Number one for English language teachers

Approaches used in Compass

Level: Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Article, Reference material, Teaching notes

In this article, Lizzie Pinard explains the theory behind the teaching approaches used in Compass and offers advice on how to use them effectively.

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The Approaches used in Compass

These materials embody three approaches: Task-Based Learning, the Language Awareness Approach and the Intercultural Approach. We believe these approaches complement each other and combine to enable effective learning. This page is designed to help you understand the principles behind these approaches, explain the rationale for choosing them and give you some tips for effective implementation.

1. Task-Based Learning (TBL)

What is it?

TBL is a methodology which places emphasis on the importance of tasks as a unit of planning and instruction. A classroom task is chosen which is ‘real world’ rather than ‘language’ focused (‘plan a school trip’ rather than ‘fill in the blanks’). Each task has a non-linguistic outcome which complements the language input. TBL methodology is one way of helping students acquire language through using it communicatively in the classroom.

Why has it been chosen?

TBL is well-suited for use in private language schools. Class sizes tend to be small, and students often join language programmes with a strong desire to develop their speaking and listening skills. This is more difficult to do in the traditional large-class context common in secondary and tertiary education. Private language schools provide students with the opportunity to learn in an environment more conducive to these skills. TBL works well with the Language Awareness Approach and the Intercultural Approach; tasks can be easily adjusted to incorporate collaborative, student-centred focus on form and cultural awareness-raising elements.

How can you implement it most effectively?

The teacher’s notes help you and your students negotiate the tasks in this course effectively. Tips are included throughout these notes, to give extra guidance on how to implement the approaches effectively. Within TBL, the teacher is a facilitator, providing the ideal conditions for communication. These materials provide structured language focus, but this can be enhanced by responding to student errors: monitor students as they complete activities and make notes of any errors made, as well as examples of good language use. Then use this language, good and bad, as the basis for feedback. Rather than simply telling the students where their errors are, try to display the language on the whiteboard and encourage self and peer correction.

How can you find out more about this approach?

‘Methodology: task-based learning’ by Scott Thornbury on http://www.onestopenglish.com provides an accessible overview of the principles behind Task-Based Learning and their practical application in the classroom.

2. The Language Awareness Approach (LA)

What is it?

LA is a student-centred approach to language focus. It stipulates that students should be involved in exploration and discovery of language and the way it works. In LA, language is considered to be dynamic and treatment of language is holistic. The importance of context as well as the social dimension of language is consistently emphasized. It is strongly rooted in Second Language Acquisition theory. As such, it also emphasizes the importance of cognitive (mental) and affective (emotional) engagement for effective language learning. Collaboration, discussion, exploration and discovery are all encouraged, giving it much in common with TBL.

Why has it been chosen?

LA was selected due to the strong linguistic background possessed by the majority of upper intermediate students. A purely linguistic focus would be of limited use to these students, while a more holistic focus may enrich their understanding and use of language.

How can you use it most effectively?

The materials treat language holistically and encourage cognitive/affective engagement. To help students benefit fully from the design of the materials, ensure that they have time to fully discuss language focus questions. When you do whole-class feedback, think about the social dimension of language, i.e. the influence of society on language use, and the importance of context.

How can you find out more about this approach?

‘Awareness, appropriation and autonomy’ by Scott Thornbury on http://www.onestopenglish.com outlines the principles behind the Language Awareness Approach and explains their relevance and application to the L2 classroom.

3. The Intercultural Approach (IA)

What is it?

Intercultural is an adjective meaning ‘existing or happening between different cultures’. The Intercultural Approach aims to help students bridge the gap between their own and other cultures using English. In this approach, culture is related to the way the society we are from influences the way we speak, behave and view the world around us. Like LA, it views language as dynamic rather than fixed. The first module is designed to help students develop the skills and awareness they need in order to learn about foreign cultures. It also provides students with plenty of opportunities to explore and discuss their own culture and their classmates’ cultures in pair and group discussions.

Why has it been chosen?

English is used in many countries worldwide. As such, it has become an international language of wider communication. Therefore, it is highly likely that students will use it to speak to people of different cultures, in a variety of contexts. To do this successfully, awareness of the cultural differences and how language is used to enact social behaviour is essential. It combines naturally with TBL, as tasks can easily be adapted to incorporate an intercultural element.

How can you use it most effectively?

The materials regularly encourage students to reflect on the relationship between language and culture, by encouraging comparison between English language and culture with students’ L1 and culture.

How can you find out more about this approach?

‘Getting into intercultural training’ by John King, on www.onestopenglish.com, explores some key concepts in intercultural training.

General tips for using these materials and implementing these approaches successfully

• Use the intercultural focus questions at the beginning of each task, which are explored within the task through the range of texts and activities provided. Encourage students to think about these as they begin each task and to reflect on whether their views have changed after they finish each task.

• Encourage metacognitive development, as this will allow the students to question and increase their understanding of the aims behind the materials and their methods.

• These materials frequently require you to step back and become a facilitator rather than a presenter: don’t be threatened by this. You can still provide plenty of guidance in the role of facilitator.

• Above all, enjoy using the materials! Work with the students, learn from them, guide them and enjoy seeing them reap the benefits of a holistic, student-centred approach.

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