(The lack of) Dogme moments with my Japanese teachers

Today I had my third Japanese lesson. Just before we started, I had a brief chat with my other two classmates. Not surprisingly, none of us had had the chance to go over the materials we did in the previous week. That’s the reality of the classroom. Most teachers are faced with lazy students or those who claim to have other things “further up” on their Must-Do list. Guilty as charged. This is why dealing with emergent language properly is perhaps the single most important thing a teacher can do in the classroom no matter how insignificant it may seem to the teacher.

Having just commented on a learner and a teacher’s perspective on class feedback following an activity, I thought it would be the perfect time to talk about my two Japanese teachers and how they deal with feedback. Here I want to focus on their attitude and their feedback on emergent language. What makes a “preferable” or a “better” teacher from my point of view as the learner?

Let’s call them Teacher A (A) and Teacher B (B) with students (ss C, ss N and ss T).

Last Saturday, we had Teacher A. We did the usual greetings. Two lines. By the book. We went through stacks of flashcards. Fragmented links between activities. When I tried to shout out what I knew about certain adjectives, what did Teacher A do? She signalled me to keep quiet. I thought that was fair enough, perhaps she was worried I would confuse the others. I was fine with that. Later, I tried a few more times to ask her questions about something that came up within the context, she would quickly go through them but wouldn’t bother to involve the other students. It was as if what I asked was totally irrelevant. I thought, well, she sort of responded. I was tired last week, so with my repeated attempts being half-ignored and half-dealt with, she had lost me. I wasn’t particularly happy.

Throughout the whole lesson, I felt that she was trying too hard to go through everything in her plan, she was clearly just teaching the plan, not the students. I could see her freaking out when the flashcards she had expected to be there weren’t actually there. She was rushing. The way she introduced the lexis and how she modelled and drilled the pronunciation were shaky.

To be fair, towards the later part of the lesson, she finally calmed down a bit and started responding to some of our questions as the other two were also trying to get something out from her. She caved in and from that point onwards, she instantly became a better teacher (well, at least to my mind), the teacher I had signed up for. At that moment I figured out why I did sign up. I thought she had the potential and willingness to deal with emergent language. But after the class, I wondered if she was only able to do that during the demo lesson because it had happened to be something that coincided exactly with what she had on her plan.

I guess her lesson could be a reflection on her lack of experience. Watching her makes me feel very alarmed, I could tell that I could easily be making the same kinds of mistakes in my lessons due to my relative inexperience. I really hope that it doesn’t happen often to me or to her. I am praying that it was just one of her bad days.

This week we had Teacher B. She started with greetings:

B: 皆なさん、おげんきですか。

With this, Teacher A was trying to elicit a standard reply, hoping the students would say:

Ss: はい、おかげさまで。

Initial silence… ss T tried to look it up from the book but struggled to break it out. While during all that time I was preoccupied with how I could say, “I don’t feel that well. I’ve got a cold.

So when Teacher B turned to me, hoping I would have picked it up from ss T, I went:

C:  ええと、がぜをひ…ました。

B:  あ、かぜをひきました。

C:  はい、そうです。

Teacher B not only didn’t ignore me, she helped me. She wrote that out on the board, demonstrated its meaning with mimes, and drilled the pronunciation with everyone. At this point, ss N jumped in, “What about if I didn’t have a cold and I just wanted to say ‘I don’t feel that well‘?”

A: あ、”ちょうしがわるいです。”

Another round of practice. She tried to elicit what the others might say to me after hearing that I got a cold. She helped us extend the dialogue.

B: コン二さん、おげんきですか。(Connie, how are you?)

C: かぜをひきました。(I’ve got a cold.)

B: だいじょうぶうですか。(Are you OK?)

C: はい、だいじょうぶうです。(Yes, I’m OK.)

B: おだいじに。(Please take care.)

C: ありがとうございます。(Thanks.)

They were Dogme moments! Two of the three students got something immediately relevant to them, something they wanted to know then and there. It is very likely that the third student would have benefited too. This wasn’t in the book but it’s a situation we face every day, something one could use straightaway.

At one point of the lesson, we were supposed to practise using the cues from a page on the book. It was about shopping. The dialogue goes something like “Oh, these shoes are too big. Do you have smaller ones?”. Teacher B asked ss N to try but he didn’t want to say it the way it was cued. For him, the problem is often reversed. After figuring out that was his intention, Teacher B was happy going along with that.

Throughout the lesson, Teacher B did not let these language moments past but gave us what we needed and turned them into Dogme moments. For a beginner’s class, that was just enough.

Apart from the ability to deal with emergent language, Teacher B elicits language, demonstrates meaning with mimes, asks us to give examples relevant to us, models and drills pronunciation properly, presents a logical progression to link different activities together, gives clear instructions and grades her language to match the student’s level of readiness when she is the interlocutor. What a great teacher! I want to get Teacher B every week.

So what makes a “better” teacher? From a learner’s perspective, it’s always more meaningful to learn a little something that she can relate to properly than trying to half-learn a bag of “stuff” picked out by the teacher.

About Connieay

If I were a bird, I would be an albatross, a bird with stamina, persistence and the ability to go far and high. I value long-term relationships but am perfectly happy being independent and can endure solitude if necessary.
This entry was posted in English teaching, Language learning, Teacher development and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to (The lack of) Dogme moments with my Japanese teachers

  1. bealer81 says:

    Hi Connie,

    I have read both of your posts today and enjoyed them immensely. I’m lucky enough to be having Spanish lessons from one of the teachers I work with at my school. She is teaching me unplugged and it couldn’t be going better. So much better than all of the other lessons I have had previously.
    Looking forward to your next post.


    • Connieay says:

      Hi Adam,
      Thanks for the comment and for having enjoyed the post. It’s great you get the chance to be taught Spanish unplugged. I think the language and people lend themselves to this kind of teaching especially if the learner knows what he/she wants. My brother has learnt his Spanish by attending classes (initially in Salamanca) but the most productive phase was when he just went out and chatted to people and watched and talked about the soap he has watched. Unfortunately, here in Japan, I’ve heard from other people that if you went to a class, most of the time if the teachers do respond to your questions, they would try to get it over with as quickly as possible so they can get back to their plan. Often the practice we get to do is controlled practice, there rarely is any freer practice.

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