As teachers we are supposed to be always in charge: delivering our educational messages, asking questions, and encouraging students to join and enjoy the process. Skilfully combining mental and professional agility is no mean feat: even a clear, explicit understanding of your role may be doubted when it comes to using traditional strategies. Can these strategies and ways of giving instructions be justified when methodological trends are moving towards learners? Let’s rediscover them again.
Looking through the lenses of the teacher-centered approach to the way course and classwork may be organized, we typically deal with the following planning routine: firstly, a teacher reflects on possible course content, and learning activities’ selection smoothly follows it. Then, to evaluate knowledge accumulated throughout the course, appropriate assessment methods are chosen. Finally, learning objectives and goals are defined and presented to students. You may also recognize the teacher-centered approach applied in a classroom when:
- A teacher sets clear goals for learners and presents new material giving students a bite-sized piece of information so that they won’t feel overwhelmed
- Students are given a road-map: instructions, better strategies, and sometimes hints on how to deal with a task before completing it
- Questions are asked to check the current level of comprehension while listening to students’ responses
- Students are carefully guided through all the lesson steps
- Transparent and systematic feedback is provided when needed
- When students are working individually, the teacher monitors their activities.
Every teacher tends to show such classroom behavior or, at least, some of the steps mentioned. Does it mean you should start worrying or changing the way of instruction right away? The answer is no. With the obvious shift towards student-centered or blended techniques to conduct classes, teachers who still reference teacher-centered methods during their lessons are forced to feel more traditional, less creative, and student-oriented. This labeling impacts the way their professional expertise is perceived by colleagues and students. What follows such an outlook is the growing anxiety of teachers themselves. Keep calm if you’ve read it and recognized yourself: there’s no need for radical changes concerning the methods of instruction as long as they’re working best for your classroom and serve students’ language-learning needs. Below we are going to recite some of these methods — still working, efficient, and not-to-be-forgotten.
Methods, where a teacher can take the most active, leading role are:
The Grammar-Translation Method
This approach is based on learning grammar rules of the target language so that learners will be able to switch smoothly between the target and native language. Its fundamental purpose is to help students to read literature and, therefore, promote their overall intellectual development. This method is mainly used when learners need to be familiarised with correct grammar patterns and explore the aspect of their interchangeability in comparison with native language usage. Reading and writing translation activities can improve students’ memory as they are going to deal with a new range of vocabulary regularly. The approach designs a teacher-centered environment since grammar rules and peculiarities are presented beforehand to the classroom, sometimes using long explanations and a sort of lecturing, often using L1.
Possible classroom activities: reading and writing translation of a passage into a native language from the target one, follow-up questions after reading a passage, fill-in-the-blanks.
The Direct Method
Separating learners from their native language environment, this method involves the usage of the target language only in the classroom. Thus, the role of a teacher is inevitably leading: by asking questions and managing learners to respond using L2, he/she inspires them to act spontaneously, which is the most precious outcome in day-to-day situations. In contrast with the grammar-translation technique, it helps learners to succeed in well-rounded comprehension of spoken language along with being familiar with grammar and pronunciation aspects. No translation is allowed and the grammar itself is presented inductively.
Possible classroom activities: warm-up dialogues using a target language, questionings.
The Audio-Lingual Method
Another approach that allows a teacher to prepare and present models of target language controlling them during the process. Similarly, with the direct method, it relies substantially on the L2 usage in the classroom, but the focus is on grammar drills. The memorization of grammar patterns here plays the central role: learners are supposed to repeat sentences given by a teacher until successfully achieving automaticity and accuracy in sentence production. Another version of this method, the audio-visual method is also based on memorization of dialogues from videos, films, and what follows the process of watching is a teacher-managed questioning session, often with pictures or other visual references to make learners form new habits and produce dialogues’ target vocabulary. Even though the new material is often presented in a dialogue form, it is a teacher who sets vocabulary limits, gives material for mimicking native-like pronunciation, and thoroughly monitors if there are any errors made. Possible classroom activities here include various drills, video and q&a sessions, dialogue completion, and grammar games
The PPP Method
PPP stands for Presentation, Practice, and Production — three stages learners are led through while being familiarised with a new language item. Setting the context in which the target language will be presented, a teacher then gives a short informative talk on the usage of concept/item (preferably within the real-life framework) and demonstrates the way it practically works. The next step is a teacher-assisted practice: students are initially encouraged to ask for help if there are any struggles during the completion of a task. Although the last stage, production, enables learners to work with minimal help, the teacher is always here to help and outlines communicative situations with which learners have to deal. Gradually decreasing teacher talking time, still it mainly relies on a teacher’s classroom leadership and subsequent gentle management of all learners’ interactions.
The TPR Method, or Total Physical Response
Based on the coordination of speech and action, it enables learners to learn and use the target language through actions. Here a teacher is a classroom’s authority: he/she gives commands and shows the actions that students are asked to repeat afterward. Giving learners a chance to feel more successful, the approach focuses on the chunk-by-chunk presentation of the language concept(s) taught, and the error correction is done unobtrusively. Students here are performers and listeners, and a teacher should make the most of inspiring learners to respond to commands. Read here more about using TPR with your young learners and pick up some ideas of TPR games for online teaching.
Previously we discussed the effectiveness of suggestopedia and the cycle of instruction. Briefly recalling, a relaxed learning atmosphere is considered the most essential classroom feature, and students are encouraged to learn from the environment. As there are no strict instructions, learners feel supported and in charge, though factually a teacher stays an authority in the classroom, and should be respected. The need for proper bond here stems from better comprehension and retaining information from someone whom learners regard as trustworthy.
There are other approaches, in which the role of a teacher is considered to be less authoritative and undergoes constant reconsideration: Oral Approach and Situational Language Learning, Communicative Language Teaching, Silent Way, and others. Switching from leadership to facilitation and counseling, they bring more variety to educators’ work. Representing a solid pedagogical framework together, all these methods stay tightly intertwined. In our teaching practiсe, we always combine them so that learners will feel the level of our expertise. In many cases, they need to be well-supported, being afraid of making mistakes. And teaching-centered methods are still inevitable in helping students to bridge communication gaps and overcome language acquisition fears together with you.