As part of the preparation for the course I have been asked to write up my opinion on a number of statements. I have seen these kinds of statements before: they aim to challenge the status quo on many aspects of teaching which teachers have reached several years after their pre-service training. What do you think of my responses? What would be your reaction to these statements?
(1) I used to drill a lot and do lots of controlled practice. Now I get them to practise in a much more relaxed way.
Drilling was born out of the Audio-Lingual method, whose theory of language learning was based on the behaviourist approach to psychology i.e. language was acquired through repetition and reinforcement.
I think drilling is important and I have not abandoned it in my teaching. In my teaching it is largely used for developing more accurate pronunciation, including suprasegmentals, as well as automating adjacency pairs. I have found this particularly useful with Young Learners, especially if the drilling is delivered as a game.
Controlled practice is still very present in my teaching but not in a ‘more relaxed way’, as the statement says, but rather the focus has shifted from pen and paper to a more learner-centred approach. For example, instead of providing an exercise on paper, the learners might complete the controlled practice in an oral way or even produce the control practice themselves, by creating an exercise for their partner. Anyone who has taught using the Dogme approach will be au fait with this approach to controlled practice.
(2) I don’t correct as much as I used to.
Before, during and after my pre-service training, correction largely took the form of Delayed Error Correction with some hot-correction thrown in if the error particularly hindered communication.
Delayed Error Correction is still employed in my classroom; however, perhaps less often than it used to be.
Correction has moved rather towards a more preventive approach. I now make use of reformulation techniques to avoid errors and to help learners identify their own errors.
An example of reformulation in my lessons is instead of starting off with the model and then moving towards producing their own version, learners begin by producing their own version and then compare that to my model, during which they use the model to identify and correct their own mistakes.
(3) I use the coursebook much more than I used to, and put my energies into exploring it as much as possible. There’s no point in spending loads of time looking for material.
The frequency of use has not really changed over the years; however, how the coursebook is exploited has certainly changed. I have gone from using the coursebook as the foundation of the course – with some added additional material where appropriate or necessary – to using the coursebook as a resource pack which filters into the course plan I have developed.
The materials in the coursebook are exploited to support my lesson aims rather than them driving the lesson and its aims.
(4) There’s no point in doing reading or writing in class – the students can do both at home
This statement is true in that learners can complete reading and writing at home in an individualised way. For example, they can read a text on their own or produce a piece of writing on their own.
However, lessons which exploit reading and writing so that they contain communicative activities and approaches cannot be done by the learner outside of class. An example of this is jigsaw reading or collaborative writing.
(7) The best practice a learner can have is chatting with their teacher.
When teachers complete their pre-service training there are two paths they can go down: one which contains continued development and reflection; another in which the teacher identifies what works for them and sticks with that, therefore ignoring further reflection and development.
Teachers who spend their lessons talking with their learners seem to have gone down the second route, in my opinion. I think it is good to have an element of ‘chit-chat’ with learners, as this gives them the opportunity to use the language in quite a natural, informal way.
However, they need structured input. Language acquisition only truly occurs when input is turned into intake. This requires a high degree of cognitive involvement on the part of the learners and can only really be achieved under the correct conditions. For example, if the teacher in a conversation uses the word ‘like’ when telling a story, such as “So, me and my friend were like ‘oh god, what will we do?’”, if lucky, the learner might hear the use of ‘like’ but without focusing their attention on it explicitly it cannot be turned from input to intake, which ultimately means they will never acquire it into their productive repertoire.
This means that a conversational approach only goes as far as exposing the learners to language; however, only structured teaching goes the extra step and helps the learner to acquire the target language.