TESOL at Queensland University of Technology:
The Program and School Visits
A Dream Came True
When I became a husband and a father of two, I started to think that studying abroad would be just a dream. I never wanted to be an irresponsible man who could abandon his family and leave his job in order to satisfy his personal desire. Things have changed when I learned that the Ministry of Education was going to subsidize English teachers to study in Australia for five weeks. I felt the door to complete my “unfinished business” finally opened and I tried so hard to be admitted. I was jealous of my colleagues who pursued their master’s degree in the United Kingdom but not until I was with the other amazing English teachers from Taiwan to study TESOL in Brisbane, Australia.
Two Wonderful Roommates
The honeymoon period was undoubtedly enjoyable during the first days of my stay in Brisbane. I had two wonderful roommates. We shared a quite small room but their friendliness created a warm atmosphere inside. We would go to school together, shop together and cook our own food together. Just like any kind of adventure, our beginning was never easy. We had to learn how to get economical during our stay in Brisbane. It was all shared effort and through that we managed to save up to seven dollars every day. We got on a free ferry and inter-campus shuttle after a few days of trial and error.
The Beauty of Brisbane
For many times, I missed home. However, the beauty of Brisbane has caused me some distractions as its breathtaking tourist spots around the city would entice me to move around. With the variety of gourmet food I could try at the Sunday Riverside markets and South Bank markets on Saturday night, I felt like roaming around Taiwan's night market. Other captivating sights can be seen at the Gallery of Modern Art, the State Library of Queensland, the Queensland Art Gallery, and the Queensland Museum in South Bank. Even I who was not so enthusiastic about art could not easily get my eyes away from what they had inside. By taking a trip on the City Cat ferry, that could carry commuters and visitors up and down the Brisbane River, which winds its way through the City and suburbs, my classmates and I would just add more convenience.
The most important part of my trip to Brisbane started in 3 days. In that training program, participants were expected to gain a new perspective and some innovative skills on English teaching. The first week was more like an orientation. We applied for our ID card, got the username and password, and learned to use it to have access to the library of the Queensland University of Technology or QUT. Moreover, they shared a brief introduction to Australia—their culture, family life, land territory, and about the aboriginals. Classes were conducted in a more student-centered way, mainly with group discussion and even some hands-on activities wherein participants of this program must actively engage in sharing their ideas with the group in English. I thought of it as a great opportunity for us to refine our communication skills. By the end of the whole program, we had to submit our project report. They introduced us the basics of the Independent Study that all participants should apply in deciding on a specific topic related to an actual problem encountered in the classroom and they gave us a tour of the library to know how we could efficiently make use of it while working on our report. The project was the reflection of what we learned and they hoped our new ideas and developed or improved skills would benefit students in Taiwan.
Using Authentic Materials
In our first class aptly named Using Authentic Materials, we were assigned to use “realia”, mainly authentic advertisements like brochures, pamphlets, flyers, etc, to design our own learning materials and activities in a group of three. Given an ad for auto parts and accessories, we had to come up with some innovative ideas of utilizing it as a good supplement. First, we had a warm-up activity and suggested some interesting questions to arouse students’ interests of learning by relating them to their dream cars and what they would buy in the shop to customize them. Then, we focused our grammatical structure on the verb, "spend". After providing many real-life sentences, we hoped students would learn how to use this verb inductively. After that, we divided students into groups and instructed them to give each other real-life questions, e.g., “How much did you spend on buying that watch?” Henceforth, proper answers were observed. Following was still a group activity which tasked students to discuss “in English” the content of certain brochure. In addition, students had to imagine they had two hundred dollars and talked about the items they chose to spend the money for. While doing this talk, they would be standing in front of the whole class in which the teacher and the others could state their feedback. Finally, we gave students the chance to interview other teachers or their parents with the same topic, “spending money on cars” as homework.
ESL in Australia
We got to know the condition of traumatized refugees from war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa who came to Australia to seek asylum and most importantly, to find security they couldn’t have in their own countries. The Australian government adopted series of plans to help them adjust to the new environment, to have a sense of belongingness and the ability to get a job there. Education has played a very crucial role in achieving these goals and English competence was undoubtedly the most important one.
