Teaching Skills Module: English Teaching Approach
When creating a personalized teaching approach to language acquisition, it is important to remember not only how people learn, but how they learn language as well. The process of learning can be traced back to the psychological theories of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. While behaviorism insists humans are programmed to respond to stimuli in order to obtain new skills and information, cognitivism and constructivism rely more on the human’s logic skills and ability to think critically. My teaching approach stems more from cognitivism and constructivism as opposed to behaviorism. All of these theories can shed light upon how we learn new information and expand our knowledge, but language acquisition stems more directly from cognitivism because it deals with humans’ natural ability to grasp language.
Having an understanding of the psychological background involved in learning a new language is key when deciphering one’s own teaching approach. A teaching approach relates to the more abstract nature of language and language acquisition, but it is one part of a larger methodology. It is not fair to speak about a teaching approach without mentioning that the complete methodology includes the approach, method, technique, procedure and model. You cannot build upon one without expanding upon the others. The approach I find most effective is a communicative approach to the direct method. It is a combination of both the direct method and the broad approach of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). It focuses on a communication strategy and rejects approaches like the more traditional Grammar Translation Method (GTM).
The term Communicative Language Teaching means different things to different teachers. To some it simply implies a much greater emphasis on student participation, use of target language, and a greater emphasis on orality. This method places communication as its primary goal. Rules of grammar are not given the same emphasis as with the Grammar Translation Method, and the stronger proponents of this method would argue that learning such rules will not help the student to communicate in English in normal day to day life. It is useful to understand this method in direct contrast to the Grammar Translation Method, which is based upon learning rules as a structural base to build more rules upon. Rather, CLT is the much more informal and relaxed relative of the apparently controlling and antiquated method of Grammar-Translation. Rewards or praise may be offered to the students by the less-intrusive teacher for exchanging compliments or basic information in English, however imperfect (as long as they are meaningful and understood), according to this method. Those who propagate Grammar-Translation however may not be so pleased with this more informal approach, and would prefer to strictly mark a student’s written piece of work for correct grammar and so forth.
This approach also seeks to realign the dynamics between students and teachers. In some ways it is a rebalancing of this relationship and is best seen as more of a ‘two way street’. That does not mean that the teacher does not have the ultimate position of authority; of course they must still be able to maintain order and authority when required. Rather, the CLT approach identifies that the student’s needs must be met, and places their specific learning needs at the core of its philosophy. Understanding a student’s needs, goals, and motivations are essential when approaching teaching. Learners who are more visual/spatial, interpersonal, and verbal/linguistic will have the most success with this teaching approach, however it can still be modified to engage other types of learners.
Furthermore, placing the student at the center is problematic for opponents of this approach who would argue that the teacher is best placed to decide the structure and learning points of their lessons as they are trained to consider student development and have a more long-term strategy of teaching. Ultimately, the teacher is the guide, helping students to communicate effectively in English, which is what this approach views as the end goal. The students must become diligent communicators and should be encouraged by the teacher to actively take up that role.
The teacher must take into account the students’ social and societal pressures, their personality, whether their motivation is mostly intrinsic or extrinsic, and other affective factors. One way in which CLT seeks to enhance students’ capability is through improving their confidence and motivation. If these can be achieved whilst learning a second language then the two will progress in relation to one another. Rather than sitting alone with a grammar textbook writing rules down and memorizing them, we should practice communicating to one another and we will eventually acquire this ability to communicate effectively in the second language. The students will undertake the natural order of language acquisition by starting with listening and speaking, but ultimately building towards reading, writing, and productive skills.
Now it is imperative to look at how the CLT can be complemented by the direct method. The CLT is useful in its encouragement of students’ ‘two way street’ participation, focus on oral communication, and explicit use of target language, but it lacks the discipline of the GTM. The direct method derives a lot of its characteristics from the CLT, but it is more regimented in its structure. While the CLT focuses more on student lead class time, integrating the direct method will pivot the control back to the teacher. Communicative activities that contain information gaps, choices, and feedback will still occur, but the teacher will have a more active role. Most of the learning will be inductive because the students will start to notice patterns via communication, as opposed to the deductive approach which advocates the introduction of rules and principles before moving on to examples. This new hybrid can be called a direct communicative learning approach.
