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Beliefs

 

 

EDUCATION

 

must provide the opportunities for self-fulfillment; it can at best provide a rich and challenging environment for the individual to explore, in his/her own way.

--Noam Chomsky

 

Language is a tool, for the knowledge seekers to expand their worldview and to interact with peoples outside of their own. As a tool, languages should be practical and user-friendly to the learners. I embrace language teaching as an opportunity to inspire and empower students to explore—or decode—the unknown. Mastering a language should not be a teacher’s ultimate expectation of the students, but having the capabilities to use it as a tool to comprehend and acquire the new knowledge and eventually benefit from it. Hence, the learning process should be exhilarating and self-fulfilling as opposed to frustrating or meaningless.

In my ESL classroom, I give my students language status so they can claim the ownership of the target language at an early stage and feel comfortable using it. Some theorists claim that only young learners can acquire a second language— the most natural way they learn their mother tongues. However, I believe learners of all ages are all born and equipped with the natural ability to learn. Older learners, on the other hand, have the advantage of applying more techniques to generate more effective linguistic input and output than the younger learners. Therefore, lesson planning and activity implementing should vary by learners’ attributes, ages, and objectives. Along the same line, class sessions should proceed with continuous and holistic assessments (including performance-based and strategy-based) from both the teacher and the students. Affirming the successful learning/teaching approaches and reflecting on the less productive ways of learning/teaching acknowledge and invigorate the efforts of the class.

The psychology behind ESL teaching/learning tends to affect students’ performance. In my ESL classrooms or teacher’s training sessions, I always put emphasis on hands-on learning and practicality of knowledge. To be more specific, when students realize the knowledge and the techniques learned in class are useful and usable, their motivation increases. The authenticity of a learning scenario originates from the incorporation of cultural elements from the target community. For students (including pre-service teachers or ESL learners, i.e. the global villagers-to-be), they should try to understand the foreign languages spoken by different peoples are just the tip of the icebergs of the target culture. I always encourage them to explore the stories behind individuals as opposed to becoming a xenophobic out of pure fear of unknown.

 

As a teacher coming from an international background, I facilitate learning through re-creating authentic scenarios of everyday life during class sessions, e.g., clarifying a misunderstanding, negotiating a business deal, or organizing a social event. The simulation helps learners visualize themselves interacting with other international people or native speakers in real life situations. With e-generation learners, they are more receptive of sensory manipulations (the senses of smell, sight, touch, hearing, and taste) incorporated in class—more occurrence of positive reinforcements are hence expected. While embedding fun and practicality into my teaching, my students are always expected to be active in the search of information, group discussions, opinion exchange, and peer collaboration during and after class. Hands-on projects are my approach to implement a task-based instruction which is a form of Communicative Language Learning. A task is an explicit, structured, and tangible assignment or plan during which students personally engage in collaborative work to solve a problem—a problem relevant to their own lives. The way different students approach a problem allows their individuality and creativity to emerge, which is how I foster independent thinkers as well as team-players in class. When students complete a task with their peers, I would encourage them to share their work with the class and even publish the work products online. The successes of teamwork induce self appreciation and the sense of accomplishment which are immediate rewards. This type of instruction has the tendency to elicit the most intensive communication and collaboration between peers and helps learners to stay focused.

 

In my experience of teaching different age groups, language levels, and academic contexts, I put learners’ needs as the first priority and then operationalize my teaching philosophy accordingly. When designing course content and format, I strive to optimize student involvement and engagement. In other words, I deliberately create flexibility and invite students to contribute their ideas of the preferred materials and activities—which are usually the topics that interest them the most. Very often, I invite guest speakers or plan field trips for the students to reach out to the real world so they can better understand the knowledge learned in the classroom. This way, students can resonate with the course content and syllabus; teachers can also simultaneously receive new input every semester from different classes.

 

The relationship between teachers and students changes, with respect to interactional patterns, authority, and mutual expectations. Regardless of such an interpersonal transformation in the classroom, the core issue is still about human interactions. Genuine care and trust between teachers and students are primary conditions for class synergy to transpire. When students feel that they are valued and accepted by their classmates and teachers, they are empowered and supported by the community. It gives them the courage to face and cope with the challenges outside of the classroom. A safe and caring environment is often assumed to be the best place to learn as well.

 

Teaching is a privileged position that requires respect as much as humanity. Although teachers tend to express personal beliefs and values in class, it is critical that they also recognize their endowed power to make a positive or negative influence on young people’s minds. Therefore, in an ideal learning environment, nothing should be imposed on students. On the contrary, a classroom should be a place where young hearts, under guidance and assistance, gain the strength and the knowledge to pursue their dreams and to make the world a better place to live. For the teachers, it is their definitive reward to witness student transformations and intellectual growth—knowing that they have made a difference to the world.     

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