We watched a video of a dedicated teacher. Through that video, we understood refugee students’ English level. It was amazing to see how the wonderful teacher managed to engage them with all kinds of hands-on tasks and projects. Since most of them didn’t have a decent education before, their vocabulary was so limited that they could not even correct their grammatical errors using simple sentences. Adding to the burden was their pronunciation and intonation. That wouldn’t be easy to carry out good talks with unfamiliar sounds. English Immersion Approach was exactly the answer. Every subject was taught by using English as the medium of instruction. The teacher cleverly devised a wide range of learning materials that were related to real-life situations. For example, the students learned to use the Internet to search information online and did an oral presentation totally in English about their countries. One practical application of their learning was asking students to go to a bakery to learn how to bake and be able to get ready for their job opportunities. They did it and had a chance to even lend a hand to cancer patients by raising money through selling their bread and cake. I could not think of any better way in strengthening one's resolution than this method of education.
Systemic Functional Linguistics
Contemporarily, the most dominant English teaching methodology in Australia is the SFL developed by Michael Halliday, wherein learners learn to analyze the purpose of a text. Language features of different text types, or genres, are used to decide whether the author achieves his purpose. Genres, including Argument, Procedure, Narrative, Information Report, Recount, Explanation, etc. a framework for different writing references that learners can follow good models and then try to create their own.
The Framework of Genres for Analysis
Genres are influenced by three aspects of context: field, tenor, and mode. Simply put, field is the subject matter or topic; tenor refers to the roles and relationships between the writer and the reader that lead to the “language choice”, and mode is the method of delivery which can be either written or spoken. In other words, the genre fits the function and the social purpose and context. My blog article that summarizes my experience during this TESOL program is an example of the “field”. Other examples of this are theories and applications provided with language skills. The “tenor” can be I, myself, and other teachers who follow this blog, so my choice of language, including verb moods and vocabulary choices can be both formal and informal, objective and subjective, personal and impersonal. The “mode” is mainly in written form, complete with photos and videos as can be seen in my blog as well.
Reflection and Application of SFL
Based on the Genre Theory, teachers can come up with practical plans to help teach reading and writing more effectively. When it comes to reading comprehension, we can help our students identify genres and their systemic structures so that they can know the context and purpose of the reading passages and quickly locate important language features, like the way the writer organizes his or her main ideas, supporting details, transitional words, etc, to pinpoint the required information and get the correct answers.
When Systemic Functional Linguistics was taught in our TESOL class, during the first couple of hours, I could not easily digest the instructional device. I asked my classmates how they understood the lecture and we were all in the same condition. We all could hardly grasp what was being taught in the beginning. But finally, as I started writing about my blog article, piece by piece, I got the hang of it.
Our instructors covered 5 subjects mainly focused on teacher’s ability to influence students practice in using the English language and certain skills were targeted to be honed.
The teacher today began her class by emphasizing how useful and effective it could be to teach writing with many interactive group works that create opportunities for students to work with each other and therefore create a more dynamic class. Given an essay topic of how the popularity of international traveling has benefited both countries of destination and travelers, we were again asked to work in groups and perform several tasks based on the idea of “guided writing”. For example, we first brainstormed words related to traveling as many as possible and categorized them into three types to help form paragraphs. Then, we decided on the most suitable topic or concluding sentences for each paragraph with our partners. Finally, each paragraph gradually took form after finishing the tasks of “cohesion” and “linking words”. An effective way to develop cohesion in writing is to use similar words for key vocabulary, and linking words, such as “because” and “however”, are necessary to connect ideas.
At the final week of the program, each participant would have to do a micro-teaching in a group of three as well as to incorporate new teaching ideas and techniques that we have learned. The purpose of the activity was for the teachers to have an opportunity to demonstrate and share their dedicated work of becoming a more creative teacher with each other. The medium of instruction, of course, has to be English while presenting the micro-teaching, and apparently, this has caused some anxiety among teachers probably as most were afraid of making mistakes in front of other teachers. Nevertheless, it aimed that teachers could break out of their comfort zone and be confident in their ability to talk regardless of their English communication skills.
