10.02.2014

Teaching English as a Foreign Language - Chapter 2

Chapter 2

In the Classroom

The previous chapter has described something of the role of English in the world today. It is against this background and in the kinds of context described that English language teaching goes on and it is clearly part of the professionalism of a teacher of English to foreigners to be aware of the context in which he is working and of how his teaching fits into the scheme of things. However, for most teachers the primary focus of attention is the classroom, what actually happens there, what kinds of personal encounter occur there—and teaching is very much a matter of personal encounter—and especially what part teachers themselves play there in facilitating the learning of the language.
It may be helpful, therefore, to sketch briefly one or two outline scenarios which might suggest some of the kinds of things that happen in English language teaching classrooms around the world.
Lesson 1
First then imagine a group of twenty-five girls in a Spanish secondary school, aged between 14 and 17, who have been learning English for two years. Their relationship with their teacher is one of affection and trust which has been built up over the year. They are about halfway through the second term. They are familiar with the vocabulary and structures necessary to describe people, jobs, family relationships and character—in very general terms, also to tell the time, describe locomotion to and from places and to indicate purpose.
Phase 1
The teacher has a large picture on the blackboard. It has been enlarged, using an episcope, from one in What Do You Think? by Donn Byrne and Andrew Wright. It shows a queue outside a telephone box. The characters in it are to some extent stereotypes—the fashionable bored girl, the pinstripesuited executive with his briefcase, two scruffy lounging boys, and a rather drab hen-pecked husband type. The girls and the teacher have been looking at the picture and discussing it. The girls have identified the types fairly well and the teacher is probing with questions like ‘What’s happening here?’ The English habit of queuing is discussed. ‘What time of day is it?’ The class decides on early evening with the people returning from work or school. ‘Who are the people in the picture? What are their jobs? Do we need to know their names? What might they be called? Where have they come from? Where are they going? Who are they telephoning? What is their relationship? Why are they telephoning? What is the attitude of the other person? How does each person feel about having to wait in the queue? Is there any interaction between them?’ and so on.
Phase 2
The girls are all working in small groups of about four or five. The teacher is moving round the class from group to group, supplying bits of language that the pupils need and joining in the discussion. There is some Spanish being spoken, but a lot of English phrases are also being tried out and when the teacher is present the girls struggle hard to communicate with her in English. There is also a good deal of laughter and discussion. One girl in each group is writing down what the others tell her. The class is involved in producing a number of dialogues. Most groups have picked the teenage girl who is actually in the phone box as the person they can identify with most easily, and each dialogue has a similar general pattern: The girl makes a request of some kind, the person she is telephoning refuses, the girl uses persuasion, the other person agrees. However, there is one group here who have decided their dialogue will be between two of the people in the queue…
Phase 3
The girls are acting out their dialogues in front of the class. Two girls from each group take the roles of the people actually speaking, the others, together with any additional pupils needed to make up the numbers, form the queue, and are miming impatience, indifference, and so on. This is what we hear:
(The talk with the boy friend—first group)
Ring ring…
Ann:
Hello, is Charles there?
Mother:
Yes, wait a minute.
Charles:
Hello, who is it?
Ann:
Who is it? It is Ann.
Charles:
Oh, Ann. I am going to telephone to you now.
Ann:
Where did you go yesterday?
Charles:
I stayed at home studying for my test.
Ann:
Yes,…for your test…my friend Carol saw you in the cinema with another girl yesterday.
Charles:
Oh no, she was my cousin.
(Man taps on glass of phone box. Ann covers mouthpiece. To man:)

