My teaching philosophy has changed over my many years of teaching American Sign Language (ASL). In the beginning of my teaching career, I believed that students should learn the grammar, rules and structure of a language. I didn’t focus on the cultural aspects of a language or the use of various learning approaches, such as natural interaction. However, I now believe that students learn language through interaction and that this approach will increase students’ ability to acquire language more fluently. My learning theory is rooted in language interaction with the teacher monitoring progress using natural approach techniques.
Out of many different methods of teaching language, I have three preferred teaching methods and approaches. The first teaching method is the Natural Approach, which focuses on fostering natural language acquisition in a classroom (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). This approach emphasizes communication style instead on focusing solely on grammatical structures. Natural language learning can occur in the classroom through the use of interaction and communication among the students and instructor. The instructor is also able to teach new language vocabulary and concepts based on how children learn language, which is that the instruction is built on their current level of functioning. One part of the Natural Approach includes instructional level plus one, aptly described as “I + 1”. This theory focuses on the teacher’ s ability to identify the students’ current learning level and to push it further by teaching content that is one level above the students’ current ability (Brown, 2007). The instructor knows the language level of students and is able to challenge and expand their abilities through interactive activities. There is natural ongoing communication happening in the classroom.
The second method I use is called the Total Physical Response method (TPR). This method focuses on the use of language commands to elicit a physical response from the students in the classroom (Richards & Rodgers, 2009). Students are required to follow the instructor physically and visually instead of passively learning. The benefit of this method is that as students learn new vocabulary in class, they will do some physical activities. TPR focuses on students’ response to language commands in the classroom in order to provide a positive and safe learning atmosphere for first year students.
Lastly, the Content-Based Instruction (CBI) method focuses on teaching language using the subject matter, and language is coincidentally learned along with the subject matter (Brown, 2007). This is an effective approach for K-12 Deaf school-aged students. Students learn content area material and in doing so also develop stronger language skills. For example, depicting verbs can be used and taught in a science lesson about volcanoes. Students learn the science of how volcanoes work and also grammatical structures required for an academic discussion in ASL. When I work with Deaf students as an ASL specialist, I use this approach by bringing current events and other content area into my language classes.
The three methods and approaches mentioned earlier have been shown to make a positive impact on students’ language development (Brown, 2007; Richards & Rodgers, 2009). Not only that, the classroom is the main place where student convene to learn together. In a typical classroom, the seats are arranged into rows, all facing the teacher. In Deaf culture and for teaching ASL, this classroom design is not effective. Seats arranged in a c-shape, with all students facing the teacher and each other, is most effective and what I use in my classroom. With this arrangement, I have noted much improvement in my students’ learning progress and language development through these opportunities for interaction. My teaching philosophy emphasizes communication and interaction in the classroom, which creates a positive impact due to an effective learning environment. Students show improvement in their language acquisition and understanding when the methods and approaches discussed here are used together and alternatively. Flexibility in the teacher’s preferred approaches is much needed, as it will help the teacher be able to identify the students’ needs in the classroom in order for them to acquire a new language naturally and skillfully. In conclusion, these teaching methods and approaches are the basis of my philosophy.
Brown, H. D. (2007). Teaching by principles: An interactive approach to language pedagogy. (3rd ed.) White Plains, NY: Pearson Longman.
Richards, J. C. & Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching. (2nd ed.). Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.