How It Should Be Done
A brief introduction to micro-teaching was given covering its definition and all the principles of doing an impressive one in a few weeks. This simulation activity required teachers to present a part of a lesson using strategies and techniques appropriate to their target students. Moreover, the use of a textbook, teaching aids, giving instructions, organizing language practice through group work, providing feedback to students, etc., were expected to be executed. We were repeatedly reminded of the importance of making our activities interactive, instead of being authoritarian and doing too much lecturing again. What’s more, constructive feedback from other participants was extremely important as well. To complete the circle, we had to make sure that supportive and non-threatening advice would also be offered by other observant participants after each micro-teaching so that every teacher could have a chance to improve their teaching practices.
Classroom Language Skills
Why is it important?
As English teachers, we were expected to use English in many ways and expose our students to good models of correct language use. For example, English in the classroom can be used for daily routines, class rules, administrative tasks, reward procedures, etc. In my case, I’d like to give a simple explanation first and then make lots of real-life example sentences and encourage them to guess its Chinese equivalent, in the hope that they could learn this new word in more retainable and contextualized way.
Why is it not so easy in Taiwan?
Thinking of my own lessons, I would use a mixture of Chinese and English in various activities, but less than ten percent of my time was spent on English. In reality, there are many factors influencing how much English is used in my classroom. One thing to take into consideration is students’ level. I cannot speak English in my class for more than two minutes for the reason that this gradually resulting in losing their concentration. Or, when I want to chat about something more casually, which can be irrelevant to the current topic, I tend to speak much longer. Hence, I do not have to worry about their understanding to my talk.
How can it be done?
We were instructed that classroom language could be divided into two categories, the language of interaction and the language of instruction. The former included eliciting (e.g. asking questions, modifying a question, providing hints or clues, encouraging students to ask questions and respond to each other), responding (e.g. responding to student questions, seeking clarification, giving confirmation, asking for repetition) and providing feedback (e.g. acknowledging, evaluating and commenting on student responses). The latter featured presenting (e.g. explaining something new), giving instructions (e.g. to assign homework, to manage the classroom) and signaling (e.g. indicating stages of a lesson).
Monopoly and Running Dictation
The most inspiring and exciting thing I experienced during this section was that grammar can also be taught in a much more interactive and dynamic way than lecturing and repetitive substitution drills. Lauren began her class by engaging everybody with some sort of a Monopoly game. Each group was so busy discussing the correct answers and placing dice to win more cash by deciding on which type of conditionals fits into the right description. I immediately thought about modifying it a little bit to help my students clarify all the different usages of relative clauses for the coming new semester. Then, we were also introduced to the “Running Dictation” for teaching the passive voice. Students work in pairs. One has to change the incomplete sentences into right ones and repeat them to his or her partners, and the other has to jot down every word that has been said. After that, also with pair discussion, students have to unscramble the sentences correctly based on how banana chips are made and shipped. While playing those grammar games, there was laughing, smiling or even shouting at all times.
In Taiwan, most teachers, including myself, tend to teach grammar deductively, giving clear rules and explanations followed by many mechanical drills to make sure our students know how to get good grades on their tests. Under the circumstances, being student-centered and interactive in the classroom is really difficult, not to mention teaching grammar communicatively, which has been stressed many times by the instructor today. Reflecting on this teaching practice, I think the traditional lecturing and repetitive drills are still necessary for such a test-oriented setting in Taiwan. However, those interesting games can also be used as great supplements, scaffolding students in a more fun and communicative way rather than rote memorization of grammatical rules and structures.
We were introduced to some useful language for discussions, like asking for and giving opinions, agreeing and disagreeing, interrupting, stalling, conceding a point, admitting an error, etc. With the given article, Internet Addiction- A Growing Problem, we were provided with a simple survey and asked to interview each other about how addicted they were. The instructor also reminded us the necessary scaffolding, like background information, structured language, controlled discussion, etc, must be provided in advance before getting students ready to talk.
Discourse markers, Nominalization and Hedging were introduced in this section. First, we went through purposes of each category of discourse markers in terms of written and spoken forms. Next, given a sentence, “The environment is an important issue in today’s world because the scientists and researchers spend a lot of time about the environment, the problems and how to protect it.”, we learned to identify nonacademic words, such as “because”, “spend a lot of time”, “about”, etc. and change them into more academic ones by using the passive voice, higher lexis and nominalization. As a result, the new sentence could be: One of the single most important issues in the world today is the environment. Finally, hedging is to avoid definite statements in a noncommittal, ambiguous way by using words like “possibly”, “might”, “it has been suggested that”, etc.
