Introducing Modern Teaching Methods and Techniques into the Language Courses of a Technical University
Сунцова Е. Н. Introducing Modern Teaching Methods and Techniques into the Language Courses of a Technical University // Молодой ученый. 2009. №10. С. 374-377.
Nowadays there is a great variety of methods of teaching foreign languages (TFL). Some have had their heyday and have fallen into relative obscurity; others are widely used now, or have small following, but contribute insights that may be absorbed into the generally accepted mix, still others are just appearing to be adapted and approved by teachers in various teaching contexts. This article presents an overview of some modern methods and techniques used in TFL at technical universities, such as the case study method, language portfolio, writing essays and doing research, designing and delivering oral presentations and team teaching. The choice of the teaching practices described was determined by their accordance with the following pedagogic concepts:
- communicative approach;
- problem-solving approach;
- vocational orientation in TFL;
- learner-centred approach.
One of the most well-known, though still receiving little use is the case study method, which appeared as a distinctive approach as far as in the beginning of the 20th century. Case study is an intensive analysis of an individual unit (as an event, a person or type of behaviour, institutional group or culture) stressing developmental factors in relation to environment. This is a method of research by which accumulated case histories are analysed as primary authorities instead of textbooks [1, p. 346]. Normally in FLT the text of a case study is up to 2 pages long and includes such sections as: background or introductory information, description of an event or problem definition, and a presentation of issues for group discussion.
Case studies for FL study should be based on realistic professional or everyday problems and situations, and designed to motivate and actively engage students. Typically students are involved in discussions on particular problems and work out solutions or recommendations through their active group work. Case studies are also excellent topics for dialogues. It is common that each case study ends with a realistic writing task reflecting the real world of professional correspondence.
To be successful in using case studies a teacher should take into consideration the level of students’ language knowledge. The best choice would be using it with the student groups of intermediate or advanced level, who may have certain problems in grammar, pronunciation or vocabulary use, but for the most part are at ease with speaking the FL.
Classroom applications of the case study method include: – free discussions; – directed discussions; – group research work; – written tasks [2, p. 88], and other types of activities.
Language Portfolio is a set of documents that contains information about student’s language learning experiences, the level of different language skills – writing, reading, speaking, listening, and translation, and samples of those skills. It promotes language learning and the development of cultural competence. Most often it consists of three parts: a language passport, a language biography and a dossier . Its language passport allows language learners to summarize their language learning experiences and to describe them in a meaningful way using the terminology of an international rating scale. The language biography focuses on the five C’s of language learning: Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. It provides learners with an opportunity to assess for themselves their language learning progress in five skill areas. It also encourages them to set personal goals in language learning and intercultural competence development, and to plan strategies to meet their individual goals. The dossier both stores samples of a learner’s speaking and writing, and documents results of the learner’s language tests and other professional certifications.
Teachers can use the Language Portfolio technique to help their learners become more autonomous. Universities can use it to develop a whole-school language policy and approaches to LT. Besides the Language Portfolio can be used in programmes of teacher education and development (pre-service and in-service) to encourage reflective, learner-centred approaches to language learning and promote awareness of the international language assessment criteria.
While the language passport provides a summary in the owner’s proficiency in a FL, the language biography and dossier provide employers with a more detailed picture of his or her language and intercultural skills. Thus the Language Portfolio can later be used in recruitment and workplace language training.
An essay is usually a short piece of writing, which is often written from an author's personal point of view and requires an independent research. In each vocational course students should be advised to read books in a FL and complete the given tasks related to their study in the essay format. The reading of both exclusively professional and non-professional texts in a FL selected according to the students’ level and the progress made in the study programme is of great significance and should be widely accepted in TFL at technical universities.
Essay is a good introduction to patterned writing which is the basis for much more complicated writing that is done later in personal and professional life. Students are taught to produce generative essay writing, developing the plan, drafting, seeking and receiving feedback, revising, proofreading, and reflecting along with the development of the skills to searching and selecting information from additional sources such as the Internet, specialized journals and other special publications.
Teachers should not mark errors at all on early drafts, especially with non-linguistic students. Even on later or final drafts not every error should be marked in order not to make the process of writing seem too difficult and de-motivating.
