My approach to teaching is more or less a fusion of my experiences as an undergraduate, my interests in philology and linguistics, and my teaching experience at the University of Minnesota.
Teacher-centered vs. student-centered teaching:
In my teaching I have maintained the principles of proficiency-based instruction, and have been content to spend more time in a student-centered atmosphere than I probably would have been hitherto.
I will, however, switch to a more traditional approach at times, that is, to a teacher- centered environment, concentrating on specific issues of grammar, structure, or style. Students appreciate the input of an expert, especially when they have a very limited knowledge base in the target language.
My warm-ups are most always based on one-on-one teacher-student interaction within the classroom, which encourages students to make themselves heard in a friendly and supportive environment. Such warm-ups in recent years have fallen in one of several categories:
1. Asking students to give information about the world (which, I remind them, includes the classroom).
2. Asking students to discuss what they did the previous evening.
3. Asking students to discuss what they did not do the previous evening.
4. Asking students to make statements and have the rest of the class determine whether those statements are true or not.
5. Giving students 30 seconds to compose a question, which is then asked aloud.
6. Having students suggest random “answers” and having other students pose appropriate questions.
As teachers, we encourage students to read for general ideas, not details. This is, I feel, the logical and correct approach. The difficulty is that it is easier said than done, especially when one uses authentic materials designed for native speakers. Whatever the text, pre-reading exercises must be carefully chosen and students must be prepared for key vocabulary items that will appear in the text.
I have attempted to assist in vocabulary building by creating picture dictionaries and matching exercises based on the reading, examples of which are to be found later in this document. I also stress and encourage reading aloud in class at all levels to practice pronunciation and sentence intonation. I have furthermore put together storyboards for first-year reading texts, so that stories can be followed more easily.
In the last few years, I have found that technology has allowed me, as an instructor, to design materials that look more professional and creative. Using graphics programs and experimenting with word processing programs encourages one to think a bit more like a designer, and thus try to see things from a student’s perspective.
The importance of technology in the classroom has also become more clear to me over the years: in addition to fostering a variety of learning approaches, the use of videos, computers, chatrooms, and, especially, internet activities constantly reminds students that they are not learning some secret language of a classroom, but one spoken by millions throughout the real world.
One must always beware, however, of using technology for its own sake. The fact that a good online or computer exercise exists does not mean it needs to be used. As a coordinator (see below) I encouraged my instructors to pick and choose which exercises and types of technology they felt benefitted students most and, moreover, to avoid those exercises in which the student’s negotiation of the task becomes overly complex with regard to the objective.
My success rate in the first, second, and third years has, I think, been very high, and I have always prided myself on the fact that my courses have been in the main both informative and entertaining. Students have appreciated my stepping back from the fore to let them carry out tasks and activities on their own, but they also like the fact that I am willing to take class time to explain concepts that are unclear or linguistic information that I find relevant. Indeed, in one first- year class, my eager and diligent students constantly pressed me for more and more philological information until I was forced to remind them that we had other material to look at in the modern language.
My experiences have confirmed my beliefs that 1) traditional approaches can be used alongside newer ones as long as one's goals are clearly set, and 2) that how one teaches something is always as important as what one teaches.
Education & Certification
Undergraduate Degree: Wayne State University - Bachelors, Linguistics
Graduate Degree: Saint Mary's University of Minnesota - PHD, Germanic Philology
Film, old (and not necessarily good) TV, cartooning, trivia
Q & A
What is your teaching philosophy?
My main philosophy, which perhaps seems ridiculously simple, is that "you can't know something before you know it." In my main area, for example, teaching grammar, people often lament that they don't know x and y, where x and y are seemingly basic concepts. I most often reassure them that, if they were never taught x and y, or were never taught them effectively (or if they forgot or weren't even paying attention), there is no harm in starting with them from the beginning.