I've been teaching Chinese since 2006. It may sound banal, but I'm convinced that it's more important to teach technologies of learning a language than to teach a language itself! At least, what I want to develop in my students is the ability not to lose their confidence when coming across unknown things and just deal with them...

Look at me :)  I know there's a good approach called TA. And I even use some of its elements. Such as sorting tasks, grammar banks, guessing activities... But I'm still far from conscious application of this method at every lesson. So what do I do? I try to understand what makes TA different from other approaches and gradually apply my conclusions at work. I'll explain.

In September I was at a TA seminar. Mr. Alexander Sokol gave me precious (!) ideas for my lessons. His message was a) to give the students (ss) searching tasks and b) for me, to develop a strategy - a line of tasks which would be integrated into several units of my course book. With searching tasks (ss look for answers in texts) no big problems, with the strategy - oops, not so easy :(

The thing is that TA makes you look at teaching practice and language learning in a different way. I remember something like 'language is a means of learning, rather than the target of learning' (or maybe this is from some other approach). Never mind, my understanding of it is: you ask the ss a question about sth else, they give you an answer about the language. Based on a piece of language they have.

Eg, 'In Chinese, how can you prove that football is played with feet?' - 'Because it's called foot+ball' - 'Give more evidence because ping-pong contradicts your theory' - 'In Chinese they say: hit + basketball/tennis/volleyball/etc and kick + football' - 'Correct'. The answer about verbs makes the ss look through a text, find word combinations with sports, check the meanings of verbs in a dictionary, and solve the riddle. Well, what I want to say, in this task they don't learn the expressions in a classical way, but via using them as clues to the answer. Hopefully, this task can help ss develop their own technologies of dealing with unfamiliar items. Searchinhg task at work!

Strategy... TA makes the teacher rearrange the views on how to present the material. It takes time for the teacher to analyze the material, to understand what questions ss can be asked, which themes relate with which ones, etc. So, maybe later I'll be able to do something more, but at the moment I can only look through a unit, understand which features stand out and try to work with them one-at-a-time hoping that some system will develop later. Anyway, if any ideas come to my mind later, I can use them in a kind of revision of the covered material. Not bad, I think :)

So, I know that beginners in TA say it's difficult to continue after you've run out of most of your original enthusiasm. I hope my reflections will help myself first of all and give some clarity to other teachers who are charmed and mystified by this obviously useful approach :)


# Alexander Sokol 2010-12-03 10:05
Marija, thanks a lot for the reflections - I bet they are useful.
However, I'd still like to clarify the problems a TA teacher may face with the 'strategy' part. I agree that this is probably more difficult but it'd be interesting to define the problems, don't you think. Can we start with 'wish - obstacle' step? In other words, can you try to define the problems related to 'strategy' by formulating what the teacher wants to do (wish) and what prevents her from reaching the aim?
# Marija Nikolajeva 2010-12-12 14:25
Alexander, thanks for asking :)

I feel that strategy is the reflection of philosophy. No philosophy - no strategy.

Obstacle 1 for me is the gap between my knowledge of language and my knowledge of it in terms of TA. Eg. traditional categories like tenses, adjectives, etc. do not work in TA, there are speaking about time and describing objects. So now I'm learning to see the relations among items and the order in which these items should be taught/learnt. I agree with you that the order in coursebooks is not the best, and I'm trying to understand which is the best order.

This brings us to the question of viewing TA as a method (set of tasks) or as an approach (philosophy). Probably, developing a strategy in terms of making a plan of activities, is not that difficult, but will it really be a strategy?

Obstacle 2. As I see it, TA requires teachers to be able to explicate on what, why, when, how they do every step. I mean, whatever you do you must be able to answer these questions. Of course, all approaches require the same from teachers, but not to such extent. Do you understand what I mean? TA is very technical, the studying process is a kind of algorythm which a teacher must be able to create and use. So, the 2nd obstacle is the lack of practical skill to consciously answer these questions and choose suitable techniques.

Obstacle 3 - the lack of analysis of one's work. I think it takes time until a teacher becomes able to say "I want my students to learn this and that and I know how I will teach them". And it can happen after the teacher has tried out a number of TA tasks and analyzed what he/she has done. It's very difficult to look at yourself and analyze on your own, without somebody else's opinion. Some push is needed for a thought to start, so discussion with others is necessary. Your questions are very useful.... You're welcome to ask something again :)

PS. I hope, my answer is not too abstract...
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