Metodica predării limbii engleze – Strategies of Teaching and Testing English as a Foreign Language: Auto-review of a New Edition by the Author
Adriana Vizental, Romania
Adriana Vizental, Ph.D. holds a chair of English linguistics and language teaching at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of “Aurel Vlaicu” University of Arad, Romania (see www.uav.ro). She is the author of numerous articles and several books in the fields, such as: Working with Advertisements. From Functional Grammar to Co-operative Communication (2008); Meaning and Communication. From Semantic Meaning to Pragmatic Meaning (2008); Metodica predării limbii engleze. Strategies of Teaching and Testing English as a Foreign Language (2007); Phonetics and Phonology. An introduction (2007); Learn to Read. Read to Learn (2000, co-authored with Otilia Pacurari).
Metodica predării limbii engleze – Strategies of Teaching and Testing English as a Foreign Language,
3rd edition revised and updated,
Iaşi: Polirom Publishing House, Series Collegium,
Do not let the first part of the title (which is in Romanian) put you off: the book is written in English. Printed by one of the most prestigious publishing houses in Romania (Polirom) in the series dedicated to methodology (Collegium), the book was meant to fill a gap on the Romanian market. Adapted to the Romanian curriculum and to the particularities of the Romanian language and culture, it is a work targeted at students and young teachers of English. But teachers from abroad also found it useful.
The book aims to become an aid in teaching and testing English, trying to answer the question of what it means to know English, or any other foreign language for that matter. Linguists tell us that the native speaker’s knowledge of the language (i.e. of vocabulary and of grammar) does not account for the richness and variety of communicative exchanges. The native speaker knows not only how to use the language accurately (i.e. correctly from a semantic and grammatical point of view), but also appropriately (i.e. adapted to the discourse type and the situational context) and strategically (i.e. in ways that are most likely to accomplish his real-world aims). In other words, the speaker’s linguistic competence is only a part of his actual communicative competence, which also includes socio-linguistic and cultural competence, discourse competence and strategic competence. Linguists also tell us that grammatical mistakes do not prevent the message from getting through; even native speakers make mistakes (often intentionally). This means that the correctness of grammatical structures is secondary to the meaning carried and the function performed. Therefore, teaching words and structures is definitely not enough: to produce good communicators, the language teacher must train his students to use the language meaningfully, appropriately, functionally and strategically. This can be achieved by carefully and painstakingly developing the students’ language and communicative skills.
Chapters 2 & 3 describe various traditional and (post)modern teaching and testing approaches. Traditional approaches are presented not only for the sake of information, but mainly to show that an astute teacher can learn from all types of teaching experiences. Techniques and procedures that are viewed as obsolete can still provide useful tips for present-day teaching-learning situations, e.g. the pattern-practice proposed by the audio-linguists can be useful when dealing with young beginners.
The role and effectiveness of communicative teaching is insisted upon, illustrated with numerous personal examples (each chapter contains a significant section of practical recommendations based on my own personal experience). Among post-communicative methods, the Thinking Approach (in the development of which my co-workers and I participated as members in a Socrates project, see www.thinking-approach.org / www.thinking-approach.eu) is suggested as an efficient method to develop both foreign language and thinking skills. The sections lead logically to the next chapter, which discusses the curriculum and the syllabus, while the lesson itself, with various models for lesson plans, is presented in Chapter 8.
Chapters 5 to 7 deal with the main skills a teacher should target. Chapter 5 proposes ways to develop receptive skills (listening and reading). It emphasizes the fact that listening/reading is not a mere manipulation of vocabulary and grammar, but a process of extracting meaning. In this context, the receiver is not a passive recipient of the message, but actively interacts with the text s/he is reading/listening to and contributes meaning to it. Since both listening and reading can be assessed effectively with the help of objective testing techniques (e.g. m/c items, blank completion, the cloze, etc.), examples are given to show how such testing items can be used to accomplish various learning purposes: developing vocabulary, assessing acquisition of grammar, listening/reading for specific information, listening/reading for meaning and message etc. The chapter also insists on techniques of fast silent reading, which are (traditionally) insufficiently practiced in our country. In the section dedicated to practical recommendations, suggestions are made regarding possible ways of dealing with various types of texts: poems, descriptive texts, narrative texts, etc. The exercises proposed cover the successive moments in the lesson (warm-up, while-listening/reading, after listening/reading), ranging from objective items (e.g. filling out grids or matching elements), through subjective ones (e.g. summarizing, translation), to communicative activities (e.g. personalizing the text and interacting in real-world-like situations).
