Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Are You an Earthworm or an Octopus?

English as a Foreign Language Teachers:
Are You an Earthworm or an Octopus?

Scott Ginsberg asks a Question
When Scot Ginsberg of “My name is Scott” name tag fame asked this question he originally referred to an online web presence. In the teaching of English as a foreign language or in foreign language teaching and learning I’d like to apply the question in a different venue.

“Are you an earthworm or an octopus?"

That is, do you expand and develop your teaching approaches to reach the different learning styles and intelligences of your students? Or does your teaching style merely mimic your own personal learning strengths and your strongest intelligences? This could happen far more easily than you might realize. Noted EFL researcher and EFL text author Jack C. Richards (2004) reinforces this notion when he says, “Student learning styles may be an important factor in the success of teaching and may not necessarily reflect those that teachers recommend."

The Earthworm
Like an earthworm, according to Scott, do you reach out in only one direction at a time, progressing and teaching only on one track? If your EFL or foreign language classes favor one particular type of learner you may inadvertently handicapping the other learners in your class groups. But an opposite effect may be difficult to achieve as noted by Spratt, Pulverness, and Williams (2005) stating, “It is not possible for the teacher of a big class to meet the learner characteristics of each learner all the time. Over a number of lessons teachers can try to vary how they teach so that they can meet the needs of a range of learners.”

The Octopus
Have you ever seen a live octopus? Tried to hold or catch one? You can hardly tell which way is up and where it’s headed. It seems to be going in several different directions at once and be able to change directions or forms instantly. When you teach to multiple learning styles and multiple intelligences, you’re not being flaky, indecisive or unstable, but flexible, like an octopus, to the point of reaching out to your learners in several different directions at once from a single, central core – the theme of your teaching – to address the varied needs of your distinctly different learners.

Reading competency researcher Mary Spratt (2005) said, “EFL learners are not all the same. They do not all learn the same way” and that “We must not limit EFL learners by thinking they can only learn in a particular way.”

The Multiple Intelligences
Multiple Intelligences theory developer Dr. Howard Gardner (pictured above) identified nine distinct areas or “intelligences” in which each person has decidedly different levels of development. These are:

Verbal – Linguistic
Visual – Spatial
Bodily – Kinesthetic
Logical – Mathematical
Musical – Rhythmic

Becoming an Octopus
If this is so, then as English or other foreign language teaching professionals, we must direct our efforts to discover ways of truly reaching out to all our learners, recognizing and teaching to their diversity. We cannot be like the earthworm, continually striking out in only one direction at a time. Our approach then, must be more like that of an octopus, stretching out in multiple directions from a central teaching and learning theme at the same time. Only then can we be assured that we are truly reaching and teaching all of our learners in the best possible ways.

Larry M. Lynch is an English language teaching and learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. Now YOU too can live your dreams in paradise, find romance, high adventure and get paid while travelling for free. For more information on the lucrative, fascinating field of teaching English as a Foreign Language, get your copy of his no-cost, full multi-media, hypertext-linked pdf ebook, “If You Want to Teach English Abroad, Here’s What You Need to Know” by sending an e-mail with "free ELT Ebook" in the subject line. Need professional, original content for your blog, newsletter, e-zine or website? Want more information, have a comment or special request? Contact the author at: lynchlarrym@gmail.com

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