With my move to Japan less than 3 weeks away (eek!) I’ve got lots of little things to do, as well as some not-so-little things. The visa application is out of my hands, the plane ticket is booked for the 28th, and just yesterday I shipped two boxes of stuff to Nagoya. The rest of the week my focus is on finishing my TESL course.
And on that subject, on to the real topic of today’s post: Teaching Methods. This article is a copy of one of my TESL course assignments, done several weeks back and posted here for you to read if you have any interest in teaching English. If you’re a teacher yourself, I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to respond with a comment.
It is certainly possible to adhere to only one teaching method throughout an entire lesson. The examples Larsen-Freeman shows us in Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, for instance, are all one-method lessons. All of these teaching methods have some value, but whether or not it is a good idea to use one method exclusively is another question. I think there is more value in using a variety of methods in the second language classroom.
Every learner is different, and comes to class with a unique mix of talents, weaknesses, and learning preferences. Each learner would best be served with a different teaching method. Some people learn best by hearing, some by seeing and some by doing – and for each of these learning styles there are a variety of possible methods to use in teaching. If all our classes were one-on-one, it might be possible to use one method for each student, with lessons targeted specifically for that one student and his/her learning needs. The reality is, though, that most English teachers need to teach a variety of personalities in the same class. It’s also probably true that each learner, while he/she might have a particular learning strength or preference, is actually mix of different strengths and learning styles. Therefore, a variety of methods would be a great asset in the ESL classroom.
Choosing the right method depends not only on the students, but on what aspect of the English language is being taught. Since language is meant to be used in the “real world”, it would be wise to give the students a lot of opportunities to practice. After all, this is how we learn our own language as children – by trying it out for ourselves, not by copying notes from a board or listening to a lecture. On the other hand, reading and writing, as well as listening and speaking, are important components in language learning. And some concepts do need some explaining before they can be practiced.
Before I became involved in ministry or considered living and teaching overseas, I was a graphic designer. When I was in community college learning graphic arts, there were a variety of classes and subject matter being taught. As such, there were a variety of teaching methods being used as well. For topics such as law and business, there was a lot of lecture and discussion. For software use and design techniques, there was more “hands on” learning.
Personally, I learn best by doing. In fact, there were many techniques and tricks I learned on the job, after finishing school, that I didn’t learn in the classroom. On the other hand, even in regard to the practical, on-the-job aspects of design, I needed both to be told what to do and to have the chance to do it for myself – to learn by trial and error. I might not have learned by doing without first having someone give me some direction. And it might not have “stuck” if I didn’t have the opportunity to put theory into practice.
I think language learning is much the same. For the sake of different learning styles, as well as the different parts of English to be taught, ESL teachers should use variety in the classroom. We need to remember, too, that not every method will work in every situation. So there is trial and error on the part of the teacher as well as the student. This will lead to even more variety, as we experiment to see what works in our own context. What is important is that the students are learning. It couldn’t hurt to keep things fun, either.