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.
- I want to eat another country.
- Foreigners are cool, tall, face is cool, blond hair, long nose.
- In the world, speaking skill is most important. Even if I forget grammar, I can still speak.
- 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.
- 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.