In just a moment I’ll finish.
(to Charles:)
No, she wasn’t your cousin, because she lives near my house and I know her.
Charles:
Oh no!
Ann:
I don’t want to see you any more. Goodbye.
Charles:
No, one moment…
Ann:
Yes.
(Ringing home—second group)
Jane:                 Hello, is Mum there?
John: No, she’s at the beauty shop. What do you want to tell her?
Jane: Well, I’m going to the movies with my boyfriend, but we haven’t any money. Can you bring me some money? I promise you I’ll give it back to you tomorrow.
John:                You are always lying. I don’t believe you any more. You owe me more than £9.
Jane: I’m going to work as babysitter tomorrow, but I need money now. Please hurry up—I have no money for the phone and there are a lot of people waiting outside.
John:                All right.
(Leaving home—third group)
Monica:
Hello, grandfather. How are you? This is Monica.
Grandfather:
Hello, Monica. What do you want?
Monica:
I need money. Help me.
Grandfather:
Money? Why do you need it?
Monica:
I need, because I want to go out of my home.
Grandfather:
What?
Monica:
Yes, because my parents don’t understand me. I can’t move.
Grandfather:
Have you thought it?
Monica:
Yes, I thought it very well.
Grandfather:
You can come to my house if you want.
Monica:
Thank you, grandfather. I will go with you. I must go now. A lot of people are outside.
Bye Bye.

(The pick-up—fourth group)
Man:                 Excuse me, have you got a match?
Girl:                  No, I don’t smoke.
Man:                 Oh. (pause) It’s a long queue.
Girl:                  Yes, it’s very boring to wait.
Man:                 Do you like to dance?
Girl:                 Sometimes.
Man:                       Would you like to come to dance with me
tonight?
Girl:                 No, I shall be busy.
Man: We can dance and then go to my apartment and drink champagne.
Girl:                  I don’t want. Go and leave me. You’re an old
Pig.
Lesson 2
Our second classroom contains eighteen adults of mixed nationality most of whom have been studying English for from five to eight years. Their class meets three hours a week in London and they have virtually no contact with one another outside the classroom. They have had this teacher for about a month now and are familiar with the kinds of technique he uses.
Phase 1
The teacher has distributed copies of a short text (about 400 words) to the students and they are sitting quietly reading through it. Attached to the text are a number of multiple choice questions and the students are attempting to decide individually which of the choices in each question most closely matches the sense of the text.
Phase 2
The students are working in five small groups with four or five of them in each group and discussing with one another why they believe that one interpretation is superior to another. Part of the text reads:
The singing and the eating and drinking began again and seemed set to go on all night. Darkness was around the corner, and the flares and coloured lights would soon be lit…
One of the multiple choice questions suggests:
The singing and the eating and drinking
(a)    had begun before nightfall
(b)   had begun just before nightfall
(c)    began when darkness arrived
(d)   had been going on all day
(with acknowledgments to J.Munby, O.G.Thomas, and M.D.Cooper and their Comprehension for School Certificate and to J.Munby’s Read and Think—see Chapter 6 following).
In one group the discussion goes like this:
Mohammed:       Well, it can’t possibly be (d) because there is

nothing in the text to say that it had been going on all day.
Yoko:
But what about that ‘again’ in the first sentence, surely this must mean that the singing and so on had been going on beforehand, something interrupted it and it started again.
Fran├žois:
Yes, but that does not mean it went on ‘all day’.
Yoko:
Yes, I suppose you are right, so it cannot be (d). What about (c)?
Giovanni:
It cannot be (c) which says ‘when darkness arrived’. ‘When’ here means ‘at the very moment that’, but the text says ‘Darkness was around the corner’ which must mean
‘near but not actually present’ and this idea is supported by the phrase ‘the lights would soon be lit.’
Juan:
All right, so it cannot be (c). What about (a)?
Yoko:
That could be right because clearly the singing and that had begun some time earlier in the day, but it is a very vague suggestion,
(b) must surely be the better answer.
Giovanni:
No, this is like (c) and suggests that the singing and so on began at the very moment being described, that is when darkness was
still ‘around the corner’. But Yoko pointed out that ‘again’ must imply that the singing had started earlier, stopped for some reason and started again, so it originally started well before this time. So (b) will not do.
Juan: Well that brings us back to (a), which is vague but correct, while all the others are wrong. So we must say that (a) is the best answer.
While this is going on the teacher is moving from group to group, asking them to justify their rejection or acceptance of suggested interpretations. One group has missed the significance of ‘again’ as expounded by Yoko above so the teacher asks specifically ‘What does “again” mean here? What must we understand about the time sequence of events from its use?’ The group is launched into discussion again.
Phase 3
On the blackboard the teacher has drawn up a grid with five vertical columns—one for each group—and ten horizontal rows—one for each multiple choice question. He has been asking each group to indicate which choice they had made for each question. The grid now looks something like Figure 1. All the groups agreed that (a) was the best answer for Q 1 and the teacher got one of the students to justify that choice, and others to justify the rejection of (b) (c) and (d). Over Q 2 there appears to be some disagreement. The text reads:
Jim, of course, had never been to a party at the Great Hall before, but his mother and father had. His greatgrandfather claimed he hadn’t been to the last one because he was the oldest inhabitant. He was the oldest inhabitant even then, but he had been Father Time in the pageant.
The questions read:
Great-grandfather
(a)    had been to the last party and the reason was that hewas the oldest inhabitant.

