A Critical Discussion of Teaching Approaches in TESOL
Language teaching practice often takes for granted that most of the complexities that learners face in the study of English are a result of the degree to which their native language differs from English. A resident speaker of Chinese often faces many more difficulties than a native speaker of German, because German is more closely related to English, while Chinese is not. This may be true for anyone of any mother tongue which is also known as first language, and usually abbreviated L1, setting out to learn any other language which is called a target language or second language, usually known as L2 (Jin and Cortazzi, 1998).
Language learners often produce errors of syntax and pronunciation thought to result from the influence of their L1, such as mapping its grammatical patterns inappropriately onto the L2, pronouncing certain sounds incorrectly or with difficulty, and confusing items of vocabulary known as false friends. This is recognized as L1 transfer or language intervention. These transfer results are typically stronger for beginners’ language construction, and SLA research has highlighted many errors which cannot be credited to the L1, as they are demonstrated in learners of many language backgrounds (Jin and Cortazzi, 1998).
While English is no more difficult than other languages, it has quite a few features which may create complexities for learners. It is important to keep in mind that learning a second language entails much more than learning the words and the sounds of a language. Communication collapses occur not only due to the more usually understood syntax and articulation difficulties but because when we learn a language we also learn a culture. What is often thought to be correct, normal and accurate in one language and culture does not always convert into a second language, even when the vocabulary is understood (Jin and Cortazzi, 1998).
For centuries the sole method for teaching foreign languages has replicated the model set in the Middle Ages for teaching Latin at the university level. The methodology was based on careful study of the grammar of Latin compared to that of the foreign language being studied, rote learning of grammatical paradigms and vocabulary lists, and translation from and into Latin. Throughout the process, students were not faced with contextualized passages but rather with a series of sentences which best exemplified the grammatical point discussed. The ultimate aim was to develop reading skills and a facility in translating texts from one language to another (Maggioli, 1994).
However, by the mid 1800s there was a growing concern for the development of oral skills, mainly due to the need to communicate effectively in trade and commerce, as well as in diplomacy. The Grammar-Translation method, as it was called, failed to provide communicatively competent learners due to its strong emphasis on the written word. Hence people started questioning the effectiveness of what was then the most widespread and what was thought to be the most logical method. Naturally, dissension started to arise. Most American and European organizations started organizing committees and conferences looking for proof that the Grammar-Translation method was a flop (Maggioli, 1994).
Once upon a time, when the TESOL organization first was founded in 1966, the audio-lingual method was the dominant mode of instruction. The view that speech was primary meant that writing served a subservient role: to reinforce oral patterns of the language. So in language instruction, writing took the form of sentence drills like fill-ins, substitutions, transformations, and completions. The content was supplied. The writing reinforced or tested the accurate application of grammatical rules. In the 1970s, the use of sentence combining, while still focusing on the manipulation of given sentences and thus, ignoring the enormous complexity of writing, provided students with the opportunity to explore available syntactic options. In the early 1970s, too, passages of connected discourse began to be used more often as classroom materials in the teaching of writing. Controlled composition tasks, still widely used today, provide the text and ask the student to manipulate linguistic forms within that text. However, the fact that students are using passages of connected discourse does not necessarily guarantee that the students view them as authentic. If the students are concentrating on a grammatical transformation, such as changing verbs from present to past, they need pay no attention whatever to what the sentences mean or the manner in which they relate to each other (Raimes, 1991).
This method is thought to result in quick attainment of speaking and listening skills. The audiolingual method teaches students in the use of grammatical sentence molds. When this method was developed it was thought that the way to obtain the sentence patterns of the second language was through training or helping learners to respond properly to stimuli through shaping and reinforcement. The Audiolingual Method is based on the following beliefs:
Speaking and listening in competence before reading and writing competence.
The development of language skills is a matter of forming habits.
Students should practice specific patterns of language through ordered dialogue and drill until the response is automatic.
Structured patterns in language should be taught by using cyclical drills.
The stress is on having students produce error free statements.
This method of language learning supports kinesthetic learning approaches.
Only everyday vocabulary and sentences should be trained. Tangible vocabulary is taught by displaying objects and pictures. Abstract vocabulary is taught by the association of ideas.
The printed word must be kept away from the second language learner for as long as possible (The Audiolingual Method, n.d.).
