Friday, September 28, 2012

Getting New Ideas for My Teaching Methodologies Class

The new semester starts in October and I will teach an English Teaching Methodologies class to about 30 students. I will teach these students from October - February and then from April to August. To try to get some fresh ideas I read the book プロの教師の「初伝」から「奥伝」まで  (EFL Teacher Education for Professional Development)by Takahashi Kazuyuki is seems to be a pretty well know figure in the English education world in Japan. What I liked about the book was this:

1) He gives a fairly frank appraisal of problems with Teacher Education in Japan.
2) He gives a sensible and realistic proposal for teacher professional development in the Japanese context which I think can be a good reference for teachers and teacher educations.

Regarding 1), he writes about the teacher certification system in England which has clear criteria for novice teachers to met and where universities and schools collaborate to develop teachers. He is critical of the Japanese system in that education universities and boards of education or schools have never come to a common understanding of professional criteria novice teachers should meet. I think that he does have a strong point here but I also think that criteria should be flexible and broad enough so that education universities and schools can create professional development programs for their particular contexts.

He bases his process of professional development on what is written in Burns and Richards' (2009) Cambridge guide to Second Language Teacher Education. Below are the stages written in Burns and Richards as well as what Takahahsi called them: 
  1. Input of necessary knowledge and skills (初伝)
  2. Application to the Classroom Context (中伝)
  3. Self-development in Professional Career (奥伝)
  4. Social Context (エピローグ)
初伝・中伝・奥伝 refer to the beginning, middle and advanced levels that apprentices of a Japanese traditional art or sport pass through. He calls social skills (Epilogue) . Each chapter of the book is given the title of a specific stage.

In 初伝, he basically gives a list of techniques, skills and knowledge that beginning teachers need to conduct a class. He also gives a lot of practical advice. A lot of this is stuff that most experienced teachers know but may not realize it. I think that this chapter is useful when thinking about what the bare essentials are that a novice teacher needs to know to be able to survive a class.  

In 中伝, he gives a couple of lesson plans, includes tasks asking the reader to evaluate parts of each plan, and then gives his own analysis. The point of this section is for the reader to learn how to visualize a class by looking at the lesson plan, and, through this visualization, determine which parts of the lesson will likely work and which parts will likely be problematic.

In 奥伝, he discusses three views of teacher development: Teaching as a craft (people learn to teach by imitating a mentor),  teaching as an applied science (from SLA theory and teaching methodologies, we learn that there is a right way to teach), and the Reflective Model (The third approach - developing through experience and reflecting on the experience). He then discusses an all Japan English assessment test given to secondary school students which showed that they lacked skills in writing and speaking. He says that teachers must shoulder some of this blame. Then, he gives a couple of case studies of experienced and very accomplished teachers and shows how through a reflective approach, they were able to improve their classes and get students who had little interest in English to enthusiastically speak and write in the language. The point of this is if that if teachers do not take the initiative to improve themselves, they will not make much progress professionally.

In the epilogue, he gives an overview of how social context can affect the English class.

How the book impacted me:

Last semester (April - August), my Teaching Methodology course consisted of the following routine: lecture (for example, teaching vocabulary, teaching reading, etc..) with learning activities → micro teaching → student reflection. I think this is close to a reflective approach. However, students would hand me their reflections and then maybe look at them once again to see my comment. I realized that by not having the students keep a portfolio in which they collect all their work which includes their assignments, lesson plans, teaching artifacts, and feedback from peers and teachers so that they can track their own development. Therefore, this semester, I have decided to have students make blogs on edublogs and record their learning on the blogs as well as display their teaching artifacts. I hope that they can use the blogs to record their growth over the next 10 months that we will be working together. When this project picks up some steam, I might include the link on this blog. 

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