|Veiled chameleon, photo by Billybizkit|
They say you need to individualize classroom
instruction. In other words, since each student has their individual needs, and
their identities are unique and complex, you need to treat them as individuals,
not as members of a group. It's not that I don't agree, it's just that I want
to say that from time to time it's interesting to zoom in and reflect on a
group as a whole. Although a group consists of individuals, it's an entity
itself, with its unique, complex characteristics.
It's obviously not a revolutionary revelation that
each group has a different dynamic. But now I'm not talking about specific
behavioural patterns or relationships within a group. I'm talking about the way
you deliver instruction; the way you teach a particular group. There's little
doubt that it makes a difference if you teach adults or young learners, if you
deal with a big group or a small group, or if you have just one student. But
that's not my focus either.
At the moment I teach English to six different
classes. The youngest learners are in class 2 (12-year-olds) and the oldest
ones are in class 7 (17-year-olds). There is no point in comparing these six
classes as groups because they are at different levels of proficiency. However,
I can't help juxtaposing, say, this year's class 3 with the last year's class
3. The result of such a comparison is intriguing; apparently, I'm a chameleon
type of teacher.
Imagine English as potato
mash but I'm feeding you diced potatoes, at least for the time being. This
is what I thought and uttered the other day, and this metaphor more or less reflects the way I'm teaching English to class
3 now. Here, I serve grammar items one by one - like diced potatoes (or
McNuggets, to use Scott Thornbury's terminology). It's because I believe they
learn best if the language is presented step by step. They can't take in more. My contention is that they feel confused when they don't know why something
works the way it does. They need explanations, translations, graphs and lots of
examples. I don't want to sound too narrow-minded or biased, but to me this is
the only way to draw their attention. This is the only way to help them
The last year's class 3, on the other hand,
seemed to enjoy the 'puree' style of teaching from the very start. They didn't
want to be served potatoes; I fed them bits of the puree immediately; maybe
because somebody else had already fed them diced potatoes before. One way or
another, they usually got it when I dealt with grammar issues implicitly. I
could throw new language items at them and they had no problem to understand
and respond. I'm not saying that all of them felt the same way but generally,
they loved group discussions, project work and collaborative learning in
general. I didn't need to worry that they'd stop using English if I didn't keep
an eye on them all the time. They explored and discovered. They experimented.
They spoke a lot, and they didn't seem to care about mistakes. They were eager
to get their message across, no matter the cost. They were independent and
autonomous and came to each class with more knowledge than I'd taught them
because they were genuinely interested in the language and voluntarily got
exposed to it outside school. All in all, I felt like a totally different person/teacher
in this class. That doesn't mean I felt better or worse that in the other one,
though. I just used different techniques and skills with this group. I applied
different methods. I could experiment myself. I could be creative.
This first group seems to prefer diced potatoes and
that's why I serve them.
But as I said
before, I see any language as puree or mash, where the potatoes finally blend and merge
with other ingredients. Ultimately, you can no longer distinguish one ingredient from another in the mixture, and, I suppose, this is the time when one starts
acquiring a language, rather than learning it. So I believe that once the
learners get a grasp of how the language system works, some day, they'll be
able to dip in the puree.
Switching from an atomistic to holistic style of teaching, and vice versa, is not a problem for me. Within one day, I change my teaching style the same way a
chameleon changes its colour when adapting to its new environment. I blend in with
the surroundings and adjust my teaching to match the spirit of the group.
I don't know if my approach is right but the transformation is natural and inevitable. I'd like to think that I follow my intuition; that the learner is more important than the method, but I may only be volatile and
fickle. I may lack consistency or aherence to principles. Some ELT professionals may even consider me a herectic, but by some inexplicable force, I'm
driven to teach a particular group in a particular way.
when I ask myself what kind of teacher I am, I can no longer give a definite
answer because it largely depends on who I'm teaching at a given moment. My
teaching can be highly communicative in one class, while it can be more
traditional in another. However controversial it may sound, I believe it
actually helps me grow as a teacher. It broadens my horizons because I can try
out more strategies and techniques than if I only stuck to one way of teaching. Anyway, what else would you expect a chameleon to say? :)