It is recommended that the major writing assignments had links between them, that is a project begun in an earlier essay should lead in some way to a later essay. Students should self-assess their works repeatedly – they should be asked to write reflections about their essays on the days they turn them in. Their reflections should be not only evaluative but also descriptive: they should show the understanding of how they write, and putting it in writing will help them .
Learning to write essays improves students’ critical thinking skills, develops their ability to systematically compare and contrast subjects, and encourages creativity and originality.
Making oral presentations is one of the important components of a FL course as it develops students’ oral presentation and public speaking skills. Asking students to give presentations gives the following benefits: – it gives the presenting student a good opportunity to practise unaided speaking; – it gives the other students good listening practice; – it increases the presenting student's confidence when using a FL; – it can be a good diagnostic and assessment device; – it can be good practice for the real situation when students may actually need to give presentations in a FL in their professional lives; – it is an excellent generator of spontaneous discussion and/or essay topics.
Students of a technical university will need the skills of presenting information and conducting briefings in their future work; therefore they should be taught to give instructive and demonstration speeches and presentations followed by discussions. Besides these are the basic types of presentations to teach to non-linguistic students, since they are simple and their more immediate structures lend themselves for use even to the students with the language knowledge of pre-intermediate or intermediate levels.
The presentation task usually follows the tasks on conducting research and writing essays, but sometimes it needs an independent research to be done. In accordance with the problem-solving approach tasks on designing presentations require student’s independence and responsibility. However the teacher should assist students in going over the stages of preparation for the presentation, working on its different parts, discuss possible problems with delivery and evaluation of presentations. After all students have to present collected information alive, in front of their peers being ready to give additional comments and answer questions. Using the visual presentation as a support, students talk on professional, specified topics providing the listeners with greater knowledge and clearer understanding. This can not only increase the student’s awareness of public speaking in a FL, but also invite other students to provide feedback, thus promoting communication. The presentations can last for 4-5 minutes but in some of the more advanced groups the students themselves vote on a 12-15 minutes limit.
Team teaching in the most general sense encompasses a wide variety of arrangements. One specific form, which has become quite prevalent in recent years, is having two teachers in the classroom teaching simultaneously. Very often these are FL teachers accompanied by the native speaking assistants of the target language. Besides, there is another type of teachers’ cooperation – interdisciplinary teaching, which is organized across different curricular disciplines.
For example, a FL and a computer science teacher might work together to form an interdisciplinary unit on professional communication in IT industry. The professional communication would be the unifying idea, but the English teacher would link it to Language Arts by studying vocabulary and formats, and teaching students how to design letters, faxes, documents, etc. The science teacher might teach students about the real communication systems that exist at enterprises in IT industry, present the service hierarchies, highlight the communication flows, and help them research the local companies.
One of the advantages of team teaching is that it inevitably produces a lower teacher-student ratio, but having two teachers in the class sharing turns speaking does not accomplish this. Only by running separate activities, dividing the class into groups – having both teachers circulate and interact with students is the ratio effectively lowered. Ideally, both teachers should be actively involved in managing and teaching most of the class time .
There are six ways to implement team teaching into a classroom : 1) both teachers are teaching together (teachers act simultaneously); 2) one teaches, one observes; 3) subgroup teaching – subgroups are set up and cover specific topics simultaneously being moderated by the teachers. The other groups, without teachers, are doing work being self-directed by the students; 4) parallel teaching – teachers act separately, but in one classroom; 5) alternative teaching – one teacher works with the majority of the group, the other teachers a smaller part, usually those who are behindhand; 6) one teaches, one assists answering specific questions on the subject.
Successful team teaching has the potential to benefit all concerned. Teachers stand to gain in terms of their professional development – they are provided with partners to help them set objectives, make plans, implement lessons and evaluate the results. They have someone from whom they can draw inspiration and who can provide them with constructive feedback on their teaching. Students benefit from the increased quality of the lessons and a lower student to teacher ratio.
