My Teaching Approach
Apparently, 80% of all English language students in the world are beginners. This implies that only a small percentage develop and succeed at higher levels. Seemingly, success in second language acquisition is a matter of personal variation, and success at first language acquisition is not. For me, this is very motivating as a teacher. I wish to aid in my student’s ability to cross that barrier into more advanced levels.
How do people learn?
It is necessary to take into consideration that people benefit from different styles of learning, which can be categorised in the VAK model. This model claims that there are three different types of learners: visual learners, who have a preference for flashcards, illustrated books, diagrams etc.; auditory learners, who benefit from lectures, discussions, audio tapes, songs etc.; and kinaesthetic learners, who prefer to learn through moving, doing and touching. As a teacher, it is necessary to incorporate all learning styles into the classroom in order for all students to benefit. One-to-one classes and smaller groups would greatly benefit from discovering their learning style in the classroom, and I would tailor activities and materials accordingly.
Learners can wish to acquire a second language for various reasons, which is also important to consider as a teacher. For example, one may wish to learn English for personal reasons, to increase travel/work opportunities, or because their employer requests it. It is important to discover the purpose of the lessons in order to satisfy the needs of the learner and set adequate learning outcomes.
Approach and Method
The cognitive approach opposes behaviourism and focuses on inner mental states such as memory, thinking, knowing and problem-solving, in order to understand the ways in which people learn. This is the approach I shall adopt, as it is highly functional, encourages practical engagement and has proven to be effective. The method I would adopt is the communicative, as it is broad, flexible, and lacks a defined set of classroom principles. Therefore, it can be easily adapted to suit various age groups (which I wish to teach), levels and learning styles. This method, in short, combines the four macro skills in order to successfully achieve communicative competence: listening, speaking, reading and writing. It puts emphasis on learning to communicate in the target language through interaction, and it introduces authentic resources in order for the learner to experience the language in real-life situations. In addition, structures are taught through meaning. For example, the use of inversions and word substitution games (e.g. changing positives into their negative form), which test structure and vocabulary simultaneously. Additionally, the learner’s personal experiences are brought into the classroom in order for them to personally relate to the language, and opportunity is provided for learners to reflect upon the learning process, which I believe to be important and what a behaviourist approach fails to provide. Furthermore, CLT is not fully teacher-led, which encourages learners to develop their confidence by allowing them to think for themselves, instead of constantly being told by the teacher and through overuse of textbook materials. I believe this to be the most effective and beneficial method that can be suited to the majority of learners. The Callan method, on the other hand, is restrictive, is only useful for beginner level, and does not allow freedom of thought or expression, as the drilling technique is used to have students simply repeat and memorise content in the TL, disallowing them the ability to expand upon expressions/responses. I believe repetition is better naturally introduced, such as through spaced intervals and language recycling. Therefore, the information is retained in a less boring manner and the brain is forced to activate the memory and make connections.
Just as the communicative method teaches through communication, so too does content-based instruction. I would apply CBI to my classes as it allows students to make stronger connections with the language and prior knowledge. As a teacher, it is important to consider the ways in which people learn, and activating prior knowledge can improve understanding and retention of new information. I would often introduce pre-task activities in order to allow the student to brainstorm and make predictions about the content. For example, if I were to present a role-playing dialog on a patient making a trip to the hospital, I would first ask the students to brainstorm hospital vocabulary. I believe this would immediately raise the student’s confidence in their ability to tackle the activity/new information, unlock what they already know and increase the likelihood of it being stored in the long-term memory. In addition, as previously mentioned with reference to CLT, CBI allows flexibility and adaptability to suit the student’s interest. Real-life content is provided to deliver complex information in a relatable, fun and motivating way. For example, through creative use of sound, visual aids and the use of realia.
Furthermore, I think it is necessary for teachers to be up-to-date with current trends and topics in order to encourage relevant and active discussion. For example, for children and teenagers it can be beneficial to be aware of the current music trends, television programmes, social media platforms etc. in order to grasp their attention and allow them to be able to discuss real-life experiences and express themselves in the target language. A sample of a activity for lower levels, but one that suits all ages and purposes, is a game called ‘Who am I?’, which is very engaging, encourages everyone to participate, and is communicative and fun. The game requires each student to write the name of a famous person on a piece of paper. The papers are then collected and redistributed. One at a time, a student must, without looking at the paper, hold it to their forehead. They have then to attempt to guess the name of the famous person by asking their fellow students yes/no questions. For example, “Am I a man?, Am I American, Am I a singer?” etc. This activity ticks a lot of boxes for a successful lower level game: practice of first and second person in the present tense, oral communication practice, listening practice, use of memory, etc. It is suitable for large classes or even individual classes, as a teacher and student can play it alone. With regard to adults, controversial and discussable topics are very useful to introduce for the students to sink their teeth into. They can include animal rights, the economic crisis, automation, death row etc.
