Sunday, September 02, 2012

JACET 2012, TBLT, Focus on Form, and Teacher Education

I attended the JACET (Japan Association of College English Teachers) Conference in Nagoya City. I presented in a symposium titled  "Considering the feasibility of TBLT based on “Focus on Form” approach in the Japanese English classroom" with four friends. I also went there with the purpose of getting some ideas for English teacher education. 

My friends and I may have had slightly different interpretations of TBLT with Focus on Form but this is how I defined it:

In a TBLT with Focus on Form (FonF) class, adequate attention is paid to both meaning and form. Students learn language through exposure to language, producing language, and instruction. Instruction takes place in either a proactive or incidental way. 

I discussed TBLT/FonF from the perspective of student teachers in Japan. I argued that a strong version of TBLT/FONF might not be appropriate for them but there are things that they can learn from it. I tried to illustrate my point by showing a class in a high school in Thailand which was taught by students from the English Education Department at my university (We have an internship program where our students teach at Thai secondary schools in either Ayutthaya or Bangkok for two weeks). I showed that they are capable of doing a TBLT/FONF type of class. This class featured a listening task where the teachers presented about Iwate's history of tsunamis. This was followed by a fill-in the blank task which could be interpreted as focus on form. However, the dominant communication pattern in this class between teachers and students was Initiation response feedback and asking display questions. In other words, the teachers asked the students factual or language questions about their presentation language questions In some CLT textbooks, this is not considered authentic communication. However, Thai students were able to follow this class and understand the main message. Also, this class was conducted in 100% English. This means that we need to do encourage student teachers to do what is possible for them and their students rather than try to adopt a method 100%. Although this class had little free communication, I believe it was appropriate for the context.

Overall, from attending various presentations at this conference, my belief that good teaching is about experimenting with different methods and learning to apply the appropriate method based on your students' needs, desires, levels and personalities as well as the school context was reinforced.  It is important that we enjoy ourselves teaching (because we have to do it almost every day) and work hard to continuously improve our linguistic knowledge, cultural knowledge, and world knowledge as well as our teaching expertise. Students should also enjoy the classes but we also have to make sure that they are also actually learning something.  English class does not always have to be fun, but it should be interesting. These are my beliefs about teaching English as a foreign language that I would like to share with the student teachers.

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