Thursday, January 24, 2013

What I Learned About Teacher Education in Thailand

For 13 days I rotated around three unique schools and saw three unique groups of student-teachers teach at each school. In my post before I left for Thailand, I wrote:

in Thailand I want to see how students will fix their own lessons and how this experience will change their view of what effective teaching and their image of themselves as teachers.
In the blog, I try hard not to write about people or schools in such a way that would reveal information they would not want shared. I am a little worried that what I would write might reveal certain details that schools and or the student teachers would prefer not to be shared. However, I do think that I can share what fascinated me the most about this whole experience.

At the Thai schools we had three groups of people working together on planning the ideal English class. These groups had different life experiences and views on teaching, they were Japanese college professors (who were American!),  Thai and non-Thai English teachers working in Bangkok or Ayutthaya, and Japanese pre-service teachers. We had different ways in how we perceived good topics, appropriate activities, our ideal image of teachers, how to interact with students, and how to use materials.

I think that for the classes that were most successful, the pre-service teachers, the Thai teachers, and the American teachers were able to exchange dialogue about the classes, understand each other, and negotiate changes that everyone could be happy with. For the classes that were not as successful (all the classes were actually good, I think), the pre-service teachers, Thai teachers, and American teachers were not quite able to reach a common ground. Nevertheless, the opportunity to collaborate on planning these classes was an incredible experience which taught me about myself, my students, and the Thai teachers; it also brought us all closer together. This trip taught me about how difficult and exhausting communication can it made me a more open and honest communicator and made me feel more alive.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Using the Japanese Portfolio for Student Teachers of Languages in a Class Discussion

I am in Thailand right now but need to get my mind off it. So, I am going to write about using the J-Postl. The J-POSTL or  the Japanese Porfolio for Student Teachers of Languages is adapted from E-POSTL or the European Portfolio for Student Teachers of other Languages. The J-POSTL consists of 100 descriptors that students can use to assess their teaching ability. The descriptors help students assess their knowledge or ability related to their context, teaching methodologies, using resources, planning lessons, conducting lessons, etc. The descriptors are useful in that they can raise students' awareness of the techniques, skills, and knowledge that very good teachers have. For example, look at the following descriptors for conducting lessons:
  1. 73  I can start a lesson in an engaging way.
  2. 74  I can be flexible when working from a lesson plan and respond to student interests as the lesson progresses.
    75  I can adjust my time schedule when unforeseen situations occur.
    76  I can time and change classroom activities to reflect individual students’ attention spans. 
The problem with J-POSTL is the sheer number of descriptors can make it a little overwhelming. However, the developers of the portfolio recommend that students only do a few descriptors at a time. I tried to do just this last month. My students in my teaching methodologies class did a one day teaching practice at an elementary school where they conducted a foreign language activity (English activity) using the standard elementary school English textbook, "Hi, Friends"After their practice lesson, we had a class discussion using part of the J-POSTL. For the discussion our goal was to Determine the essential skills necessary for conducting foreign language activities in elementary school, this is what I did:

  1. I gave students a list of descriptors from J-POSTL about using resources, lesson planning, and conducting a lesson (using a lesson plan, content, interaction with students, classroom management, classroom language). I have written the list of descriptors I used at the bottom of this page.
  2. I asked students to write a circle next to they thought they were able to do in the lesson, a cross next to what you were not able to do, and write a triangle next to what they thought was not relevant. (5 minutes)
  3. Each teaching group of students (7 groups of students each conducted a class) watched a video of their class. If their thinking changed, they could change their answers they wrote in 2. (15 minutes)
  4. Each teaching group comes to a consensus about the 5 items they thought they were most successful in accomplishing in their classes and the 5 items they were least successful in accomplishing. (20 minutes)
  5. Next, students made seven new groups so that each new group consisted of a member from each of the original groups (like a jigsaw task). They shared the results of 4. with their new group members. After that, as a group, they chose what they thought were the four most important items for conducting foreign language activities in elementary school and gave reasons why. (20 minutes)
  6. Lastly, each group presented their top four items. I wrote them on the computer (using a projector of course) and as a class we chose the top 5 items. 

In steps 4 and 5, I told students that they could add their own items if they so wished. The final list of the most important items consisted of the students' original items rather than those of J-POSTL.

