Traditionally, the approach to learning and teaching was focused on what was being done by the teacher and less on what the students were actually learning. The idea was that teachers were ‘givers of information’ or were transmitting information to students. In other words, as Maryellen Weimer, PhD describes it: “We [the teachers] ask the questions, we call on students, we add detail to their answers. We offer the examples. We organize the content. We do the preview and the review. On any given day, in most classes teachers are working much harder than students.”
For many of us, we remember our high school days where the teacher was in charge of the class, giving us information we had to know so that we could pass a test/exam. We learned what was going to be on the test, and we practiced how to answer the questions on those tests/exams. The majority of what we did in the classroom, if not everything, was presented by the teacher and we had to repeat this information back to them so they could check we knew the material. In other words, if you were not taught the exact material that would be on the test, then you would very likely fail the test.
In teaching foreign languages, different methodologies have been used throughout history, and have been largely based on the reasons for needing to understand a different language. One such method was called the Grammar-Translation Method, popular in Europe from the 1840s to the 1940s. The whole purpose behind this method was to learn a language to be able to understand and read its literature. This meant studying grammar rules and being able to translate a text from one language into another. This was particularly the case with learning Latin. Interestingly enough, it was not until the beginning of the 20th century that different approaches specifically for teaching a new language started being developed.
One alternative to the older methodologies of imparting information is to focus rather on facilitating the learning process. In other words, the teacher is there to guide students in the learning process and to do this using a wide variety of teaching methodologies (here is an overview).
Teachers also recognise that there are many factors affecting the learning process of any one individual student. These can be learning style preferences (does a student prefer to learn alone or in a group), emotions that students experience such as shyness, anxiety, enthusiasm, etc. which can all have an effect on the learning process, motivation (is the student learning because they have to or because they want to?), and learning strategies (the ways each student plans, manages and evaluates their own language learning process). In other words, different people learn in different ways and what may work for one particular student may not necessarily work for another.
Being highly qualified and bringing years of experience with them, the teachers at the UCT English Language Centre will vary classroom lessons to take all these factors into consideration. In addition to this, students play a very active role in deciding what types of materials, topics, activities and resources will be used in the classroom. This is important both for sustaining motivation and momentum in learning, and taking an active role in one’s own learning process. Teachers encourage students to take ownership of their English language learning journey. Remember, teachers can only take you so far in the learning process, but the hard work needs to be done by the student.
Join any of our courses at the UCT English Language Centre and experience for yourself what it means to truly be the centre of your own learning experience.