For readers of this blog, maybe you already knew that articles posted on this website were written in a more casual way because I have never been properly trained with regard to academic writing. Besides, I also didn’t want them to be so formal or serious, so you can find my way of writing usually is not that objective as research papers and oftentimes even very personal. After this class, I think there’s so much for me to learn if I want my writing to be concise and to the point in terms of nominalization.
School Experience: St Thomas More College
This catholic secondary school is located in Sunnybank, with a total of 580 students from grade 8 to grade 12 and the tuition of 4000 AUD a year. Its curriculum planning is based on the Brisbane Catholic Education Beliefs, emphasizing the demands of contemporary learners and the changing and challenging world. Of course, religious courses are incorporated and governed by its vision and mission statement, reflected in the motto, God’s Servant First. Math, Science, Social Studies, English and Religion are the main academic areas, complete with over thirty functional courses.
The most important aim of this school visit trip is for us to really go into the classrooms and see how curriculum is actually taught and learned with first-hand observations. Divided into several groups, we were provided with two periods of classes, so everyone was quite busy taking notes and photos without interrupting the teacher. The first class was English literature, and the topic was Sacred Text. Students were already working in groups of four when we got there. Each member had to make their contributions with their “Individual Thinking”, and then they combined those ideas and established the ”Group Statement” collectively, which each group had to share with the rest of the class later on. The teacher was busily moving among groups and checked their participation. After that, one student from each group read aloud their group statement, and the teacher gave constructive feedback or added more specific details to their answers. Following that, the teacher showed his PowerPoint slides about genres of texts, such as legends, myths, poetry, prophecy, proverbs, etc. to check students’ understanding by asking some questions. Shortly after that, students were asked to look for definitions of some genres online with their laptops. In the end, the last activity was to match some given texts, like Exodus 20, Ecclesiastes 7, Luke 4: 16-21 and so on, and justify their decisions with evidence from the text. During those tasks, the teacher kept reminding them of the importance of higher-order thinking skills and encouraged them constantly even when their answers were incomplete or incorrect.
Career Development Education
The second class was Career Development Education, designed to help students to choose their pathways to potential career perspectives, including future general education, vocational training, work and alternatives. Students worked in pairs to discuss and find out the requirement of entry that their teacher had given them as homework. Taking University of Queensland for example, the teacher also went through the prerequisites to some given departments. Then, a video directly related to this topic was shown to elicit the three R’s: Reflect, Research and Resolve. Again, students worked in pairs to discuss five pros and cons of their choices, and the teacher helped many of them reflect on their ideas and gave them some advice as well. In the end, Principal Elmore was so kind to give us a tour of the school facilities, such as the library, the computer lab, the culinary room, and the RTP room, etc.
It seems that teachers and students there are pretty used to being observed. We not only went into the classroom but walked around and talked with some of the students. When the teacher asked a question, there always would be several students raising their hands. When told to work in groups, most of them could actively participate in the discussion. However, to my surprise, one girl virtually lied on the chair, with her legs holding up high, but the teacher did nothing about it. Also, one girl was fiddling with another girl’s hair, and another was throwing folded paper or something. Thus, there is no such a thing as a perfect education system in the world, I guess.
Without further ado, Marg demonstrated a listening activity called Whispers. Outside the classroom, one participant from each group got an oral message, “I saw Sussie sitting in the shoe shine shop”, from her and had to come back inside whispering it quietly to the next one, and so on and so forth. In the end, the last one had to write that sentence down on the board. Actually, the phrase, “shoe shine shop”, was not easy to make out, and only one group successfully got it right. The fun part of this task was each member was not only passively passing what he or she has heard but also actively interpreting the sentence. In other words, both top down and bottom up skills are required to comprehend what we heard efficiently.
