Tag Archives: English curriculum

Understanding Techniques in Language Teaching

Technique is a core term in the jargon of language teaching. This leads to people using a term without really knowing what it means. In simple terms, a technique is any task/activity that is planned in a language course. Such a broad term makes it difficult to make sense of what exactly a technique is.

This post will try to provide various ways to categorize the endless sea of techniques available in language teaching.

Manipulation to Interaction

One way to assess techniques is along a continuum from manipulation to interaction. A manipulative technique is one in which the teacher has complete control and expects a specific response from the students. Examples of this include reading aloud, choral repetition, dictation

Interactive techniques are ones in which the student’s response is totally open. Examples of interactive techniques include role play, free writing, presentations, etc.

Automatic, Purposeful, Communicative Drills

Another continuum that can be used is seeing techniques as an automatic, purposeful, or communicative drill. An automatic drill technique has only one correct response. An example would be a repetition drill in which the students repeat what the teacher said.

A purposeful drill technique has several acceptable answers. For example, if the teacher asks the students “where is the dog”? The students can say “it’s outside” or “the dog is outside” etc.

Restricted to Free

The last continuum that can be used is restricted to free. This continuum looks at techniques from the position of who has the power. Generally, restricted techniques are ones that are teacher-centered, closed-ended, with high manipulation. Free techniques are often student-centered, open-ended, with unplanned responses.

Conclusion

All levels of language teaching should have a mixture of techniques from all over any of the continuums mentioned in this post. It is common for teachers to have manipulative and automatic techniques for beginners and interactive and free techniques for advanced students. This is often detrimental particularly to the beginning students.

The continuums here are simply for attempting to provide structure when a teacher is trying to choose techniques. It is not a black and white matter in classifying techniques. Different teachers while classifying the same techniques in different places in a continuum. As such, the continuums should guide one’s thinking and not control it.

Strategies for Relevant Language Learning

Meaningful or relevant language learning has become an important component of modern language teaching. For many students, acquiring knowledge without a corresponding context in which it can be applied inhibits the ability to assimilate the information no matter how beneficial the knowledge may be.

Defining Relevance in Learning

From a constructionist viewpoint, relevance in learning is about connecting new information with old information which strengthens the learner’s ability to retain the knowledge. An example of this would be how a child various words and sounds with specific goals of communication they may have.

The complete opposite of relevant learning may be rote learning. Rote learning focuses on memorizing for the sake of memorizing with the key component of context often missing. With the context, the learning may lack relevance for the learner which impedes their language acquisition.

One of the strongest examples of rote learning in TESOL would be audiolingualism. This method was heavy on drill and memorization. However, this emphasis on memorizing and drill made it difficult to produce language realistically for many language students.

Strategies for Relevance

A key idea in making learning relevant in the context of language acquisition is balanced. Some memorizing is fine but not in excess. This same idea applies towards the teaching of grammar, theories, and other abstract impractical concepts.

How to find balance is too complex to explain here as every classroom is different. The analogy I use when teaching fuzzy concepts such as finding balance is the use of salt in cooking. A little salt is great but too much and nobody wants to it the food. However, the amount of salt to use depends on preference/context and this also applies when striving for pedagogical balance in teaching.

Another way to improve relevance is to identify the interest and needs of the students and address these in the classroom. This makes a clear connection with a practical application for many students, which enhances retention of knowledge.

Lastly, making an effort as the teacher to show how a new idea or concept relates to what a student already knows also makes learning relevant. This extends the student’s knowledge just enough to provide new information that is not out of reach for understanding.

Conclusion

Learners need to be able to understand and see how they can use something that they are learning. This requires the teacher to develop ways in which to demonstrate to the student that the learning is relevant.

Whole Language Approach

Traditionally, the teaching of language in America has focused on decoding skills. This means splitting a part a word it to it phonemes. This is where the famous phonics programs came from.

However, with every reaction, there is often a reaction. The reaction to the emphasis on decoding and phonics lead to the development of the Whole Language Approach. Whole Language has to distinct camps one for first language reading acquisition and the other for ESL. In this post, we will examine the assumptions, curriculum, and procedures of the Whole Language Approach within ESL.

Assumptions

Whole Language Approach stresses that language learning happens in interactional and functional ways. This means that students learn a language through engaging one another and through the actual use of the language in real-world experiences. This means that authentic assessment is a core component of the learning.

With the emphasis on interaction, the Whole Language Approach is also heavily influenced by constructivism. As the students experience the language in authentic situations, they are building on prior knowledge they have.

The teacher is viewed as a facilitator and not an expert passing on knowledge. Students serve the role of evaluating their own and others work. The classroom environment is one of self-directed learning with the students’ experiences used as learning material. This heightens relevancy which is an important aspect of a humanistic classroom.

Curriculum & Procedures

A Whole Language Approach classroom have some of the following in its curriculum

  • Authentic assessment
  • Integration of the language skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening)
  • Collaboration when reading and writing
  • Real-world reading and writing rather than for pedagogical purposes

It is always important to have a degree of flexibility in the curriculum when using this approach. This is due to learning new things about the students and their needs as the class progresses.

The procedures and activities used in the Whole Language Approach include several of the following.

A primary goal of this approach is to provide an experience. The experience helps the students to acquire the language through the various activities of the class.

Conclusion

Whole Language is not a commonly used approach these days. A major problem with overly student-centered/self-directed learning is measurement of results. With other approaches such as content or task-based, it is much easier to measure cause and effect in terms of language acquisition.

