Algirdas Makarevicius

Teaching and Research

My Teaching Philosophy

Every teacher is a personality and has his or her philosophy about teaching and learning. I spent my life traveling, studying, and teaching in such culturally diverse countries like China, India, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Lithuania, Denmark, Poland, Bulgaria, Italy, UK, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, United States, Brazil, Thailand, Singapore, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. I believe that traveling and working in culturally diverse environments is one of the most effective ways of shaping a personality.

Most people say that I possess an open character which has been a major asset in my dealings with colleagues and students in a variety of professional contexts. I am aware of and sensitive to the problems and issues involved in inter-cultural communication and relations, at both personal and professional levels. I usually accept criticism and differences of opinions in a positive manner and I often learn from my colleagues, as well as from my students.

My main field of interest is linguistic pragmatics and cross-cultural communication: the relationships between social and cultural structures, the study of social conflict, and the analysis of face-to-face interaction. At present, I am particularly interested in the field of language teaching as cultural semiotic practice. In my view, the transmission of information through a foreign language is embedded in a universe of signs that are only partially verbal, and increasingly visual, based on gestures and even electronics. In particular, computer technology is redefining teaching, not only learning. It offers new ways of representing and mediating the language, culture, and power relation in language teaching around the world.

There were a few individuals in my life whose theories of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and research in the field of TEFL/TESL had a profound impact on me as a language facilitator: Noam Chomsky, Geoffrey Leech, Stephen Krashen and Claire Kramsch.

Noam Chomsky's theories inspired me as a linguist, particularly his transformational linguistics which has been very influential in psycholinguistics, in the study of language acquisition by children. I was fascinated by his formulated transformational rules, which transform a sentence with a given grammatical structure (e.g., Peter saw Jane) into a sentence with a different grammatical structure but the same essential meaning (Jane was seen by Peter). It brought me to an idea that sentences conform not only to grammatical rules that are unique to a particular language but also to deep structures peculiar to all human languages and corresponding to an innate capacity of the human brain. This idea led me to further investigation into the relationships between language and thought, and encouraged me to raise such questions as ‘Do we learn a second language?', or 'Do we acquire it?’ The above interests led me to pragmatics and linguistic stylistics, and these fields became my primary focus in the late 80s. Therefore, at that time, I was much influenced by Geoffrey Leech, especially by his books ‘Principles of Pragmatics” and “English in Advertising”. Consequently, in my doctorate dissertation, I focused on lingo-pragmatic research of the feature article as a genre of English newspaper style.

Stephen Krashen’s theory of second language acquisition enabled me to answer many questions related to ESL teaching, and one of his statements that "language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules and does not require tedious drill” became my motto. I believe that second language acquisition requires meaningful, natural interaction and learners are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.

The research conducted by Claire Kramsch influenced me, too. Such books like “Context and Culture in Language Teaching” and “Language and Culture” changed me as an ESL teacher. Language is a part of culture, and I share the same opinion with Claire Kramsch who underlines the importance of cultural component in language teaching.

My colleagues often ask me about my view of the teacher's role in the language classroom, what the teacher should do to facilitate learning, and how the teacher should motivate his or her students. Here are my answers.

In my view, it is important to teach students how to study. Students should know some basic facts about language acquisition. In fact, they do not 'learn' a language; they 'acquire' it, which means that students 'pick up' certain skills, not just memorize information – grammar rules, words, phrases and syntactical structures. Acquiring a language is like learning to swim: the person must not only understand the ideas and concepts, have information at hand; the person must also make his or her body adapted to using that information in physical activity, i.e. develop critical individual skills. In the case of language acquisition, the physical activity involved is listening, speaking, reading, writing and body language (or, to be more precise – paralanguage, i.e. mimics, gestures, facial expressions and many other paralinguistic aspects). I explain to my students that they need not only to memorize and understand but also to practice to 'pick up' certain skills.

Language is a means of learning about the world. Therefore, I believe that we can develop our language skills most effectively in the meaningful context. It stimulates us to think and learn through the use of the target language. My teaching experience showed that in-class examples and discussions, case analyzes, experiential exercises and class projects enable students to feel more confident, and their learning becomes not only interesting but also efficient. They find the information they need and solve different problems in their target language. Specific tasks that I usually give to my students include identifying resources to be used to collect information, generating possible solutions, analyzing the solutions and presenting the solutions either orally or in writing. In my classroom, students continually interact with each other, try new things, build connections, share ideas, and learn from each other.

Language is a part of our thinking; therefore, my task is to develop learners’ thinking skills. I try to ask my students critical thinking questions from all levels. Some of my questions can be challenging in content or form, or they can be difficult because students’ vocabulary is not rich enough. However, I always try to adjust topics that are age and level appropriate. At the beginner’s level, I prepare responses to some of the most challenging questions by using yes/no or embedded questions. I use pictures, drawings, and diagrams which help students to give the correct answers. Responses to these questions are right on the handout. At the intermediate level, I put more emphasis on comprehension. This level shows that the student has understood the facts and can interpret them. Students are asked to classify, compare, contrast and illustrate. At the advanced level, my teaching is based on directing learners’ attention to application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. At this level, students learn to solve problems by using previously acquired skills and experience. They learn how to classify, contrast, compare and categorize these facts; also, they solve problems and evaluate results.

The teacher has to decide which method or a combination of methods, he or she can apply to the different stages of the teaching process. The students’ age, educational background, the subject, the class size, the school requirements, learning objectives, and some other factors determine this selection. .

I believe that the quality of teaching has a significant impact on students' behavior and motivation. Motivation is an unconscious, psychological process that varies by the individual over time, and its degree usually depends on attitude. Both attitude and motivation are also social processes, and they depend on different experiences and cultural background of students. In my opinion, motivation can be generated through a practical curriculum, good learning materials, and teaching strategies. The teacher must gain the students’ attention by supplying them with stimulating activities and using a range of teaching strategies.

Student motivation can be a difficult task for the teacher. My students usually perceive the content of my lessons as relevant to their objectives. I try to design learning objectives in such a way as to make them achievable and to continually build my students’ confidence. I motivate students by using various strategies such as learner-centered activities, cooperative learning, informal assessments and open communication. I also explain to my students why they need to learn certain things.

There are two basic categories of problems or issues that I usually need to solve: general problems related to communication, and specific questions related to language teaching and learning. General problems are familiar to teachers of all subjects: class participation, homework, complaints, cheating and sometimes behavior management, such as aggressiveness. Particular challenges relate to peculiarities of the subject, e.g. methods of teaching speaking, reading, listening, writing; material design, testing, and assessment. All language teachers have to deal with both categories of problems at schools, colleges and universities.

The teaching of young people places me directly in the line of shaping their lives throughout education. I am an educator and a life-long learner. Therefore, I have a passion for learning and students. I believe that a real teacher (also learner) is not satisfied until he has shared all his knowledge and experience with his or her students. Teaching is a consistent, interactive process of learning and sharing. I often learn from my students by getting feedback from them. Besides, I believe it is important for me to get support and comments from my colleagues, to learn from their experiences, to be open to new methods and strategies, and to seek out professional development opportunities at conferences, workshops or seminars.

In general, I believe that a great teacher should teach in such a way that whatever is offered by the teacher is perceived by his or her students as a valuable gift but not as a hard, repulsive duty. With these ideas in mind, I believe that the call for teaching and education is one of the greatest missions in life and an incredibly important vocation.

Dr. Algirdas Makarevicius

 

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