My approach to teaching English
After spending a big portion of my life learning English during which I have encountered different teachers with different techniques, approaches and motivation. Completed and/or “suffered” many text books, read hundreds of books, completed a degree in English, where, once again, faced different teachers with different views to teaching and learning. After spending one summer away from my family to look after children in a country I didn’t know, in the house of people I’ve never even heard of, where a 5 year old had the tendency to speak about dinosaurs and facts I didn’t understand. The same who repeatedly shouted, in frustration, because, of course, I wasn’t getting what he was saying. And, finally, coming back, confidently speaking in English without feeling embarrassed and, in a fluent way which made me pass the English speaking exam from my first year in my degree. And, eventually, becoming bilingual and a qualified teacher in England where I worked with primary school children. At this point of my “journey” as a learner and as a teacher I proceed to state and explain my personal approach to teaching English.
Ever since I came back to Spain and explored what language schools, the so called “academias” , British international schools and bilingual schools are currently doing to teach English I feel the need of doing something different. I feel like I owe this to the students who are finding learning a language a challenge when it should really be a hobby, something to enjoy, something that enthuses the person to get better and better because there is a purpose to it. To be able to COMMUNICATE, to be able to access information, live different experiences, cultures, and get know new people from all over the world.
Now that I am a teacher I reflect, not only in my practice, but also in me as a learner, so I can remember how it felt like and how my students might be feeling. I believe that teaching and learning a language should be focused on developing the communicative skills, that is to understand the language and to be able to respond to it (speaking and listening). The rest of the skills, will “flow” naturally once those are “awaken”. If you can understand what people in another language are saying and you can respond and be understood by them, then you can enter the writing and reading track and make those links with the written form with a bit of support. Native language acquisition set the steps in which human beings naturally learn to communicate. Thinking of a baby or a young child, they might say sentences which are not grammatically correct, or lack some parts of speech, but they can communicate and progressively start filling those gaps until they have acquired all the elements they need. All that happens, even before they learn how to read and write. Why should language teachers then, spend most of the time teaching grammar, reading sentences and texts and pushing the students to start writing in the target language more than them even attempting to speak in that language?
I am aware that, thankfully, nowadays that’s not always the case, but it is still more common than it should. I believe in an approach to learning a language in which the student feel accomplished from the very first lesson and in which they start listening and speaking in the target language since the very first moment of the lesson. Why would they, otherwise, be joining a language lesson if it’s not to be in contact with that language?
In this approach I would mainly focus on vocabulary and pronunciation. Naturally when vocabulary is taught it would then be put into a sentence in order to be contextualised, and that’s where the grammar will be included. Obviously, the sentence structures will increase in difficulty as the student progresses, so there would be the need for a very well thought out syllabus in order to guarantee this gradual acquisition. This syllabus would then have to be organised around lexis and structures at the same time. In this syllabus vocabulary and grammar will go “hand in hand”. I believe that with the combination of a lexical and structural based course plan the learning process will be more natural and flow with ease with the teacher’s guide.
Teachers should be seen as a source of knowledge, as a guide, as a reference, as a facilitator, as an example and as an inspiration. A teacher should be a MOTIVATOR. The source of power for the students to drive through their learning path. The one supporting them when they fail, celebrating their achievements and pushing them to aim higher and to keep going.
In the same way, the students should be the drive for the teachers, the center of the teaching process, learning personalised, the MOTOR which should be on and active since the very first moment of their learning path.
Regarding materials to be used in the class, I believe in using a variety of them to match a variety of activities. The structure of the lesson should be consistent for all of them so the students know and identify the different parts of it. However, nobody enjoys doing the same thing over and over again, even if it is something you like, and not all the students learn the same way. Hence the need of a variety of strategies, activities and approaches to cover the content, so you can target all learner types and maintain their engagement with their learning. For example, in the era we live in now I think it is mandatory to use online material, there are plenty of resources presented in a format that is more attractive since it is easier to “interact” with it than with those in a book. Realia and authentic material makes learning memorable and create connections with what they are learning in the class and everyday life. In my opinion, authentic material should be introduced to students since P2 level, of course, the teacher support and input when working with it will vary with lower level and higher level students. The sooner the students get in contact with the language in a real context the better. This is why, dialogues are a great activity to put vocabulary and structures into practice and set into a context. Another type of activity which I believe is key is drilling, specially for pronunciation, together with vocabulary and complex structures memorisation. My personal reasoning behind choosing these materials and activities is based on William Glasser’s learning pyramid.
Having developed my view in teaching and considered the materials I would used in this personal approach, it is time to consider other factors that are crucial in the success of any lesson or series of lessons. Being organised, having a variety of activities and resources and having a consistent structure in lessons are the basis to ensure students progressions and learning. But none of that is sufficient if students reasons for learning the language are not taken into account. And, furthermore, if the teacher doesn’t use their psychologist side and spend time getting to know the students, how they learn, what they find difficult, what engage them and what factors affect them positively and negatively in their learning. Teacher and student rapport is essential to push students to achieve their full potential. And so is the ability of the teacher to continually assess students progression in the different areas to identify strengths and areas for development.
To conclude, a teacher has to be chameleonic, a teacher has to be able to adapt to the setting is in and to the audience. Hence the language, activities and ways of introducing new content would differ according to the students’ level.
And, last but not least, I think of a teacher as continuous learner. A teacher has to, constantly, look for new ways of addressing common mistakes, new ways of introducing new concepts, new activities to match and to reach every single one of the students. There are not two students who are the same, who have had the same experience learning languages or who feels confident or at ease in the same areas. Hence, the more resources and the bigger the variety of activities to address the different areas of teaching a language, the better. This is why continuous professional development is key for a teacher and so is sharing and working collaboratively with other colleagues. In my experience, when both of those things were accomplished in my past school the students results dramatically improved and so did the teachers’ attitude and work load. If one teacher can think of three ideas about a topic, imagine how many ideas could ten teachers come up with in the same amount of time. And, how many experiences of teaching that same topic could they share, judge and improve. I don’t think that teachers should compete against each other but work together for the same aim: the students’ learning. Doing so, the students can highly benefit and so can the teacher by saving tons of time that could be invested in more beneficial things like professional development and ensuring that the lesson runs smoothly due to being well prepared. Why reinvent the wheel when we can all keep it rolling?