Thursday, September 13, 2012

Observing my Students Teach

Third year students in my Department have a four week teaching practicum at this time of year. In most teacher education programs in Japan, student teachers are only required to undergo a 2 to 4 week practicum to receive their license. This short period for a teaching practicum has been a target of criticism but I will have to save this topic for another blog post.

Right now, in my Department we have 10 students teaching at 3 junior high schools (JHSs) and another 10 students teaching at elementary schools. This week I have been observing some of the students' classes to 1) provide them with encouragement and 2) see if my English teaching methodology class might have helped them for their teaching practicum.

This year, I spent a lot of time remaking my "English Teaching Methodologies" class curriculum. Students take this class before their teaching practice. This year, I cut out a lot of the theoretical content, and we devoted more time to practicing how to teach lessons using the junior high school textbook adopted by most schools in my prefecture. My goal was to help students develop a repertoire of techniques they could use at the junior high school for practice in reading, writing, listening and speaking as well as give them sufficient practice with using English in the classroom so that they could stand in front of 40 children and conduct the class in English with confidence. So, what did I observe?

Well, first, I am happy to report that all my students have received praise for their hard work. Secondly, so far, student teachers who are in charge of teaching first and second year JHS classes have really made an effort to use as much English as possible. I will say that I do not think it is enough but I am appreciate their effort and the more they get used to teaching the more English they will use. Third, the teachers have shown that they can present a goal and sequence activities to try to accomplish the goal. Fourth, the student teachers have shown that they can make visual materials to help supplement students' understanding. Fifth, the student teachers make an effort to conduct pair and group work and walk around the class trying to insure that each student stays on task. These are points I emphasized in my classes, however, these are also common sense in English teaching and it is likely that the student-teachers learned this by observing their supervising teachers at the JHSs or by advice received by their supervisors.

There were also some problems. Here are some of the problems I observed:

A student teacher designs a class to teach a particular grammar point. He over-explains the grammar point, over-practices the grammar point, and then conducts some kind of artificial communicative activity where students use only the grammar point. He speaks English when using the grammar point but uses Japanese for everything else. I think he focused too much on the grammar point and temporarily forgot that students need constant exposure to a variety of English. This is probably one problem with "Presentation, Practice, and Production"

In third year junior high school classes, the textbook content becomes more difficult and the readings much longer. As a result, I have observed that student teachers who teach these classes use much less English and most of the classes tend to focus on confirming the meaning of the texts in Japanese (basically translation). For example, I observed a class where a teacher said that the goal would be to write a title for each paragraph in a reading about Sadako which is a famous story about a girl who died from radiation poisoning caused by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. When she was in the hospital, she thought that if she made 1000 paper cranes, she would be cured of her sickness. Unfortunately, she was unable to finish before she passed away but her family completed the task for her.

Anyway, there were 5 short paragraphs in the passage. The teacher put the students in groups, for each paragraph, she would call on a student to summarize the paragraph in Japanese. She then asked some students to give a title to the paragraph. She repeated this process 4 times and there was also some reading aloud. After this, she had the students complete a print where the entire passage was written in Japanese with some blanks which the students would have to write. Although this is a sad and moving story, somehow this emotion was lost. It is my belief that when the content becomes difficult, teachers (not just student teachers) become so worried about the students not understanding that they use entirely Japanese (I think I have done this too!). In my English teaching methodology class, I realized that I needed to work with my students a little more on how to handle challenging reading passages. I also need to consult with the local teaching practice schools to make sure that we are on the same page about how to handle difficult texts. 

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