The three most critical components in English language teaching are learners, materials, and teachers. These three elements must interact to ensure the success of the whole teaching/learning process. When dealing with weak learners but strong materials and an experienced teacher, a positive result from the teaching process can be certainly expected. But, how can this be achieved?
In my class, students are given increasing responsibility for their own learning. That is my primary goal. My policy is not simply the distribution of worksheets which intend learners to be quiet and get on with their work. This cannot be classified as “teaching”. My approach encourages students to focus on long-term goals and specific skill-based objectives.
Hence, what do I offer my students? The answer is affect. It is a simple but workable approach. I do not allow students to raise their defenses against learning. Over the years, I have followed a number of basic principles of learning: modeling, encouragement, facilitation, and reward.
As for teaching materials, no one expects teachers to generate reams of new material for each class; instead, we are encouraged to supplement course books with commercially produced material or suggested activities on teaching websites. What tends to work best is material that engages as many of our students as possible, making them interested and satisfied because at the end of the day, language learning is hugely affected by feelings or the affective filter (Krashen, 2003). Satisfied students are more motivated and are more likely to stay in their courses and actually benefit. My students are engaged and entertained but also challenged. This is when real learning takes place.
But what does it mean to succeed at language learning? Some teachers believe it means to exercise one’s abilities when practicing a certain skill. Others believe it means to perform and compete in an academic learning context. Both are correct but in all situations the burden is on the learner, as self-appraisal is essential. Our students need to ask themselves: Do I understand a native speaker professor delivering a lecture? Am I able to take accurate and complete notes in class? Do I get the main points of an academic reading or article?
Language learning is a lifelong journey which aims at enabling a learner to become competent not only in school or college but also for his/her entire life. Students embarking on studying academic English have many semesters of language study ahead.
In order to ensure that studying is a motivating and valuable part of students’ education, it is essential to adopt an approach which takes into account their special characteristics and needs. A number of key elements can enhance the teaching-learning process when working with students in an academic learning situation. They ought to be at the center of the learning process not the teacher. Our teaching and the learning process should be based on themes, ideas, and tasks central to our students’ individual interests and needs. This student-centered approach (Pedersen, Susan & Liu, Min., 2003) includes active participation and involvement as well as a personalized, autonomous approach to teaching.
When learning is experiential and task-based (Harmer, Jeremy, 2001) student learning is optimal. It becomes more meaningful, thus in the long run memorable. Debates, discussions, and interactive tasks allow students to practice English and at the same time acquire general knowledge or content. This type of learning is global, where students attempt to make sense of the context in which learning takes place using the English language medium as a tool for overall learning and acquisition.
Through building on schema or previously acquired knowledge, ideas, and skills from other areas of learning or even the first language, students move up to a higher level, namely from a general understanding of knowledge and language toward the construction of specific meaning. In addition to developing language skills, students develop critical thinking and learning skills and acquire attitudes, values, and beliefs which contribute to their overall educational development.
Our goal is to help students to learn how to learn, not just learn a language to pass a final exam. Unfortunately, some teachers expect them to be effective learners without teaching them how to study well and how to do well. They erroneously give them more and more practice doing the very same tasks over and over, expecting them to learn, but in reality they are not learning. They are only being trained to complete a number of meaningless tasks which they mechanically complete without much understanding. It is therefore important to help them become increasingly aware of new ways in which they can learn and new strategies which they can use to help them become better learners.
As a final step, students need an appropriate level of support and practice. At the beginning of the semester, students need a great deal of support to help them understand, respond to, and use the language effectively. This can be accomplished through: a) the creation of clearly explained learning goals and objectives, b) the use of oral and written feedback, and the implementation of appropriate progress monitoring techniques. Students seem to learn easily, but they unfortunately forget easily, too. In order to ensure that students absorb, acquire, and digest what they have learnt, they need plenty of opportunities to practise, recycle, and extend the language skills they have learnt. Students’ awareness and understanding of English develop ahead of their productive skills. Through exposure to language which is slightly above the level they can produce, Krashen’s i+1 (1984), students are given ample but varied opportunities to acquire language authentically.
In conclusion, it is essential to base our teaching of English on the above mentioned elements which take full account of students’ need, level of development, and the academic English language context in which they are learning. In my experience, the above-mentioned ideas not only help to make learning English more meaningful and memorable for students, but it also makes the learning process of our students full of purpose and relevance. In the long term, this is more likely to ensure that their learning is a successful, worthwhile, and enjoyable experience.
Harmer, Jeremy (2001). The Practice of English Language Teaching. 3rd Edition. pp. 79-80. Essex: Pearson Education Ltd.
Krashen, S. (2003). Explorations in Language Acquisition and Use. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Krashen, S. (1984) TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 352-357
Pedersen, Susan & Liu, Min. (2003). Teachers' Beliefs About Issues in the implementation of a Student-Centered Learning Environment. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 51(2), pp. 57-74.