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moralesdiaz Nov 10th, 2008 09:29 am

Bring culture into the classroom through the top down teaching approach
Bring culture into the classroom through the top down teaching approach
I am Monica Morales Diaz from La Rioja Argentina. I am a teacher of English back at home but not long ago I used to work as a teaching assistant under the Fulbright program at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania in the US.

As a teaching assistant I had to take classes to fill in the requirements of my scholarship. One class that really made a difference in the way I used to teach, was Specific Methods taught by professor Marie Karam from my university. At first, I had to admit that I was really scared about teaching my own native language but this very passionate teacher showed me a door not only for teaching Spanish but also for bringing my culture into the classroom by making use of the “Top-Down teaching approach”.

This challenging an amazing teaching strategy allows teachers to present authentic language and culture no matter the level taught.

The top-down teaching approach resists reducing language to just verb conjugation charts, plain vocabulary lists, discrete grammar points or isolated linguistic elements. In this approach, learners are presented with a “whole text” (e.g., story, poem, song, tape recorded listening selection), are guided through comprehending its main ideas, explore these ideas through interaction with others, and then focus on specific and/or linguistic structures (e.g., vocabulary grammar).

Learners manipulate grammar to communicate thoughts using higher-level skills ( relating knowledge from several areas, using known ideas to create new ones, generalizing from facts, predicting, drawing conclusions) before attending to discrete language structures with the use of lower-level skills (e.g., recognizing, identifying, recalling explaining, observing, interpreting).

By means of activities such us negotiation of meaning and joint problem solving with the teachers and classmates, learners demonstrate performance before competence; that is, they participate in more complex task than they are capable of completing without assistance (Rogof, 1990).

The porpuse of top-down learning is to give the student a clear and whole picture of how the words and structures they must learned are cointained in a context that makes these elements meaningful through the overall message” (Teacher’s Handbook, third Edition 2005 Judith L. Shrum, Eileen W. Glisan- Thomson Heinle).

I made use of this approach as much as I could in teaching my native language. Everyday it was a new opportunity for me to present language showing real facts about my own country and culture. One example of how I implemented this interactive approach was the time I had to teach the second conditional. As a teacher I had to follow my class syllabus and textbook I was still encouraged to make every class a chance for my students to learn about Argentina though, it meant some little adjustments to my lesson plan.

That day, I came in to the classroom and started talking about politics and I asked my students what they thought about women running for the presidential elections. Then, I just presented some pictures showing to the class how many Argentinean women we do have in political positions such us senators, governors, vice governors and even our current president.

This led o a further discussion which was a perfect situation for asking my students what they would change if they were presidents of their country. Without making them aware about of the language structure of conditional sentences, yet writing only two examples on the board of what I would do if I were the president of my country my students felt free to express their feelings and ideas. What is more, they learned about the some current political issues of my country.

Chaya Nov 12th, 2008 09:01 am

Re: Bring culture into the classroom through the top down teaching approach
Yes, if the students understand what is required of them, they will take to the new structure very easily. Thanks for the tip!

Eric18 Nov 14th, 2008 04:12 pm

Re: Bring culture into the classroom through the top down teaching approach
Content counts.
You captured their interest, and they found a way to learn the grammar to join the discussion. While your title surprised me, your actual classroom technique - which sounds like full immersion in the target language - illuminates the power of ideas. Students want to share their experiences, insights, and beliefs in our English classrooms. We need to give them a chance to do so.
Thanks for sharing that poignant story.

English-coach Mar 14th, 2009 03:24 pm

Re: Bring culture into the classroom through the top down teaching approach
I totally agree. I think that if you focus on why we want or need a language (to communicate and express ourselves) then people will learn more. If you had said...ok lets look at the second conditional, it might create a wall for learners.

What a great article! I am going to try this method in my classes. Thanks for sharing!

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