Teaching is Art


February 16, 2012 by k. liz

Two of my classes this semester are about methods and approaches in ESL/EFL. There are a lot out there. It seems like each time someone finds a problem with the current fad, a new method is developed. And you know? That’s pretty good. Because I now have decades worth of new theories and approaches from which to draw on when I enter my classroom each day. There are a lot of really good concepts and ideas that these theories and methods are grounded in, and they are really important for language teachers to understand and grasp. Some people take the end goal as the main indicator for how language should be taught, for example when in years past students studied Latin not for communication, but for status. The Grammar-Translation method achieved that goal, and no other goals. But that was okay, because there weren’t other goals. Then, the military wanted to be able to train men to learn another language for war-time use, and the Audiolingual method became popular. Take men who are trained to listen and act and not really think, so of course that is how you will teach them a new language. They don’t need break-room conversation topics, so they did the listen and repeat, don’t try anything new approach. And it continues on through Krashen’s Natural Approach which led to the Silent Way and Suggestopeodia, and the Communicative Language Teaching Method, and the Counseling Method, and so on.

So, I have been walking around my classroom all week trying to figure out which method I adhere to. I naturally want to say I am a CLT (Communicative Language Teaching) teacher because that was the trend when I was in University. And, probably for the most part, I am. But, I also do listen and repeat exercises, akin to Audiolingual Method strategies. I also do some translation. Almost every morning we start out with a perfect TPR (Total Physical Response) lesson, and I also incorporate some of the ideas (though not the exact strategies) of the Silent Way. So what am I? Mixed up, confused, inexperienced? Yeah, probably. But, I’m also an artist.

Teaching isn’t a science. It simply isn’t. It’s not mechanical. It’s not like some intricate computation that is going to give you the same answer every time you enter it. It’s an art. It is constantly changing and shaping and being shaped by the students that you are working with. I won’t carry out the metaphor (we language teachers tend to over do it with similes and metaphors, I’ve noticed), but I will ask you to consider the truth of the statement.

If I were to walk into my classroom every day and teach the same way, I might be able to affect a couple of my kids. But that’s not really my goal (even though every teacher says if they can change one kid, it’ll be worth it. That’s not really what we aim for you know. We don’t find the one student we want to change, and teach to them all year. We really do try to make a difference for all of them, but we have to learn to be content with invisible changes.) And so, I don’t walk in with the same plan every day. Yes, we have routines. Yes, I have a style. But I also try new methods and approaches. I try to find new ways to make the connections easier for my students. I want them to succeed!

The beauty of teaching is that it is an art that works with real live little people, with real wishes and desires and hopes and dreams and likes and hates and thoughts. Every single one of them is different, and I love every single difference.

So . . . all of that to say. I’ve been examining methods recently. I’ve gotten a lot of good ideas, and I’m excited to mess them all up by mixing and matching and creating my own concoction. What’s yours?


3 thoughts on “Teaching is Art

  1. Catherine says:

    Hi Liz

    Another great post. I’m like you- I mix and match according to my students. Total physical response is great with kiddies, not so good with businessmen. Silent way is a good tool for, say, Japanese who have phonetics issues, but frankly fairly useless in France where I am. I’m a communicative type of teacher too because that’s what seems to work with most peoples’ learning styles, and with my teaching style. What’s your take on dogme?

    • k. liz says:

      Hey Catherine!

      I agree with you that it totally depends on where you are. I just experimented with something inspired by the Silent Way in class yesterday. I don’t have cuisinairre rods, but we made blocks with vocabulary words and manipulated them. It was the very beginning, so I really wasn’t silent at all (and I honestly don’t think that would work with my kids!) But, I think that the cuisinnaire rods are a great idea, and I think using something similar would be really helpful in a lot of classes.

      Dogme. Haha. I haven’t gotten into it too much. Last spring I started seeing a lot of information on it, and so I started looking into it a bit. I haven’t really been in a position where it would have been very feasible for me to do (because last year I was following a curriculum, and this year I am teaching 6 year olds.) Just like with the rest of my post, I think that I would incorporate dogme into my lessons, but not necessarily let it be my lesson. Does that make sense? I can see having a day a week where it is their lesson and I do what they want, and I just facilitate and give some feedback. But, I don’t think that I would do well with a completely dogme-ish classroom. I guess in a way I do it some now, because I will listen to my kids talking, or their interests and then we will just develop a lesson on it on the spot. So, I can see some perks to it, but I also think that there is some good to a traditional classroom and planned lessons as well.

      So, to answer your question . . . I’m considering dogme, and I integrate some of the principles into my lessons, but I am not adopting dogme and only dogme (but then again, I am not adopting any method by itself.)

      Have you used it in your classroom?

      • Catherine says:

        Silent with kids? Fat chance! Your vocabulary blocks are an improvement on cuisinaire rods, not a substitution – student involvement is always a plus. Again, you are a mine of brilliant ideas. (If your class were a little older they could write the english version of a word on one side & then in their own language on the other, and play around with the different syntax in the two languages – does that make sense? Anyway, that was last week’s post.)

        Dogme – I would never call it that, but I suppose that with my working one-on-one with adults I work in that style. That said, I agree that lesson planning is a must, not an optional extra. I would always have a checklist of what I wanted to cover, and a plan of how I might get there. The checklist tends to happen. The plan is totally up for negotiation – I do ‘go with the flow’ a lot. After class I assess to what extent I achieved my objectives, and adjust the roadmap accordingly.

        To be honest, to ‘do’ dogme totally, all of the time would be totally exhausting, wouldn’t it? And possibly just another way for teachers to avoid taking responsibility, like with the refusal to ever use L1, which was an unquestioned doctrine of the faith when I started out. Anyway, I was just interested in what you thought about it..

        Keep up the good work

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