Then, we discussed possible listening problems and potential solutions. Causes can generally be classified into six areas: psychological, lack of familiarity with phonological features of L2, lack of familiarity with authentic speech, lack of transfer of L1 listening skills, lack of cultural knowledge and poorly designed tasks. Next, listening strategies, including building a schema, listening for the gist, predicting details, etc., can be helpful for teachers to design such a listening lesson. Take my “Learning English from YouTube” class for example, I would state the theme of the week first and then give a simple introduction to the video they were about to watch in order to give them some background information. Students were also encouraged to grasp the main idea and guess the meaning from the context, which was designed to amplify the importance of that earlier introduction.
Pronunciation and Reading
Teaching Pronunciation with PBL
The lecturer, Lynette, began this section with a sort of Problem-Based Learning approach. To elicit categories like intonation, stress, spelling/pronunciation relationship, consonant clusters, and so on, she posed questions regarding some common issues which we usually encounter when teaching pronunciation. Lynette emphasized that we had to move students from the known to the unknown as to be effective language teachers. For example, one of the participants asked how to help students distinguish front /l/ and dark /l/, and she said that making front /l/ first and then with your tongue in the same place at the front, raising the back of the tongue almost to the position /u/. Then, we practiced it several times and got the hang of it.
Teaching Reading with Stories
By reading intriguing stories, like Koala Lou, The Wide-mouthed Frog, The Circus and Don’t, Lynette demonstrated many innovative and practical teaching skills in terms of teaching word/sentence stress and intonation, and we were all very impressed by how wonderfully she could read these stories and poems with her voice. We worked in groups and practiced those skills over and over again until everyone could confidently read it out loud and gained Lynette’s recognition. Personally, I really could relate to those skills because of the Readers Theater Competition last year, which I also incorporated some skills to help my students bring the characters alive with their voice. So, how to employ those reading skills in a regular class is a big challenge for each participant of this program.
Bottom-up vs. Top-down
In the Teaching Reading session, again, we brainstormed some reading difficulties for both students and teachers, such as the lack of sufficient vocabulary and background knowledge, the length of reading passages, and so on, so each potential solution was discussed. Then, two relevant views regarding reading comprehension, Bottom-up and Top-down, were elaborated and analyzed with several examples. Both skills are required to achieve reading comprehension regardless of the level of the students, so the decision to decide on which skill to suit the need of the readers and contexts is crucial.
Next, we also took a quick glimpse of Schema Theory and came up with schema-building activities which provide students with what they should’ve known before actually reading the article, including key words and main ideas. Finally, we read a given paragraph and tried to determine which might be a suitable first paragraph, complete with valid reasons. This activity was designed to help learners use contextual clues to actively construct the first paragraph.
Teaching Speaking & Listening
The Testing Approach
Two approaches with regard to listening were introduced and discussed, which served as an excellent guideline for some listening activities to grab attention throughout the whole class. The Testing Approach, which the teacher introduces the topic and some key vocabulary, with the students reading the questions and checking any unknown words, doesn’t offer that much active engagement because students only try to get everything right as the tape are played.
The Skill Development Approach
On the contrary, the Skill Development Approach will get students to talk briefly about the topic and brainstorm related vocabulary and ideas. Also, students are encouraged to ask questions about some difficult words or sections. Then, the teacher plays the tape again and stops at any difficult parts if necessary. Given a copy of the transcript, students read it through, hear the tape and then listen again without reading the transcript. In other words, this approach provides many scaffolding activities, like reading the transcript, for students to construct the meanings actively. Also, the “Use it or lose it” principle was emphasized so that teachers should create opportunities to allow students to produce with the language on their own and retain it longer.
Under the principle of Skill Development Approach, Judith introduced a total of eleven activities:
1. Listening and Spelling Practice Exercise: checking students’ understanding of words with difficult spelling, e.g., favourite, fauvourite, fauvorite, favourte; I like, I’d like, I’ll like, I’m like.