(b)   had been to the last party and the reason was that he


had been in the pageant.
(a)    hadn’t been to the last party and the reason was thateven then he was the oldest inhabitant.
(b)   hadn’t been to the last party and the reason was thathe had been in the pageant.
Groups A, B and D argue that the sentence in the text beginning ‘His great-grandfather…’ should be read with a rising tone on ‘inhabitant’ at the end. Groups C, and E argue that it should be read with a falling tone. Readings like these clearly justify the positive or negative interpretation of the facts about great-grandfather being at the party. However groups A, B, and D come back to point out that the significance of ‘but’ in the last sentence of the text is such as to make (b) easily the most likely choice since the meaning must be that the reason he was at the party was not that he was the oldest inhabitant, though that would have been a good enough reason for him to be invited but that as a member of the cast of the pageant he was automatically invited.
And so the teacher leads and guides the students through the text so that they arrive at sound interpretations which are properly justified.
Lesson 3
Phase 1
In our third classroom the teacher has just announced, ‘This morning we are going to learn about the Simple Present Tense in English. The forms for the verb “to be” are these. Copy them down.’ He writes on the blackboard:
Simple Present Tense ‘to be’ Positive Declarative


Example:
1st Person Singular
I am
I am a teacher.
2nd Person Singular
you are
You are a pupil.
3rd Person Singular
he, she, it is
He, she is a pupil. It is an elephant.
1 st Person Plural
we are
We are people.
2nd Person Plural
you are
You are pupils.
3rd Person Plural
they are
They are elephants.
He comments as he writes up the forms for the third person singular, ‘Note that “he” is used with masculine nouns, “she” with feminine nouns, and “it” with neuter nouns.’ He continues writing:
The Negative Declarative is formed by placing ‘not’ after the verb thus:


Example:
1st Person Singular
I am not
I am not a teacher.
2nd Person Singular
you are not
(At this point he
3rd Person Singular
he, she, it is
suggests ‘I think you

not
can all complete the
1st Person Plural
we are not
remaining examples
2nd Person Plural
you are not
here.’)
3rd Person Plural
they are not

He waits at the front of the classroom while pupils write. The blackboard is almost full so he points to the first paradigm above and asks, ‘Can I rub this out now?’ A few heads nod, so he erases it and continues writing:
The Positive Interrogative is formed by inverting the order of the verb and subject thus:
Example:
1st Person Singular  Am I?  Am I a teacher? 2nd Person Singular   Are you?          etc. etc.
Towards the end of Phase 2
The teacher is still writing on the blackboard, pupils are copying busily:
The Negative Interrogative of verbs other than ‘be’ and ‘have’ is formed by using the interrogative form with ‘do’ and placing ‘not’ after the subject, thus:
1st Person Singular
Do I not walk?
2nd Person Singular
Do you not walk?
3rd Person Singular
Does he, she, it not walk?
1st Person Plural
Do we not walk?
2nd Person Plural
Do you not walk?
3rd Person Plural
Do they not walk?
By this time pupils have written out in full the paradigms for positive and negative declarative, and the positive and negative interrogative for ‘be’, ‘have’, and ‘walk’ with some additional examples where these were felt to be useful.
Phase 3
The teacher cleans the last paradigm off the board and writes:
(1)   Give the 3rd Person Singular Interrogative forms of the simple present tense of each of the following verbs: walk, talk, come, go, run, eat, drink, have, open, shut.
He says, ‘Do these exercises, please’ and writes again:

