By Ho Ying Kiu Bridget (Year 5, 2016-2017)
Through the Daegu teaching trip, I realized how important it is for teachers to be extremely flexible in class, to be alert at all times in class to make instant responses to students’ needs, and to create an English speaking environment for ESL and EFL students if it is aimed that their English proficiency would improve.
One of the criteria of an effective teacher is to be able to plan lessons and design materials based on the students’ ability. This Daegu trip was an excellent opportunity for us to practice catering for students’ ability. In the preparation stage, we were told that we would be teaching boys from Sung Kwang Junior High and Senior High School (which is basically a secondary school in Hong Kong but they have the junior form and senior form separated into two schools). Nine of the year 4 and 5 students, after receiving some basic information about Sung Kwang, paired up and designed lessons in Hong Kong when we had not much idea about the students’ ability and the school’s facilities. The only certain thing we knew about Sung Kwang was that the students were used to grammar-translation method so we assumed it would be a challenge for them to produce extensively in English. Although we expected the students might struggle with using the language, we aimed to provide productive and interactive tasks for them. If teachers give clear instruction and provide enough guidance, students should be able to complete the tasks designed according to their level. Nevertheless, it is challenging to design lessons for a group of students whom you have never met and for a school that you have never visited. Without knowing the students’ ability in advance, we have to make several plans to cater for lower or higher ability students. Without knowing what the school could provide, it is best not to use IT in teaching so we planned to use the blackboard, word cards, papers and markers only. After observing the English lessons in Junior High, we realized that the students’ ability was higher than what we had anticipated and IT was available so we immediately scaled up the level of our lesson plans and materials and added IT in teaching. Unfortunately, for senior high, we did not have a chance to observe their lessons, we could only make a wild guess based on the junior high students’ performance so we assumed the senior high must have high ability as well. This assumption turned out to be untrue.
Another criterion for a successful teacher is to be flexible and attentive to students’ needs in teaching. In senior high, my partner Chloe and I were assigned to teach two classes of second year students (equivalent to Form 5 in Hong Kong). We decided to teach them how to differentiate between word forms (adjective, adverb and noun) by pointing out some common suffixes of nouns and adverbs. Since we assumed they would have high ability, we had chosen some advanced vocabulary as examples. And as we were going to teach Level A and B classes (Korea students were divided into Level A, B and C according to their language proficiency with A the highest), we pitched the level through the design of tasks and different set of materials. While we were teaching Level B, it seemed that the students understood the meaning of the vocabulary, could follow our instructions and successfully perform the tasks; yet in Level A class, most of the students did not understand the meaning of those vocabulary. How could I expect them to use those words in the correct word form to fill in the blanks of sentences when they did not even understand the meaning of those vocabulary items? Thus, I made an instant decision in class which was explaining the meaning of the vocabulary items. Also, I spent a lot of time in guiding the students to finish the fill-in-the blanks worksheet. When the teaching content and materials are not set according to the level of the students, the teacher really has to be flexible to make immediate modification to the lesson procedures.
During our reflection session with Sung Kwang’s teachers, one thing that impressed them the most was that we were able to motivate their students, who were used to speaking and listening to Korean in English lessons, to speak in English and to perform all the tasks even when we only spoke English. This proves that teachers’ expectation on students could affect students’ performance. It is always the teachers’ presumption that limits the students’ ability to perform their best. When teachers believe that student are not capable of understanding English, they will resort to their mother tongue. This actually deprives ESL and EFL students’ of engaging in an all-English environment. Some people may wonder how lower-ability students can learn when they do not even understand English, it is unavoidable to use grammar-translation in order to help them comprehend. From this Daegu teaching experience, I gather that as teachers, we have to be observant to students’ reaction. If they look confused, perhaps it is time to slow down our talking speed, paraphrase our instructions with simpler words, and use gestures, facial expression, color-coding on blackboard as teaching aids.
Other than teaching, we spent a day with English Education students from Keimyung University. We exchanged information about Hong Kong and Korea’s education curriculum, then we spent an afternoon having traditional Korean snacks and playing Korean board games. They were all very welcoming and nice. From their presentation on Korea’s education curriculum, it could be seen that Korean students were very diligent as every utterance was thoroughly planned. One thing that surprised me about their university entrance exam, CSAT, was that only listening and reading skills were tested even for English Education students. This explained why English lessons in Korea rarely focus on productive skills and are mostly delivered using the grammar-translation method. Consequently, their language proficiency and ours have discrepancies even though we were all going to be future English teachers. It further proves how essential it is for teachers to provide an English environment for students if it is aimed that both their receptive and productive skills would improve.