The 1970s saw the development of more than sentence combining and controlled composition. Influenced by L1 writing research on composing processes, teachers and researchers reacted against a form-dominated approach by developing an interest in what L2 writers actually do as they write. In place of accuracy and patterns came process, making meaning, invention, and multiple drafts. The concentration to the writer as a language learner and creator of text has brought about a process approach, with a new variety of classroom tasks differentiated by the use of journals, invention, peer collaboration, revision and attention to content before form. In response to theory and research on writers’ processes, teachers have begun to allow their students time and opportunity for selecting topics, generating ideas, writing drafts and revisions, and providing feedback. Where linguistic accuracy was formerly emphasized from the start, it is now often downplayed, at least at the beginning of the process, delayed until writers have grappled with ideas and organization. Some practitioners even entirely omit attention to grammar, as in ESL writing textbooks that contain no grammar reference or instructional component (Raimes, 1991).
Some teachers and theorists, alienated by the enthusiasm with which a process approach was often adopted and promulgated, interpreted the focus on the writer’s making of personal meaning as an almost total obsession with the cognitive relationship between the writer and the writer’s internal world. Those who perceived the new approach as an obsession inappropriate for academic demands and for the expectations of academic readers shifted their focus from the processes of the writer to content and to the demands of the academy. By 1986, a process approach was being included among traditional approaches and in its place was proposed a content-based approach. In content-based instruction, an ESL course might be attached to a content course in the adjunct model or language courses might be grouped with courses in other disciplines. With a content focus, learners are said to get help with the language of the thinking processes and the structure or shape of content (Raimes, 1991).
This content-based approach has more repercussions on the shape of the curriculum than the two approaches previously described, for here the autonomous ESL class is often replaced by team teaching, linked courses, topic-centered modules or mini-courses, sheltered instruction, and composition or multi-skill English for academic purposes (EAP) courses/tutorials as adjuncts to designated university content courses. With an autonomous ESL class, a teacher can and often does move back and forth between approaches. With ESL attached in the curriculum to a content course, such flexibility is less likely. There is always the danger that institutional changes in course structure will lock us into an approach that we want to modify or abandon (Raimes, 1991).
Simultaneously with content-based approaches came another academically oriented approach, English for academic purposes, which focuses on the expectations of academic readers. This approach, in which the ESL teacher runs a theme-based class, not necessarily linked to a content course, is also characterized by its strong opposition to a position within a writer-dominated process approach that favors personal writing. A reader-dominated approach perceives language teaching as socialization into the academic community and not as humanistic therapy (Raimes, 1991).
The audience-dominated approach, focusing on the expectations of readers outside the language classroom, is characterized by the use of terms like academic demands and academic discourse community. Attention to audience was, in fact, first brought to the fore as a feature of the process approach, but the focus was on known readers inside the language classroom, as peers and teachers responded to the ideas in a text. English for academic purposes approach focuses on the reader, too, not as a specific individual but as the representative of a discourse community, for example, a specific discipline or academia in general. The reader is an initiated expert who represents a faculty audience. This reader, particularly omniscient and all-powerful, is likely to be an abstract representation, a generalized construct, one reified from an examination of academic assignments and texts (Raimes, 1991).
Partnership Teaching is not just an extension of co-operative teaching. Co-operative teaching consists of a language support teacher and class teacher jointly planning a curriculum and teaching strategies which will take into account the learning needs of all pupils. The point is to adjust the learning situation in order to fit the pupils. Partnership Teaching is more than that. It builds on the notion of co-operative teaching by linking the work of two teachers with plans for curriculum improvement and staff development across the entire school (Davison, 2006).
During the 20 years most English-medium schools around the world have adopted some form of partnership or collaborative teaching in order to improve the incorporation of ESL/EAL students into the mainstream classroom and to develop more language-conscious approaches to teaching. In Australia, in response to state government policy and student need, a major push of the school ESL program is now being seen in support of team teaching in the mainstream classroom. In Canada there has been a long recognized tradition of collaborative teaching in regards to ESL. More and more of these joint models are also being widely endorsed in international schools around the world as well as in the tertiary segment. There are a small but rising number of in-service education proposals and research studies in this area, but most of this work has focused on methods and techniques to use in the classroom or on the analysis of the linguistic demands of the content areas. Only very recently has much attention been paid to researching the process of co-planning and co-teaching and to supporting and evaluating the development of partnership between ESL/EAL and content-area teachers (Davison, 2006).
