Take the Hidden Paths That Run Towards the Moon or to the Sun!
Teaching and learning is an adventure for both the teacher and the student. Together we can “take the hidden paths that run towards the Moon or to the Sun” (Tolkien, The Road Goes Ever On). My teaching experience shows that this has to be our mutual experience and goal to reach the peaks of language skills. Robert Frost said, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener”. My mission is to awaken the adventurous spirit in my students and help them take their first step out of their safe homes into an enchanting world of English.
Many beginner students of English as a foreign language are usually afraid of making mistakes and do not want to speak at all. The more advanced often lack a speaking partner with whom they could practise. Soon they may become less willing to produce language. They are sometimes still very shy in using language. Thus my first goal is to encourage them to take the courageous step forward and start speaking from the very beginning. Then, in the short term, they are prepared to achieve what they have planned, like getting a job or passing an exam. The next step, the long-term goal is to make English part of their life adventure.
Each student is different and so the methods and techniques differ depending on students’ skills, goals and possibilities. Although I prefer the Communicative Approach, other approaches provide some very useful routines and means, which combined together in a well-thought-out way can benefit students. The teacher has to be flexible enough to react to new situations and challenges and utilise method or technique which is the most efficient in the situation. The Communicative Approach enables the teacher to be open for this flexibility and choice of different teaching styles. It also sets the main goal – getting to connect with other people, and language is a very important part of this connection. This goal supported by methods from different approaches e.g. Total Physical Response, using realia, understanding students’ needs and feelings makes marvellous building blocks for lessons and courses.
My students start talking and using target language from the very first lesson. As soon as it is possible only the target language is used during the lesson. My students are learning English as a foreign language so I also encourage them to have contact with English culture, to know it better and therefore understand the language in a profound and complex way. Most of them are not advanced language users, so they need a guide in their language adventure. Giving them rich and exciting lessons makes them more motivated, lowers affective filter.
When I plan my lessons I always take my students abilities into consideration. I adjust my plans to their needs and possibilities. Showing students that they can produce language from the very beginning is very motivating for them. I also plan with them their learning strategy at the beginning. To encourage them to use the language I utilise dialogues, language games and role plays. Like a guide, I try to show them a path which they will follow. From the very first minute, my task is to speak with students, not to provide them with a lecture. Therefore, most of the lesson’s time is practice. It’s also necessary to assure them that mistakes are just a part of the learning process and therefore shouldn’t discourage them from producing language. Keeping a positive attitude and a big smile when I see my students can also work wonders.
An important part of a learning strategy is I encourage my students to get to know English outside the classroom by reading books, watching films or TV series etc. With more advanced students this is part of the teaching process. Their homework is to watch e.g. a TEDx recording. During the lesson, we discuss speakers views and ideas. Such exercises help a lot when expanding vocabulary is concerned.
As far as grammar is concerned, many teachers introduce new material starting with a detailed explanation of rules and drilling exercises. However, when students first have contact with grammar in real use, then they understand rules better. So I carefully plan my lessons to introduce new grammar in speaking, so students can understand it from context, and later I introduce the rules. This method proved to be more efficient. The final evaluation is just a natural talk on a specific topic (carefully selected, so the desired grammar forms can be used) after which I can point what student has already achieved and what do they have to work on. Assessments, even if they are followed by grade, should first and foremost be a way to give feedback. The test should show where on the way to achieving their goals my students are.