05 Aug What Students Like: The Appeal and Making of a Teaching Style
Author: Ilinca Stroe
Let’s admit it: teachers, especially language teachers such as we TEFLers*, love to be liked by their students! Whenever we get this kind of feedback (“The students really like you”) from an observer, a trainer or an academic manager, we feel good about ourselves, we know we’re on the right track and our job is safe.
*Teachers of English as a Foreign Language
But what it is that students like about us, teachers? Sometimes it’s the way we explain things, some other times it’s the way we relate to them interpersonally, but then again it can be that we’re funny and crack jokes during classes, or that we’re infinitely encouraging, motherly and supportive. In short, they like “our style”.
Our teaching style is, indeed, something we’re usually proud of, something we can become fiercely protective of as soon as someone tries to change or criticise it, something we actually start shaping and building, even if not always consciously, in the early days of our basic teacher training (e.g. CELTA).
A teaching style may be seen as having to do with A) the manner in which teachers carry out the tasks implicit in delivering a class, and B) the focus teachers place on one or another of those tasks. Keeping in mind a broad “before and during the class” framework, such tasks imply that a teacher:
- analyses the target language to be taught; plans the lesson and its stages; researches teaching resources and aspects of the target language; creates their own worksheets, class activities, games, etc. – all of that, before the class
- explains the target language; instructs the students as to how they should carry out a task; entertains students, makes sure they feel good and have fun while learning; engages, motivates and challenges students to actively participate in the lesson; facilitates students’ work; supports, reassures and encourages insecure or weaker students; supervises, monitors and checks on students’ work; corrects students’ mistakes; praises students’ performance; mitigates misunderstandings or conflict; manages students’ grouping and interaction – that’s during the class
Now, some teachers focus on designing fun, interesting teaching materials and classroom activities, and they are consequently appreciated for their creative style. Some others may place a greater emphasis on explanation, exemplification and correction during the lesson, therefore students may like them for their clarifying style. Finally, many teachers aim at designing their classes as real performances, entertaining their students, making sure they have a good laugh and a great time, hence they’re liked for their fun style.
So a teaching style is determined by what teachers do more (or are better at) during the teaching process, but also by how they do it – in other words, a teaching style is made up of skill plus personality.
How many teaching styles are there? Classifications vary depending on the kind of education (e.g. formal or informal) and subject (sciences/humanities) taken into account. In an educational system like standard state schooling, several authors identified five teaching styles:
1) The Authority or lecture style – with the teacher lecturing and the students taking notes
2) The Demonstrator or coach style – with the teacher showing the students what they need to know, e.g. through multimedia presentations or demos (particularly in science classes)
3) The Facilitator or activity style – with the teacher facilitating self-learning through exploration and questioning
4) The Delegator or group styles – with the teacher setting activities based on pair work, which require peer feedback, interaction and debate (e.g. in chemistry lab classes)
5) The Hybrid or blended style – with the teacher taking an integrated approach depending on the students’ needs and the curriculum requirements
As for the specific teaching of English as a second language in a rather non-formal educational system, there is a taxonomy based on the teacher’s professional role identities, put together by Thomas S.C. Farrell in 2010, from which the following teaching styles can be deduced:
1) The Management Style – where the teacher as manager fulfils responsibilities such as “selling” a particular teaching method, controlling classroom interaction dynamics, keeping students motivated (including through jokes and personal stories), delivering information, offering feedback
2) The Socialising Style – where the teacher as “acculturator” ensures the students’ smooth adjustment to the culture taught via the language, provides occasion for socialisation, offers support and advice about cultural differences and adaptation, acts as a care provider for the students
3) The Professional Style – where the teacher as professional seeks continuous self-improvement and development, applies teaching ideas shared by other teachers, stays updated and knowledgeable about teaching and the subject matter
Irrespective of the overall teaching style we fashion for ourselves, it’s probably helpful to keep in mind that having a teaching style is very much a matter of self-knowledge based on reflection, as well as self-development derived from student feedback. Last but not least, we all arguably adopt one or another teaching style at one or another stage in our lessons, so we’d better make sure we’re equipped with the skills and personality traits required by a variety of teaching styles. After all, what students appreciate the most are versatile teachers who are both demanding and entertaining, who are good at explaining and motivating and caring.