Week Three: Methods & SLA

What was this week’s module about?

Methods and Second Language Acquisition (SLA), or in layman’s terms methods and theories of learning a second language.

Funny! That’s what everyone thinks of when you mention DipTESOL or DELTA!

Yes, it probably is. There’s an awful lot to process, actually. Richards and Rogers discuss 17 different methods and their basis (or not) in SLA theory, whilst Thornbury’s deceptively-compact handbook covers 30 of the buggers. There’s also a tonne of SLA theories to get your head around and figure out how they all play into the different methods.

I think a lot of teachers, at least the ones who have been doing it a while and have started to reflect on their teaching style, probably think of their methods as eclectic. I reckon a lot of this is because teachers, the weird creatures that we are, quite like to think of ourselves as sitting on the edge a little bit. The idea, then, that we would confine ourselves to just one method might feel a little restrictive.

This, children, is what your teachers look like in the staff room.

In reality, I think it’s because on our pre-service CELTAs and CertTESOLs we don’t study any of this stuff; it’s not really necessary to know the theory behind what you’re doing, but rather that you have different techniques to apply to different circumstances to achieve certain things. Coming to the Dip, and having the time and space to engage with these methods and SLA theory is interesting, as you start to see your own teaching in a new light (both positive and, err, not so positive).

What was this week’s assignment, then?

It was an exam question! Yep, at the end of the course (probably in May or August, if Covid plays nicely), we have to sit a pesky three hour exam. The first hour covers knowledge of language, the second knowledge of teaching, and the third teacher development. So this week’s assignment was practice for that second part.

In the exam we’ll have one hour, and although our tutor recommended us to try doing it under timed conditions, in reality it took more like ten. More than anything this is down to the fact that I was still learning and synthesizing the reading as I was writing it.

The task itself was interesting, and led to a lot of reflection. We had to choose two methods from a list of the more obscure ones, explain their principles, procedures, links to SLA, and relevance in ELT. All part of ‘having the time and space to engage with these methods and SLA theory.’ It was surprisingly tough!

Why do you think that is?

I think because I’m still not very confident. Part of that is because of my own little neuroses: I’m very aware that there’s still a little depression lingering in my brain which likes to poke me every-now-and-then. But also, I haven’t done this in a long time. The last time I formally studied anything was 10 years ago and although my results were something to be proud of, they were definitely the result of four years of honing my writing and study skills. I’m just very rusty! So, although my marks are getting better and better, I’m still trying to fight the feeling that I don’t really know what I’m doing.

What was your main takeaway from this week?

Eclecticism is fine, but it must be based on principles. I found a good example of this on the Delta/DipTESOL Candidates and Survivors group on Facebook this morning. A teacher was asking for papers discussing the value of using the student’s L1 in teacher-student interactions. A reply from one of the veterans in the group was simple: if you use it for the right reasons, it’s never a bad thing. The same is true for methods: being eclectic with choice of method (or better, choice of technique) is fine, but it the choice should be based on principles.

Were there any lows?

More a moment of realisation: as a student, you feel really pissed when your teacher doesn’t give your homework back on time! It was only two days later, but I would have felt more confident with my assignment if the feedback had come before I had finished the first draft. I’m now going to edit my mental health article to reflect this!

What about highlights?

My tutor this week marked my assignment in four hours! And it was really good!

Also, we have a new member of our study group!

What’s next?

Next week is a rest week, which I think is an elision from The (rest) of the reading you haven’t been able to do until this (week).