(2)   Give the 2nd Person plural Negative Interrogative forms of the simple present tense of the following verbs: write, wash, love, be, push, pull, want, hit, throw, ride. …etc. etc.
Here then are scenarios for three very different kinds of lesson, and in Chapter 12 there is a plan for a lesson of yet another kind.
The key questions
In considering these lessons there are at least five important questions that anyone who aspires to be at all professional about teaching English as a foreign language needs to ask. Each question implies a whole series of other questions and they might be something like these:
1    What is the nature of the social interaction that is taking place?
What is the general social atmosphere of the class? What is the relationship between the pupils and the teacher? between pupil and pupil? Is the interaction teacher-dominated? Is the teacher teaching the whole class together as one, with the pupils’ heads up, looking at the teacher? Does he ask all the questions and initiate all the activity? Or are the pupils being taught in groups? How big are the groups? How many of them are there? Are they mixed ability groups or same ability groups? Are all groups doing exactly the same work, or different work? Or, are pupils working in isolation, each on his own, with head down looking at his books?
2    What is the nature of the language activity that is taking place?
This is on the whole a simpler question than the first one since it is essentially a matter of asking, ‘Are pupils reading, writing, listening, or talking?’ But at a slightly deeper level it is also possible to ask, ‘Are they practising the production of correct forms or are they practising the use of forms they have already learnt? Are they operating a grammatical rule, a collocational pattern, or an idiomatic form of expression? Are they using words, phrases and sentences in appropriate contexts to convey the message they actually intend to convey? Are they concentrating on accuracy or fluency, on language or communication?
3    What is the mode by which the teacher is teaching?
Is he using a purely oral/aural mode? Talking and listening? Is he simply talking or is he using audio aids as well? a tape recorder? radio? record player? Are there sound effects for the pupils to listen to or is it just words? Or, is the teacher using a visual mode? Is he using written symbols: written words, and sentences and texts, numbers, diagrams, charts or maps? or is he using things that represent reality in some sense: actual physical objects, models, pictures, photographs or drawings? Or is the teacher using a mixture of aural and visual modes? Can they be disentangled?
4    What materials is the teacher using?
There are two important aspects to this question. One asks first about the actual content of the teaching materials in a number of senses. What is the actual linguistic content? What sounds, words, grammar or conventions of reading or writing are in it? A good deal of attention is devoted to answering this particular question in subsequent chapters of this book. Then: What is the language actually about—a typical English family, Malaysian schoolboys of different ethnic backgrounds, a pair of swinging London teenagers, or corgies, crumpets and cricket? A tourist in New York, or the polymerisation of vinyl chloride, or the grief of a king who believes himself betrayed by the daughter he loves most?
The second aspect concerns the type of material it is. Is it specially written with controlled grammar and vocabulary from a predetermined list? Or is it ‘authentic’ and uncontrolled? What kinds of control have been used in terms of frequency of items, simplicity plus functional utility? Does it have a specific orientation towards a particular group of learners—English for electronic engineers—or is it designed to foster general service English? Is its orientation primarily linguistic or primarily communicative?
5    How is it possible to tell whether one lesson is in some way ‘better’ than another?
Is it to be done in purelypragmatic terms? Do pupils learn from a particular sort of lesson more quickly, with less effort, and greater enjoyment than those who learn by some other type of lesson? Is there any difference between teaching adults and children? Is it possible to measure in any real way different degrees of efficiency in learning? For example, is it true that the method which teaches most words is the best method? Or, on the other hand, are there a number of basic underlying principles, fundamental concepts, which can be brought to bear on what is clearly a rather complex form of human activity to illuminate what is going on and help in making decisions, which are wise enough to avoid being simplistic and naive, yet positive enough to ensure effective action in any given set of circumstances?
It is in the belief that pragmatism and principle must walk hand in hand that the following chapters have been written. First some basic principles will be explored, and then the consequences of applying those to particular areas of language teaching will be looked at in the hope that by the time readers reach the end of the book they will be in a better position to give informed and reasonably well balanced answers to at least some of the questions posed above, not only about the lessons sketched here but about any lesson in English to foreigners.



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