Another closely related criticism of Whole Language is the negative view of the approach of teaching and acquiring specific measurable skills. Students would learn but it was not always clear what they learned.

Many skills require systematic instruction such as reading. Exposure to text does not teach a person to read. Rather, learning the sounds of the individual words often leads to reading. As such, a top-down approach to reading acquisition is the favor theory currently

Regardless of the weak points, Whole Language can still be useful for English teachers. The requirement is to find ways to use it situationally rather than exclusively.

Method Design

In language teaching, the approach shapes and influences how an instructor views language learning and language in general. Once an instructor has an idea of how they see the language learning experience it is necessary to actually develop a plan or method of teaching language.

Method design is the development of the actual curriculum for language teaching. Methods are practical applications of various learning theories of language. There are several major methods of language teaching from Grammar-Translation to Silent way. The purpose of this post is to provide an overview of how people have approached the design of a method.

Consider the Objectives

Objectives are what the teacher expects the students to do. Often this is the first step in the systematic design of a method. In TESOL, there are two types of objectives. Process-oriented methods and product-oriented methods.

Process-oriented methods focus more proficiency or the actual use of the language. They are often more behaviorist in nature. For example, “the student will speak the language with clarity.” Would be an example of a process-oriented objective. Such an objective is holistic in nature and often involves several steps.

Product-oriented objectives often focus more on knowing than doing. These objectives are about grammar and vocabulary. For example, “Students will know how to form plural words” is a product-oriented objective. These objectives usually do not focus on the big picture of complex language communication.

Develop a Syllabus

The syllabus is a document that includes the subject matter and how it is discussed. Different methods have different subject matters. Some methods focus on grammar while others focus on communication in specific situations. How the language is learned is shaped by the focus of the syllabus.

Instructional materials are the actual tools that help to achieve the content in the syllabus. For example, if the syllabus has a subject about Asian history. The instructional materials will include a reading on China as an example.

Select Learning and Teaching Activities

The activities of learning and teaching are the tools that are employed for the actual benefit of the improvement of the students’ language skills. Again, each method has different activities. A grammar focused method will employ grammar activities. A functional focused method will focus on communication in context. Perhaps it is becoming clear how the approach shapes so much of how a person teaches a language.

Roles of Learners and Teachers

Method design also examines the responsibilities of students and teachers. Older methods of learning a language are usually more teacher-centered. This is consistent with the era in which they were developed as most teachings were focused on the teacher. Newer methods of teaching are more focused on the student and increasing student activity. Lessons are inductive in nature rather than deductive.

Regardless of the method, it is the teacher’s responsibility to apply the method. This means that a teacher-centered method relies on a teacher while a student-centered method calls for the teacher to facilitate student learning.

Conclusion

Method design often includes the concepts above. However, this is not the totality of developing language teaching methods. The purpose here was to provide some basic understanding of the components of a method.

Levels of Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is a key academic skill. To comprehend a reading text means to understand what the author was trying to communicate and to share the author’s intentions along with, if possible, your own perspective on the text. Doing this is not easy at all.

In general, there are three levels of reading comprehension and they are.

  1. Decoding
  2. Critical literacy
  3. Dynamic literacy

This post will discuss each of these three levels of reading comprehension.

Decoding

Decoding is the most basic level of reading comprehension. At this level, a person breaking down words into there component syllables and “sounding them out.” He or she blends the words together and reads the text. This is the experience of many people who are learning to read. The focus is on learning to read and not reading to learn.

There is a minimal amount of reading comprehension at this level. The reader can recall what they read based on memory but there is often an inability to think and comprehend at a deeper level beyond memory.

For teaching, teaching decoding normal happens either with ESL students or with native speakers in early the early primary grades. This can be taught using a phonics-based approach, whole reading approach or some other method.

Critical Literacy

Critical literacy assumes that decoding has already happened. At this level, the reader is actively trying to develop a deeper understanding of the text. This happens through analyzing, comparing, contrasting, synthesizing, and or evaluating. The reader is engaged in a dialog with the text in trying to understand it.

Developing critical literacy in students requires employing teaching and learning strategies from the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Leading discussions that require higher level thinking and or writing assignments are some ways to accomplish this.

It is important to remember that readers should have already mastered decoding before attempting critical literacy. It is easy to cause cognitive overload by trying to have a reader decode text while trying to discuss the deeper meaning of the content. As such, critical literacy strategies should be avoided until upper primary school.

Dynamic Literacy

Dynamic literacy assumes mastery of decoding and some mastery of critical literacy. Dynamic literacy goes beyond analysis to relate the content of the text to other knowledge. If critical literacy is focused only on the text, dynamic literacy is focused on how the current text of the reading relates to other books.

For example, a reader who is reading a book about language acquisition may look for connections between the acquisition of a language and grammar. Or they may be more creative and look for connections between language acquisition and music. This interdisciplinary focus is unique to what is currently considered the highest level of reading comprehension.

A more practical approach to doing this would be to compare what several authors say about the same subject. Again, the focus is on going beyond just one book or one subject to going across different books and or viewpoints. In general, dynamic literacy is probably not possible before high school or even college.

Conclusion

Many people never move beyond decoding. They are content with reading a text and knowing what happens but never thinking deeper beyond that. However, for some, higher levels of reading comprehension is not a goal. For many, reading the newspaper in English is all they want to do and they have no desire for a more complex reading experience.  The challenge for a teacher is to move readers from one level to the next while keeping in mind the goals of the students