Number of VotesItem
40Enjoy the class
23Use English as much as you can.
20Don’t use Japanese too much
16Try to speak easy English
12Prepare for the class perfectly
12Prepare for many activities

I thought that this was VERY interesting. I think it means that it is difficult to tell students to look at their classes from a perspective that is different from their own. The J-POSTL makes A LOT of sense to me because I am an experienced teacher. Student-teachers, however, are new to teaching and they might perhaps focus more on the very basics such as "enjoy the class" rather than the detailed techniques, knowledge, and skills written in J-POSTL. Also, it could have been the nature of the task itself that influenced students' answers. Nevertheless, I was surprised that every item that students voted as most important were their own original ones.

I should be writing about my students' teaching in Thailand right now, but actually being able to think about my orderly and predictable life in Japan has been a little therapeutic for me.

Appendix: Items from J-POSTL used in the class discussion

47 I can identify and evaluate a range of coursebooks/materials appropriate for the age, interests and the language level of the students.
48 I can select texts and language activities from coursebooks appropriate for my students.
49 I can locate and select listening and reading materials appropriate for the needs of my students from a variety of sources, such as literature, mass media and the Internet.
50 I can make use of ideas, lesson plans and materials included in teachers’ handbooks and resource books.
51  I can design learning materials and activities appropriate for my students.
52  I can recommend dictionaries and other reference books useful for my students.
53  I can guide students to use the Internet for information retrieval.

A. Identification of Learning Objectives
54 I can identify the Course of Study requirements and set learning aims and objectives suited to my students’ needs and interests.
55 I can plan specific learning objectives for individual lessons and/or for a period of teaching.
56 I can set objectives which challenge students to reach their full potential.
57 I can set objectives which take into account the differing levels of ability and

special educational needs of the students.
58 I can set objectives for four main skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing

respectively, according to the focus of individual lessons and/or period of teaching. 59 I can set objectives which encourage students to reflect on their learning.
59. I can set objectives which encourage students to reflect on their learning.

A. Using Lesson Plans
73  I can start a lesson in an engaging way.
74  I can be flexible when working from a lesson plan and respond to student interests as the lesson progresses.
75  I can adjust my time schedule when unforeseen situations occur.
76  I can time and change classroom activities to reflect individual students’ attention

B. Content
77 I can relate what I teach to students’ knowledge, current events in local context, and the culture of those who speak it.

C. Interaction with Students
78  I can keep and maximize the attention of students during a lesson.
79  I can encourage student participation and student interaction whenever possible.
80  I can cater for a range of learning styles.
81  I can help students to develop appropriate learning strategies.

D. Classroom Management
82 I can create opportunities for and manage individual, partner, group and whole class work.
83 I can manage and use instructional media (flashcards, charts, pictures, audio-visual aids, etc.) effectively

E. Classroom Language
84 I can conduct a lesson in the target language, and if necessary use Japanese effectively.
85 I can encourage students to use the target language in their activities. 

Friday, January 04, 2013

Off to Thailand

I am writing from a hotel in Narita and am off to Thailand for almost two weeks. Another colleague and myself will be accompanying 10 students to Bangkok and Ayutthaya where they will be teaching English at high schools. I think that the students have been preparing hard for their teaching but I still don't think that they are quite ready. Last year, students went to Thailand with an almost perfect lesson plan. However, I took great pride in watching their lesson but then wondered whether students were actually teaching their own lesson or actually teaching my lesson. This year, students have chosen their own topics, activities, etc. Students are divided into 3 groups. Each group has made lesson plans and conducted demonstration lessons. Here are the topics of each group.

Group 1 (Three female students teaching at an All-Girl's High School in Bangkok): Valentine's Day in Japan, Traveling in Japan
Group 2 (Three female students teaching at a coed school in Ayutthaya): Origami, New Years in Japan
Group 3 (Three female students and one male student teaching at a coed school in Bangkok): Seasonal events in Japan, Japanese food stalls

One regret I have is that during the demonstration lessons I tend to talk A LOT and the students do not have much of a chance to give each other feedback after the lesson. If I see something during the lesson that I know would not work well in Thailand I become filled with an uncontrollable urge to point it out and give students my own ideas about how to remedy the problem. I do not have the patience to let students resolve the problem themselves. However, I also think that because the students have not gone to Thailand, they CANNOT understand why some thing might not work. I have been accompanying students to Thailand for a couple of years and feel the overwhelming urge to impart what I have learned before students have had a chance to try to work out the problem themselves. I need to learn to speak less.

No matter what I tell them though, they won't really be able to understand why or why not their lesson will work until they actually teach in the Thai schools. Therefore, in Thailand I want to see how students will fix their own lessons and how this experience will change their view of what effective teaching and their image of themselves as teachers. Well, I have to get ready to go.