Saturday, February 10, 2007

Becoming a Good Teacher

What are the qualities of great teachers? According to Jeremy Harmer, good teachers are attentive, understanding, good listeners, passionate. They give interesting classes. They bring their personalities and life experience into the classroom, and develop common ground with their students. They are flexible, student-centred, professional and knowledgeable, empathetic and motivating. They know their students’ names.

There is more. Good teachers adjust their language to a level students can understand without sounding unnatural or patronizing (this is called “modified input”.) They also use gestures, expressions and mime to communicate (this is called “comprehensible input”.)

The qualities students want in a teacher vary from culture to culture. For example, a TEFL student recently undertook a survey of Thai students in a TEFL class. What do Thai students want in a teacher? First, they want a teacher who is kind. They also want a teacher who understands the subject and is prepared for class. They want a teacher who is “human”, by which they explained that he should not be egotistical. And they want a teacher who arrives in class on time. These ideas are largely consistent with Harmers, but you can see cultural differences brought on by the insistence on kindness, humanity and being on time. (Thais are more frequently late than in the West.)

Here are some other ideas about the teacher’s roles and responsibilities. According to one writer, “great teaching comes from preparing thoroughly, challenging the students, listening carefully and respectfully, constantly learning as you teach, and including in every class a clear, insightful, new concept.” According to another, “the teacher’s main responsibilities are to choose class materials and to set class standards.” And according to a third, teaching and learning are part of the human condition. “We are all here to teach and learn.”

So those are the qualities of the good teacher. And there are as many ways to be a good teacher as there are teachers who are determined to do a good job. However, one choice that does seem to go a long way toward helping the teacher become a better teacher is the decision to use inductive methods. Here is a brief explanation of how that works, with examples.

Inductive and Deductive Teaching:
Let’s start with the basics. English language teaching consists of applying four linguistic skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) to three groups of language items (structural, lexical and phonological). The latter correspond roughly to grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation; they amount to linguistic content.

There is endless discussion among teachers about the relative merits of “inductive teaching” compared to “deductive teaching.” In inductive teaching, the students practice language forms, but discover rules or generalizations on their own. They induce the rules from the examples they have practiced. In inductive presentation, the teacher makes the rules explicit by asking students to provide the answer. In deductive teaching, the teacher first gives the students the rules for a language form. Then they practice using them.

Here are examples of each.

Inductive Teaching
1.Write the following sentence on the board (or give it to them as a handout): “She gave me a beautiful big old brown Chinese hat.”
2.Then give them additional sentences, and ask them to put the adjectives in the right order. Example: “I want to buy a ____ ____ ____ ____ ____motorcycle.” (Japanese, red, pretty, new, small).
3.Make the scrambled adjectives increasingly more challenging in the worksheet sentences. Thus, they have to think a bit harder with each new sentence. In this way they will figure out for themselves (induce) how to place adjectives.
4.Elicit ideas from the students about the correct order of adjectives. Using that input, write the rule on the board.

Deductive Teaching:
1. Give the students the following information in a handout:
In English, adjectives come before a noun in a particular order. The order of adjectives is the following:
A. First comes opinion: (Lovely)
B. Then we provide physical description, in a certain order:
1. Size (big)
2. Age (old)
3. Condition (faded)
4. Colour (red)
5. Shape (elongated)
6. Sex (N/A)
C. Then origin: (Canadian)
D. Then material: (birch bark)
E. Then purpose: (racing)
F. And the noun brings up the rear: canoe
2. Give them some adjectives and ask them to write sentences using three or more adjectives in the right order. Their job is to "deduce" the right answers from the rule you set out at the beginning.
3. Check the sentences to see whether they got them right.

These two forms of teaching practice are quite different. In general, use inductive teaching. This may require putting more work into your lesson plans, but it is worth it.
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