Breaking down the Barriers: The Learner as participant

TimeApril 26, 2019 by ELT forum

Christine Frank completed her Diploma in Teaching English as a Foreign Language at Manchester University in 1974 before returning to Germany where she works as a teacher, trainer and author. She taught on the first Pilgrim’s course in the summer of 1974 and continues to work closely with them. In anticipation of her upcoming workshop “Playing with Words” at the ELT forum in June where she will discuss innovative approaches to learning and teaching vocabulary, I asked her about her career, her main influences, and why we should continue to be open to new approaches:

What are the main areas of English teaching that you have been involved in during your career?

Challenge to Think, published in 1982, which I co-wrote with Mario Rinvolucri and Marge Berer, was a product of the excitement generated by Edward de Bono’s writing along with ideas from other Pilgrims teachers and students.

Up to then, TEFL had relied heavily on a systematic approach in which the foreign language was cut up into structural pieces and presented to the students to learn. We were basically not against this method, but we were concerned that the emphasis was put on the language rather than on the content. We tried to put student-generated content into a grammatical framework in exercises and activities and Grammar in Action, published in 1987, and Grammar in Action Again in 1991 with Mario Rinvolucri, was the result. We were also greatly influenced by the work of G. Moskowitz and Earl Stevick.

I came to recognize the importance of functional correctness, contextual coherence and appropriateness of utterances over the production of simply correct sentences. As a teacher I am responsible for ensuring a relaxed atmosphere, encouraging co-operation rather than competition, recognizing and catering for different learner types, helping students to learn and evaluate themselves and, above all, creating and directing activities which give the students the opportunity to say what they want.

How has English language teaching changed and evolved over this time?

During the last fifty years we have witnessed changes in the way English is taught at all levels and in different situations. This has been reflected by the emergence of methods such as Silent Way, Suggestopaedia, Community Language Learning, NLP and Multiple Intelligences. These methods have been used in their original form or adapted or borrowed to enrich other methods.

Why is finding new approaches important?

I find new methods and approaches important on the one hand to keep up to date and on the other hand to use these methods to consider and expand one’s own individual way of teaching…

I personally think that course books, training courses and seminars, method books, the internet and tips from colleagues should never be adopted without reflection, or used unthinkingly in class as ideal solutions to difficulties one might encounter. Each teacher has to bear in mind the resources available and be prepared to try out and adapt ideas, but what and how to teach will inevitably be a personal negotiated decision between the teacher and the students.

I try to let the students I teach become active participants and, as far as possible, play a greater part in deciding what and how they want to learn, taking a greater responsibility for themselves and other members of the group. The learner is an important person with a personality, character, knowledge and skills other than the target language, and these are valuable resources to be tapped in class. It is always sad to visit classes that have been learning English for several weeks and to discover that the students know very little about each other.

Can you tell us something about what your workshop at the ELT forum will cover?

  • In the workshop I will look at the following points:
  • Why is vocabulary important?
  • The importance of active vocabulary as opposed to passive vocabulary.
  • What do the students have to know when learning a new word?
  • Methods of learning new words including definition, association and categorization.

Christine Frank’s workshop is entitled “Playing with words/working with words/learning words and will take place at the ELT Forum in Bratislava on June 8th at 3pm.

author: Graham Strouts, teacher at the Bridge

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all in Bratislava

7th-8th June 2019

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