As I was writing the title of this blog post I realized that not only did I start teaching 21 years ago, I also began a journey of discovery that would make me the teacher I am today. On the road, as in every trip I had my ups and downs and here I will reflect about some of them using the guide my friend Benjamin Stewart prepared for the upcoming ELT Live session with his students on Wednesday.
What techniques educators are using to promote reading, writing, listening and speaking?
Apart from the usual textbook material I am also using interesting things I come across online such as Blog posts, Students Facebook groups, podcasts and material from You Tube such as commercials or short films.
What problems do these techniques have?
If you base your lesson on online material, you have to think of an alternative plan in case your internet fails or there is a power outage.
What is your favourite language skill or course to teach and why?
It depends. Grammar based lessons are predictable and I find them easier to teach, but conversation lessons with young adults and adults (intermediate and beyond level) are so enriching! However, you must embrace the fact that conversations can lead you anywhere and that you might not always know all the words for example. Even in the most structured class I find opportunities to personalise the content to make it more interesting and an opportunity to get to know my students.
What was the most difficult experience as a teacher and how did you deal with it?
My worst nightmare used to be disengaged students. When I started teaching I thought that students would be naturally motivated by my wonderfully planned classes. It turned out that it was not always the case. I remember myself not knowing how to deal with it. The answer, I learned with time, is to know your student and to plan within their scope of interest. Today of course it´s much easier with all the available material on the internet.
What are the biggest challenges and how do you address them?
I teach from home one on one mainly to adults. My biggest challenge is to help my students become aware of their capacity to learn English. Also to provide material that show the relevance of what they are doing ie. learning a foreign language, contextualize content. And of course keeping them motivated by praising their successes and learning to laugh at our mistakes!
What´s more appropriate to teach skills in isolation or in an integrated fashion?
It depends on our students´preferences and goals. Once we have considered these elements, there will be times when we should concentrate on isolated skills as the course develops and we discover that there are specific problems to be addressed. There are ways in which we can assign the more structured part to be done at home in a sort of "flipped" mode of teaching and concentrate on less structured and open activities in class, thus optimising classroom time.
Do low level students need to spend more time on receptive skills or equal time on receptive and productive skills?
Probably at first to build up confidence we should provide plenty of comprehensible input to our students, however production shows achievement and the sooner our students begin experimenting with the language the more opportunities they will have to perform and perfect what they are learning. On the teacher´s side I learned to be patient with my students, consider that there is a silent period when they need to feel the language and adapt to the, sometimes for certain people,threatening scenario that constitute the language class.
Things I wished I had known or understood when I was starting out as a teacher.
It´s not always a good idea to force students to participate.
Invest time on getting to know your students. I should say that your whole lesson can fail if you fail to plan according to your students´ preferences, age or level.
How does a language educator design classroom assessment and instruction around conversational language?
Designing conversation classes is very entertaining. Whenever I come across a piece of thought provocking material I make sure I save the link and, sometimes, when I´m inspired, I prepare questions or look for additional related material. I sometimes try the lesson with different levels and it never ceases to amaze me how many different interpretations can arise. I don´t carry out formal conversation tests, having said that the student who is able to articulate his thoughts successfully has a passing mark!