Statement of Teaching Approach in ESL
Shawn Ford
Spring 2004

I have always considered myself a cultural boundary crosser of some sort or another since my youth. As a boundary crosser, I have learned a great deal about other people and the world around me in part due to openness to other cultures. This openness has also helped to broaden my perspective and better understand culture-specific behavior. I feel that these are essential qualities for a language teacher to possess, and in fact, it is this awareness that motivated me initially to enter the field of teaching ESL. As a student in an exceptional ESL degree program, I was able to build upon my original motivation a solid theoretical foundation on which to base my future teaching approach.

In my personal philosophy of teaching, I believe that it is important to be consciously aware of the theory behind what I teach as well as the way that I teach. It is very empowering for me to understand the theories associated with my field and to be able to reflect those theories in my teaching approach. Considering second language acquisition theory, my personal teaching philosophy is based on social constructivist and critical pedagogic approaches to language acquisition. Some of the more salient aspects of my teaching philosophy include:

My teaching approach in ESL is to guide my students through the process of English language socialization while addressing the above theoretical considerations. In my classroom, I address these theoretical concerns in the following ways:

Develop the learner’s preexisting knowledge
I begin with the belief that all of my students come into the classroom with preexisting knowledge that contributes to the learning process, whether this be linguistic or lived experiences. I make an attempt to discover and exploit this knowledge from the outset by surveying my students’ linguistic knowledge and personal experiences. Then I encourage my students to capitalize on their strengths and experiences in order to develop their English abilities. For example, I realize that while most East-Asian students have a high degree of knowledge of English grammar, many lack conversational fluency; therefore, I tend to focus less on grammatical aspects of English with these students and spend more time developing communicative abilities.

Understand the social functions of language
Not only is it important for me to teach my students the mechanics of English, it is also very important for me to instruct my students in the proper use of the language. Therefore, I devote time to discussing the different linguistic genres and discourses that exist in society and emphasize the importance of these notions in academia. Through an awareness of and engagement with different genres and discourse styles, students may undergo personal transformations that lead to success in various social and academic settings. As an example activity, I teach my students a lesson in email pragmatics (Netiquette), whereby I ask them to write an email to me requesting an essay extension. Then we examine pragmatic mistakes committed in their emails and analyze examples of pragmatically correct emails to professors. Finally, students correct their original emails and resubmit them to me for credit. Most students have never received this kind of writing instruction before, and all believe that it is important to know this information.

Emphasize a whole language approach to teaching
I design my lesson plans mindful of the whole language approach to language instruction by incorporating oral and written language skills into activities that encourage social interaction and are personally meaningful to my students. One activity that embodies this approach is peer feedback of essays. I regularly have my students engage in peer feedback, with slight variation of the activity each time. In pairs or in groups, students read peer essays, provide either written or verbal feedback, and discuss the writing process for that particular essay. Students seem to enjoy and benefit tremendously from this activity.

Encourage individual creativity throughout the learning process
I believe that creativity is perhaps one of the most under-utilized human characteristics in the context of language learning. I emphasize to my students that creativity is an important aspect of writing and speaking. It is important in writing as a factor in paraphrasing, developing and combining ideas, and avoiding plagiarism. Creativity is also an important consideration in oral production because even with a limited vocabulary, creative use of language will help facilitate meaning. With that said, I encourage my students to take chances and use language creatively to express themselves. Many opportunities for learning can come about in this manner.

Develop and maintain rapport while claiming legitimate authority
Rapport is an important aspect of classroom pedagogy that I believe has more to do with people-management skills than to teaching specifically. If I begin by managing the class well, I feel that good rapport can be achieved. I think of rapport not as something that only exists between teacher and student but also as something that exists between the teacher and the class as a whole. A class is composed of many separate individuals, but when those individuals come together and engage in the social functions of a classroom, certain characteristics of group dynamics become more apparent than those of the individuals that make up the group. It is for this reason that rapport on the group level is a goal for me as a teacher. However, my concern for rapport needs to be balanced with my expectations of my students. As a person appropriately trained in and experienced with language teaching and learning, I claim legitimate authority over these issues in my classroom. Therefore, I expect a certain level of attention and respect from my students. I make my beliefs explicit by including some of my expectations in my syllabus (e.g., cell phones and pagers must be turned off in my classroom), by discussing my personal thoughts with my students when the need arises, and by interacting consistently with my students.

Engage in a constant process of self-reflection and evaluation
I am a firm believer in a continuous process of teacher self-reflection, in which self-evaluation is connected to lesson planning and overall teacher development. By incorporating a system of consistent reflection in my teaching, I feel that I am able to continually progress as a teacher as I adapt to the changing needs of my students. My constant reflection is based on principles of action research and includes a teaching journal, annotated lesson plans and activities, and videotaped class sessions.

Through a complex interaction between my personal philosophy of teaching and the theories behind my philosophy, I strive to develop the full potential of my students in the language learning context. As a guide on their journeys of linguistic discovery, I hope that I can foster skills in my students that will prepare them for greater social challenges. In the process, I also hope to continually broaden my cultural awareness while I progress as an instructor.