May 12, 2013 by Willy Cardoso
Here’s a very short series about methodology. So short it has only one part.
Since it’s impossible to determine one way, or a set of ways, that could be described as ‘the best’ approach to language teaching, I decided this time to think not from a DO, but from a DON’T starting point. Starting with a negative statement, with something I do not do, makes the text less authoritative and more… well I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter.
What I don’t do:
I don’t subscribe to a grammatical syllabus.
- Even if the coursebook I’m given does (I think they all do!).
- Instead, focus on form in my lessons tend to happen when myself and/or students perceive a gap in their language skills when trying to communicate something.
- This something tends to have a motivation that often has communicative value, i.e. the message is purposeful and the student is engaged in a dialogue (spoken or written), as opposed to an utterance given only to answer a display question.
- Otherwise, focus on form(s) happens in less communicative ways when:
a) students present recurrent mistakes, hence requiring me to actually pause ‘more authentic communication’ and draw his/her attention to the linguistic feature in question (this, nonetheless, emerges from more authentic communication anyway);
b) for strategic reasons, i.e. when a certain grammatical feature can ‘add value’ to the message, e.g. a negative question to sound more suggestive, a passive form to create a distance or separation from the object, etc. In this case, the choice of language input is mine, but since the message being delivered is not, my intention is mainly to suggest the alternative form elucidating the meaning it carries. By suggesting, as opposed to correcting, I feel this is some sort of soft-teaching, which rather pleases me.
c) when for a lack of accuracy the message is misunderstood, or would be potentially misunderstood in a different setting.
d) students bring to the lessons questions aroused while doing homework or in out-of-lesson situations.
So, I don’t select grammatical items when planning a lesson. Apart from the situations mentioned above, which are not the majority, I never walk into a lesson thinking “today I’ll teach the second conditional”.
Instead, my lessons are:
inquiry-based | task-based | project-based | skills-based
Some questions I’m asked about this approach, that is, the approach of not following a grammatical syllabus:
– The teacher needs a lot of experience to do this.
Answer: Not necessarily. The teacher needs confidence and knowledge about the language more than teaching experience. One may inform the other but are not exclusive to the other. This leads to the next question.
(besides, many very experienced teachers do exactly the opposite of what I said here; hence, making it more a matter of attitude and style than one of experience)
– The teacher needs to know a lot about grammar to be able to address it this way.
Questions about grammar are bound to happen whether or not you pre-select a grammar item. The advantage of pre-selecting is that if a question comes up about something else, the teacher can say it’s not the moment and that they’ll look at it in the future. However, this is an advantage to the teacher only, and in my opinion a poor excuse. In any case, if a teacher doesn’t know the answer to a question it’s better to say s/he isn’t sure about it and will research, and bring the answer in the following lesson. Moreover, the teacher can perfectly take a grammar guide to lessons and consult it as needed.
– Why bother if the book tells you what grammar to teach.
This is not usually a question I’m motivated to discuss. If one is happy doing it and can see positive results, there’s little to be said. But in short, I’d say this way I’m proposing here is more attuned to what I have studied in theory and practice which makes me believe that language acquisition doesn’t happen exactly by seeing discrete items of grammar prior to communicative needs, nor does it happen in the linear anti-holistic fashion which most learning/teaching materials are presented to us.
Okay, so this is what I don’t do – part 1 of 1.
Stay tuned for part 2 – and, as usual, feel free to leave a comment.