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Ah, Sweet Failure

Well, today I gave my most boring class to date.

After a long winter vacation and memories of a very informative mid-year seminar on teaching English still fresh in my mind, I proceeded to do everything I learned NOT to do, and nothing of new innovative ways to get students learning and excited. It was a class of third-year (the last year in Japanese senior high schools) seikan (home economics) all-girls class, and I was attempting to have them to write a small presentation about a movie they watched over winter vacation. Here was my example:

“This winter vacation I watched, ‘The Dark Knight.’ ‘The Dark Knight’ is about the superhero Batman, who is trying save Gotham City from the villain, the Joker. I liked this movie because there was a lot of action and it had an interesting plot. I recommend that all of you watch, ‘The Dark Knight.”

Easy. Maybe one of the easiest lessons I’ve done at school, and these students are the oldest in the school and have been studying English the longest, but certainly not the highest level. One has to realize though, that English is not emphasized in seikan classes, mostly because the students really don’t care about learning English, otherwise they would be in different courses. What is needed here are fun and easy assignments to get them talking and understanding the big, WHY they are learning English. My lesson today however did none of the sort. My mistakes did horrors for the English student, but I imagine they are applicable to teachers of all sorts.

Mistake #1: Don’t talk for extended periods of time without participation from the students.

I remember hearing that on average, people can pay attention to lectures for about 20 minutes before losing focus. Well, in the low level foreign language business, its about 20 seconds. This part wasn’t too bad, but I probably had about a 4 minute explanation while pointing at an example worksheet with a few questions I had made for them. This was too long, and by explaining it all at first, I left little to return to. What I should have done, is have the students do one question at a time, regroup and go over it, and then proceed tothe next one. Short bursts and quick changes like this are necessary in teaching/learning a foreign language.

Mistake #2: Leaving those who really need help left behind.

As I explained everything at first and sent them on their own to compose their presentation, most of the class was spent with them staring over their blank pieces of paper trying to look busy and studious, while I walked through the classroom, trying to look like I was helping somebody. Some of the students braved ahead, bless their souls, and though they made lots of mistakes, they completed the worksheet and tried to listen to my help. However, there were a few others that wrote absolutley nothing. Who knowsfor sure, but I guess that they were not confident in their ability, were tired at this late time in the day, and did not know how this stupid worksheet could help them. I tried to help by asking them questions to inspire some ideas or answers, but only made things worse by isolating them and intimidating them with questions that I don’t think they understood a single word of, honestly. My answer to this was tell them that they had toturn it in at the end of class for me to correct, scare them into answering! Well, it may have worked to get them to write more, but the pressure tactic to me is fairly barbaric, and now I have a huge stack of papers to correct. So, as said earlier, if I was to do this lesson again, I would certainly break it down in much smaller chunks instead of throwing it at them all at once.

Mistake #3: Affirming bad English.

Often times in writing classes with excercises like this, at the end we (I always teach with a Japanese English teacher) call on a few students to give up their answers to be corrected on the board in front of everyone as examples, which usually works I think in more advanced classes. However, this time things would not be so easy. So we called on a few students, but by that time I was praying to hear the bell, and knew that writing and analyzing their answers on the board would not be well-received. These seikan students can be much more nervous than others and did in fact become painfully embarrased when called upon to give their answers. Also, I think the majority would not understand the reason for my corrections, which is the point to this activity. Well, when the students gave their answers, I could not possibly correct their bad English effectively in this scenario, and was forced to applause and say, “Good Job!” to sentences that made no sense. What I should have done…WAS ANOTHER ACTIVITY! Its important to pick appropriate activities and methods that fit the students’ abilities.

So for now, I will enjoy my weekend, return to school on Monday to grade their papers, and finally read one of the hundreds of books I have on English games and Team Teaching Lessons. Next time will certainly be different, and most importantly, MOST MOST MOST importantly, I’ll try to make it FUN!

I make the mistake as a teacher by always trying to reinvent the wheel, when I should just get a fricken car.
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One thought on “Ah, Sweet Failure

  1. Great blog! Just wanted to pop over and say hello – I read about your endeavors over here from a fellow martial arts blogger and thought i'd stop in.

    Teaching a foreign language is certainly a unique challenge – I remember my own difficulties in trying to learn German.

    Best,
    Matt

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