The Golden Rule of the team teaching is never to take anything for granted and explicitly discuss everything, because when expectations are unclear or vastly different, the essential rapport quickly breaks down . Clear communication on the part of both members of the teaching team is essential to the success of the relationship and the realization of teaching objectives. Communication is perhaps rendered more difficult for teams made up of teachers from different cultural backgrounds which value radically different communication styles. Personal conflicts, whether they are gender-based, cultural or personal have no place within the classroom. Despite any differences of opinion, each teacher should remain respectful and professional towards the other in the classroom. Students will be quick to pick up on any tensions and may try to exploit them. In the classroom, the most important people are the students – teachers should set aside personal difficulties and make teaching their number one priority.
Team teaching in FL instruction requires thorough planning and preparation as well as following some rules and requirements:
1) flexibility of the teachers, their being ready to change the class planning according to the current situation;
2) compatibility of the teachers, both personal and professional, implying trust, cooperativeness, conciliatory spirit, and commitment to collaborative practice;
3) equal status of the teachers and their responsibilities, regardless of their age, experience and education;
4) common goal orientation and joint coordination of activities;
5) using teaming approaches for problem-solving and programme implementation.
The advantages of the teaching methods and techniques mentioned above are numerous and their employment contributes to the development of the following students’ skills and abilities:
1. Language learning and intercultural skills.
2. Communication skills: written, oral and non-verbal.
3. Critical thinking skills.
4. Reflective learning abilities.
5. Organizational skills and professional knowledge.
6. Collaborative learning and team-working skills.
7. Life-long learning habits.
8. Managerial and workplace communication skills such as holding a meeting, describing a project, solving a problem, negotiating a contract, giving a presentation, etc.
All of these methods and techniques force students into real-life situations and require them to get involved into managerial and workplace communication.
It should be noted that one of the main ideas of introducing these methods and techniques into FL courses is to provide opportunities for realistic learning situations, in particular to enable students to learn and use a FL in tasks related to and facilitating their study of other university courses. The case study method, language portfolio, essays and research, oral presentations and teaching in teams are the areas of the most pronounced collaboration between a FL and other university courses as the tasks should be set in such a way to include the content covered as assignments or projects in professional courses. This not only enables the connecting of the professional knowledge and language knowledge in a meaningful way, but also promotes peer and collaborative learning in a realistic environment, which is one of the key methodological recommendations in contemporary FLT.
1. Webster’s Third Edition International Dictionary of English Language, unabridged. – Merriam Webster, Incorporated, 1993.
2. Suntsova, E.N., Burmakova, E.A. The Use of case Study Method in Foreign Language Teaching // Прикладная филология: идеи, концепции, проекты: Сб. cт. VI Mежд. научно-практич. конф., Часть 1. – Томск: Издательство ТПУ, 2008. – С. 87-94.
3. American Association of Teachers of French. Borrowed from: http://glp.elenes.com/ on August 20, 2009.
4. 12 Beliefs About Teaching Writing. Borrowed from: http://www.vitia.org/wordpress/2009/06/04/12-beliefs-about-teaching-writing/ on August 20, 2009.
5. Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century, 1999. Borrowed from: http://globalteachinglearning.com/standards/5cs.shtml on August 20, 2009.
6. Rebecca Benoit, Bridget Haugh. Team Teaching Tips for Foreign Language Teachers. Borrowed from: http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Benoit-TeamTeaching.html on August 20, 2009.
7. Collaborative Team Teaching: A Professional Marriage. Borrowed from: http://www. theycallmeteacher.com/2008/08/collaborative-team-teaching.html on August 20, 2009.
8. Horwich, Jeff. Cracks widen in team teaching of English. Asahi Evening News 24 October 1999: Life Section.
 Communication. The communication standard stresses the use of language for communication in "real life" situations. It emphasizes "what students can do with language" rather than "what they know about language."
Cultures. Experiencing other cultures develops a better understanding and appreciation of the relationship between languages and other cultures, as well as the student's native culture.
Connections. Language instruction must be connected with other subject areas. Content from other subject areas is integrated with language instruction through lessons that are developed around common themes.
Comparisons. Students are encouraged to compare and contrast languages and cultures. They discover patterns, make predictions, and analyze similarities and differences across languages and cultures.
Communities. Extending learning experiences from the world language classroom to the home and multilingual and multicultural community emphasizes living in a global society. Activities may include: field trips, use of e-mail and the World Wide Web, clubs, exchange programs and cultural activities, school-to-work opportunities, and opportunities to hear speakers of other languages in the school and classroom .