School days are supposed to be the best days of our life, right? Considering the stresses, we face in adult life, I’m sure many of us would agree that the statement is true. However, looking back, did we really enjoy our lessons or were we just there staring into the abyss when our math teacher mentioned the word algebra? Let’s talk about the traditional teaching style with my personal experiences included, I’m sure many of you will relate.
If someone asked you to describe the teaching style you experienced in 3 words, what would you say? ‘Boring, boring, boring’ are the only words that spring to mind. Thankfully, the teaching style many teachers adopt has changed dramatically over the years, as many people realised that recitation and memorisation techniques did not go hand in hand with how well a person actually knows the subject. For example, if I memorised a passage in a story written in Mandarin and then spoke it, it does not mean I am good at speaking Mandarin, it means I am good at memorising words written on a page. The memory aspect of traditional teaching is one of the frustrations I faced at school, I assumed that the straight-A students must have a photographic memory, how were exams fair is this respect?
Having considered the above as an issue, I now ensure that actual knowledge and understanding of the subject is paramount, and I use a number of techniques to assist this during my lessons:
- Relate the content to their lives – for example, if I was teaching the weather, I would always ask questions such as “how is the weather where you live today?” or “what weather do you like, and why?” ‘why’ is the key to really check their understanding as it inhibits them from saying a word for the sake of it; it requires an explanation. In addition, I always find that this technique keeps the students more engaged in the lesson – it’s a win-win!
- Describe the meaning of the word and let them choose the answer – there is no way they can get around this, they must understand the meaning of the word. For example, if I was teaching subjects, I would ask a question such as “I am studying all of the countries in the world, which subject is this?” which is, of course, Geography. Getting them to say the words out loud will also assist with their pronunciation.
- Total Physical Response (TPR) – arguably, this is the most important aspect of teaching a foreign language, especially online teaching. “Never, Eat, Shredded, Wheat” – recognise this? Many of us will associate words with something else in order to remember it, such a song, a saying or pattern. During my lessons, especially when learning to brand new words, I always follow the word with an action; for example, if I was teaching animals I would say “a wolf! RAWR!” then do an action and get the students to do the same. Because they have made this association, I can elicit the word by just doing the action.
Who can remember sitting in silence, taking turns to recite a passage in a book; painful, right? I can still remember the dread I felt in this situation, not to mention how mind-numbing it was. Yes, recitation is important, but it is how you get the student to recite something which determines the success and flow of the lesson.
If I got my students to just read off each slide, one by one, I’d be lucky if even one of them stayed on the screen. I will always continue to say this: the more you are having fun, the more the students are having fun. Let’s discuss a couple of techniques I use during recitation:
- I never force anyone to speak – even reciting simple words from a slide can be very daunting for a student learning a new language; give them some guidance! For example, let another student go first, perform the activity in pairs or prompt them.
- Keep it snappy – the rhythm and flow of the lesson are crucial and can sometimes be lost during recitation. To overcome this, I make the students recite keywords only whilst using a method I call ‘hide and seek’; say the word, cover the word, say the word from memory. This may seem repetitive, but it is essential for drilling new words.
If we think about the rows we used to sit at in school, did they hinder or help us? For me, this traditional seating arrangement brought about many issues which I like to avoid in my lessons. Let’s discuss some of the barriers:
- It discourages student-centred discussion – student talk time should be the main focus of any lesson; it is their time to shine! The amazing thing about online teaching is that everybody is at the front of the class, which results in equal opportunity for communication and most importantly, interaction.
- Loss of focus – I wonder if my initials are still carved into a table at the back of my old history classroom? (whoops). I don’t blame my 14-year-old self for doing this, sometimes I said about 5 words in a lesson; now, I avoid this by frequently involving each student, whether this is individually or in groups.
I have previously mentioned the word interaction, but I would like to highlight its importance for online teaching; it really cannot be avoided. For 90% of my lessons, I used to read off the board, write it down, read off the board, write it down… was anything actually going in? These days, I prioritise getting the students involved with the slide (the pen function is a lifesaver). For example, I can bring a student down and ask them “can you circle an alien?” or “Let’s find the star! Can you choose a card?”– they love it! Seeing them actually enjoying my lessons is what makes teaching so rewarding.
Overall, the traditional teaching method does work, but it could have been better; I hope the methods discussed above reflect this. Oh, and teachers, remember, it is okay to crack a smile every once in a while!
Article Written by Georgia Sharpe @ The Overseas Teacher