Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Problem with PPP

PPP stands for Presentation, Practice, Production and it is perhaps the dominant teaching method in Japanese junior high schools. PPP means that teachers will first present a grammar point, for example, present perfect, have students practice it, and then give them some kind of activity where they are expected to produce it. This way of teaching is efficient because it is easy for students to follow. Although I would probably use this method sometimes if I was a JHS teacher, I think it is important to recognize the problems of this method.

First, although a lot of teachers say that the field of Second Language Acquisition is completely useless for teaching, it does reveal a limitation of PPP. That is that learners acquire grammar structures (for example, the regular past tense) gradually after passing through various developmental stages. PPP might give the learners and teachers the false impression that learners should have mastered the particular grammatical structure after the presentation, practice and production. It is only through constant exposure and use that learners acquire a grammatical structure though.

This leads to the second and in my opinion the biggest limitation. In a PPP lesson, Learners and teachers might think that the goal of using English in class is to show that they know a particular structure but this could be counterproductive to their language learning. In my opinion, the most important goal for language use in the classroom is for learners to learn how to build their fluency in English and learn the communicative strategies necessary for them to make the best use of the knowledge that they have. As teachers, we also want learners to make the effort to learn from their miscommunications and errors to become more accurate and effective communicators. In other words, the major limitation of PPP could be that it leads learners and teachers to ignore the most important goals of communicative activities.

Monday, November 01, 2010

What the heck do I want learners to get out of my classes?

Recently I have been reading a lot of books about new teaching methodologies or new activities for listening, reading and grammar teaching. I have been doing this because I thought I needed to expand my repertoire of teaching techniques and activities. One of the books I read mentioned that if teachers do not have some sort of overarching goal for which their activities are conducted, then what they do in class is meaningless. This got me to think about my rationale for conducting the kind of classes I do, so here it is:

I do not think there is much I can teach students. I do not think I can even get students to like English (By English, I mean the language, the English speaking culture, etc.). In fact, I probably do not care whether or not they like it. Learning a foreign language is an active endeavor which involves listening to it and using it. Learners can learn to listen through repetition and eventual understanding of the meaning of what they heard and some of the unknown grammar and words. Learners can improve in speaking and writing the language through activities that involve memorization and others that involve communication. Getting feedback is also an important part of the learning process.

I do not know how "communicative" a teacher but my mission is to keep learners as busy as possible listening to the language, using the language and analyzing the language. Sometimes their language use is mechanical and sometimes it is what might be called "communicative". From my classes, I hope learners "learn" how to learn English, and I hope they come to my classes looking forward to working with their classmates and a willingness to try. Language learning in the end is something that will be accomplished by the learner and not the teacher.