My personal teaching philosophy.
In a way, it is true to say that there are as many study programs as there are students. Of course there are words like “purpose” and “level” and “age” and “category”, but even when a new student is “placed” according to one or more of these groups, it soon becomes clear that the edges are blurred and that the student has individual needs and an individual personality which make those groups inadequate in their scope and which mean that each student and their needs must be approached separately as a unique entity. We can say that my lessons are a bit like one of those tailor shops where you go to be measured for a new suit. You walk in there because you want and expect a suit made especially for you, not a generic suit which is “one size fits all”.
But of course, as a guide, it helps to have a general idea of who a student is, what their level is and why they are studying English, to be able to “cut the fabric” which will then be measured more precisely as we go along.
So, let’s start with the first group and call them:
School children” from age 10-13
Most of my students in this age group are Chinese. Some are already fluent in English because they have spent time living or studying or visiting abroad, some for more than a year. Their level is already much higher than a student of the same age who has never left China or visited an English speaking country. These students who have lived abroad are in a special category. It might be tempting to refer to them as an “elite” group, but I want to avoid such terms. They are simply at an advantage because they have been lucky enough to learn English in an native speaker environment. I was lucky enough to watch the journey of these children, from when they were living in the USA, to three years later when they are now in their fifth and sixth grades in China.
In general, pre-intermediate and intermediate level study materials will be chosen for these students for each lesson. The emphasis will be on reading, listening and speaking in the lesson. Sometimes writing homework will be given but usually parents request that homework not be assigned because of very high homework workload already assigned by their schools. With these students I have to be careful not to overload them.
Let’s look at some of them individually, to get a better idea, but without using names:
Student A – 12 years old, she has never lived abroad but she is top of her English class and in other subjects too. She is smart, polite, kind, intelligent and creative. She is good at grammar and listening, reads English novels in her free time. She does painting and drawing, plays piano at level 10 and enjoys music and singing. She is following the Cambridge PET course, which leads to the Cambridge PET exam. We use this coursebook as the ‘skeleton’ for our lessons because it provides structure and plenty of practice of reading, listening, writing and speaking. We have now established the purpose of the coursebook – to provide a structure to lessons. But this is not a rigid structure. Sometimes she will come to lessons having done some new paintings, or having written a poem or short story in Engish. We will spend some time talking about these, show appreciation of her work, perhaps correct some mistakes, But now I will say something about correcting student errors:
I try not to correct mistakes while the student is talking.
The reason for this, is that the student become too self-conscious. They are already a bit nervous when speaking their second language, so I usually correct by repeating the sentence back to them later, but correctly. Some adult students insist on me correcting their mistakes at the time. I do it, when they ask me to. Sometimes I do it with the more advanced students, like Student A, because they are more confident, but the effect on less confident students is negative. It is already a success that they are speaking, sometimes it can take weeks or months to start, so to make them nervous would throw them back to the start.
Sometimes I give Student A homework, sometimes not. Sometimes just to read a few pages of her English novel, or to watch a film in English. Next lesson we will discuss that film, I will ask questions to check comprehension. Watching films is so beneficial to L2 ( second language) development, that I encourage it and am delighted when students do it.
Student B– Student B- 11 years old, she has lived for several months in an English speaking country and her speaking is therefore more fluent. Also intelligent, lively, kind and responsive, she engages very easily with humour in all conversational topics. Most students respond well to being asked about their lives and interests. But as school is hard for most Chinese students, I try to avoid that subject. Student B is studying the coursebook for the Cambridge KET course, which is the first Cambridge exam. She also brings poems, photos and writing to our lessons and we discuss them. As with student A, we publish some of her creative work on this website. This gives students a chance to show their work to others.
Student C- is 16 years old and is at the City Foreign Language School in one of China’s biggest cities. In two years she will apply to attend university in the UK. We are preparing her for the Cambridge IELTS exam in October this year. This means a lot of intensive study, writing , reading, listening and speaking. This is one of the most popular Cambridge exams and to get a high score students must put a lot of work in. Until recently, this student was following the “cultural program”, which involves watching a famous British BBC historical TV series, which we would watch for 10 minutes then discuss, asking questions, checking comprehension, but then we would watch the dialogue of the film again together slowly, clarifying difficult parts, explaining unknown words and phrases. Both teenage and adults love this cultural program, but adults usually have more free time to follow it.
Student D– Also 16 years old, this student is also a student in one of Chinese biggest cities, studying at the City Foreign Language School, This student asked not to be given any grammar and told me that she only wanted to study literature. In two years she will apply to a UK univeristy. Our classes are a teacher’s dream – We read English novels , page by page, and discuss them. She is intellectually and psychologically curious, always enthusiastic about the reading, and always has interesting questions to satisfy her curiosity. As my own university studies were in Languages and Literature, I admit that my lessons with this student are more of a pleasure than any kind of work. I try to encourage her to look deeper, below the surface, and to always ask questions. Our previous book was The Kite Runner, now we are reading ‘The Moon and Sixpence’. She is comfortable studying quite late, at 10pm Chinese time, but recently reduced her study to one lesson per week.
Student E- is a Russian adult in her 30’s, who has been my student for four years, by profession is employed in IT and enjoys studying late at night. She has two lessons per week. In the first lesson, we discuss an episode from a very popular and successful American or British TV series or a film, following the ‘cultural program’. This program is really for students who are interested in and passionate about films, literature and art. The possible topics and subject matter are infinite, this gives our lessons a feeling of growth, ripening, development and satisfaction. Watching films and TC episodes is the best way to improve L2 if you are not in an L2 country.
Our second lesson is strictly grammar. Her level is advanced and most materials are taken from Cambridge CAE ( Cambridge Advanced English) coursebooks and exam materials. Cultural program + Grammar = A Fine Balance.
Student F– A Russian in his 30’s, a computer programmer, very intelligent and preparing for job interviews in English. Lots of speaking and listening practice, usually we will both bring audio-visual materials and links to the lesson, connected to the subjects of technologies, business english, popular Science, Geography/Architecture/Places. Military History. Antropology/ History of manufacture/production/games/sports.
Student G – A Russian in her 50’s, intermediate level, she combined study of films and TV shows with reading passages from famous English language novels. Some students become your friend, this happened with Student G. My years in Russia gave me an appreciation for the parts of her life which she liked to share with me; the wild nature, cosy dacha and garden full of fruits, vegetables and flowers. The frozen winters covered in snow. Our lessons were mainly conversation, she would do grammar for homework and send me interesting photos of her life, family and travels abroad.
Student H– 16-year old Chinese High School Student, mainly interested in sciences, biology and technology. Following the Cambridge CAE Advanced Program after completing the Cambridge FCE Upper Intermediate program. Achieves extremely high grades and is a model student at his school, despite very strong competition. Has said he is interested in following an academic career as a university researcher, like his parents. Our classes focus very much on grammar exercises as this student likes to push himself with new challenges. However, his speaking and listening are excellent though we have agreed that he must try to do more “general” reading in future, when he is less busy. Recommended authors; Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Important that subject remains stimulating. Highly productive student, does not like to waste time and is determined to succeed.
Student I – 12 year old Chinese student, spent one year at school in the USA, very high fluency in L2. Interest engaged by stories which relate to her own life, very productive lessons when we read stories followed by questions about the story and ways that it relates to her own life. Very important to communicate to the student individually, as their classes are so big, they are usually just “one of fifty”. Lots of listening practice in these lessons too. Remember to ask students about their lives, their pets and don’t forget to ask how they are. Very lively sense of humour, so try to include humour in the lesson.