Sunday, December 6, 2015

KuangMing and Seijo's Skype Exchange Will Flourish

Akiko's flyer for recruiting students to participate in this project

Principal 栗原's blog entry on Seijo's homepage
They finally pulled this off yesterday and got the principal’s full support. Ten students and Akiko went to the principal’s office, and what those Japanese students did at the meeting was really extraordinary and unbelievably amazing. According to Akiko’s vivid description, one by one they expressed their thoughts and feeling about this project. One said he came to realize that he really enjoyed talking to Taiwanese friends at his age without worrying about his imperfect English. Another said he did not have time to worry about making any mistakes because he tried to respond as soon as possible. Still another said he felt so much more relaxed and was able to use the language with Taiwanese students compared to another program offered by the school in the summer, requiring him to talk to native speakers from Barkley California.

They really intended to continue with this project because they got to use English to make friends their age and talk about interesting topics like school life and hobbies. For those Japanese students, they felt it was so much fun using the language in the previous two sessions because they didn’t think it was an English class at all. They applied whatever they’ve learned from regular English class without worrying about their imperfect English grammar and insufficient vocab words and phrases to express themselves. It was fun because they could use English to talk about their common interests, like music, movies and sports, with Taiwanese students their age. Well, this is also exactly how I want my students to feel with this Skype exchange project.

In such a test-oriented setting, it seemed perfectly normal that teachers spent so much time getting students to get good grades, which means rote memorization of grammar of vocabulary used to be the only concern in the classroom. Taiwan is now experiencing a major education overhaul, moving from a teacher-centered norm to a much more student-centered approach, and lots of workshops have been held accordingly to help teachers meet the new challenges. However, those workshops might be effective in motivating students’ interest of learning with a wide array of teaching methods, but very few of them were targeting students’ English speaking skills. I am a teacher who really enjoys speaking English whenever I can, and I myself have experienced so many times that being open-minded and having a certain level of spoken English are all it takes to make friends outside of Taiwan and also to appreciate cultural differences. This is exactly what I’ve tried so hard to get my students to experience for a very long time.

Starting from this semester, I’m gradually moving towards this ultimate goal of making English a tool for communication with this Skype exchange project. Besides setting up the environment with a stable Internet connection and some laptops, it takes a lot more to make this happen. Other than a one-hour time difference between two countries, we also have to develop worksheets and activities as scaffolding to equip the students with relevant vocabulary and expressions to talk about topics like school life and music. Akiko, Bettie and I have planned our lessons together through Skype several times, coming up with many useful resources before these two sessions. On top of that, due to a very disproportionate number of students on my side, Akiko had to recruit students who volunteered to stay after school for this project. For that, I really owe her a big deal because I can easily imagine how much she’s been through to go this far. Often times I worried whether this project would be continued or not. Now I’m sure that we can keep on working hard to realize our dream because of those Japanese students’ unusual and remarkable act of determination.

Principal 栗原 not only kindly responded to the students’ request but mentioned what we’ve achieved on the school’s homepage, a blog entry posted by the principal herself. Of course, let’s not forget that Principal Hu from KuangMing also participated in our second exchange throughout the whole session, actively using English to talk to some of the Japanese students as well. Therefore, for those who have the authority to make important decisions, we sincerely thank you for your assistance and support, for it would still be a dream without your help. 

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