Co-teaching is conventionally defined as the teamwork between general and special education (SPED) teachers for all of the teaching tasks of all of the students assigned to a particular classroom. This description has frequently been extended to allow the collaborative partnership between a mainstream teacher and a service provider or specialist other than a SPED teacher, such as a remedial math teacher, a reading specialist, and a teacher of the gifted and talented and, more recently, the English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher (Honigsfeld and Dove, 2007).
In a co-taught classroom, ELL’s learn typical content along with their monolingual peers. When learning groups continue to be heterogeneous, ELL’s are given the opportunity to work with students who have a variety of academic capabilities and English language fluency. This is in contrast to remedial or ESL pullout programs, in which ELL’s are either put with youngsters who are struggling readers and writers or have no English language ability. ELL’s often have different needs than do remedial students. An ESL program should work to progress student understanding of English while teaching materials, as well as offer English-proficient peers to serve as language models. These are some of the essential fundamentals of a successful ESL co-teaching model. Within a mainstream classroom, an ESL teacher can demonstrate strategies during a co-taught lesson, and the classroom teacher can uphold the use of these same strategies with ELL’s when the BSL teacher is no longer present. Often, the trade of ideas between teachers allows for more risk taking and the use of ground-breaking strategies on the part of each teacher to profit all students in the classroom (Honigsfeld and Dove, 2007).
The natural approach to language learning is founded on the doctrine of several theories, the most prominent one being The Monitor Model developed by Stephen Krasher. The principles of this model are based on several hypotheses which include:
Learning and Acquisition Hypothesis – The learner has two ways of attaining the second language. This can be done through Subconscious Acquisition and Conscious Learning. This means that the learner must learn to speak and think in the second language.
The Monitor Hypothesis – The subconscious knowledge of the second language permits the learner to verify and correct language output shaping a kind of careful editing process.
The Natural Order Hypothesis – The attainment of languages occurs in a conventional order. There are definite widespread procedures of language development. Each person has an internal normal syllabus of attainment which results in comparable errors at comparable moments regardless of which language is being learned.
The Input Hypothesis – Language must be learned in a scaffolded manner. The contribution must be understandable, meaningful, and just outside of the learners’ present understanding and competence. The learners expand their knowledge of language by building on what they already recognize (The Natural Approach, n.d.).
Another method is that of The Silent Way. The purpose of The Silent Way Method of language teaching is for students to work as self-regulating language learners. The teacher talks very little when utilizing this method. The situation of the teacher is to draw the learners’ attention to the way that they are going about the process of learning. The teacher makes it possible for students’ discoveries and helps the students to expand insight into the functioning of the language. In order to use this method some specific materials are required:
A Sound/Color Wall Chart: this consists of different color rectangles in which each color represents a phoneme or sound of the English language.
Word Wall Charts: this is made up of words that are written using the similar color code as the sound/color wall chart suggests. These charts exhibit the structural vocabulary of the language.
Spelling Charts: these charts are known as the Fidel. They show the likely spellings for each phoneme by using the same color code as the sound/color wall chart.
Rods: these are cards containing sounds which correspond to the sound/color wall chart. These rods help students to generate words using phonemes.
It is thought that a pointer should be used by the teacher in order to help direct the class as they vocalize the sounds. A pointer can also be used to teach which syllable has the stress on it by tapping that syllable harder than the others. This assists in the development of correct pronunciation of words in the target language (The Silent Way, n.d.).
The Direct Method is the knowledge of language in a pertinent setting. This method has one basic decree and that is that there is no translation allowed. The meaning of the name Direct Method comes from the fact that meaning is to be expressed directly into the second language through expression and visual aids. The main principles of the Direct Method are:
The learner is aggressively involved in using the language in practical everyday situations.
Students are expected to think in the target language.
Speaking is taught first before reading or writing.
Only daily vocabulary and sentences are taught.
Concrete vocabulary is taught by way of demonstration, objects, and pictures.
Abstract vocabulary is taught by connecting ideas.
This method says that the printed word should be kept back from the second language learner for as long as feasible (The Direct Method, n.d.).
Teaching language has gone through a variety of important trends during the 20th century. Essentially, those trends reflected developments in philosophy, linguistics, psychology, theories of learning and psycho-pedagogy. What resulted is the appearance of a great number of language teaching methodologies, such as the Audio-lingual approach, the Communicative approach and some less traditional or popular like the Silent Way approach, The Community Language Learning approach, the Natural approach and the Total Physical approach (Language Teaching Methodologies in Computer-Assisted Language Learning, 2009).
