Teaching English as a Foreign Language is often both rewarding and frustrating, for the teacher and the students. Some days the learning can go so well, with key learning points being embedded and easily recalled by students. On these days the atmosphere is high and the engagement even higher! Yet in other days, the activities don’t work and the mood is low.
Through teaching, my main goal is often to support the development of critical thinking in students. Thinking critically can be a big challenge in ones native language, let alone in a foreign language. However, my experience teaching in Japan has shown me how traditional language learning here focuses on multiple choice learning, maximising ‘Chalk and Talk’ pedagogy. Therefore, supporting students to think critically and use their imaginations, whilst not searching for the right answer, is extremely rewarding for all involved. When it goes right!
This term I am at Women’s University in Tokyo, working hard to ensure my students love learning English and have the chance to celebrate their identities and learning. At the start of the term I was frustrated to find that I had been given a group of students who had tested as pre-basic level. I didn’t feel this would utilise my skills and experience as a teacher. The lesson plans supplied were very ‘A, B, C’, ‘cat sat on a mat’ in style. This wasn’t what I initially had in mind when I become a teacher at university level, as I use teaching as a way to connect cultures and develop students critical thinking skills and international awareness. Therefore, my first week was challenging to say the least, as I failed to adapt my style and expectations as much as I needed to. This left me feeling demotivated and worried about my students engagement.
Move along seven weeks and the situation could not be more different. My students feel empowered to try English, challenging themselves every lesson, and bursting with language confidence. They do not resemble ‘pre-beginner’ learners in any way. One of them has even started volunteering with her local tourist board to speak with foreigners and help them navigate her local area. This is a transformation I could never have predicted seven weeks earlier, when the students would barely utter a word in English for the whole class. I put the change down to the commitment of my students and my, albeit slower than usual, willingness to adapt and try new ways of teaching.
Today marks only 17 more days left together. So, I decided the time was ripe, and the lesson plan relevant, to introduce my next favourite mindset after thinking critically and being imaginative; reflection. Several months ago I discovered Future Me, a simple website which allows you to write a letter to your future self, and have it delivered by email in 1, 3, or 5 years time, or a specific set date. All students have smartphones here, and so it was so easy to introduce Future Me into the classroom. We have had an absolute ball today writing letters to our future selves, specifically focusing on the development of skills. It has supported the students to reflect in English, whilst thinking critically AND being creative. What a win all round.
Whilst this term has been challenging in parts, as most teaching terms are, it also has many precious moments of learning for both my students and I. I have certainly learnt more about my practice, and the importance of building a classroom that is even more supportive and engaging for lower level students. If you do, they will BLOOM! I now have a group of learners who understand more about the world, my culture, their own cultures and are willing to speak to foreigners outside of the classroom. What a success!