Some pedagogical benefits of the Callan Method
The fact that the Callan Method is a fast, fun and effective way to learn languages is known by language students and teachers all over the world. The energy and urgency of a Callan Method lesson is clear to all, as is the fact that students listen and speak far more than they would in the average language classroom.
Here we list a few interesting pedagogical benefits offered by the Callan Method, some of which may not be so apparent at first sight.
It offers a coherent curriculum
The Callan Method ensures that the curriculum a student experiences in a school is coherent both horizontally and vertically. The largely scripted nature of the Callan Method means that students at the same level can expect to study the same material in the same way regardless of the particular teacher they have. Furthermore, the stages of the Callan Method flow seamlessly and systematically from one to the next, ensuring vertical coherence. The content found at the start of Stage 6, for instance, follows on naturally from content in Stage 5, with new language being introduced but vocabulary and grammar from Stage 5 also being practised/revised, as if there were no division at all between the two stages,
It avoids overloading the learner
Callan Method students know that they will not be overloaded during lessons. When they are learning a new word, for example, the teacher asks questions to practise it, but the new word is always surrounded only by language the students already know from earlier in their studies. This enables the learner to focus effectively on the new language without being overwhelmed. Consequently, students are not put under stress and can therefore absorb new information and learn more effectively.
It deals systematically with phrases, word groupings and collocation
Much language often exists in common groups or clusters of words, and the idea that learners can benefit from being made aware of such groupings is well known. Words may exist in groups because they form a fixed expression (e.g. “What a pity!”, “as a rule” etc.) or because they collocate strongly or are just used together frequently (e.g. “a heavy sleeper”, “… at the end of …”). Of course, the Callan Method teaches common phrases and idioms, but it takes word grouping into account in several other ways as well:
- The main content of the Callan Method books ensures that students are continually exposed to common collocations and groupings.
- When a class does a dictation, each part of every sentence is delivered as a natural grouping of words.
- Teachers speak along with students during their answers. The aim is to speak as fluently as possible ‘alongside’ the student to lend support as and when it is needed, but the teacher also makes sure that any momentary pause in their delivery always occurs at a natural boundary between word groups or phrases.
- The Callan B1 and B2 Grammar Practice Workbooks place great emphasis on phrasing and collocation.
It encourages fluent speech
A properly trained Callan Method teacher encourages students to speak under their own steam. Although the teacher speaks along with the student during the answer, the timing of this ‘feeding’ is such that it supports the student and enables them to maintain their fluency. If the student needs no support, they will hardly notice that the teacher is speaking simultaneously with them. At no time does the student simply repeat sentences after the teacher. The overall effect is that students feel engaged by the challenge of speaking with fluency and encouraged by the success they enjoy.
It immerses the learner in the target language
Students learning with the Callan Method are constantly alert in class, and from the first second of a lesson they are immersed in the target language, which is continuously being used. When a student speaks, they are engaged by the challenge of communicating as fluently and accurately as possible without first translating into their mother tongue. Also, the pace of the Method, the relatively small class sizes (maximum of 12) and the lively teaching style all combine to ensure that no student has the inclination or the opportunity to ‘switch off’. With the teacher distributing questions to pupils in an apparently random order, students know they may be required to participate actively at any moment and so they focus on the teacher at all times.
It offers constant support
Students in a Callan Method lesson are given many opportunities to speak. In fact, they are placed in a position where they must speak; they are not given the option of adopting a passive role. With each question that is asked in class, the teacher indicates a specific student to answer. To the untrained eye, it may look like the student is placed firmly ‘on the spot’. However, the Method ensures that quite the opposite is true. As the teacher finishes asking a question, they seamlessly tag on “the prompt” (the first two or three words of the answer). There are several reasons for providing an immediate prompt, and one of these is that it enables the student to start speaking. Students are never left to search for words ‘under the spotlight’.
As the student continues to say their answer, the teacher speaks along with them, effectively supporting them if needed. Should the student forget a word, hesitate over pronunciation etc., the teacher is immediately there to help and then encourage the student to continue with their answer. Similarly, when a student makes a mistake, the teacher corrects the mistake immediately, quickly and simply. Again, the moment the student has repeated the corrected language, the teacher encourages them to continue speaking. This constant support, encouragement and absence of any ‘dwelling on errors’ helps to minimize stress for learners.
It caters for mixed abilities
To one degree or another, all language classes are mixed ability, and a challenge for any teacher is to differentiate effectively and carry the weaker learners alongside the stronger ones without the stronger class members becoming frustrated. The Callan Method allows teachers to be flexible in two ways. Firstly, when introducing new language, the teacher can simply target stronger students with the longer or more complex questions and reserve shorter or easier ones for students who may struggle. In later revision work, questions can be shared out more evenly. Secondly, a properly trained Callan Method teacher will be able to vary the timing of their feeding (speaking along with students during answers) such that weaker class members will receive more support and stronger students less. The difference is not in how much the teacher speaks along with the student; the teacher should be speaking all the time. It is a question of timing. The CMO teacher training course provides guidance on how to do this.
It includes assessment as a matter of course
In practice, Callan Method teachers assess their students on a lesson-by-lesson basis, as they are always interacting individually with students and are aware of how much support each particular student requires. If a student is felt to be struggling, there are various options. The teacher can give the student in question some simple advice such as to revise certain sections of their book at home, make more use of the Callan Students Practice Area (online or in their app) etc. Beyond this, a school may be able to offer the student remedial lessons or move the student into a more suitable class at a less challenging level. Such measures can be undertaken at any time.
If the school prefers to perform more summative assessment, this can take place at the end of each stage, either by using the stage exams provided, or by creating a progress test of their own. It could be argued that this type of assessment at the end of stages is somewhat arbitrary, but certain schools find it is an effective way to motivate their students.