Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Who am I fooling?

Hi Simon,

Thanks for your prompt reply. I can see you've incorporated some important features from both links I sent to you. They will definitely serve as very good topics for discussion, providing some food for thought for the teachers to really reflect on why new approaches like cooperative learning, alternative assessment, differentiated teaching and so on are the key to success.

We're now experiencing a series of major changes in terms of admission, curriculum, assessment and teaching methods. As a member of the English Advisory Group, my job is to promote those new ideas and skills at workshops as an organizer or a lecturer myself. Of course I enjoy “experimenting” new things in my class first before I share them at workshops, and I usually get positive feedback form the participants. But sometimes, just like everybody else, I would have this concern that whether all of them are fit for such a test-oriented setting in Taiwan.

Without a doubt, those new approaches absolutely help engage more students and motivate their interest of learning better compared to lecturing. However, I feel like we’re in the fashion business. Two years ago, everybody was talking about using tablets and apps to teach English. Now, Board games seem to be the next best thing. Then what? Teachers still have to make sure they’ve covered everything before tests, and students are still required to memorize lots of trivial facts if they want to get good grades, not to mention Taiwanese, or most of us, still cannot use the language after all these years of learning.

When I said I was stuck, I meant lecturing is effective but boring. Student-centered approach is intriguing but not very helpful in the current setting. They say fake it until you make it. I’m not just faking it. In fact, I’m actually very good at it. I can do teaching demonstrations outside of my school with students I’ve never met before and still captivate them and all the English teachers sitting in the back. But, who am I fooling?


Richard (Guo-jhen)

Hi Simon, 

You did provide some new perspectives about the relationship between economic reality and education, which I can relate a lot to. There are often over 30 students with mixed abilities in a class. It is difficult for teachers to give proper individual guidance because that’ll slow everything down. A lot of teachers, including myself, focus their attention on the middle group so that we can be sure that we cover everything before tests. As a result, slow learners are always struggling and falling behind, and advanced learners tend to think taking English class in school is a waste of time. 

However, everybody is going to graduate eventually. That’s why I usually told my students that they themselves would decide whether they want to wait tables for a living or find a more decent job after graduation, which totally depends on how much they’re willing to invest themselves by paying attention in class or studying hard for tests for their own future. So, if a student fail academically, of course I’d feel sorry about that because that means it is very likely that he or she can’t lead a better life in the future. But, just like you said, they’ll find a way to support themselves anyway. Also, if I think I’ve done everything I can to stop a student from constantly sleeping in class but fail, I would think that’s his or her choice, and I have plenty more students to take care of, which indicates differentiation and making sure every student is successful was actually not that important to me. 

Now, when I group my students and conduct an intriguing activity, I hope everybody can get involved and have fun learning English. For slow learners, I have to differentiate the learning tasks because creating an opportunity for each success to succeed is very important. Some of them may be poor in English, but they can showcase their talent by creating eye-catching mind maps. For advanced learners, they won’t be motivated to participate if they don’t feel challenged. So, I would ask them to try to do their presentations in English. Of course, you don’t really have to worry about that when lecturing throughout the whole class. Now, I need to take differentiation into consideration when planning my lessons because I want to make sure those activities can work well and really help motivate my students. 

This new paradigm of teaching can only work well with some prerequisites, and I think the abolishment of the entrance exam is the most important one. But the truth is we’re all part of the system, and there is little we can do about it as a teacher. We want the benefits of the western ways, but the MOE keeps giving in to public pressure because most parents still believe their children can succeed as long as they get into the NTU. Only standardized tests can guarantee nobody will try to manipulate anything, and getting good grades becomes the only concern accordingly. Many teachers still believe they don’t have to change a bit because of that, and I find it difficult to dispute that argument.  

Is being student-centered a solution to all the problems? Well, at least I can make my class more interactive and interesting though my students won’t necessarily get better grades. For teachers like me, we are constantly stuck between the new ways and the ones. In order to prepare my ninth graders for the CAP, or avoid pressure from the parents and the school to be exact, I lectured throughout the whole class most of the time. I do teaching demonstrations and answer teachers’ questions about how to strike a balance in being student-centered while I myself am plagued by that. How ironic!

It’s pretty easy for a bunch of Taiwanese English teachers to get together and complain about many things, but your insights provided some new perspectives for me to reflect on my trouble. Most important of all, for a crazy English learner like me, I get to try to express and share my thoughts and feelings in English with a native speaker who understands how difficult it is to be student-centered here in Taiwan. 


Richard (Guo-jhen)

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