Teaching language represents the subject of Chapter 6 and, since my goal was not to give advice on how to teach vocabulary and grammar, I did not give this aspect of language teaching its due importance. Instead I chose to focus on issues that represent a special problem for the Romanian teacher/learner: phrasal verbs and idiomatic phrases, modal verbs and the tenses. The suggestions made aim to raise awareness towards the importance of these issues and to provide simple (models of) exercises to facilitate didactic work.
The importance of receptive skills should not be underestimated. Reading skills help us to access information, and only a person who understands what’s being said can participate in a conversation. In most cases, however, the basic purpose of the language course is to develop productive and communicative skills: speaking, writing and (oral or written) interaction. This is why Chapter 7 of the book is the most consistent. To promote both speaking and writing skills, the teacher has to help the learner to gradually acquire independence as language producer. Therefore, the activities suggested are grouped into three categories: fully controlled activities, guided ones, and finally, free communication. In the case of speaking, two basic “modes” are distinguished: the monologic (or expositional) mode, where the learner is expected to speak at some length without the help of an interlocutor, and the dialogic (or conversational) mode, which is based on linguistic exchanges. The chapter suggests a variety of activity types, ranging from simple presentations and role-plays, to highly organized activities, such as the debate and the speech. The students are also taught to assess their own performances with the help of detailed marking schemes, thus learning both to evaluate their peers’ performances and to improve the quality of their own output. But in a globalizing world, where learners need communicative skills so as to be able to interact with others and to accomplish real-world aims, the importance of communicative exercises is again emphasized: students must be taught to use the language appropriately and strategically. Writing is, in many English classes, the Cinderella of skills: given the shortage of time, teachers prefer to focus on skills that provide more immediate results. But learners need writing both for their exams and for their own prestige, not to mention actual written exchanges. This is why a significant section of the chapter is dedicated to developing writing skills. The activities presented range from functional tasks (e.g. writing a letter of application), through academic writing (e.g. essays writing), to creative assignments (e.g. diary entries). Special attention is given to note-taking and summarizing, techniques by which learners develop their information acquiring abilities, and to those of paragraph and essay writing, which foster their academic accomplishments.
Testing – viewed as the set of activities the teacher proposes to promote leaning, assess the students’ level and the results of his own work (see Chapter 4 of the book) – is discussed again in the chapter dedicated to results evaluation (Chapter 9). The various moments of the language course determine the type of assessment to be used: placement tests – at the beginning of the language course; progress, diagnostic, and achievement tests – during it; and proficiency tests – after the learning process. Several model tests and detailed marking schemes are provided to help teachers grade correctly the learners’ speaking and writing tasks. In an (long due) updated version of the book, I have included the analysis of a Romanian textbook (Board & Miron’s Passport 2 Europe) to show how content can be adapted to the requirements of the Common European Framework of Reference: Learning, Teaching and Assessment. I have also provided some useful tips about putting together a good European Language Portfolio.
The book is the result of my classroom work and teaching experience cumulated over a long period of time. In the year 2000, Orchestrating Strategies – a course book for philology students was drafted (co-authored with Otilia Pacurari, “Poudique” Publishers, ISBN 973-9328-58-X). In 2003, the basic ideas took the form of a book, entitled Strategies of Teaching and Testing (“Orizonturi Universitare” Publishing House, Timişoara, ISBN 973-638-075-0). In its present form and under its present title, the “Polirom” Publishing House of Iasi printed it in three consecutively revised and updated versions, in 2006, 2007 and 2008. A fourth edition, promised since 2009, has been postponed due to the international financial crisis.
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