30 November, 2014

The Silent Way

It is very important to get out of your comfort zone whenever possible to fly high, enjoy the freedom of getting rid of limits and feel the excitement of innovation.
Choosing a new teaching method that you have never used in class to try out as an experimental practice is a real challenge, but an exciting opportunity to get out of your comfort zone. That's why I decided to choose the silent way.
The three basic concepts of the silent way are interdependence, autonomy and responsibility. It enhances learners' autonomy and responsibility as they independently rely on what they know to learn what they do not know and thus they are responsible for their own learning. As the teacher doesn't interfere in the students' learning process, they are encouraged to listen to and correct each other which 'fosters interdependence and cooperation among students' (Yuksel & Caner, 2014, p.42).

How challenging it is to have a class based on zero teacher talking time and 100% student talking time! I had lots of questions that motivated me to further explore this method:
1. How can a teacher introduce new language without saying a word?
2. Can it work with low-level students when we usually have more TTT than STT?
3. What other tools can replace talking?
4. If it's used to present new language, will it help students in other stages such as controlled or freer practice? To what extent?
5. If it is mainly talking the language, so how far will students manage writing it?
6. To what extent will it appeal to students with different learning styles ?

........... and lots of other questions !

Having all the previous questions in mind,
I started reading a lot about how the silent way started and its techniques and principles. It was also very useful to watch some online videos of lessons using the silent way.

I chose my elementary class for this EP as I was interested in testing how it can work with low-level classes in which the teacher is the main target of the language and thus TTT is more than STT.

Having a mixed class of different age groups, sexes and nationalities was another challenge that made the experience enriching.
I spent days playing with the cuisenaire rods which are the main tools in the silent way lessons. They will be my tongue, voice and mind. They will say all I want to say !!
I chose the target language, practiced how to introduce it with gestures, word charts, pictures and the cuisenaire rods, and wrote a detailed lesson plan with opportunities for controlled and freer practice as well as a writing stage where I will be able to test how students will be able to manage writing after a whole lesson of using the language orally.

Though the silent way is mostly used with pronunciation, I decided to use it to introduce a grammar structure; "have got/ has got" positive, negative and short forms. This was due to the fact that my students give much attention to the grammatical rules rather than how to use them to communicate, and they always try to understand what every and each single word in a structure mean rather than how or why to use the whole structure.

During the lesson: 
A key feature of the silent way is to start from the known to the unknown. That's why I started by introducing the rods to practice the singular and plural forms of some vocabulary that students are familiar with. Students were shown a picture of an item and they have to say its name using 'a/an' for singular or '-s/es' ending for plural. This gave student confidence to practice something they are familiar with and get used to the rods.
Using the word charts and gestures, I introduced each part of the target structure using rods and eliciting it from the students. Generating different sentences using different pictures of the singular and plural items, students were getting familiar with the new structure and producing it more confidently.
Sticking two rods together helped students figure out the difference between the short form in a positive sentence; "I've & She's" and in a negative sentence; "I haven't got & She hasn't got"
Controlled Practice: 
In pairs, students were given a set of rods and picture to form sentences for their peers to say. They were very confident doing it on their own , without any interference from me, and they did it accurately.
Freer communicative practice:
After modelling the activity silently and eliciting the structure, students used the target language to talk about what they have got in their bags. They could easily convert from first person to third person reporting about what other students have got.

Interesting Findings:
1. Students were able to transform their oral production of the target language to the written form accurately without any prior exposure to it or interference from the teacher.
2. This new visual teaching method appealed to almost all the students as mentioned in their post-lesson feedback, and they wanted to apply it more often in other lessons. This shows that students liked this inductive way of teaching grammar though they have always expressed their need for the grammatical rules. Still, some of them elicited the rules themselves which gave them a sense of achievement and security.
3. Some of the students were writing the sentences produced in class, though the main goal was only producing the language orally, which interestingly shows that those students can process the language better if it is in the written form.
4.Weak students were actively engaged, without any sense of discouragement or lack of confidence. I think this is due to the fact that all students are equally trying to figure out the new structure and they are all unfamiliar with this new teaching method. Also, correcting and being corrected by peers without any interference from the teacher promoted self confidence and created a more relaxing learning environment.

Thanks to all my mentors who encouraged me to go for this challenge, promising it will be a learning curve in my professional development. Yes, I believe it will definitely affect my teaching practice and professional development a lot and I hope it was a special learning experience for my students as well.
So, get out of your comfort zone and fly high .... enjoy teaching and your students will definitely enjoy learning with you :)

If you are interested, share your ideas, experiences and comments below !