An interview with eltforum.sk speaker: Gabriela Lojová
An Interview by Martina Bednáriková
One thing teachers know: Working with students can be both challenging and rewarding. But do we realize that how much knowing about their learning styles and strategies can help us teach them more effectively? Obviously, we teachers aren’t born with that information – we need guidance, we need to learn how to understand what happens in the minds of learners. That’s what Gabriela Lojová, speaker at the ELTForum next week in Bratislava, is all about: helping teachers learn about their learners and so become better facilitators of acquiring the English language.
SCET: What or who inspired you to study English in the first place? When did you know or realise you wanted to be an English teacher?
Gabi: Actually, it was more or less by chance. My mother often says that as a child playing with others I always used to take the role of a ‘helper” or teacher to younger children. Later, a university double major studying Educational Psychology and English seemed tailor-made for me. However, having had traditional teachers, after graduation I realized that I definitely knew how I did not want to teach English but I had no idea how it could be taught more enjoyably and effectively. So for a couple of years I taught psychology to kindergarten teacher trainees, which I consider an invaluable insight into learners’ minds. After the revolution [in ’89 – Ed.], my career turned upside down. I attended a three-week summer course of English taught by four British and four American lecturers applying various activating, enjoyable learner-centred activities. I felt like Alice in Wonderland and I realized: “This is what I want to do!” And I started not only to teach English in that way but later to look for ways of training English teachers ‘of a new generation’ who would be able to overcome the old traditional teaching approaches.
SCET: Did you ever think you’d end up a university professor? What do you like most about your job? And least?
Gabi: As an undergraduate student I used to dream about it, but due to my ‘family history’, I was happy I was allowed to teach at a secondary school. When the situation changed, it seemed to be a natural step forward to teach at university.
What I really like is introducing new ideas, giving challenging tasks, opening students’ eyes and minds, getting them to think about learning and teaching differently (not traditionally). In the beginning it is really difficult to overcome students’ stereotypes but the outcomes are usually worth it. I particularly like teaching and training in-service teacher trainees as they can immediately apply everything to their everyday teaching and in so doing make the most of my lessons. What I really dislike is students in my classroom who are not interested in teaching English, as their minds are full of their current job in some company completely unconnected to education. Even worse is having a student who has the potential to be an excellent teacher, and would love to go into teaching but cannot afford it financially.
SCET: Which has been more challenging: teaching or writing? Why?
Gabi: I think both equally. Working with students has always been challenging and rewarding. And it is obvious that we, lifelong teachers, couldn’t live without it.
As for writing, after years of studying, gaining experience and researching, sometimes I feel that I have so much in my head that I need to write it down. The current tendencies in EL methodology – the focus more on learners and trying to understand what happens in their minds – are relatively new in Slovakia. So teachers need some guidance. I hope my lectures, books or professional articles can help them.
SCET: How do you learn most effectively? Has your own learning style or strategies changed in any way over the years?
Gabi: As for styles, not much as they are relatively stable. As for strategies, definitely. We change them all throughout our lives according to the changing conditions for learning around us. The more we know about our own learning styles and strategies, the more effectively we can learn. In the past, I had to learn as my teachers required, now I can adapt learning strategies to my natural learning styles and use strategies that I myself find effective.
SCET: What is your most recent research project?
Gabi: Along with my doctoral students, I’m focusing on grammar teaching. We are working on a learning model and teaching activities to help our secondary learners proceduralize grammar rules, i.e. not only learn grammar rules but also be able to use them relatively automatically, correctly and self-confidently. It is part of my endeavour to put an end to traditional outcomes, when learners know even the most complex grammar rules but, when speaking, make those elementary mistakes and suffer from barriers.
SCET: You’ve written a book (with Katarína Vlčková) on field dependency and you have a workshop at ELTForum 2013 on the topic. How would you define field dependence and, in a nutshell, why is it important in the teaching of English?
Gabi: Everybody has got an innate tendency to better perceive either the whole picture or its details. This predisposition greatly determines learners’ perception of English in a classroom and also the ways of learning. Once learners and teachers know about these characteristics, they can learn / teach more effectively. I’ll share more about that, how to identify your preferences and how to implement it into teaching English, next week in my seminar at the conference.
Gabriela Lojová is an associate professor at the Department of the English Language and Literature of the Faculty of Education, Comenius University in Bratislava. Apart from teaching courses on English grammar, her research interests and educational activities focus primarily on applied psycholinguistics, psychology of foreign language learning and teaching, and FL teacher training. Her work aims at the humanization of FLT, and looking for more effective ways of teaching English. Professor Lojová’s books include ‘Teória a prax vyučovania gramatiky cudzích jazykov’, ‘Individuálne osobitosti pri učení sa cudzích jazykov I.’, ‘Styly a strategie ve výuce cizích jazyků‘ (with Kateřina Vlčková) and ‘Teoretické východiská vyučovania angličtiny v primárnom vzdelávaní’ (with Zuzana Straková). Gabi is also a member of the Slovak Chamber of English Teachers Advisory Board.