2. Bingo: distinguishing some confusing consonants, e.g. sheets, she, shore and sack.
3. Word substitution: practicing synonym use
4. Silent Dictation: pronunciation and articulation
5. “George is getting married”: dictation, blank-filling, confidence-building and role-play (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJIQjDtdygA)
6. Listening for Accuracy: I Heard It Through The Grapevine by Marvin Gaye
7. Ben by Michael Jackson: the use of transcript to enhance listening comprehension
8. Physical Exercises: vocabulary of body parts, speaking and listening
9. Taking a Group Photograph: information gap, speaking and listening comprehension
10. Running Dictation: listening, speaking, memorization and sentence-sequencing
11. Movie Goofs: a fun way to practice speaking (http://www.moviemistakes.com/imdb250)
Most important of all, not only did we go through all the activities in a more interactive and dynamic way, but we also learned the rationale behind each one of them, complete with the purpose, the procedures and some potential variations in those activities. Undoubtedly, this class is by far the most resourceful one, and Judith was immediately surrounded by all participants asking to take a selfie.
Two kinds of activities, receptive and productive activities, can help students learn new words. It takes an average of 15 times for learners to meet unknown words as to really retain and use on their own. When teaching vocabulary, we should make sure that the following aspects are included: the form, the pronunciation, collocations, the meaning and synonyms/antonyms/hynonyms. Then, we were introduced to an activity, K.I.M., for vocabulary words and new ideas. Write the term of the key idea (K) in the left column, the information (I) that goes along with it in the center column, and draw a picture of the idea, a memory clue (M) in the right column.
School Experience: ST Paul’s School
The English Class
There were two classes that I got to observe today. One was an English class that students were busy working on their drafts, and the other was a Japanese class where learners were practicing speaking in pairs. First, I was originally grouped and assigned to watch an English class in which students prepared PowerPoint slides for their oral presentations on Romeo and Juliet. The teacher called on their names one by one and gave some advice while the rest were working on their individual draft. I interviewed some students and tried to have an understanding of what they were doing, and there was nothing left to watch because most of the students were chatting. Some even were listening to music with their earphones, but the teacher seemed to ignore that unless they were too noisy. So, I was standing there awkwardly without knowing what to do next. After a few minutes, we decided to leave and see if we could observe another one.
The Japanese Class
Luckily, the teacher from next class was very friendly and immediately invited us to watch her lesson. It was a Japanese class, and students were busy practicing the sentence pattern, “How do you go to plus place?” in the target language. One thing really surprised me was that the pronunciation and intonation of hers were quite amazing, and she kept demonstrating how to say it correctly and fluently for the students, with half of her instructions delivered in Japanese. The overall atmosphere was quite relaxed, and the students were so willingly to participate in the activity. Judging from their active participation, I would say this was such a successful class that most of the students enjoyed taking this optional foreign language course. After class, I particularly asked the teacher how she would get those learners to practice speaking Japanese outside of the classroom. She said that there were many international students in this school, and she could arrange some Japanese students to talk to hers one on one in Japanese.
Reflecting on what I have learned from this school visit, I realized making the class student-centered and interactive was the most distinguished feature compared with the teaching practices in Taiwan. Teachers here sometimes also do lecturing, but they tend to make it short and efficient. Then, students are given relatively much more time to explore with group work, and they’re all pretty used to sharing their ideas with the whole class. As for teachers’ feedback, it is usually warm and kind so that students are not afraid of making mistakes even though their answers are not necessarily correct every time. Thirdly, teachers here give individual guidance, regardless of the noise from the other students. There are about twenty-five students in the class, and of course, some students will chat and even misbehave when they are left unattended, but they can usually get back on track as soon as the teacher signals them to be quiet.
So, can we just copy all the good things we’ve observed and implement every one of them in Taiwan? Well, the following are some restraints that I think we need to bear in mind before embracing those good practices. The first one is students’ level of English. Activities, like paraphrasing or summarizing, or anything that requires students to organize their thoughts and express themselves in English usually won’t work as well because they are not given enough opportunities to practice from something easier or related to their everyday life. The second one is students’ lack of motivation. Students in Taiwan are quite used to sit quietly in class, waiting for their teachers to give them the correct answers so that they can copy onto their textbooks. They are just too afraid of making mistakes and getting laughed at by their classmates. The third one is teachers’ lack of freedom to decide what to teach. For example, not only do I have to cover the textbook, but I also have to teach loads of supplements of outside reading, which leaves me a little time to do activities in class. And the last one is the class size and the seating. There are thirty-five students packed in a relatively small classroom. Unfortunately, almost every interactive activity here demands larger space to put students into groups, so that can be a problem before adopting any of those techniques in our own classrooms. However, please note that any of these should not be an excuse for not trying something new and fun compared with the usual mundane lecturing. It is our job to at least provide an opportunity for our students to experience what it feels like to really use the language in the classroom.
