary tools to communicate in the short term, however there are several flaws that stem from the lack of variation in this approach. Firstly, it relies mainly on cognitive stimulation, and rarely brings in constructivism to make learning relevant to the students by considering the knowledge, beliefs, social and cultural determiners of what the student may want to know and convey in English. Secondly, the unnatural and repetitive structure of practice is not realistic and does not prepare students for real conversations with native speakers. There is also a distinct lack of consideration for the many varied ways we learn new information, with very little physical and visual stimulation, and no problem solving or exercises that allow students to spot patterns for themselves and start testing these by creating their own sentences. Possibly the most glaring difference between my method and the Callan Method is that by their lessons following an unchanging format, students are not building distinctive memories to which their newly acquired words, phrases or grammatical knowledge can be attached.
The Oxbridge method is much more similar to my approach than the Callan method, however there is a heavier focus on keeping all learning auditory, with little visual or kinesthetic stimulation, so as to create a realistic conversational English scenario. The class is presented only in English, so students learn by immersion and don't think in terms of translation nor are they given specific grammar rules, but instead learning occurs through an inductive process. The idea behind this method is that students learn English as they learnt their mother tongue, speaking everyday language whilst overcoming mistakes through self-correction, and prompting from the teacher. A difficulty with this method may arise in larger classes where it is harder to maintain a dialogue, and one may also find students develop an imbalance between their spoken and written ability, meaning that they run into difficulty when using their English in a professional or academic setting.
In conclusion, if I could teach any way I would take a great deal from the Oxbridge method of practical learning by an inductive approach, but I would diversify my exercises to be sure my lessons will appeal to the many varied learning styles that you will find in any given classroom. I feel that variety and topical relevance in exercises are key to building students confidence in their newly acquired language skills and will vastly increase the amount of information they recall.