October 23, 2004

Follow-up to "students study but don't learn English"

Here is a response to my earlier post:
> 1) Take no responsibility for their own learning
- Expect to "be taught" by sitting in a room with a native speaker teacher - in the same way they expect to get a sun tan by lying in the sun. Don't realize that only THEY can learn - teacher can't make them (only help them). Dick Allright, my former MA tutor wrote the following rhetorical question as the title of an article a few years ago: "Why don't students learn what teachers teach?"

> 2) Don't use TL for communication
> 3) Use Japanese for all "real" communication.
- Thanks to the bad example of many (not all) Japanese teachers of English. Tim Murphy, when he was at Nanzan Uni, got his trainee teachers to experiment with using more English in their classrooms. They wrote largely positive reports about the results and Tim published them as a booklet call "The Medium is the Message" In other words, you have to teach by example, not by telling students one thing and contradicting yourself by your actions.

> 4) Don't ask questions, you'll look like a fool or a show-off
- And don't answer questions voluntarily for the same reason

> 5) Study English as knowledge for exam.
... instead of trying to develop skills for self-expression / communication
- Are afraid to make mistakes - instead of accepting them as a natural part of learning (if there are no mistakes, it's too easy - they already know it), and trying to devise strategies for eradicating them

- Waste time & effort and subject themselves to unnecessary mental stress by comparing themselves with others / decrying the "poor English"
, instead of just focusing on improving on their own (previous) performance. Should "think positive - not negative". Should realize that stress (trying too hard, feeling self-conscious, trying to be hinders or learning. Relaxing (without nodding off!) aids learning. [I didn't mention this one but should have].

- Don't realize that they can learn a lot from each other - sometimes a more effective strategy than learning from the teacher. Again, Tim Murphy recommends the use of "near peer role modeling" The teacher isn't a good role model - especially if a gaijin - because (s)he is like a god in terms of English proficiency compared with students, but other students who are learning successfully demonstrate that learning this confounded language is really possible.

- Don't realize that learning through communicating in English - using a few standard phrases habitually time and again every lesson (see the short list on the card (English for classroom communication) is a brilliant way to combine use (real communication) with study or practice
(asking about the language, practising it). They need never waste time in silence during a lesson, because they don't know what to say / how to say it / don't understand what someone said. All they have to do is say they don't know / don't understand and then ask a question. But they're trained not to take this elementary step.

I couldn't agree more with your comments below. My favourite explanation of the ridiculous mismatch between university "teaching" content and stuent capability is to allow the prof to preen and show off his superior "knowledge" - useless though it may be....

I think (never done any research to prove it though) I spend about half my time working on this knotty problem - trying to break down the counter-productive sub-culture. I also teach a couple of seminars where this is the main focus of the course (how to learn - or teach - a FL). The biggest difficulty is that one's colleagues tend to persist in reinforcing the very habits one is trying to break. So unless one can get through to a significant number of them and make them allies, most of the students will never be able to break free - though some do each year. Fortunately I do have some open-minded colleagues who themselves are interested in fostering educational reform, so I haven't allowed myself to get discouraged so far.

Maybe we can start lobbying group for this?

2 comments:

mariarosabatlle said...

Hi!
I found your blog b chance as I was looking up information on Dick Allright in the web. I am a Spanish teacher of English beased in barcelona,Spain and enjoyed reading your blog.I have to say I agree with most of it.Spainsh students also complain that they don't learn English fast wnough or easily enough.For some reason, everybody seems to accept that to become really proficient in a sport, for instance skiing or swimming, one has to practice, practice and practice, fall down, get up again, corect one's movements, strokes or whatever... but when it comes to a foreign language, people seem to expect that for some trick of magic, they'll speak it miraculously, with little previous practice, no errors and corecting, no effort etc. It used to frustrate me, but I don't care anymore. I try to make my high school students more responsible of their learning processs and have stepped back from the role of teacher who knows everything, stands in front of the class and teaches, teaches and teaches... it seems to work and I stress less ha!
maria rosa batlle

Marco Polo said...

Maria, thanks for your comment. Depressing, isnt' it?!? Your comparison with sports reminded me of this recent blog posting. I think the school environment plays a large part in that, partly because of the power relationships involved. You could demotivate young people from playing sport easily enough if you used some of the tactics used by teachers, administrators and institutions (see one former schoolteacher's view here).