In my high school…

I teach a discussion class. One of the most recent topics for discussion was comparing the English classes my students had in their many different (are they..?) high schools across the country and discussion classes at university, i.e. our classes. As the 13 groups of students I teach were having their discussions, I was making notes.

The aim of this post is to share students’ views that probably build some picture of what an English learning environment in many high schools around Japan is. If the words of 110 kids are anything to trust and go by. While one might not like the picture, it may or may not be representative of many, many classrooms in other countries. Or is it? Your comments are very welcome.

In my high school…

… I only hear the teacher talking.

… textbooks are too difficult.

… I didn’t have to think in class!

… no group work

… my teacher says, “Be quiet!”

… we sit all the time.

… purpose is grammar.

… students are quiet.

… silent class (teacher talks)

… “Repeat after me”

… we have paper test.

… we are only taught by teacher, passive.

… teacher is the main person.

… teacher teaches me one way, we can’t interact, no communication.

… teacher uses Japanese all the time.

… I speak only textbook! I don’t say my ideas.

… teacher says, “Don’t mistake grammar.”

… teacher always speaking, students always listening. This is not fun.

… I see target every day – memorize new words!

… teacher and students are far, students are not interested in teacher.

… we studied English.

… perfect English is important.

… we don’t have opportunity to listen to other people’s opinion.

… students face front.

… makes me sleepy.

… I only write English.

… teacher doesn’t talk to students, sometimes “Do you know…?”

*****

I wonder if what strikes me as powerful does the same for you. It’s obvious from these notes that the picture is far from happy. Yet… I don’t want to make this post a triumph show of a speaking class so I won’t be sharing my notes from the other side of their discussions talking about our class. In fact, it’s not even fair to be comparing classes that have dramatically different goals. What’s important, students seem well aware of these goals, so that is a good sign. I will, however, share the disadvantages of Discussion Class that I heard pronounced by the same students. And then I’ll leave you to decide if there’s something to it or not.

The disadvantages of Discussion Class…

I forget grammar and difficult words (I learnt many words in high school but couldn’t use them).

Morning is difficult to wake up, and think and speak English.

I can’t memorize new phrases.

When I make a mistake, nobody tells me.

We can communicate only by words, so grammar is broken.

We are all Japanese people, so we can’t hear native English, it is fast and difficult to understand.

I’m worried that I can’t speak to foreigners.

I can’t tell my opinion completely.

I don’t “study” English!

A little hard, after class I’m tired.

I am very tired because I talk more compared to daily life and other class.

I get very sad when I can’t convey my idea.

*****

Listening to students is always so much fun. I don’t share the opinion that we can’t learn from teenagers or kids who we teach because they don’t have anything to offer to us. I believe if you listen, you will hear.

Here are some random gems, fun or funny or smart or interesting, that I picked from those same discussions. Someting there made me smile and/or put it down to paper.

  1. I want to eat another country. 
  2. Foreigners are cool, tall, face is cool, blond hair, long nose.
  3. In the world, speaking skill is most important. Even if I forget grammar, I can still speak.
  4. Most of Japanese teachers think that grammar is most important, but when you speak it’s not. I can communicate without correct grammar. Important is our thinking, our ideas, our feelings.
  5. Is it good to speak only English in class?

 

Really, is it?…

Thank you for reading.

 

*****

And now, my turn. In my high school (Moscow, 2001-2003) my English classes were very boring. The teacher always sat down at her desk, called our names from the register, and then we checked our homework. We read and translated boring texts, we translated boring sentences from Russian into English, we probably did some grammar exercises but I can’t be sure. It’s all a blur. I barely learnt any English at school. And the teacher… well, she looked so bored and tired and miserable all the time. I feel sorry for her now, I don’t think she wanted to be there in the first place.

 

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6 thoughts on “In my high school…

  1. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Anna,
    This post is brilliant. I’ve heard so many of those comments from teachers and students around the world, often in a sentence that goes something like this: ‘We do things differently here – our classes are [fill in a sentence from your blogpost]. That’s why it can be difficult for students to join in with [whatever activity I’m showing them]’
    I think I might use it as a warmer in teacher training – something along the lines of “Guess which country the students were from who wrote these sentences.”
    Thank you!
    Sandy

    • annloseva says:

      Hopefully it’s never too late to thank you for the comment!))

      Interesting idea to use these in teacher training. Even if the situations that students described there may sound somewhat sad, I think it would be good to look at them analytically and imagine reasons why each of those lines could be valid and in what circumstance, and the reasons why not. If you see what I mean…

      Thank you for your comment AND for making me feel stronger about my wish to be involved in teacher training..some day.))

  2. sniffyboy says:

    Anna, again a lot of fuel for ‘discussion’. I think the key is find a forum for students in which they can access their own ideas and emotions in English and then begin to experiment with giving responses or asking questions. I think this takes intentionality and a degree of training, especially in risk taking. There are also needs to be a framing of what discussion can mean and how it can be achieved in class. A thoughtful response and an example can often be enough. Discussion requires a vulnerable engagement and the certainty of an uncertain outcome. That is something that takes students a while to buy into but they will …

    • annloseva says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. In this discussion course, the students do almost exactly what you’re suggesting! And you’re right, training is necessary, and luckily we’re all getting plenty of it!…

  3. sharon says:

    This post is so eye opening. As I read it, I can’t help but think how much of this reflects the classes I teach. GIven there are some things that I do differently, like group work and such but overall this is true. Sad but true. Or maybe it isn’t sad? Maybe English class (EFL) requires such teaching ? I try and make the lessons as interesting as possible but grammar is a focus and I am in front of the class. Is that so terrible? I think this topic is huge and there is plenty to discuss.
    Love this post! A lot of fuel for thought.
    Thanks!

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