Is it good enough?

Following on from my post the other day reviewing Teach Like a Champion, I’d like to talk about expectations.

This was actually provoked by something Steve Kaufmann mentioned last week on his blog: The Linguist on Language

He was talking about how learners need to be taught how to learn a language, rather than taught the language, something I very much agree with. It ties in well with several things I have been thinking about recently, so I would like to run through them briefly here (warning: this is going to be vague and unfocused).

This article on teachers’ use of English in high schools in Japan provoked a lot of discussion online (see Steve Herder’s note):

“Less than 20 percent of public high schools have been enforcing an English-only rule in their English conversation classes during the 2010 school year according to a survey, causing alarm at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).”

While I agree that English classes in public schools should have more opportunities for students to listen to and use the language, I think this prescription from MEXT misses the point somewhat. Forcing teachers in one class (oral communication in high schools) to use only English, while all other classes continue to be run the same way, will not make a huge difference and could even have the unwelcome side effect of further alienating students.

I believe that more teacher training (teachers at the moment get comparatively little training), better teaching materials (the New Horizon textbooks for JHS only contain a total of just over 6000 words of text, over three years!), more supplementary materials to provide students with reading and listening input, and a move away from sentence level discrete vocabulary and grammar items on entrance tests.

However, IMHO the biggest factor is expectations (which tie into motivation and all that good stuff). Japanese students, on the whole, just don’t expect to end up as competent users of English, nor do institutions or teachers have the mindset that most students will develop internationally viable skills.

The question in this post’s title is one that I was asking myself after class the other day. Unfortunately, for me, the answer was no. What I was doing in class with my students is not good enough. It’s not going to get them where they need to be and it’s not going to motivate them to go out and put in the time they need to become proficient. I’m not sure what I would have to do to get my class to an acceptable place, but I have some ideas for changes I will make next year.

How about you? Are your classes good enough?

Never good enough, but always striving to improve. In one or two hours per week, it is hard to make a huge impact, but somehow the kids in our elementary classes graduate into junior high with reading, writing, listening and speaking skills, and about half at least the 4-kyuu eiken under their belts. There are differences in abilities among kids, to be sure, so sometimes the measure of whether your classes are good enough is just whether you can teach a kid with poor listening discrimination skills or memory problems how to read. I guess you have to judge your classes one student at a time, and I admit to having failed some. Learn from it and move on.

Hey Cynthia
Thanks for reading! I agree, we don’t have enough time to do all that much, but I think that means we have to put a lot of thought into teaching our students how to learn English rather than trying to teach them English itself.

Of course it’s a fine line, as not teaching enough English means the students won’t be yours for very long, but I think self-study skills (dictionary use, independent reading, how to find online resources, etc.) are essential.

Not that I am doing this particularly well at the moment, but it’s where I want to go in the future.


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