Similar to the development of these language-learning methodologies, computer-assisted language learning (CALL) has advanced under the influence of technological developments. In fact, computer-assisted language learning was visualized as far back as the Second World War. Technological limitations, until then, were just too limitative for language learning and were reduced to some very specific, small projects. With the formidable expansion of the personal computer in the 80’s and 90’s however, the technology caught up and allowed some applications of CALL to develop. However, most developed programs were enhanced copy and paste applications of material that already existed under a written form, like grammar texts divided in chapter with series of exercises. While CD-ROMs and online access language programs provide some benefits over a course manual, like auto-correction of exercises and automatic grading as well as some audio support, in essence these programs are not an improvement over manual versions and brought nothing new to the learning environment (Language Teaching Methodologies in Computer-Assisted Language Learning, 2009).
Integrating technologies into language pedagogy has become a reality for TESOL practitioners even as students around the world increasingly need both English and technology skills for their future careers in the workforce. Personal computers, cell phones, and PDAs are but a few of the electronic devices that teachers increasingly are using to meet the digital needs of diverse learners in the twenty-first century. Interestingly, English is not the only beneficiary, as technology is also allowing less commonly spoken languages, such as Welsh, to spread and strengthen (Learning Languages through Technology, 2007).
Learning Languages through Technology offers a broad survey of how language learning takes place with and through computer technologies. Each chapter situates practices within specific contexts and supports those practices through research. The authors, from educational institutions in many regions of the world, offer examples of a wide variety of technologies, from the lowest levels, such as word processing and scanning, to high-end multimedia and interactive communications through voice and video on the Internet. Where appropriate, an appendix to each chapter lists the tools, software, and Web sites that its authors have found helpful in using technology with learners. This volume demonstrates how teachers captivate the imagination of learners, from schoolchildren to postgraduates, by providing real-world purposes for language while also posing important questions about how learning proceeds with new technologies. Text, video, and voice tools have become relatively inexpensive and increasingly easy for educators to use, and they play an important role in creating lessons and communicating with students and fellow teachers. Describing authentic, collaborative tasks that involve learners in using and expanding their language and technology skills together, each author contributes to the description of tools and technologies that can provide learners with multiple avenues for language development (Learning Languages through Technology, 2007).
With technological tools increasingly available in educational contexts around the world, ESOL professionals are incorporating a variety of applications into their administrative and teaching duties. Three types of practices typify current technology uses for teachers:
Administrative — the teacher uses the computer for administrative or organizational functions, such as record keeping; word processing to produce texts, e-mailing parents; or participating in professional development.
Blended — the teacher uses computers with students in an environment that combines face-to-face classrooms with computerized tasks. Blended practices include: using single, stand-alone computers in the corner of a classroom for group information gathering or writing projects, taking classes into a computer lab or classroom on scheduled days, teaching in a fully computerized classroom with one workstation per student and with a combination of face-to-face and computer collaborations and using home or public computers as the site for information retrieval and discussion outside of class.
Distance — the teacher uses computers to support distance learning, where learners meet only virtually. Distance courses maximize the use of the computer as a communications tool and a nexus of information through the various multimedia functions that are increasingly accessible on and through the Internet. Distance courses usually employ a course management system (Learning Languages through Technology, 2007).
ESOL teachers and administrators are turning to computer technologies to make many of their tasks more efficient. Many studies, have indicated student approval of new technologies. To understand why using technology can make language learning faster, easier, less painful, and more engaging, we refer to the conditions that make language learning possible, which we as educators try to incorporate each time we prepare our lessons. The following eight conditions have been outlines as needed for optimal language learning environments:
Learners have opportunities to interact with each other and negotiate meaning.
Learners interact in the target language with an authentic audience.
Learners are involved in authentic tasks.
Learners are exposed to and encouraged to produce varied and creative language.
Learners have enough time and feedback.
Learners are guided to attend mindfully to the learning process.
Learners work in an atmosphere with an ideal stress/anxiety level.
Learner autonomy is supported (Learning Languages through Technology, 2007).
