Lynne Yang

Clinical Associate Professor

Learning and Instruction

 586 Baldy Hall
 716-645-3502
  716-645-3161
 lryang@buffalo.edu


Learning and Instruction
Learning and Instruction

Educational Background

    Ph.D., University of Oregon

Statement of Teaching Philosophy – Lynne R. Yang

In this statement I will describe my philosophy of teaching. This will include a discussion of:

  • what I teach,
  • who I teach,
  • how I teach, and
  • why I teach the way I do

My purpose is to highlight and contextualize the key principles that guide me, and the main goals I strive to attain as a teacher educator.

It is my joy to be in the profession of teaching languages and language teachers. Language is one of the fundamental elements of human life. We use language to know others and to be known by others, to express emotions, to get things done, to build and maintain relationships, to paint word pictures, to entertain ourselves, and to pass on history, new understandings, and wisdom to each generation. It is a core part of every human being’s identity and it can be both a bridge and a wall between individuals, groups and nations. Language is amazingly complex (try to explain how to use articles to a non-native speakers and you will see what I mean). Language is a set of symbols and sounds that we combine in creative but partially rule-governed ways. It is something that we acquire over our lifetimes and something that changes gradually during our lifetimes. Language is forever interesting to me, and as a language teacher educator, I have a goal to ignite a bright flame of passion and respect for language in the minds of the teachers who study with me. One of the ways I achieve this goal is to have language teachers examine the meaning and use of grammar in a variety of authentic texts. When they do this, they begin to see grammar as more than a set of dry rules but as a useful tool for refining the meaning that they and their own students would like to express. They begin to see grammar as a friend rather than a foe.

Because normal native-speakers manage to acquire a functional use of their native language without seeming to try, we may not have the deep respect for language that we ought to have. Our native language comes naturally to all of us, and we cannot even remember having learned it. However, when we endeavor to learn a second language, we have the opportunity to think about our own language and the complexity of the language that we are attempting to learn. And, when we examine the variety of ways that humans undertake this endeavor and the complexity of cognitive, emotional, and social factors that play into the process, this respect deepens. As a language teacher educator it is one of my goals to share my own deep respect for this process with my students. I endeavor to create opportunities that allow my students to become aware of the complex cognitive, emotional and social factors that affect the process of language learning. I then ask them to incorporate this awareness into the goals and objectives they create for language lessons that they demonstrate in peer and practice teaching experiences. And finally, we analyze together which goals were achieved through videotaped self-reflection, peer feedback and my own feedback.

Language learners come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, and come with a myriad of language backgrounds, learning experiences, goals for language learning, personal aptitudes, motivation levels, cultural backgrounds and personalities. As language teachers, it is important to always be learning about the language learners we work with. As a language teacher educator, one of my goals is to encourage my students to learn about the people that they will teach. It is my belief that as we gain a healthy understanding of the individuality and the humanity of each student we work with, our respect for our students grows. One way we explore this issue in my courses is to share our own language learning experiences as they relate to different topics we discuss. Through this, a variety of experiences and human factors emerge. I also model this by assessing my own students’ needs formally and informally, and I integrate needs assessment components into various assignments I give. Informal conversations and formal feedback also help me to know the teachers I work with better.

There are many ways to teach languages. In fact, there are so many techniques, methods, and materials available that it is often overwhelming for teachers to know which to choose. This is why I often go back to the core questions with which I started this statement. What is it that you need to teach? Let us say you need to help a language learner understand when to use the passive voice and when not to, then as a teacher you must have a clear understanding of the form, meaning and pragmatics of the passive voice (the "what"), then you must ask who is it that you are teaching? Why will they benefit from learning to use the passive voice more accurately and appropriately? How old are they? What motivates them (topics and types of activities)? What have they already learned about the passive? How are they currently using it/or avoiding it? The answer to these questions will then help direct decisions about how to teach which must include a clear knowledge of a variety of methods and techniques and materials that could be utilized to facilitate the acquisition of various facets of the passive voice.

Finally, because I am a teacher of language teachers there is another layer to apply to these core questions because what I teach is how to teach and whom I teach are language teachers. So, for myself, I must have a deep understanding of the many factors that contribute to effective teaching and learning environments and I must also have a good understanding of the learning processes that teachers undergo, accompanied with a knowledge of various tools and techniques that I can select from to facilitate that learning process. I must also have a deepening understanding of whom I am teaching. Just as language learners are individuals, so are language teachers; so, I must get to know them -- their beliefs about language learning and teaching, their experiences related to language learning and teaching, and their knowledge base of the language they will be teaching. I also need to understand how their language proficiency, cultural background and personality plays into their choices in language teaching, as well as how the contexts in which they will be teaching and the constraints they face may influence them.

So then, how is it that I put these things into practice? A teacher must be able to apply her knowledge in a way that brings about learning. To apply this knowledge one must make it understandable, useful, relevant, interesting, and touchable to the learner. So a guiding question in my teaching is how can I take an idea and relate it to my teachers in a way that they can touch it, use it, understand it, be interested in it and see the relevance of it to their lives as teachers? One approach is cooperative learning. This is a classroom technique that, if used well, allows learners to become interdependent, to share knowledge and to pool talents to solve a particular learning task or problem. I think it is particularly relevant for a language teacher to have applicable knowledge of this technique because the technique facilitates interaction among the students. For language learners, interaction is a vital element. Cooperative learning also increases time for learners to use the language orally in class as compared to a teacher-fronted situation. If used well, it promotes a good cognitive, social and emotional environment for language learning. Therefore, I teach about cooperative learning: about its principles, about its techniques and about practical implementation issues. However, I don’t stop there. I also teach through cooperative learning. I devise a number of tasks that involve learning about other things that language teachers need to know about, but I use cooperative learning and I pay attention to the implementation issues and model variety and problem solving in utilizing this technique. Then after we have a body of experience with the technique, I ask them to implement it in their own teaching and they get another perspective of it. We then analyze what they find beneficial for them and for their future learners about the technique and we discuss constraints and barriers to its implementation in a variety of contexts and cultures.

Finally, why do I teach what I teach and why do I teach the way that I teach.  At the outset of this statement, I listed the questions I would address. This last question was the last in the list at the beginning of the paper, and it is the one with which I close. Research in cognitive science suggests that things mentioned first and things mentioned last, stick in the memory of the listener or reader. The question of why we teach the way we do is perhaps the most important, and so it deserves to be remembered – to be mentioned first and to be mentioned last. It should serve as a planning guide and a post teaching reflection guide. It is a question that I ask to myself, and one that frequently pops up in all of my classes. For me, the reason that I teach what I teach and how I teach is simply that I want my students to be successful, to enjoy what they do, to enjoy the people that they teach and to know how to enable their students to achieve their own language learning goals. If I succeed in these goals and my students succeed in these goals, their learners will be able to ultimately engage in the most human of human practices: to communicate through the language they are learning.

A former student of mine from Thailand affirmed for me that "why" is a valuable question to ask. Upon graduating and leaving, Sirirat Sinpratjakpol said to me,

"You are a teacher who always asked me "Why?" In my research, you asked me to ask the informants, "Why?" Now I know why you asked me that. Now, I am going to go back to Thailand and I am going to ask my students why they are doing different things in the classroom. We never really talked about that much in Thailand."

For me, asking why helps me to clarify my purposes; thus it is my desire to lead my students to an understanding of why it is such a valuable question to ask.