Teach English in Helukou Zhen - Yongzhou Shi

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What comes to mind when one thinks of an English classroom? Is it organized rows of desks filled with students writing vocabulary and grammar into their notebooks while the teacher talks in the front? This is the classic image of a classroom. A student goes to school to learn what they don’t already know. When teaching English, it can be easy to fall into the trap of rote memorization and reliance on grammar and vocabulary. However, is this method effective? Does this way of learning motivate students to become life long learners of a foreign language? It is less effective to teach students many things than it is to teach them the skills needed to learn the things that they don’t know. In this essay I will assess the current view of knowledge-based teaching verses skill-based teaching based on my own experience, and look at two possible ways to teach skill-based learning in an English classroom. I began my teaching experience one year ago. I was given the opportunity to be an assistant language teacher in the countryside of Japan. This has given me a unique look into the school system of a foreign country, as well as allowed me to hone my own teaching skills without being directly in charge of a classroom. In my experience, English is taught just like any other subject in Japan. Everything is geared towards a large entrance exam at the end of the year that will either allow the students to enter high school or university. Due to this, there is a large focus on memorizing vocabulary and focusing on the grammar points that will be present on the exams. There is a small effort to make the classroom more communicative by the sheer fact that a native speaker is present, however this usually gets sidelined in favor of preparing for the exams. In my experience, this method has not been effective in my classrooms. Many of my students have been studying English for years and still cannot answer simple questions such as, “How are you?” They see English as a necessary evil to enter high school, rather than a tool to communicate or enjoy foreign media. According to the US Foreign Service Language Difficulty Ranking, English is exceptionally difficult for native Japanese speakers to learn, and can require up to 2200 hours of study to reach proficiency (Smith 2019). The hours currently spent in class don’t even come close to the amount if study necessary. Thus, it is more important to instill a motivation to learn outside of the classroom in students than it is to fill their heads with vocabulary and grammar. Students need a practical application of English rather than theoretical information about it. In order to achieve this, teacher’s need to break up complex skills into smaller more palatable bites and tell them why, when, and how to use the strategies we teach (Archer, A & Hughes, C. 2010). There are four skills in language learning: listening, speaking, writing, and reading. The two that prove to be more difficult for Japanese learners are listening and speaking. Listening examples given in class can often be boring and uninspiring. Teachers need to teach skills for listening and show students how to apply those skills to something they love outside of class. There is a large amount of English media that could cater to students’ interests. For example, it can be effective to watch clips of English movies or television shows in class. A teacher can teach skills such as listening for details, inferring meaning based on context clues, and chunking out the information a little bit at a time. The activity could consist of a small clip. The students watch once and write down words that they don’t recognize. The students could then watch again and listen for those words a second time. After this, they use a dictionary and ask the teacher about tricky definitions. The students then must summarize the content of the clip. This not only teaches them that they have to power to understand foreign media, but it may give them motivation to learn so that they may continue to watch an interesting show or movie in the future. The same method can be applied to speaking. A skill that can be taught for learning speaking is using simple words to explain a slightly more complicated word or idea. This can be done with games and activities or with worksheets. For example, a student is given a worksheet with vocabulary. They must try to think of as many other words as they can that describe the vocabulary. This teaches the skill of describing an idea in conversation when you cannot remember the exact word or phrase. This can also be achieved in team games that use other English words to help their team guess vocabulary. Rather than simple memorization, this gives the students a practical way to apply the words they know in a fun and engaging way. These were only two examples of activities one could use in the classroom to promote learning skills over knowledge. I hope to use these methods in my own classroom in the future. I have seen first hand how the focus on learning vocabulary and grammar with no practical way to apply it to life is ineffective in a language class. Teaching explicit skills on how to learn on one’s own will be better for English proficiency than a traditional classroom approach to the subject. The methods taught in this course go well with a skill-based classroom. For example, having student centered lessons and activate phases. There should be an emphasis on communicative activities over memorization. Works Cited Archer, Anita. Hughes, Charles. Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching. New York, NY: The Guilford Press, 2010. Print. Smith, Jason. “Skills Over Content.” The 43rd All Shikoku English Teaching Conference, 22 November 2019, Awagin Hall, Aibacho, Tokushima. Lecture.