English is learned today in a variety of contexts and for a variety of reasons, each of which can be addressed through different methods and activities in the classroom. For this reason, it is important as a teacher to take into consideration the linguistic and cultural backgrounds of one’s students as well as to consider their goals, whether they be academic, professional, or something else. Having the students develop SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals can help to determine where the focus in a classroom should be, as well as what students interests are, and they can additionally help students to begin to develop an ideal self for them to work towards. By helping students to visual their ideal selves, as well as making the course relevant for their interests, it is possible for them to generate and maintain motivation. I believe it is also important as a teacher to encourage self-evaluation through positive motivational feedback, which helps to establish rapport and encourage students further.
Additionally, authentic input is important for the purpose of activating schema in the learners’ minds and priming them for acquisition. Language does not exist in a vacuum and context is often key to understanding how and why certain forms are used. For this reason, I believe that students should be exposed to a wide variety of authentic input from a variety of genres and types of discourse. This can include academic writings, speeches, stories, conversations, news articles, blog posts, and so much more, as long as the input is authentic and in context. Having students analyze input of this type and drawing attention to differences in genres is key for helping students to be able to produce language that is accurate and relevant to the context they are in, whether it be related to an academic, social, or professional setting.
Language acquisition in general occurs when learners produce output and participate in negotiation through interaction. As a teacher it is therefore my responsibility to create opportunities for students to produce a variety of output including writing, paired conversations, group work, and class discussions. Learning a language is about being able to use that language as a tool to create meaning, and there is no better way to learn to create meaning than by trying to do so. Small group work is especially useful in this regard for getting students to interact and negotiate with each other and to scaffold each other’s constructions. Additionally, while in many instances it may be best to not interrupt when students make errors in order to promote communication and encourage further output, corrective feedback is also crucial for language acquisition. As a teacher I believe that the corrective feedback that I provide should be both explicit and output-producing in order to maximize its benefits. The explicitness allows students to notice their errors and pay attention to them, and having them generate further output allows them to repair their constructions, both of which can be achieved with elicitations and metalinguistic comments.
While I believe that language instruction should be mostly focused on meaning, I also believe that grammar should be taught, although it should be taught in context and as more than a series of rules to be memorized and regurgitated. Explicit yet inductive methods, such as a garden path approach where students are not given the full picture of a grammatical rule and instead have to recognize for themselves through input the difficulties or exceptions, therefore allowing them to remember, recognize, and acquire said exceptions or complications better, or a corpus-informed activity, where students consult an online corpora in order to discover patterns, are ideal methods for bringing learner attention to not only the form but also the pragmatic use and meaning of a grammatical construction without the use of drills or decontextualized language. Additionally, helping students to understand the reasons why certain constructions are used allows them to be able to utilize the constructions better than simply telling them a rule, since a reason gives them a stronger context and knowledge base. Lastly, it is important to realize that the acquisition of grammatical structures takes time, and that just because students are making what may seem to be mistakes, it does not mean that they are not learning. For this reason, it is important to provide ample opportunities to notice the constructions in authentic input and to produce them in meaningful and contextualized ways.
Overall, I believe that my role as a teacher in a language classroom is not necessarily to give students information, but instead to cultivate, maintain, and encourage motivation through a variety of methods, as well as to provide an input-rich environment with ample opportunity for language use. As a teacher, I want to draw my students’ attention to different features of discourse as well as to help them inductively to learn grammar, while focusing above all on meaning and context. Through exposure, attention, and then pushed output and negotiation, students can be primed to notice aspects of language and put them to use, scaffolding each other’s learning and acquiring new ways to create meaning in contexts that are relevant to them and their goals.