Sunday, May 16, 2010

Criticisms of scaffolding and remembering of names in the Classroom

As an open minded teacher I leave the door wide open for criticisms of my teaching methods. I listen in and out of class to students and their opinions, and I make liberal use of course evaluations. In the last two weeks I have had two criticisms of my teaching, both from the same person. I have stewed on them since I heard them, wondering if they were legitimate concerns, if I should change my classes, and if so, how.

The student who made these criticisms is in one of my Community College classes. Her first suggestion was that I use less Japanese. (The tone of her suggestion was actually stronger than a suggestion.) She is new to the program, and in my class description I explain that this class is for people who want to learn English but are struggling. I have used both English and Japanese, hoping to employ just the right amount of scaffolding for the majority of students. Their levels vary, so I try to vary my level of scaffolding from student to student in individual interactions.

Conclusion:  I will not change my policy, as the people who have been enrolled in this class have attended faithfully for years now, and are making progress in their individual ways.

The second criticism was that I tend not to remember names. Her suggestion being that Japanese names were probably difficult for me to remember. I have met this person three times since April. She has attended around half of the classes so far, and in addition to the new names in this class, I have the names of around 150 new students, who attend far more regularly, from three different countries.

Conclusion: I am right on track with remembering names, and the nationality of the student is not an issue.


Alex Case said...

And who finds Japanese names difficult to remember anyway?? I have occasionally had the "It's a typical Japanese name starting with A. Was it Atsuko or Akiko?" thing, but I have that just as much with "It was some typical British bloke's name. Was it Dave, Steve or Geoff?"

i LEAD said...

Daniel, its quite appreciable the way you keep an open door for criticisms. But, I would like to point out something. In general, it would be more effective if the whole conversation in a class could be in English. Say, an English student learning French gets to have more fluency over the language, if it is mandatory to speak in the class only in French.

Daniel said...

Thanks for the comment.

As I explained to the student subject in this post, I have done the research and have talked to the other participants in the class, and have no reason to suspect that, "it would be more effective if the whole conversation in a class could be in English." That is why I use some L1 with this particular class.

I suggest this article.

sendaiben said...

Hi Daniel

Just found your blog today, and I have both of those problems too. My policy is 'as little Japanese as possible while maximising efficiency'. This obviously varies according to the class/student.

However, as I was explaining to a private student from another school that emphasises the all in English approach, it's less a case of that being the best approach, but rather that their teachers can't speak Japanese, so they have no choice and have to use only English.

I teach about 800 students, 500 of them university students that I only see for 15 weeks. I have them make and use name signs in class, which allows me to use the names in class and learn a few of them.

Daniel said...

Thanks, Sendaiben.

Absolutely, we have to do our best to suit our approaches to the classes and students in those classes. There are individuals in the classes, and when interacting with them individually differing degrees of L1 is helpful. It is certainly not one size fits all.

As for names, people come and go. Some stick around for a while. I remember those names, but people who come and leave soon are quickly forgotten.

And as for your 800 students, it would be interesting to know how many of them remember your name. There is only one of me, and my guess is that slightly more than half of the students (I see around 200 a week) know my name. The number of students who can spell my last name is a tiny minority.

As I said in the blog post, I am right on schedule with names, and so far the majority of students are on board with the help I provide with their L1.

CEJ said...

The whole issue of Japanese gets distorted. If you use Japanese:

1. are you clear why and when you use it

2. have you considered that whether or not you use it, students are still going to use Japanese anyway

3. does it help engage students cognitively or emotionally

4. would it be better to demonstrate some things with simple English instead of Japanese

I use Japanese (actually bi-lingual explanations) to give important announcements (like, the class will have a test next week) and for vocabulary study. Language building is going to be bilingual anyway. Outside of that, the problem with EFL in Japan as I have found it is that Japanese is used to cover up student and teacher deficiencies, which is not to say you are deficient or your classes are. What I mean is that Japanese-centered approaches allow very low level students to do something with high level texts, or at least give the illusion of doing something. Japanese EFL students get a lot of 'yaku-doku' and a lot of 'pair practice'. And that is about it.

Daniel said...

CEJ, right there it is. Those should be the considerations when using the L1 in the L2 classroom.

Any other additions welcome, but that is a well-considered list.