30 April 2014

Putting Michel Thomas into practice

So I've finally found myself using Michel Thomas's techniques (or at least my interpretation of them) in the language classroom.

When I started my current job, I made the decision that I was going to do exactly what the school wanted of me, and stop worrying about the ineffectiveness of standard techniques -- after all, standard techniques are what the school sells, and therefore what the students have bought. Basically, I figured that I needed to start looking at teaching as a job rather than some kind of holy calling, so that I could go home at the end of the day and switch off, rather than beating myself up until bedtime for the day's errors.

It's ironic, then, that the student who's getting the most "me" in my teaching is the second class I started. I went in preparing to teach the standard course, and with only a couple of hours until the class started, I discovered that the method materials were aimed at large classes, and were inappropriate to a one-on-one class, so I went to the syllabus and wrote down the language features for the first few lessons. To be, to have, there is/are... OK, fine. The various things pointed in a direction I wasn't intending to head in, but there it was: Total Physical Response. For about half a dozen lessons we were putting things in a box, on a chair, on the floor... even on my head. I was lucky that I'd recently got in an online discussion about "Language Hunting" just before, as I had whole system analysed and fresh in my head.

The student was herself a teacher -- in fact, a headteacher -- and understood a lot about pedagogy. This was a double-edged sword, as while she was open to different ideas, she got kind of fixated on the "concreteness" of the TPR class, and was slightly reluctant to move on until I'd built up her confidence in herself and in me as a teacher. Once that confidence was there, it was time to switch, and switch we did.

Compliments from students are always welcome, but when they come from a trained and experienced teacher, they really feel good. Of course, at the same time, I recognise that it's the techniques drawing the praise, not me.

Teaching Michel Thomas style is actually even more difficult than I really appreciated. The last time I tried it, I wasn't teaching full-time, and I had enough space in my head to balance the repetition of the various language points, but in these classes I frequently find myself leaving revision of a particular word or structure late, and the student has forgotten it. She blames herself, when of course it's my fault. I'm trying to develop ways of notating and mnemonicising for myself to keep track of what to revise and when.

But overall, it's been clearly very effective, and it's reinforced my belief that Thomas's core methodology is constructed on sound concepts, and that there was nothing miraculous about Thomas as a teacher.

If there's a stressful element in it, it's seeing how much the lesson suffers when the teacher's on an off-day, something that doesn't happen as much when you're hiding behind worksheets and programmed materials. On the flip-side, though, this connection between teacher performance and learning eliminates the great existential angst of the teacher: "Are they learning because of me or despite me?"

1 comment:

Yousef said...

Since January, I've been tutoring a high school kid in French every Sunday for an hour. I've been using the Michel Thomas technique mixed with some reading comprehension methods, and it's been working very well. The highlight was when the kid missed a week and was worried about forgetting all that we've learned. As soon as we started the session we was shocked at how much he actually remembered.

It'd be interesting to try and figure out the techniques Michel Thomas used to learn a language. I think I recall once an interview where he said he would take a few months to thoroughly analyse a language before he could teach it. Since I've been having the same troubles you've had with keeping track of things, knowing Michel Thomas' analytic techniques might help a lot.