Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen

The aspect of the reading which particularly struck me this week was the idea of the "culture of institutionalized education" and how it affects the teaching and learning of a foreign language. I had never thought about this before because I grew up in "institutionalized education" and was, therefore, never exposed to anything different. The reading made me reflect on three specific aspects of teaching and learning: teachers' propensity to teach how they have been taught, the difficulty of breaking the cycle of "institutionalized learning", and the complexity of analyzing my own experiences learning a FL in a non-institutionalized setting (way) and applying them to my teaching.

Many of the readings we have done for the School of Education state that, "A teacher is most likely to teach the way he/she has been taught." Although this sentence has had meaning for me for a while now, I do not think I fully comprehended that the approach of "institutionalized education" to FL teaching could be irrelevant. I had always assumed that the statement referred more to specific techniques a teacher implemented in his/her classroom to elicit student responses. However, from having read Lee and VanPatten's chapters, I now realize that the statement insinuates that a teacher not only needs to rethink his/her teaching techniques, but also his/her whole approach to the subject matter and goals for student learning outcomes.

This is a particularly daunting task when one considers that most educational material has been created around the idea of "institutionalized education". Most FL textbooks and classroom material teach grammar, which is set in a "culturally relevant" context. Breaking out of this cycle is inherently difficult as the "institutionalized" learning outcomes (mastery of grammar) are not in alignment with the goals of communicative language learning. In essence, the curriculum would have to undergo radical changes, much of the current teaching material would have to be disregarded and replaced, and teachers themselves would need extensive professional development. I do not believe the difficulty is only the expense; the change would also mean a time-consuming effort on the part of a district and its employees.

Each teacher would be implicitly required to reflect on how he/she learned a FL in a non-institutional way and to translate these methods into techniques used in the classroom. When I think about my own non-institutionalized FL learning, I believe I made significant strides reading for a purpose (whether for enjoyment or academic presentation) and discussing various issues with native speakers. In both cases, there was a specific context (or content), which surrounded either the reading or the discussion. This narrowed the scope of vocabulary as well as elements of grammar, enabling me to focus on the ones at hand. These experiences also provided me with streamed "authentic" input, which I could take in and then regurgitate as I felt comfortable. Now as a future FL teacher, it is my responsibility to formulate ways for my students to have similar "experiences" in my classroom. I suppose that will be my challenge this year in school...

No comments: