Review: Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching

DSC03220This is more of a reflective post than a review. In our set text Approaches and Methods in Language Learning by Jack C Richards and Theodore S Rodgers (Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 2001) you can read a number of different approaches, which show the evolution of what is in essence a relatively young field of teaching.  The book is popular on CELTA courses too, so you’ve probably read it.  The smorgasbord of options is appealing; it leads us to pick and mix what works for different students.  All very learner centred.

But are many of us really committing, or are we simply choosing what works in the moment or for this or that class?  Perhaps that’s fine, but then again, if we ‘decide’ that today’s lesson is going to be task-based, are we missing out on the longer term benefits of adopting that approach, and waiting for our learners to grow?  It’s the difference between buying a houseplant from the supermarket, and starting off with the seeds.  One requires a split second decision, and the other might be more time consuming but could lead to stronger plants in the long run.  These are questions I hope to answer. Here are some of the approaches that I believe influence my teaching:

The Silent Way – I was trained to believe “student talk time good, teacher talk time bad” and as a result I let students self-correct, help each other, pause for thought.  Extending this: I am still choosing the moments when I’m silent most likely during discussion or tasks, but where else in the lesson could that happen?  Perhaps at the start (brave – what would happen if the teacher didn’t speak?!), or in the last few minutes, as a time for reflection?

Counselling-Teaching – with one to one students I frequently act as guide, as mentor. Extending this: Could I better interpret that role for a larger class using one-to-one tutorial time?

Situational Language Teaching – popular in the 1930s.  Frisby 1957 said “The language which a person originates… is always expressed for a purpose.”  Mirroring child language learning is something we do when we drill phrases – but do we do it enough?  Extending this: I need to be better at providing lots of meaningful input, which admittedly does go against ‘the silent way’ above, but is still valuable for students hungry for more vocabulary and meaningful conversation practice.

Communicative language teaching – I do try to always have a purpose for speaking activities, and to give outcomes that lead to motivating meaning-focused talk….but…Extending this: How authentic are the ‘outcomes’? Is it really meaningful to have competitions where you try to use as many phrases of the target language as possible? Or develop a roleplay using a specific word?

I hope to explore these during my upcoming classes.  Which approaches work for all classes? Can we generalise about which methods students respond best to?  And crucially, are there long term benefits to sticking with one approach/ method even if it’s not perfect?




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