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Dana Watson
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One of the main objections to content-based teaching has been that teachers end up teaching the content and not the language, but there is a myriad of opportunities for a competent teacher to focus on language (and grammar) in every lesson...

I Teach English

Dana Watson from the U.S.

 Program Coordinator, Asian/Pacific Studies Institute at Duke University

Part Two

So each class goes its own direction, and it's only more so when you have a third teacher giving individual grammar instruction. Students are left with few chances to practice all of their various skills in a cohesive context. Is it any wonder they're so often confused?

When I started my MATESOL program last fall, I was astounded by the difference in how I was being taught to teach and the way in which I had been taught a foreign language during my undergraduate degree in Spanish.

All of my classes, from my initial placement in the intermediate class to my senior seminar, were content-based, and I don't think I would have become nearly as fluent had it been otherwise.

Certainly, if in high school I had been taught different skills by different teachers in disconnected classes, I would never have been able to handle such an initial placement. In college, we plunged right into never speaking anything but Spanish in the classroom and reading and analyzing works of literature.

When I eventually went to study abroad in Chile for a semester, my host mother commented that my Spanish was amazingly better than some of her preiously hosted students. One of the professors there, in a class in which I was the only foreign student, held me up to the class as the only person who had managed to have passable spelling and punctuation on the in-class written exam. Maybe that was just my natural talent shining through, but I still think I have to give the credit to my Spanish teachers back at my home institution.

Now that I am teaching in a skills-based program, I feel frustrated when I see the differences. The one segment I have taught outside the textbook, using an authentic novel, had much more enthusiastic classroom response than the disconnected topics presented in the textbook. Each class was suddenly connected. The language in the book provided a focus to talk about, question, and apply to themselves and the world around them. I can only imagine what ai might have been able to do if I were allowed to teach an entire semester of classes based on thematically linked texts.

Every authentic text, no matter if it was written for children, young adults, or adults, offers a wealth of natural language, cultural information, repeated and useful vocabulary..., the list goes on and on, much like the example with the apple. Students practice reading skills, most certainly, but then they get to participate in in-depth discussions in class, in which they practice both speaking and listening skills, and then they practice writing skills when writing papers on the readings, which not incidentally includes focus on grammar.

One of the main objections to content-based teaching has been that teachers end up teaching the content and not the language, but there is a myriad of opportunities for a competent teacher to focus on language (and grammar) in every lesson, provided they are sufficiently aware of their purpose.

A month or so ago, another MATESOL student came to observe my class for an assignment for his Methods of Teaching Writing class. He then later emailed me to ask what my "philosophy of teaching writing" was.

I wrote him a rather lengthy response but as I have thought about it over and over ever since I wrote it, I have eventually distilled it down to a phrase that I hope all ESL/EFL teachers will eventually be able to say: "I don't teach writing, I teach English."


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