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Category Archives: approaches

R. Michael Medley, Ph.D. – Eastern Mennonite University

I have recently drafted a content-based textbook for English learners that teaches principles and skills for coping with difficult situations in life.  It is called resilience and is based on materials developed by my university’s program of Strategies in Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR).  The materials are premised on the idea that we need to appeal to and stimulate learners’ multiple intelligences.  To this end, I have included some music in almost every chapter of the book (there are 14 chapters).

In a content-based course like this one, it is important to use songs or instrumental music that are thematically related to the course content.  Some of the language may be beyond the range of students’ ability to (re)produce it, but in the context of the course, students can still work on comprehending the music and lyrics, taking them as matters for discussion.

For example, in a chapter that focuses on what trauma is, I have chosen to use a hopeful song, Ben King’s 1961 hit “Stand by Me.”   One interesting thing about this song is its longevity.  Not only was it a theme for the 1986 movie (Stand by Me), it has recently been recorded in bachata style by the US Latin pop singer Prince Royce (2010) and most  movingly by Playing for Change in a version performed by a team 35 musicians in about ten countries on their CD/DVD “Songs Around the World” (2009).

This way of using music seeks to insert several important effects into the classroom beside the fact that there is a simple chorus that is repeated many times, which even beginning level learners could reproduce (practicing the simple imperative “stand by me”).  These other effects include (1) the stimulation of positive, hopeful emotions, which is something language learners need in order to persevere in their long march to proficiency; (2) the theme of solidarity: we can accomplish these challenging tasks of language learning and surviving in a messy world if we stick together or stand by each other; (3) the realization that as language learners we are involved in a multi-cultural endeavor: no matter which cultures we belong to or attempt to bridge, we can harmonize and we can appreciate music in new and refreshing flavors.  As learners are encouraged to reflect on how the various musical styles convey the message, those class members who are already musically inclined will feel that they can make some important contributions to the class discussion.

Those whose musical sensibility is not so strongly developed will have a chance to develop their musical intelligence.


>By Dick Tibbetts, University of Macau, China

A teacher asked: “Did anybody else read the article about small classes in the November issue of Scientific American? Basically it said that class size reduction was a waste of time and money, usually because teachers changed neither their materials nor their methods to suit the new class structures. This is definitely something I agree with. How about everybody else?”

This came up in Hong Kong back in the late 80’s – early 90’s. They halved some class sizes because they thought it would lead to improved language learning. The teachers, as Sci American says, carried on as normal, confronting their classes with the microphone of power held in front and being as teacher centred and exercise bent as usual.

But those of us who are used to a range of class sizes tend to adapt our approach to suit the situation. If I could get my classes of 30+ down to 20 I’d be teaching in a somewhat different way. If I had them in groups of 12 it would be different again.

Hong Kong teachers seem to dislike change more than any group I’ve ever come across, partly because there is a lack of commitment in the profession and partly because the teachers’ English is often not good enough to cope with the demands of more communicative English that are more difficult to brush aside in smaller classes.

>By Eric Ross, M.A., Seibou Gakuen, Saitama, Japan

There are some things that I see not working well at my school, and others that have turned out well, sometimes better than I imagined. I just would like to get a panoramic picture of what successes others have had and how they got to those successes.

When I went the through the TESOL masters course, I heard many different professors with many different opinions on multiple methods of teaching. Not all worked, not all worked entirely well. And we need to take each culture, each educational system, each student into consideration before we pull a “brand x” method from the shelf and feel that it is going to solve all of our teaching challenges.

I think we can all agree that the goal for each one of us is to get our students to begin using English in a meaningful way. Is one method or several known methods able to definitely do that? I don’t think there is enough research out there to justify a “yes” answer.

So, I hope that those who have had successes in a more communicative approach would approach things from the standpoint that “this worked for me and here is what I did…” Let’s try to avoid tearing down what others are doing because we are all trying to do what we can as we have the opportunity to do it.

I want to be a good teacher, and I am sure that all of us want to be good teachers. And if we want to be, we are showing that we are not just collecting a paycheck but doing something to care for each and everyone of our students. These are people I am working with, not highly volatile chemicals. Mixing a few things is not going to cause a caustic black cloud. If some things do not work, then I move on to try something a little different.

>By Marina Malesevic-Petrovic, City College, Novi Sad, Serbia

This is what I have noticed both as a teacher and a teacher trainer:

  1. Different teachers stick to different approaches, depending on their own learning experience, their TEFL /TESL education, influences and experience
  2. Different students learn in different ways, depending on their age, monolingual or bilingual environment, and myriad of other factors.

Observing teachers and assessing students, I was amazed at how much was being learned under all kinds of teaching and this is the common denominator of this discussion the fact that our students are learning – no matter which approach they are being exposed to. Therefore, we, as teachers, feel confident in taking sides, depending on our own experience.

One’s viewpoint on other teachers’ approaches can only be the reflection of one’s own capability to accept the relativism of teaching. Because of that I would like to invite each and everyone to write his/her own 10 commandments of teaching, so we can learn while teaching.