Believing in people, believing in some rich unknown something and drawing it out—that is the vigorous spirit of education.

 

– Daisaku Ikeda

Background

Over the past eight years, my students have helped me refine and redefine my teaching philosophy. Each of them has taught me invaluable lessons that challenge me to reflect my teaching and beliefs. After working with various ESL and EFL students, I have incorporated three core elements into my teaching philosophy: confidence building, communicative competence, and affordances in technology.

Confidence Building

Learning a new language can be challenging, intimidating, or even frustrating, as evidenced in the following quotations from previous students:

“People don’t understand me. I think I’m bad at English.”

– Jose, my first adult student, quietly voiced his disappointment at himself.

“I wish I was born in America not Japan, so my English is not funny.”

– Yuuki, my Japanese student from Hiroshima.

“This is too hard for me. My English is not good for hearing.”

– My Vietnamese tutee, Nguyen, exclaimed.

I believe that lacking in confidence could inhibit students from learning languages, and teachers play an important role in terms of helping them develop self-confidence. I provide constructive feedback and constant support, so that students have clear directions to enhance their language skills and understand their learning progress.  In my class, I plan and implement activities that help students achieve a higher level of confidence. For instance, during learner training, students are guided to set their own short-term and long-term goals, so they will have a sense of achievement in a more tangible way. Also, I utilize activities like think-pair-share to help students become comfortable with sharing their thoughts and cooperating with others, so they can give presentations or public speeches with confidence. Individual meetings with students are also vital in my teaching.  Being able to have one-on-one dialogues with them allows me to know not only their needs and struggles but also their joys and achievements.  They develop trust in and understandings of themselves.

Communicative Competence

Before I became a teacher of English, I was an English as a foreign language learner—a lost and unmotivated Taiwanese learner. Similar to other countless students, I considered English one of the mandatory courses instead of a dynamic, useful language. The primary rationale for learning new vocabulary was because those unrelated, foreign words would be on the next day’s test. When I first came to the U.S., I realized that numerous words and expressions I learned before could not be used in real-lifesituations.

I was equipped with some linguistic competence (e.g., grammatical knowledge), but lacked sociolinguistic competence (e.g., pragmatics), and strategic competence (e.g., repairing a communication breakdown). The inability to communicate with others appropriately caused me to struggle not only socially but also emotionally. Therefore, in my class I emphasize the importance of communicative competence, including the three types of competences above. I adapt and utilize authentic materials from daily life and expose my students to the target language culture and other cultures as much as possible.  Students learn not only the linguistic skills (e.g., vocabulary and grammar rules), but also pragmatics (i.e., knowing what to say/write in a given context) and cultural knowledge.  Using task-based and theme-based approaches, I encourage students to use language as a tool for expressing thoughts, negotiating meanings, and solving problems. From working with my students and seeing their growth in language learning, I believe that language should be used purposefully rather than only being a subject for evaluation.  Therefore, I encourage students to make connections to their experience and their future goals and reach meaningful, practical learning outcomes with them.

Affordances of Technology

Technology has been a “viral” topic in education in the past couple decades. As Brendan Murphy suggested, “Our children have digital limbs, we cannot amputate them at the front door of the school.” I am, too, have digital limbs. Technology today has moved beyond using PowerPoint and laptops in the class. Over the past three years, I have noticed more of my students come into the classroom with their smartphones and other smart devices. Looking at those devices with camera, audio, video, Internet, and many other functions, I wondered,”Why am I not taking advantages of them?” I realized that the real question regarding technology is not whether we should use them but how we can leverage its affordances to enhance students’ language learning experience. Since then, I have used technology for creating teaching materials (COCA, Educreations, Audacity and Prezi, etc.), formatively assessing students’ learning (Socrative, SANSSpace, and Plickers, etc.), and managing courses (Coursebase, Edmodo, Wikispace, Moodle, etc.). From my experience of using various technology tools, I learned to become innovative and risk-taking, and so did my students. Technology is not distant from my other two elements of teaching philosophy; on contrary, it is an add-on to the two. It provides my students with various ways such as cloud-based tools that they can cooperate with their peers and increases their opportunities for input and output. They are able to use language as a negotiating, problem-solving tool, allowing them to learn language through content. Technology also offers my students more venues for creativity and critical thinking; it allows them to have authorship of and authentic audience for their works; and most importantly, it empowers them to become lifelong learners.

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