July 14

The Silent Way – a reflection

I’m going to split my reflections over two posts as I think it’s important to think about the Silent Way and the colour phonics – and I don’t like writing massively long posts!

I was feeling fairly nervous before the lesson, although I had practised it on my partner the evening before!  It felt quite daunting to spend an hour in the classroom not speaking, especially as I had stuck a vast number of word charts around the board which I would have to successfully navigate my way around any time I wanted to “say” anything!

The students came in, and I started pointing (with a drumstick borrowed from my partner!).  They quickly caught on that I wasn’t going to speak and that they would have to say the words for me – though nobody actually voiced these thoughts out loud.

I was able to give instructions clearly and in fact gave more concise instructions as I was very aware that I was hopping from one side of the board to the other with a drumstick.  I feel that instructions were clear as students were able to read what was being asked of them.  Working with native English speakers, or non-natives with a very good level of English, they understood quickly what was being asked of them – though if I were to use this technique in a “normal” class, I would have to think carefully about how I could concept check and confirm comprehension.  However, one thing I noticed was that students began to predict what the next word would be and were also able to recognise when words needed something extra (an -s or -ed, etc).  This would be a fascinating skill for language learners to master, as it encourages knowledge of lexical chunks and makes them more aware of structures.

Getting the class’s attention proved challenging at times – when they were very involved in an activity, I would clap loudly to get their attention, but at times some members of the group were still talking so I had to “glare” at them!  If I had been able to speak, I probably would have used their name with a polite intonation, to get their attention.

In terms of the word charts, I think that as with anything, practise makes perfect and if I were to use the charts regularly, I would be able to find words more quickly.  I mentioned yesterday that I felt there were a number of words missing from the chart, including please.  As it happens, though I added it to my own charts, I didn’t use it at all during the session – perhaps it is a word which we feel we should include to be polite when giving instructions, when in fact we don’t need it at all?  I also found myself wanting to point to “OK” a lot – so I’m very glad that I didn’t include it on the charts.  Every teacher has their “word”; for some it’s OK, for others, alright or even okey-dokey.  Again, using the Silent Way showed me the vast amount of unnecessary communication that goes on in the classroom.

And did the students benefit from this method?  There was an incredible amount of interaction between students as they helped each other, corrected and explained and they seemed to enjoy the teaching style as well.  Perhaps it would be easy for students to get frustrated if they felt they couldn’t ask questions, but I was able to help with any queries without resorting to speech.  It encourages the teacher to make even further use of the available materials: gestures, the board, flashcards, etc.

July 12

The Silent Way – a rationale

I taught using the Silent Way for the first time yesterday – more on my preparation and reflections on that in the future.

It was actually an input session on the Cert TESOL course which we’re currently running – Phonology 2: Vowels Sounds.  Deciding to teach the session using the Silent Way was a process in itself as the initial spark came a few months ago when a friend gave me a link to a Spanish company who have recently created an innovative method of teaching using colour phonics.   I really liked this method of introducing vowel sounds by using a colour in which the vowel sound appears (e.g /e/ is red and /i:/ is green).  I set about changing some of the colours and preparing the materials for the session.

To be honest, I can’t remember the exact point when I decided to teach it using the Silent Way, but I think it came about through reading more about the background behind colour phonics – it seemed that the phrase and the name Gattegno kept popping up around the place.

Anyway, more on the preparation for the course tomorrow.