Essay: My Philosophy for Teaching English
I envision my classroom to be one where all are comfortable and confident to take risks. Learning a second language is difficult in different ways for everyone, but progress is only made when you feel as though mistakes are commonplace and never looked down upon. I envision lively conversation, laughter, careful listening, and most of all, the ability for everyone to express their genuine thoughts, for that is the essence of language. I hope to create and foster all of this within my classroom.
After studying the various existing models of teaching English, I can safely say that my personal philosophy is a mélange of the different approaches. I do think that language learning should focus primarily on speaking and listening, but being a primarily visual learner, I also think that some reading and writing should be incorporated. I suppose the amount of reading and writing would depend on the learner’s purpose. For instance, those learning for business might want or need more reading and writing in the form of articles and emails.
I completely agree with other methods that the learner should be doing most of the talking and always be actively engaged in the lesson. In my previous experience as a teacher, this has always led to better learning outcomes. I agree that the primary language to be spoken should be English, although I do see how in certain situations, like with beginning level students, it might be helpful to exchange a few words in the native language.
I think that it is important to learn the most commonly used phrases initially, not only to provide something immediately useful, but also to motivate the learner. But, I do also think it’s important to study grammatical structures so that the learner can hopefully apply these to new and original thoughts. For this reason, I tend to disagree with approaches that neglect grammar altogether.
Ultimately, my goal as a teacher is to help the student feel comfortable and confident that they can learn English. Only then will they be willing to take the risks necessary to learn a new language. I want my students to be able to speak English conversationally using the most commonly used words and phrases, and to be able to apply knowledge of English grammar to express original thoughts.
In order to achieve these goals, I believe it’s important to always keep in mind what is going on in the background with my students. Firstly, why are they taking the course? It could be for personal fulfillment, for business (elective or otherwise), or for educational or career advancement. These intentions will affect their motivation during and outside of class. Other factors related to the students’ personality affect motivation as well. Students that are more extroverted and not shy in new or uncomfortable situations tend to learn language faster because they aren’t as afraid to take risks. That doesn’t mean that introverts can’t learn, however, and it’s important as the teacher to be sensitive to this. The students’ relationship with the teacher is also crucial to success. It is absolutely necessary to build some sort of rapport with your students. If they are not comfortable around you, they will not be willing to take risks and thus not learn.
I wish to focus on the four macro skills necessary for any language:
· Speaking – students can speak the most common phrases with automaticity (no translating in head), and then be able to construct original thoughts using sound grammar skills
· Listening – students improve their listening comprehension in varied settings
· Reading – students can engage in critical reading (adequate understanding of content and ability to analyze, interpret and defend/refute the content) of media pieces, work-related articles/journals
· Writing – students learn practical applications of writing such as emails or instruction documents, as applicable to their goals/profession
I want to give equal importance to grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, as these are all important aspects of language. However, depending on the focus of the lesson/activity, I would place less emphasis on the areas not in focus.
Teaching those who have never spoken English before versus those who have been studying English for some time will obviously require a different approach. I envision that the beginning level will be much more teacher-directed. I will keep the conversational focus, but the “conversations” will be more like quick question-and-answer exchanges. The higher the levels of proficiency, the more student-driven the lesson will become. Higher level students will be briefly prompted by me, but then may take the conversation in their own direction. I will remain dedicated, though, to keep us on track with our day’s objectives. Likewise, beginning classes will rely much more on visual aids such as pictures and gesturing while the higher levels may have more text involved.
Different age groups must also be considered. Younger learners need frequent changes of activities for shorter attention spans and may need more breaks. They might also respond better to certain games or physical/kinesthetic activities. Older learners might prefer topics like politics, travel or health and science. Of course, almost anything (appropriate) is game really, depending on the learners’ personalities and the dynamics of the class. It is important to consider each individual when determining the approach.
