My Teaching Philosophy
I believe that Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences sheds light on the many ways in which a student can comprehend and draw success to their studies. It is imperative that teachers recognize individual learning styles and cater to them as much as possible to ensure optimal learning. Teachers should leverage these learning styles when planning classroom activities. And even more, teachers should accommodate different teaching methodologies to ensure a global approach to the classroom activities.
Adults who study foreign languages generally wish to develop their conversational skills. This is not always the case. Scrivener asserts that “The aim for the conversation class is for learners to ‘become more fluent and confident.'” Teaching fluency over form is preferable because, in truth, learners can convey a message with improper grammar; if they are overly concerned with making grammatical mistakes, they may lack in confidence which in turn could prevent them from attempting to speak at all. Furthermore, having free flowing conversation (with minimal interruptions/corrections) allows the teacher to observe what kinds of mistakes each student makes and to judiciously choose critical teaching moments when immediate, spontaneous feedback would be appropriate.
The literature we read for the TESL class strongly suggests that Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) is the best approach to build fluency and self-confidence in the second language student. Many of the language studies that we looked at tested the various teaching methodologies on school-aged children. For this age bracket and “context” the studies appear conclusive: activities that favor fluency over form encourage students to enter into dialog in a language class. In class we also discussed how, primarily in Asian schools, older methodologies such as the Grammar-Translation Method and the Audio-Lingual Method are used more readily than CLT. In the context of a classroom full of students who know English grammar very well but are unable to express themselves spontaneously in the target language, it seems clear that a method that stresses communication over grammar and learning by rote would be prescriptive. But this context is not one with which I am familiar as an ESL teacher.
I agree that learners may not be able to apply the “up-in-the-head knowledge” that they accumulate from learning by rote or from the Grammar-Translation Method to actively usable language. Scrivener here makes the distinction between ‘passive’ knowledge and ‘active’ language. This is a valid distinction for any language teacher to keep in mind when encouraging conversation and “fluency over form”. By the same token, there are students who seem to have no difficulty speaking in class, though there may be little or no respect for the conventions of correct language usage.
I use some old school techniques for teaching. My findings do not fit into the findings we read about in some of the studies which almost conclusively assert communicative methodologies are by far the most effective way of teaching a second language. I found this not always the case with adults. Drilling and memory games that break language down into semantic chunks or less tie in well with the theories that support such methodologies as phonics (versus the Whole Language approach). I think a mixture of methodologies is the wisest approach, certainly supported by Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences.
Another topic that we explored in TESL class was the effectiveness of Task Based Learning (TBL). Scrivener calls this a variant of CLT. Later he states that TBL is one variation of the “exposure-test-teach-test” lesson model. For me, Task Based Learning involves giving instructions for a task, such as closing the door, handing out corrected work, lowering the blinds, etc. In an immersion program the multiplicity and repetitive nature of classroom management tasks ensures a thorough understanding of these lexical chunks. Ken Lackman’s example of TBL is a little different: “if students were to read about someone’s experience on holiday, their task could be to describe a holiday that they had or would like to have and they would have to look for lexical chunks that they could use for that task”. Again, my belief is that a variety of teaching methodologies enriches the learning experience and is most likely to cater to all the different learning styles one may find.
I believe that teaching beginners often requires starting at square one – that is, bottom up. This is how many beginner text books are organized. This leaves the task of finding or developing more authentic material to fill in between the pages or chapters of a grammar or graded text book are up to the teacher.
In my beginner classes I often use simple rhymes to train the ears and teach simple structures. By reciting simple ryhmes as a class, many students overcome the shyness they would otherwise experience. Using cue cards, the students also get a taste of English spelling. Using rhymes is a fun way to listen to and learn a second language which appeals primarily to the auditive learning style.