I would also incorporate function-based syllabus, which is beneficial as the students learn how to use the target language to express their own ideas, opinions and purposes. For example, content for FBI can include how to communicate in a social situation, how to ask for directions, how to prepare an answer for different types of questions etc.
In addition, I would put emphasis on grammar, and my students acquiring native-like pronunciation. With regard to grammar, students can struggle, and it is a very important area to cover adequately. Thus, I would sway from the cognitive approach, and lean towards the deductive. It can be argued that the cognitive has little written grammatical focus, which may result in gaps in grammar knowledge. I believe the deductive approach to be the most beneficial, especially for lower levels, as it provides the rules, then examples, then practice. However, I would consider adopting the inductive approach when teaching advanced levels as they have already acquired a basic knowledge, and this approach allows them to see examples and attempt to figure out the rules for themselves.
With regard to classroom roles, I think the role of communicator is a suitable and productive role for students, as it means they are actively engaged and learn to communicate by communicating – the most rewarding way. The role of self-manager is also appropriate as it allows students to use initiative, reflect and be responsible for their own learning. I would adopt the role of play-maker. Thus, I would have effective time management and would guide the students in order for them to achieve the best results. I would ensure different learner needs were met in order for every student to participate. I believe this to be the most suitable role with regard to my teaching approach and method, and the most beneficial for the students. As, for example, with a behaviourist approach, the teacher is the controller and fully decides upon how to execute an activity, leaving no room for natural learning or student reflection.
Planning and Preparation
Undoubtable, adequate lesson preparation and lesson reflection is essential to be a successful teacher. I would use the PPP model which adopts a cognitive approach: Present, Practice, Produce. This is an effective model that satisfies the needs of students at various levels and ages, and for various specific learning purposes. The first stage, ‘present’, allows the student to view the target language which will be the focus of the activity. For example, in a vocabulary activity, they could be asked to match the vocabulary with a table of images. This allows the student to use previous knowledge and develop an understanding for new information through visual aids. Subsequently, the ‘practice’ stage allows the students to see the TL in real-life situations, such as through role-plays. Finally, the ‘produce’ stage gives the students an opportunity to use the TL and personally adapt it. For example, they could be asked to give sentences of their choosing containing the TL, or if the TL involved expressing likes and dislikes, ability etc., the students could be asked to create questions and answers with a personal touch.
When developing my teaching approach, method and desired teacher-role, I have taken into consideration the positives and negatives with regard to my own experiences as a second language learner. For me, as I believe is the same for many, I feel I was extremely disadvantaged due to fear of participating orally in class. Therefore, to this day, I believe I have the knowledge, but can struggle to produce it in real-life conversation. As I think of my teachers in high-school, I remember that more attention was paid to the confident ones, and less to the more reserved. I also felt like I would be in trouble had I made mistakes, as my teacher was impatient. This greatly knocked my confidence, and is something I will ensure my students never feel. All students should be given equal attention and should be told never to be nervous or apologise for making mistakes. An additional reason as to why I would adopt the cognitive approach: it considers trial and error as part of the learning process. Furthermore, in my experience, simply being told forms and structures without putting them into practice and fully understanding what I was learning at the time, has left gaps in my second language acquisition.
Additionally, a comfortable atmosphere and student-teacher rapport is essential to allow the learner’s confidence to grow and encourage consistent use of L2, which is crucial to speed up the learning process tremendously. I will consistently compare and contrast classroom applications and reflect upon my role, as it is an ever-evolving process, and necessary to be in control of my own professional development. Furthermore, praising learners is greatly encouraging, and mistakes and the learner’s difficulties should be tackled with consistency, yet tolerance and constructivism. Energy, patience and positivity is something I will bring to every lesson taught.
English is the current global lingua franca, is predominant in education, employment and the media, and continues to grow. It is possible that as technology advances, learning English with human teachers may not be in such high demand. Currently, there are many employers allocating English tutoring lessons to their employees, which is likely to decrease as machine translation advances. Additionally, as language apps such as Duolingo improve, they will be used to provide English language learning to millions, anywhere, any place. However, although technology advancement will be utilised, it can still be argued that there is no better teacher than a human teacher. I studied translation theory and practice at university and many flaws in machine translation still remain, so I assume learning English solely through one’s smartphone and without teacher guidance, will not be entirely satisfactory and engaging enough for many. English teachers, however, can use the advancement of technology to help us evolve. For example, just like with Oxinity’s collaborative platform, teachers can use technology to work together and share lesson plans. This allows the opportunity for individual teachers to use a wide range of ideas and activities to learn and develop from, as well as being able to provide their students with a great variety of content, and colourfully enhance the learning process and future of education.