Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Cultural Perpectives & Observations on Learners - Part 3: How are my students getting it right for themselves?

Akiko Seino owns her own school "Bright" in Matsumoto, and presented for Shinshu JALT on March 25th at Agata-no-Mori.

How are my students getting it right for themselves?

Akiko Seino is Matsumoto’s best kept cultural secret asset. She has lived in the same city and owned her own language school here(within a mile of mine) for 8 years. I have met her five times – three times in the last month. She is inspiringly passionate, disorganised, uncompetitive, and insightful. She is awesomely enthusiastic, daft, and focused. She is disarmingly honest, funny and honest.
Seino teaches 3-12 year olds and is a mum of two herself. She used to teach in Saitama/Tokyo “all listening & singing” – no reading or writing. She says she now finds it very hard to give her students “all they need”. Says she does not buy into ‘earlier the better’, but the love/power to learn (which also rewards her as a teacher – an important aside which less experienced teachers may not feel important).

Seino explained “Terakoya” style learning to be ‘temple school’ – and the concept of one step forward at a time. Kumon chain applies this principle in a singular style (so what does the teacher do?) whereas AS applies this to her (small) groups.

Seino asked participants if they taught mixed level classes –a lack of response basically indicated “an embarrassed yes”. Seino’s next question showed Longman had trained her well. “Do you treat every student the same?”

Seino explained that using English-only was far easier with younger learners, as older ones needed grammatical points explained in their mother tongue. Seino provided an explanation of how she multi-tasked as a teacher with mixed-level  & mixed-tasking students. Imagine a headless chicken? Students can and will perform together in song/dance.

Seino said she was learning with mums along the way. All good teachers will reflect and learn as they go, I think? You might consider this a lack of anticipation/planning? Some would agree, but Seino is amazingly honest with her mums (an advantage of L1 access to parents which I do not have) and spends an inordinate amount of personal time encouraging mums to be facilitators. I do not know any teachers who would want to demonstrate an end product at the end of every class – even if they had something! Me – I like to showcase students’ achievements of course ....but every lesson is essentially impossible (at least at Luna).

Seino asked participants to write down their top 7 tips/up the sleeve tools. Mentioned were:
Seino added her favourites as post-its, CD player, stickers book, mini white board, and correspondence books in which she maintains a dialogue with each learner & their parents – a very heavy demand on teacher time, and while this may well make a difference to learners’lives and involve parents, I am not sure this will help students become more autonomous. Educating the mums is an important thing to do of course, but micro-managing the dialogue (for me) would be an inordinately onerous task and especially immediately after the heat of class, not give me time to reflect & process what we did/need to do next time etc.

Seino highlighted the benefits of learning with friends, of learning to speak rather than to converse (oral reading), of showing and sharing, of giving students learning choices to make, personalizing learning & motivating themselves thus.

She pointed out that
  • less teacher-led “presentation” time in class
  • less students’ “practice” time in class
  • laborious checking & marking (she even delivers work back to students’homes!)
  • backlog of above causes stress
Seino asked for questions and suggestions.