In the last part of the 90’s, the class of 2000 (mine) in the University of Guadalajara had a brilliant collection of experts as teachers; and the Big 3 of TEFL, David Nunan, Jack C. Richards, Diane Larsen-Freeman, were no strangers as guest speakers in our classroom. Needless to say looking for the best-fit approach has always been a big part of my praxis. Some practices were natural and almost automatic: starting the class with a warm-up; making sure there is a lead-in between tasks; securing the appropriate sequence between one task and the following; and wrapping-up the class in order to have a plateau from where we were to start the next class.
Thus, I became curious and started wondering whether some of the methods and approaches to teaching foreign languages could work in different subjects. Moreover, now as the Approaches to Teaching and Learning (AtTL) coordinator in my current school, I have had the opportunity to further experiment with this idea.
Interestingly speaking, methods in teaching now look like a century-old obsession for no one is vainly searching for the ultimate method that would provide the final answer in teaching; instead, each of those methods has contributed crucially to what, as a result, is now a conceptually richer field, in which a more eclectic approach to the implementation of strategies has been embraced.
In the present, when we hear about the direct method, the active learning method, the communicative approach, the Audiolingual Method, the silent way, the Socratic method, the expositive Method, the situational approach, the community learning method, sometimes it is easier to think of them as Apps for the inquiry-based and conceptual approaches that are required in order to get students to:
- Lower their inhibitions
- Take risks
- Build their self-confidence
- Develop intrinsic motivation
- Cooperate while learning
- Actively participate in activities filled with ambiguity where solutions are needed
- Use their intuition
- Make their mistakes work for them
- Propose the questions they want answers for
Those were the points we kept in mind for the series of PD sessions on AtTL.
For the first PD session on Approaches to teaching / Approaches to learning, we felt it would be a good idea for teachers to participate in an activity acting as students. Each department, as a team, carried out an EFL activity whose content was somewhat related to the subject they actually taught. In each team there would be an observer, taking notes of all the behaviors and attitudes taking place as teacher completed the task. At the end of the task, the observer reported to the participants in each team and everyone reflected on the experience, trying to reflect on the challenges they faced, on the roles they played, on the kinds of collaboration they experienced, and on how they used each other’s skills to work collaboratively.
Among the strategies observers recorded, the following can be mentioned: round table, conference; team work; graphic presentation; debate; exhibit; pair work; pyramid discussions; controlled practice; information search; concept comparison; self-evaluation; peer evaluation; frontloading; constructive dialogue production; task explanation; learning documentation; problem solving to decipher concepts; analysis; use of graphic organizers; conceptual maps; hypotheses generation; examples and counter examples; self-access; error analysis.
As we reflected on the experience, some teachers mentioned that at the beginning it was confusing for them to figure out how this would apply to their practice; however, when the observers reported to them, they realized that this simple language activity actually allowed them to use the skills and knowledge of their subject to create new understandings and to creatively solve the task.
The instructions and tasks can be downloaded here:
In our next PD session, we decided that it would be a good idea to look at it from the teacher’s perspective, considering a specific approach or strategy in order to observe how it would allow students to experience ATL skills within a specific cluster and ATL category.
Humanities was given a task in which students would be expected to observe, analyze, and evaluate through the comparison of 2 PPTs. The rationale behind this task was to avoid having students create a PPT that would only summarize information, and, instead, provide an opportunity for them to look at 2 existing products and be critical their content, considering the task rubric.
Language A (English) and language B experienced a Problem-Based Learning task based on a visual stimulus. Their task was to use the basic steps in PBL in order to find a solution for the problem depicted in the visual.
PE and arts worked together using a video. Both of them would watch the stimulus, and then each subject team would respond to a set of questions, taking into account their subject background. Then they would discuss some questions that were stated for both, and would look at interdisciplinary connections, and how an IDU could derive form this.
Science, IT and design experienced a flipped classroom task, in which they were to discuss the nature of their subjects upon watching a video.
Mathematics was given a case study to read. They had to figure out how the answer presented was obtained. They had to look at the inquiry processes they underwent as they solved the task.
The resources used can be downloaded here.
At present we are working on putting together a series of activities using strategies, resources and techniques in order to observe how they can generate learning experiences to help in the fulfilment of each of the ATL categories.
Evidently, I will share this once the session is conducted.
I would love to read some comments. Your feedback will be invaluable.