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10 aspects of my hybrid approach

There are no best methods. Many have been tried, none have worked with all pupils. I would treat with caution any claim that a new method will be the answer to your problems.

With the students I taught over the years, who were generally of above average aptitude and working in schools with a powerful learning ethos, I developed my own approach based on what I consider to be solid principles. I don't particularly recommend this approach to you, but I just record it here in broad terms in case you find it useful.

Every teacher has their own hybrid approach based either implicitly or explicitly on principles. Here are 10 elements which were important to me:

1. Provide lots of comprehensible input.

This would be my number one priority. I liked my lessons to be largely, not wholly, in the target language, with a strong focus on listening and responding, and a slightly lesser focus on reading. This meant that most of my lessons featured abundant question answer work, teacher-led interactions of many types and good amount of pair work.

I tried to make the input as interesting as possible, within the constraints of any syllabus. I do accept the general principle that much language learning happens naturally, but I was also aware that in the classroom, with limited time, short-cuts are needed and that learning a second language is not the same as learning the mother tongue.

2. Teach grammar and vocabulary explicitly and implicitly

I sometimes allowed students to work out rules by very structured input, but would always explain them at some point. For most grammar points I would give explicit explanations in English, notes and handouts. I would do grammatical drills, believing that skill acquisition is useful, give pupils a sense of mastery and can ultimately lead to proficiency. Some theorists and teachers will say this does not work. I don't know for sure, but it seemed the right thing to do for me.

I tried to balance keeping things as clear an simple as possible, without sacrificing accuracy. In general I was more interested in fluency than accuracy, however. I tried to avoid "overdoing" grammar and just talking about the language. This does not not lead to much, if any, acquisition.

Although I did sometimes set vocab lists to be learnt, I generally felt more comfortable with the idea that it would be picked up by frequent use. To me vocab learning was a boring homework task to set and I preferred other activities. At advanced level, I provided word lists but never tested vocabulary.

3. Respect the principle of simple to complex

I was happy with the traditional PPP model (Presentation- Practice - Production), particularly for younger pupils. For advanced students I was happy to rely principally on comprehensible input and nature taking its course. But even at advanced level I thought there was a place for specific explanation and instruction.

I applied to principle that the brain finds it hard to process several things at once, so tried to grade and select material rigorously, building up from simpler elements to more complex. One tense at a time, one structure at a time, one vocab area at a time.

4. Recycle, recycle, recycle

I attempted to make sure that each lesson followed on and recapped in some way what had gone on before. I tried to teach the same structures and vocab areas in different ways. I would try to avoid leaving topic behind, never to return to them.

To keep recycling language in a limited time you have to go at a brisk pace. With my pupils I was able to do this.

5. Keep it varied

Although pupils appreciate consistency and habit, there comes a point where repetitive tasks get boring, so I tried to keep a balance between habit and freshness. Using games was one way of doing this. But almost all the games I used had a clear learning purpose, so I prefer to think of them as game-like activities.

6. Use visuals

It always seemed to me that visual aids were a good means to motivate, hold attention and provide the basis for all sorts of communicative work. I thought group repetition was important in the early stages to establish good pronunciation habits and an interest in sounds. Visual aids assist with this.

7. Make good use of homework

Every homework session is the equivalent of an extra lesson, so has to be planned for and followed up rigorously. Nearly all the homeworks I set involved writing since I wanted evidence that work was done. I did not trust students to do work which I could not clearly check on. I have little time for the argument that homework has limited value. In general, i don't think the "flipped" model is particularly useful. Generally I though that homework should reinforce what had been done in the classroom. This seems like pure common sense to me.

8. Prepare them well for assessment

I adopted a structured approach to preparing pupils for tests and exams. Revision was not left to homework time, it was done in class as a natural extension of previous work - another chance to recycle language, if you like. I made sure students were well-versed in the question types they would encounter in tests.

I was happy to use scores and grades as a means to help motivate pupils.

9. Have fun and be positive

I nearly always enjoyed my teaching and sharing a classroom with young people. Language learning is a slow and hard process, so you have to sweeten the pill as much as possible by making the time go by quickly. Above all I hated the idea that a lesson was boring. I wanted pupils to feel they had enjoyed learning and been stretched as far as possible.

10. Be mean when you have to be

My reputation was probably as a strict, no-nonsense teacher and I was certainly happy to get stroppy when the need arose. In general though, students learn better when they are relaxed and happy, as well as on task. If classroom behaviour is poor, the game is lost. My biggest fear was losing control. My starting point was not to trust pupils. By not trusting them I believed they worked harder.


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