the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Monday, October 15, 2012

long overdue reflection

I haven't reflected on my own teaching for quite a while now, and feel
like I really need to. Especially after going to the JALT conference
for English teachers in Japan on Saturday, I have a lot of ideas to
filter through. Many of these ideas have also been inspired by the book
"Group Dynamics in the Language Classroom" by Dornyei and Murphey.

SEATING

For starters, my students were great for the most part last semester.
So I assumed these junior high students could handle seating themselves
- and a few classes could. But even when you let good students sit next
to each other, they turn chatty. So I've been pulling in the reigns
this last month.

At first, I thought letting kids seat themselves would be great to see
who is friends with who. And that was a bonus, but I think the benefits
were rather minimal. I also thought that friends sitting next to each
other might feel more comfortable speaking English together. There were
some pairs that did really well, but I feel like most pairs were too
comfortable and just chatted in Japanese. A big side effect of all this
chatting was that it made it hard for me as the teacher to concentrate
on what we'll do next.

I was also surprised at how nearly every classroom tended to divide
themselves into three distinct sections of quiet but somewhat interested
(in the lesson), very interested but somewhat loud, and very loud and
uninterested. I think certain student personalities also tend to be
ringleaders in groups of friends. However, simply because of how
unbalanced this made the classrooms, I will never let junior high
students here pick their own seats again.

DISCIPLINE

Do you know the saying "be strict at first, then you can always be nice
after that." or "never smile until Christmas"? This is some anecdotal
teacher advise. At the conference, I read and also heard some
presenters dismiss this as being overly simple. I have to admit that I
have a hard time being strict for no reason when I don't even know the
students yet. And I'm not entirely convinced that that in itself is a
problem per se. At least now I know what kind of students we generally
get at this school and how they tend to act, so I can be a little more
prepared for next year.

I've also been having a small problem with students writing on the desks
in the multipurpose room which is of course against school rules. I
rarely see them doing this, but it makes be feel bad that my lessons
aren't interesting enough, but then again, I also don't need to be an
entertainer.

Also, how to discipline or at least correct students who are chatting is
something I'm not sure to do because no matter what happens it never
seems to fully end. This is part of teaching at a girls' school that I
am still getting used to. At the conference, I learned that even
college profs in Japan have this problem. There were many ideas I would
not have thought of such as not giving the students eye contact (i.e.
the attention they are looking for) or even standing right next to them
but not looking at them.

The other side of discipline is, of course, community. Humans are
social and care about each other. If the class can center around
"getting to know you" times, and working together on a task for a
purpose, then students should get the interpersonal interaction they
crave and patrol each other without needing to chat off topic. Some
teachers at the conference called this "teaching with humanity".

I have noticed that the textbook we are using almost purposely avoids
personal expression. This somewhat undermines community formation and
group solidarity. I didn't notice this at first, but it does seem to be
a downfall of the text. I'm looking for ways to add more personal
exchange into the course.

FUN

There has been a little complaining, and I myself am worried that my
activities are not fun. I feel bad for my first classes of the week
because they are often my guinea pigs to see how well an activity will
work out and if it is interesting. Not that things always have to be
interesting, but there should be time for both learning and fun,
especially if you can do both at the same time.

On the other hand, students also sometimes lack the focus to get through
the preparation for the game or activity. Recently I've been looking
for ways to adapt the standard activities from the textbook activities
and make them more interesting.

I'm worried about all these things, but I guess the important thing is
to keep trying. Slow and steady, I never give up! I'll let you know
how it turns out!