Altogether a teacher must be patient, welcoming, experienced, and understanding, but for this particular direct communicative learning strategy, the teacher must be both a guide and a controller. The teacher must be well prepared for class and have a good handle on the class dynamics. In this instance, the teacher has to know their students well and have a clear sense of where they want to guide them, but in order to achieve the outcomes for each class, the teacher must also control the time. For example, I might want to encourage the discussion of a certain topic, but if the student seems to grasp the goal of that activity quickly, it is important not to dwell too long. It is essential that the student is engaged and does not feel like the class is shifting too often, but it is equally important to ensure the teaching needs are met that class.
Continuing from this, we must think about the different levels and ages of each learner. When teaching young or low level language learners, it is critical that the teacher grades their language, paces the class appropriately, and engages prior knowledge while contextualizing new information. Within this direct communicative learning approach, the teacher can utilize controlled practice exercises, modelling, and realia. It is acceptable and normal to see the students simplify their language and overgeneralize certain grammatical devices in the beginning. However, the teacher must ensure that the students retain new information through mnemonic mechanisms and the activation of vocabulary and grammar at properly placed intervals.
Now it is important to examine an example of this direct communicative approach in practice. Many students’ goals, when learning another language, include a common theme of being able to communicate in the target language. However, there can be other specific goals. For example, let’s say that Gabriela has just finished university and has been offered a position to work at an English speaking company. Now she has a basic level of English, but it is necessary that she become fluent in order to continue her job. Her goal is to not only learn English, but to excel at her job. Her needs may include keeping her job or interacting with English speaking co-workers and clients. Gabriela’s needs and goals are intrinsically connected because they will influence each other. It is important to remember this when formulating a syllabus and specific lesson plans.
Given the knowledge of Gabriela’s situation and how we can apply the direct communicative approach, I think the most suitable syllabus for her would be the content based syllabus with intervals of formative and continuous assessment. She already has a basic understanding of English, so it is important to engage her in other areas. By focusing the course on learning about different subjects, perhaps more often than not regarding business related topics, Gabriela will be more interested in the classes and see them less as a stressful area in which she must succeed at all times in order to keep her job. It is important to assess her ability throughout the course, not only to show her that she’s improving, but also her superiors her progress. The syllabus might follow a format of covering business meetings, technology in business, cross-cultural considerations, talking statistics and percentages, etc. Each unit has a wide range of opportunities to explore language learning, while maintaining an interesting atmosphere.
Finally, let’s inspect a sample lesson plan concerning the topic of business meeting etiquette. First we will start the class with a greeting and an exchange of what we did yesterday, what we are doing today, and we will do tomorrow. This will allow us to get into an English learning mindset. Next, there will be a review of what constitutes business meeting etiquette and we will examine relevant vocabulary like on time, suit, posture, running late, business casual, taking notes, etc. The student will be asked to describe these phrases and words, or failing that, using them in a sentence. Once this has been reviewed, we will imagine a scenario where we are invited to a business meeting that will discuss the consolidation of two companies. Gabriela and I must think of all the things we need to have prepared for this type of meeting and we also need to think about how to properly present ourselves. Later on in the class, we may utilize cue card dialogues, role playing, and authentic material to further practice the target language. At the end, we will reflect on what we have done and she will give me feedback on the activities and I will give her feedback on her participation.
In conclusion, as English becomes more of a globalized language, specifically the preferred language in business, the ways in which we teach English will also have to modernize. While there are pros and cons in each teaching methodology, the end game is to be able to effectively communicate with your colleagues. Through the evolution of social media, technology and globalization, the exposure to native speakers will become much easier and more accessible. I personally think the exposure to native speakers is invaluable because it provides opportunities for non-native speakers to hear common phrasal verbs, idioms, and current slang in an authentic setting. I think a communicative approach is ultimately the best way to do this because it focuses more on making connections and having impactful lessons instead of relying only on memorization and repetition. Finally, there are advantages to behaviorism and the GTM, but the future of English teaching will always remain focused on communication and practical use.