When introducing a new reading passage to our students, “Brainstorming” is a very useful technique in many practical ways. It can not only get them mentally ready but provide scaffolding to help them understand the material better, such as eliciting vocabulary, predicting what might be mentioned based on the title or illustrations and giving some important background knowledge. All these activities are designed to engage learners to actively participate in learning, rather than wait to be told what to do passively.
Also, reading is not necessarily all about learners’ processing the text individually. There are also some very interactive activities to engage students so that reading becomes more interesting and dynamic. For example, the “Jigsaw” activity is quite suitable for students to work together and actively construct the meaning as a group with everybody’s contributions. We were divided into three groups of ten and had to thoroughly understand one of the three given parts of the reading material, including the new words or phrases. Then, the lecturer, Terrie, gave us some guided tasks, like wh-questions about each of our own part to make sure we can all get the gist of the divided article. Next, all the three parts of the article were put together, and everyone could get the whole picture. Each member of the new group had to orally share what he or she could elaborate on the designated part and then went through all the reading compression questions assigned by Terrie altogether. When each of the three new group members successfully finished the task, the jigsaw puzzle was solved as well.
There are many advantages for teachers to adopt this technique in the classroom. First, interaction among students really creates more opportunities to engage them in the process of constructing the text meaning. Traditionally, teachers tend to explain everything in detail, including all the new words, phrases, and structures, in the hope that our students can get everything right on the tests. As a result, students are deprived of chances to develop important reading skills because they are used to relying on their teachers to do all the work. Second, this activity combines both reading and speaking skills. For example, more advanced learners can be encouraged to summarize the whole reading passage and do an oral report with their own words. Third, and of course, less lecturing from teachers also means students get to participate more, and they also become more motivated when completing the assigned tasks collectively.
Language skills, teaching strategies, and school visits constitute this five-week TESOL program. Immersed in a speaking environment like this, participants got to practice their language skills and finished all the hands-on tasks regarding English speaking skills mainly. Then, by coming up with simple lesson plans collaboratively, we also tried to apply those ideas and techniques in a very test-driven setting back in Taiwan, which was really challenging because of students’ mixed abilities in a relatively big class. Last but not least, with class participation, school visits did provide great opportunities to experience Australian school life and how a foreign language, Japanese, was taught in class.
Three years ago, I embarked on this great journey of gradually reinventing my ways of teaching with ideas and techniques that I learned from Cooperative Learning, Task Based Learning, lesson planning with ABCD objectives, to name just a few. I kept on trying out new strategies in my own class and then shared what I learned with teachers through microteaching and teaching demonstrations. Looking back on this great experience at QUT, I was really lucky to be admitted to this program and began enjoying applying all the activities in my class.
Taiwan has been experiencing major education reform over the past decade, moving towards a more student-centered paradigm. Cooperative learning, collaborative lesson planning, differentiated teaching and even flipped classroom have dominated in-service training workshops these years, emphasizing a variety of innovative teaching strategies can really help motivate students' interest in learning. However, this trend of "flipped classroom" also raised some doubts about its effectiveness compared to good old traditional lecturing. Some argued that we can’t just “copy and paste” those originated in the West directly to Taiwan without seriously thinking over the differences between the two totally different settings.
With real application of what I learned at QUT, it has been a long trial-and-error process to see whether those techniques actually work in my class. Lecturing on vocabulary and grammar is still a must, so is tests and loads of homework because of the entrance exam. Furthermore, before adopting this more student-centered approach in our classroom, we have to take students’ diverse learning styles and mixed abilities in a big class into consideration. With sufficient scaffolding and intriguing learning tasks that help create more opportunities to USE the language, I found students would be significantly more motivated to work with their partners and actively get engaged in hands-on activities for English learning. That, without a shadow of a doubt, is the most valuable lesson that I learned from the TESOL program and school visits at QUT.
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