Language teaching methodology has always been a field of constant research and innovation, broadening the perspectives of teaching in general. Many of the changes that have occurred in language teaching have been brought about by the very nature of the learners, whose needs are the foundation of instruction. 21st-century students learn in a non-linear way, have short attention span, and live in a fast-paced, globalized world, so their basic need is to learn language faster under the pressure of competition. The latest solution to this challenge is to tailor the learning process to the learner by shifting from language teaching to language coaching.
Language coaches take learner-centeredness to its extreme, helping the learner set their goals and targets and focusing on what the learner can do to achieve them. Coaches are neuro-educators in that they understand how each brain works and use the plasticity of the brain to facilitate language learning. In language coaching, motivation and empathy are the top priorities as they create a stress-free environment where coach and learner have equal status, so the learner takes responsibility and ownership of the learning process under the guidance of the coach.
Language coaching seems to be compatible with one-to-one sessions with students who can afford it, but will it remain utopian when it comes to language teaching in the classroom? It is my firm belief that some aspects of traditional language teaching can be remodeled according to the concepts of coaching.
Traditional language teaching is often a one-way process as it implies the transfer of information from teacher to student. Whatever amount of learning occurs in this situation is mainly passive. This type of teaching projects the teacher in the role of expert, conferring a superior status on him. The relationship between the teacher and the learner is often not so close, nor is it a realistic or personalized experience, which is mainly due to the fact that the teacher manages an entire group and a more formal approach is viewed as appropriate.
Instead of being student-related, teaching is too often textbook-related and follows the chapters and the order of language learning materials.
The subject must be taught and learnt, even if the teacher is more interested in the topic than the learner. Teaching is instructive, demonstrative, directive and mandatory, which can turn learning into a frustrating experience.
One of the reasons why language coaching is successful is that the coach first discovers how each individual learns best. Although each brain is unique, there are certainly points of convergence and one of them is the limbic system, i.e. the part of the brain responsible for our emotions. Social and emotional pain are experienced in the same way as physical pain, generating a fight-or-flight response, which means that the brain shuts down and no effective learning can take place. Therefore, when the teaching is directive, coercive and the teacher constantly tells students what to do, stress inhibits learning.
Instant learning is personal and it happens when students relate to what they are learning.
Connecting with students on a personal level is not such a great challenge and it can be done at the beginning of a course by means of a short survey inquiring into the interests, hobbies and learning objectives of the students. Later on, students can be grouped according to the things they have in common to aid group cohesion and to ease the design of lessons that are relevant to them.
In order to maximize the potential of the learner, the actual teaching can be kept to a minimum, for example by means of a flipped classroom: a brief learning material is set for individual study prior to class, while classroom time is spent on practice, communication, feedback and reflection upon the learning process itself, so that students can become aware of their strengths and limitations, take charge of learning and improve their study techniques with their teacher’s help.
If teachers want to lean towards coaching, they will have to tone down their authority a little, without any fear of being undermined. For instance, instead of bringing in a dull text to introduce new language in context, teachers can resort to personal anecdotes or short stories that will appeal to the students and allow them to follow the syllabus at the same time.
But, the most distressing aspect of teaching is assessment and grading, especially when students underperform and receive low grades. Although it is unrealistic to expect that the public school system will ever abandon grading, teachers can coach their students to have a growth mindset by adopting the “not yet” technique in formative assessment, which implies replacing a fail with the more encouraging “You are not there yet,” in conjunction with a remedial plan tailored to the immediate needs of the learner. This way, the students will focus on trying to improve their performance instead of remaining trapped in failure.
In conclusion, while it is highly unlikely that language coaching will ever replace teaching in the public school system of mass education, it can undoubtedly add value to teaching by bringing the teacher closer to the learners as they work toward a common goal.
Dweck, C.S. “The power of yet” Youtube, uploaded by Tedx Talks, 12 Sept. 2014, https://youtu.be/J-swZaKN2Ic