Teach English in Yuantan Zhen - Yueyang Shi

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Foreign language teachers have profoundly shaped my approach to teaching and learning. I realized that their most “effortless”, exciting, and effective methods come from thoughtful application of many theories and themes showcased in this course. The journey began in grade 7 with a Spanish teacher full of patience, excitement, and enthusiasm. Her active classes drew strongly from the total physical response method, starting each day with a series of commands to move or complete certain tasks. Students picked Spanish names and were not allowed to use English in the classroom, creating a constant role-play, immersive environment. These techniques were great for shy, restless children with short attention spans. Since her class was not offered daily, she recognized that many language points needed reinforcement in creative, fun, and memorable ways. Thus, she carefully crafted her bright, exciting, musical lessons to hold real estate in young minds. Many grammar points were taught via song. Background music also served as subconscious listening practice while maintaining a calming atmosphere. Even the final assessment was masked as a talent show, where participants saw it as a confidence-enhancing reward instead of a stress-inducing formal examination. High school Spanish classes had a more structure-based syllabus, with conjugations heavily stressed. However, because foreign language was compulsory, many students were apathetic or even opposed to learning. Thus, the teacher made sure to incorporate extensive humor and good-naturedness into class. He made a conscious effort to learn about each student, and he made sure to assign open-ended projects that would be a vehicle to highlight student interests. Classes were controlled, but student-centered and task driven. There was a high use of realia and visuals, video clips, and literature. Reading skills were challenged in a fascinating way: students read and discussed translated popular and well-known works of American literature, poetry, or comic books. In an area where the merits of literacy ability and interests were not even promoted well in English, the teacher was committed to finding engaging, fascinating stories that his class would enjoy. He often took the duel roles of counselor and mentor, challenging students to believe in themselves and take up integrated skill tasks. Translation projects, for example, became part writing study activity and part speaking “outdoor activity” to break up the classroom monotony; Christmas carols were translated into Spanish and performed around the school in a door-to-door fashion. At higher levels with smaller classes, there was a lot of fluency activities: circle discussion, debate, and longer independent study projects. The teacher was committed to building confidence in the beginning then giving as much freedom of application as possible, with the upper classes often led by student-input based syllabi, similar to a needs negotiation. This was a unique way to give power to rebellious students who could now feel motivated by having a voice. College brought many stylistic and cultural shifts with highly teacher-centered, passive learning Japanese coursework. Audio-lingualism was the strict method for many years, with a focus on receptive skills and drilling. This method was indeed effective in creating instinctual responses, and it helped postpone the initial reading and writing barrier of learning the three-script Japanese writing system. However, this disciplined, repetitious style quickly became predictable. This made it difficult and stressful to create language, and organic and authentic speech was practically unobtainable. All materials used within the classroom were non-authentic visuals painstakingly handcrafted by the professor; audio, computer, and video resources were not used. Speaking skills, outside drilling, were only tested in formal examinations at the end of the year for a substantial percentage of the final grade, and thus speaking conversationally became a terrifying ordeal that inspired dread and dismay. Activate stages were not used within the classroom, which led to a continued distant formality. This meant it was not uncommon to avoid asking questions (to avoid interrupting); lack of interaction even meant it was common not to know classmates’ names! The level of respect and distance maintained in the course was also a lesson in common teaching styles of Japan, and something can be said of learning culture through firsthand experience. This explained why an elder teacher did not stress “unruly” active learning techniques or productive skills. For example, since proper handwriting conveys respect to the recipient, writing developed with a slow and intense precision to detail. This class made me realize the importance of diverse teaching methods while also appreciating the cultural and generational impacts on educational expectations. Conversely, an intensive Japanese program abroad was the first time I was consciously aware of the ESA method being applied in full, and it had a lasting impact. This course combined many aspects of previous courses: immersive Japanese-only class environment, structure-based syllabus, Socratic method style of leading questions, diligent in-class practice, and piles of homework. The difference came in the heavy activity focus and diverse resource use. Group work was more common and practical, given the smaller class sizes. Teaching styles were innovative, and classes were unpredictable. Audio and coursebook workhorses was not the only materials utilized. Authentic case studies, non-fiction, and short stories were used for diverse reading skills. An inspiring activity was interviewing native speakers with student-made Japanese dialogue for “self-driven” language acquisition. This first exposure to the ESA method first-hand was revolutionary and allowed for a true sense of ease, enjoyment, and motivation. The smaller class environment, strictly controlled by level with multiple placement and diagnostic exams, proved an excellent platform for growth. We were also encouraged by the program to join student clubs to gain native language exposure, understand the cultural idiosyncrasies of the language, and participate in the collectivist society. This journey was an excellent understanding of the irrevocably important links between language and culture. It was also a showcase of how different teaching methods, student age, class setting, and resource use can play such a dramatic role in how the language is experienced. References Total Physical Response: Asher, James. Learning Another Language through Actions. 1977. Multiple Intelligence: Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. 1983.