How not to teach English
Here are some of the things that still happen in many classrooms in Greece – do they also happen in other parts of the world?
- The teacher and the students talk to each other mainly using the students’ mother tongue.
- The teacher asks the students to read a text aloud. Then the teacher asks the students some questions.
- The teacher asks the students to translate the text “to understand it better”.
- The teacher analyses and explicates the text word by word and phrase by phrase.
- The students listen attentively and copy the examples or formulae from the board
- The vocabulary is copied with its translation and sometimes the pronunciation in the mother tongue
- The teacher dictates some sentences to the students. The dictation is then collected, corrected and marked by the teacher.
- Or the teacher calls out vocabulary from the ‘companion’ in the mother tongue and the student writes them down in English.
- The students’ notebooks are then collected, and the spelling is corrected and marked by the teacher.
- Then the teacher reads the rules from the grammar book. The teacher reads the examples and explaing the grammar rules in detail.
- Then the students do some exercises from the grammar book or the companion.
- There are many exercises in the grammar book and the teacher asks the students to do them at home and bring to class next time.
- Then it’s time to do some listening from the cassette. The teacher plays the tape first and then asks the students to look at their book and answer the questions.
- Sometimes the teacher asks the students to write a composition at home so as not to waste precious classroom time.
- Sometimes the teacher and the students have a discussion. The teacher asks each student in a turn a question. Each student answers, usually giving a short sentence. Then the teacher explains their own opinion using as many words as possible.
The steps above can be followed in a different order, too. The model is very flexible. In fact, it does not really matter at all which order you follow in this model of teaching.
Results of the ‘method’
The students know a lot of vocabulary by heart and they can tell you the rules of ‘usage’ of many grammar patterns. The students cannot communicate in the real world when confronted by native speakers – or if they can (and there are always exceptions to every rule), they sound very odd, almost like a grammar book talking at you. Very often the teacher does not know this; or if they hear this type of conversation, they are unaware that it sounds odd to the native speaking ear because it may well be the same type of talk they produce themselves.
Is this how you teach?
If you recognise yourself in the model of teaching I have described above, there are various possibilities
- You have never followed any teacher development programmes
- You are not familiar with any other techniques of teaching
- You are not aware of the range of creating and productive activities available
- You are replicating the way you yourself learnt English (or other foreign language) more than 20 or 30 years ago
- You are not even aware that this model of teaching is following the footsteps of the Grammar-Translation Method, used before the 40’s (in the previous century…)
or You have followed a teacher training course which taught you some techniques but
- your course was not practical enough; you had a lot of theory or your tutors lectured a lot
- you did not learn how to use the techniques and make them part of your teaching
- you did not have teaching practices with real students
- you use none of the techniques you learnt because you work too many hours or you don’t think you get paid enough to also have to prepare your lessons
- you are not convinced that these techniques work
- every time you tried any techniques you learnt they didn’t work; you do not know why and cannot fix it
- your director of studies is against those “new-fangled” techniques and won’t let you use them anyway
Resistance & Denial
The reason why teachers do not see the need for professional training and development is firmly embedded in the way any local set up hires without high educational standards, avoids encouraging professional development, or even actively discourages it, the reason being that untrained and unambitious staff is and will remain cheap labour. Even trained teachers are put in a position where their training is made to seem unnecessary; hence why pay them better if they are discouraged to use any novel, innovative techniques and methodologies? From the mouths of employers with beautiful life styles, you hear sad sobbing stories about how they cannot make ends meet, so therefore, teachers should be paid next to nothing and the untrained teacher is an easier victim to poor pay and less than poor working conditions. Trained teachers will want stuff anyway; they expect to give photocopies to their students (in some schools, teachers find themselves actually paying for photocopies out of their own pockets). From the mouths of employers who have no background in pedagogy but found this be a lucrative business you hear: “So what is wrong with the way I teach? That’s the way I learnt and I learnt well” “We cannot pay teachers more than X amount because they have attended a teachers’ course!”. God forbid!!! These are the educational leaders whose only evidence of leadership is in determining to keep teachers in as lowly a state as possible – so they cannot complain or demand more than they are given.
Is this how you are being taught?
If the lesson I have described reminds you of the way you are being taught either at a languge centre or by a private tutor (face-to-face or online) my advice is: “Do something better with your free time”. You can do far better by following a language exchange where you give someone oral practice in your own language and someone else helps you practise your English!
… discussion to be continued
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- Companions: an aid, a crutch, a snag?
- Word for Word
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- Πως να διδάσκετε Αγγλικά χωρίς να μαθαίνουν οι μαθητές σας – 2
- Πως να διδάσκετε Αγγλικά χωρίς να μαθαίνουν οι μαθητές σας – 1
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