The old Grammar-Translation method is very much in evidence, and has been for many decades. I believe this is partly due to the fact that many older teachers who were taught in the rigorous curriculum framework are still quite active. The cycle continues, and it is not necessary bad or obsolete. Our current topic is twofold. One side refers to the course book usage per se while the other one raises the question of a systematic grammar syllabus. Which one is the best way to learn a language? Can we disregard a textbook? Is it possible (gasp) to teach grammar without a coherent manual?
When I started teaching the senior students at the local university, my boss the head of the foreign languages departments issued a fair warning. The head office, he explained, wanted there to be a translation course for seniors who had already passed their examinations in English and whose grade was not lower than 4 (B) in the national five-point system, 5 being the highest one. Several professors had tried to organize the new course and failed. I was the youngest, a newcomer, a freshly-minted Ph.D., the only staff member to have graduated from Moscow University.
Twenty years ago ICT in the classroom was quite a new phenomenon; anything we used was enthusiastically welcomed. Most schools got fully equipped computer labs and internet classes; teachers learned how to use the new technology. Not every family could boast a computer at home; not every child had a cell phone; the very name Smart Phone was unknown. Instant communication, instant access to any information for anybody and everybody still was in the realm of imagination. Students would make lines in front of the school internet class or at a library waiting for their turn with ICT.
No man is an island; neither is a woman or child. We are all part of the whole called Humanity. One of our tasks as teachers is to help children understand that. If any of us happen to be not just teachers but also trusted responsible adults, our students would bring in their worries, problems and questions as well as share their joys and woes with us. The younger they are the more open they may be. Each day we may be greeted with a veritable barrage of information about families and friends, with the concerns which may range from a small conflict at a playground to world events.
Recently a group of former students who celebrated their tenth graduation anniversary came to visit me. They presented me with a nice bouquet of flowers, then exchanged quick glances, formed a circle and sang, “You put your right hand in, you put your right hand out...” That was the very first song, the first game we played in class when they were eight years old! This little episode reminded me a simple truth I learned thanks to them two decades ago: with the young children anything goes.
We had a great teacher at university who helped us activate our vocabulary and speak in our lessons on a large variety of topics. Later I realized that she had one very simple and effective technique which I used regularly with my own students. She would sort of step aside once we all started speaking, and allowed us any deviations from the theme if she saw that we all took part in a discussion.
When I was a school child and began studying English at the age of eight, I was fortunate to have a great teacher who spoke English to us since day one. There was our mother tongue used at home and at school during all the lessons, and then there was this exciting new subject where we learned how to speak a different language. Nobody used abbreviations like L1 and L2, nor were we aware of the modern classification into levels A, B, C. It was a reflection of real life: everybody around us spoke the same language, and then at school we learned a foreign one.
Routine Is Important!
Discipline and motivation are the staples of our life, the ever-present topic of any educational discussion. I used to treat them in a very simple way. One, I have never had any discipline problems, or if there were some I could always cope. Two, motivation was not an issue since I could always learn what a student needed and create an individualized approach.
I live in the academic research community with a large number of research institutes, a well-known state university and several schools. Until recently most students would come from families of scientists and teachers. Both parents as well as grandparents having a Ph.D. degree is still rather common. It is often said that there are more brains per square meter in our town than anywhere else in the country.