Personal Teaching Approach
Throughout my TEFL course I have been told that there is no one way to teach English. In this essay, I’d like to discuss different teaching methods and tools and how I will tackle teaching with an outline of my own personal approach.
With years of formative language learning education under my belt, I’ve always wondered how I managed to gain that knowledge – or rather, how my various instructors over the years successfully imparted that knowledge to me without my conscious awareness of it. Languages have always intrigued me and from a young age I learned how to pick apart words and sentences, to read and understand things above my age bracket. This gift of language has served me well and I genuinely enjoy inspiring that ardour for learning in other individuals. However, I live in the real world and I understand that for many, if not most prospective students, the study of English is often undertaken with a greater goal in mind: to satisfy a requirement at work, to appease a future employer, to transfer to a different country, to gain entry to a university course or simply to improve your CV. There are those who want to learn for travelling, for socialising or to gain further insight on their favourite films or music. My point being that people learn English for a myriad of reasons – I can’t change their original goal, but what I can do is to encourage and motivate their interest in the language into something that surpasses whatever need or requirement that they need to fulfil and allows that interest to evolve into a tool for learning. I believe that regardless of subject, a great teacher genuinely can make a world of difference.
So, student motivation and personal aspirations aside, my role as a teacher is to figure out what a student’s objectives are and how I can help them to achieve them. A university student might want to focus more on perfecting grammar and using academic materials (reading and writing), and might therefore benefit more from a deductive approach to teaching in order to cover more ground in more detail over a shorter period of time; an employee might prefer to focus on macro-skills such as speaking and listening and language areas such as pronunciation in order to improve their verbal communication, hence an inductive approach using authentic materials might prove to be of more use for them. When teaching children, classes might sometimes cover all four macro-skills– however, as this can be quite taxing on the attention span, perhaps an inductive approach would be more beneficial because it would be less mentally demanding and easier to combine with activities to keep them engaged and active in the class.
Which leads me onto the question: how do we know what to teach? Of course, it’s easy to say that Student X wants to be able to communicate effectively in English within a year, but how do we decide which grammatical components or vocabulary are necessary to achieve an elementary level of fluency (Oxbridge P2/T)? How do we determine how long a class should be or how frequently we should have them to achieve the desired result? The answer: the Syllabus. The syllabus gives us structure, defines objectives and organises lesson plans into manageable chunks. It allows us to scale down the impossibly large schema of language learning into weekly targets and bite-size goals. With effective creation and implementation it constitutes the most important tool in teaching. I would include details about course materials in the weekly schedule, example materials including, but not limited to: role-play situations, videos, images, problem-solving activities, games and text books, articles and excerpts from texts. In order to understand individual student needs and preferred learning styles I would incorporate the VAK model into my lesson strategy. An example intermediate-level class might begin by engaging students with an article or excerpt that would be discussed (studied), then developed or expanded on with a video or through the use of images; the structural points highlighted in the previous tasks would then be activated in a role-play activity and the class would end with a wrap up covering the TL, grammar or concepts addressed in the class. In this type of class the needs of all learning styles are addressed, TTT would be ideally kept at a minimum and student interaction/ group work would be encouraged to develop ideas and reinforce inductive learning sequences in order to maximise comprehension and memorisation of the input. As a teacher, it is my responsibility to be aware of the students’ levels and grade my language accordingly, using comprehensible input that both challenges the students to engage their minds but also allows them to reinforce vocabulary and structures that they have previously covered.
I think most teachers will agree that choosing when and which mistakes to correct can constitute cause for uncertainty – if you correct too many, too often then student confidence levels may be negatively impacted and affective factors may occur, however if you fail to correct frequently enough then bad habits may be formed (and possibly modelled by other students) and the student may struggle with communicating their desired meaning. As such, I have a general rule for beginner-intermediate learners: I correct repeated mistakes (mispronunciations; incorrect conjugation patterns) and mistakes that cause the meaning of the desired sentence to be lost. For advanced learners, of course, attention to detail is imperative and thus I would focus much more on pronunciation and nuance, as well as the debatably lower-level errors mentioned previously. In theory this ‘general rule’ would strike a balance between good English and maintaining student confidence and motivation levels. It would be implemented by noting down mistakes made by the student which would then be addressed either upon completion of the speech or end of the task, depending on the gravity of the error and relevance to other students. At the end of the day you want the student to talk – activating their knowledge is the best way for them to learn and equally beneficial for long-term retention. I take a more constructivist approach when it comes to errors and see them as something to be learned from and as useful tools for L2 progression as they highlight areas of weakness that need to be worked on. Equally, students should be encouraged to self-correct when possible and correction from the teacher should be in a positive manner so as not to damage confidence or inhibit progress.
When it comes to second language acquisition theory, some theories suggest that a meaning-focused immersive L2 environment is intrinsic for the efficient progress of certain aspects of subconscious language development. I am also of this opinion: however, considering my past experiences learning foreign languages, I do acknowledge the importance of L1 usage, if available, in certain exceptional circumstances. For example, I have found that some students overexert themselves trying to think of one particular word that will allow them to organise their thoughts efficiently, and if unable to remember, the lack of this word can cause serious hang-ups in language fluency. At that point it is crucial to try and explain using terms that they are already familiar with or visual examples (images, drawings) but for lack of those or if such an occurrence is impeding the flow of the class, the provision of a translation – perhaps particularly useful with phrasal verbs, explaining grammatical structures or unusual vocabulary items – can make a huge difference. Moreover, if the teacher has a good understanding of both L1 and L2, cognates can be an invaluable tool for L2 learners. There is no doubt that interference and the use of interlanguage are possible disruptive factors in the classroom, but in my opinion and according to my personal experience, can often be addressed and used as a learning opportunity by getting students to explain what they are saying in L2, rather than L1. Such issues are significantly less likely to arise in one-on-one class environments for sheer lack of opportunity.
With regard to monitoring progress, I prefer formative assessment methods over their summative counterparts. Despite the majority of my personal education having been made up of the latter, I feel that particularly with language learning, regular and less focused assessments provide a less stressful way (in the eyes of the student) of monitoring progress and allow for alterations in the course structure to focus on particular weak points. Strategic questioning, quizzes and regular analysis of student work are just a few of the ways that this could be carried out. Think of it like a graph - the more data you gather on student performance, the clearer their learning needs and progress towards objectives can be surmised and deviances, perhaps caused by affective factors, can be recognised more easily.
In summary, the role I want to play as a teacher is something akin to a constructivist facilitator. I want my classes to be stimulating and relevant, I want to help my students find a way of learning that suits their individual needs and nurtures their strengths; that encourages and motivates them to go off and learn more on their own. I want them to love learning as much as I do, and to give them the tools to open that door to the English-speaking world and jump right in. It goes without saying that language skills improve the most in authentic environments, however with current technology advances and the evolution of teaching methods, I firmly believe that the artificial will one day replicate the authentic in this sense.