I wish to play the role of a mentor and resource for the student as they make their way through learning the language. I will introduce topics or areas of focus to them and hopefully, through my careful prompting, they can internalize their own meaning. I plan to always first model the correct language for them, but then prompt them to come up with their own examples, rather than just imitate me.
The student must be the active agent of their own learning. Given our short time together, they must do as much speaking as possible so that they get the practice and repetition that they need to internalize it.
I think corrections are important, but I do not want to interrupt the learner’s speaking with corrections unless they directly relate to the focus of the activity (such as the grammar structure or vocabulary word). Other errors would be discussed after the speaker has finished their thought. I might try to get the learner to identify their own errors and self-correct, or have other students correct them. This will likely better solidify the correction than had I told them myself.
Praise is important and should be used often. I like to focus praise on something specific, such as “You did a really great job pronouncing every single word correctly” or “Your opinion on that topic was well said. I really like the phrase you used, …” Of course, it’s hard to always give this kind of specific praise in the moment but I believe it makes a greater impact.
The materials I would use vary, but I want to address all learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Even learners who gravitate towards one particular style could perhaps learn from the same material presented in a different way.
I plan to use as much visuals as possible, whether that be pictures, realia, drawings, videos, etc. A whiteboard or something similar to have on hand for quick written communication would be useful, though not used frequently. Auditory materials could also be extremely beneficial. For instance, videos, recordings and songs all help to demonstrate various pronunciations and speeds, and aid in listening comprehension.
The in-class dynamics would be focused on conversational interaction between the learners and myself. Reading or listening would be kept to a minimum, and only when to introduce or perhaps practice a new concept in a different way.
I like the idea of a function and situation based syllabus – perhaps emphasizing the function and a sub-emphasis of a situation (such as expressing possession along with describing your family). This way, the potential vagueness or broadness of the function is complemented with some specific, practical use.
An example of a lesson plan for an S1 level might go like this:
· Objective: The student will be able to use the verb “to like” in the present tense in the statement, negative and interrogative forms.
· Intro (“Warm-up”): Short activity to review vocabulary of hobbies/leisure activities
· Guided Practice: Show/say an activity and have all students give a thumbs up/thumbs down. Use sentences with “to like” in first, second and third person (model), then have students come up with different sentences based on the presentation of thumbs. Could also do this with celebrities/political figures or foods, etc.
· Independent Practice: Students have some think/write time, then a class discussion about what students like to do in their free time or on vacation. Also focus on students asking each other (interrogative).
· Assessment: Questions to each student that prompts them to use the verb “to like” in the different forms.
I think assessment should be ongoing throughout the lesson and then as a wrap-up at the end of a lesson, as a tool to determine how to move forward. I think it’s important to revisit concepts in subsequent lessons, not only just to solidify the concept for the learner long-term, but also to address any difficulties that were not resolved during the first lesson. Assessment helps determine if and to what extent this needs to be done.
Assessment is also an important tool for the student to be the agent of their own learning. I want students to be able to self-assess, so I might ask them to tell me how they did (if they are able) and what they think they need to work on. This helps them check in with themselves as well, to uncover feelings of frustration or slow progress.
I also think it’s important for students to see for themselves how far they’ve come at certain junctures. This might be accomplished through a sort of “cumulative test,” which might not necessarily be a traditional textbook-like test, but rather just a question/answer session where I take note and highlight all the different language they’ve used.
All this being said, my philosophy is just a start, and I expect it to constantly evolve as I gain more actual experience and collaborate with other teachers. In my past work as a secondary school teacher, I was always encouraged to remain a “lifelong learner,” and to foster that sentiment in my students as well. A teacher can never be perfect, and there is always room to grow. That is one of the fascinating things about the field of education, in my opinion. As such, collaboration with other teachers is vital. Many heads are better than one, especially when it comes to the creative challenges of teaching. Also, we can learn so much from each other’s experiences. I form this philosophy from my background and from my TEFL training thus far, but I promise myself to constantly refine it using the wisdom gathered from the experiences and collaborations I look forward to having.