A technology-rich environment can support all these conditions and thus become an optimal setting for language acquisition, a setting that breaks out of the constricted environment of the typical paper-and-chalkboard classroom. However, these eight conditions refer to learner activity, and it is often unclear to teachers how they can best provide a technology-rich environment that supports these types of activities. This volume meets the need for examples of instructional activities that pre- and in-service teachers can use to prepare computer-supported curricula (Learning Languages through Technology, 2007).
Technology provides two paths to optimal language learning conditions: software (which increasingly is delivered over the Internet) and Internet communications. If one thinks for a moment of multimedia CDs or DVDs, it is evident that learners are exposed through such materials to a wide variety of language, they get instant feedback, they are able to repeat words and phrases as often as they wish during practice, they are given rewards and incentives to practice, such as games and entertaining challenges, as well as opportunities to explore and manipulate language and they are able to access the disks where, when, and as often as they want. Adding the Internet to this mix, especially live text and voice chat, curricular collaborations, and Web-based media projects, provides abundant opportunities for interaction with native speakers and peers, the negotiation of meaning, authentic audience, and authentic tasks (Learning Languages through Technology, 2007).
Short of adoption by a target-language-speaking family before the age of seven, technology is perhaps the best environment that language teachers can devise for learning, as even the earliest studies suggest. As technology spreads through the kinds of infrastructure currently projected like wireless anytime, anywhere; free access at libraries and community centers; access to the Internet through a home’s electrical current technology is only going to get better (Learning Languages through Technology, 2007).
Each learning style commands preferences and individual habits as to how learning happens. It is therefore very useful, as an educator, to put oneself into each different learning style in order to elaborate the presentation of learning material in a way that will interest every learning style. This should be no different when we think about computer-assisted language learning. For example, a traditional reference grammar will mostly attract learners of the innovator and observer types and discourage the experimenter or conceptualizer. To make such a type of grammar more attractive to the other learners, the course designer must seek to present the subject matter in a different way, like visually, or allow a student to learn through discovery exercises instead of a mere organized list (Language Teaching Methodologies in Computer-Assisted Language Learning, 2009).
Another relevant factor is planning and self-control. It is thought that a learner should have the possibility to review his or her learning path and the material he or she has covered at any given point in the course. The learner should also be able to take notes while using a program. Experts believe that this can be readily accomplished in a CALL if a program develops a personal profile of each learner as he or she evolves in the course. For instance, such profile could help a learner focus on his strength and weaknesses, priorities and deadlines (Language Teaching Methodologies in Computer-Assisted Language Learning, 2009).
The key to TESOL teaching is engaging the students. In contrast to other subjects like math, history or science, learning a language requires a great deal of memorization and habit development. This means that lecturing is simply out of the question. There are more effective ways to teach TESOL. For young learners the trick with kids is games. Lots of games. As a person gets older and moves up the English proficiency spectrum, they can introduce more and more complexity, but with the youngest kids, it needs to be kept simple. They idea is to not worry too much about sentence structure, but rather focus on basic vocabulary. Once a person has the hang of that, then it should be turned around and it should be a speaking and listening game. If the students get bored, then change should be introduced. It doesn’t need to be big by any means, simply a different physical movement. The tiniest change makes it a new game and completely re-engages the students (Grover, 2009).
Older students also need to be engaged with their material but often are reluctant to run around and jump and play games. Rather, they are more inclined toward functional, conversational English. What they need more than anything else is practice, and not lecture. Focus on topics that they will actually find useful, and encourage a lot of pair and group work. While it can feel like nothing is getting accomplished, older students actually learn far more from listening and speaking to one another than they do listening to a lecture (Grover, 2009).
Davison, Chris. (2006). Collaboration Between ESL and Content Teachers: How Do We Know
When We Are Doing It Right? International Journal of Bilingual Education & Bilingualism, 9(4), 454-475.
Grover, Sam. (2009). Methods for Teaching TESOL. Retrieved August 31, 2010, from e-How
Web site: http://www.ehow.com/way_5403572_methods-teaching-tesol.html
Honigsfeld, Andrea and Dove, Maria. (2007). Co-teaching in the ESL Classroom. Delta Kappa
Gamma Bulletin, 74(2), 8-14.
Jin, L., and Cortazzi, M. (1998). “The culture the learner brings: A bridge or a barrier? In M.
Byram & M. Fleming (Eds.), Language learning in intercultural perspective: Approaches through drama and ethnography. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Raimes, Ann. (1991). Out of the Woods: Emerging Traditions in the Teaching of Writing.
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