Creating Confident Creative Conversationalists with Communication Circles
by Thomas C. Anderson
“I hear and I forget;I see and I remember;I do and I understand.”
Ancient Chinese Proverb
As I approach my twentieth year of teaching English in Japan, I see that there are four major troublesome areas for educators here. First of all, I believe that many of us have developed an overly defensive mentality concerning what we do in the classroom. It seems that in everything we plan and do we are consciously or unconsciously trying to prove to ourselves and the Japanese that we are not “just” English teachers (with the unspoken message that we are nothing more than foreigners using English teaching as a means of making money to support ourselves while living here.) How many times have we attended conference presentations or courses and seen grim looking audience members who are determined to find something negative in whatever is said.
ESL Japan – A Call to Stop Bouncing
A second problem area is the tendancy we have to bounce from one buzzword or fad to another. Content-based learning, communicative language teaching, CALL, The Silent Way, video, and most recently learner autonomy are examples of these. Educators are often made to feel guilty or less than “professional” if they do not drop everything and grab onto the latest educational solution.
ESL Japan: Getting Back to Basics in ELT
“The history of English Language Teaching has been characterized by a stream of ever-changing fashions and trends. In most cases, proponents of new methodologies have urged teachers and learners to abandon all their old tools and techniques and embrace the new dogma, and all too often teachers have been willing to follow unquestioningly. One example of this is the way that many highly effective teaching methodologies have fallen out of favor in recent years because they are no longer deemed to be sufficiently `communicative.` This is often in spite of the fact that a wealth of research evidence exists to show that many of them are, in fact, highly beneficial for learners.”
–David Barker, Plenary Speaker, Tokai/JALT Professional Development Symposium 2010
A third problem we encounter is that fact that English educators in Japan are expected to be all things to all people. There seems to be no end to the things that “should be done” by good teachers. The problem is that if we tried to do everything that we “should” do, not only would we quickly burn out, we wouldn`t have a life outside the classroom.
Related to this “shoulded to death” problem is one that is caused by educators who are–and I say this at the risk of being politically incorrect–wrapped up in issues. This is not to say that environmental awareness, gender equality, anti-ethnocentrism, and peace education/conflict resolution are not important but it becomes problematical when everything that is not an “issue” is discounted or trivialized. Is it right for us to bring an agenda into our classes and ignore things such as music, relationship problems, sports, fads, and so on that are important to our students? There is also the danger of crossing the fine line between teaching and proselytizing which needs to be considered.
The final problem, which is perhaps an outcome of the previous ones mentioned, can be seen in the common lament we hear that our students are passive, dependant, unwilling to do more than the bare minimum in class, and so on. To use an analogy, I believe that what has happened in Japan is that we struggle and desperately try to find ways to carve or shape our “square peg”students to make them fit into educational round holes rather than carefully considering and analyzing our students and designing “square holes” into which they may move. This must underlie our attempts to improve the quality of English language education in our classrooms in this country.