Today is the first class of the Osaka Science Community Language Skills class. Because I have already written about the drop back of this class and the focus of these blogs in the previous blog post (see Aug. 30), I won't go too much into the who and what. However, it is important to mention the how as it applies to the main focus of this weeks lesson and our Action Research goals of this class. As I mentioned before, in addition to the instructional requirements of this class, I and the other instructor (Wing Cheung) will be conducting an Action Research on the SLA theory of Willingness to Communicate as it applies to our teaching situation.
From our teaching experiences, classroom research, and antidotes, we chose WTC as an appropriate research approach for an Action Research project for our Applied Linguistics Class because Japanese English Language students are notoriously shy and interactively evasive in class. We believe this is because of several factors. First, Japanese classrooms are typically teacher-centered and transmission or knowledge oriented. This pedagogical orientation also applies to English classes in Japan although there seems to be changing slightly. Second, there are culturally acceptable times for students to speak in certain social situations; thereby limiting the role of spoken interaction opportunities in class and in society. This observation is based on my previous teaching experience and I need to follow up on research to back-up this claim, but I assert here that this is a common assertion from foreign English language teachers who have worked in Japan. Third, Japanese students are also considered to be shy and prefer individual work compared to pair, group, or whole class work. All of these factors conspire against the use of the necessary element of interaction and communication in and out of the classroom when Japanese students are concerned.
This, and the following, journals will focus on the challenge of WTC in as it pertains to my teaching situation and the Action Research and intervention that we will undergo.
The students arrived Sunday and after a brief stay were whisked to Monterey where they met their host families and stayed their first full night in the U.S. The next day, the students were given an orientation complete with immigration paperwork, course expectations, learner training, safety and awareness video, needs assessment, and lunch.
Tuesday, Aug. 31, is the first full day of class and the first day of our Action Research cycle. As mentioned before our cycle stars with noticing a problem, asking questions, planning an intervention, monitoring the class, and reflecting on the outcome, which will lead to the next cycle. In order to plan our first cycle, we met with Professor Kathi Bailey in which we discussed giving the students a questionnaire to discover their attitudes and beliefs about speaking English and their position toward WTC in English. We also gave them a handout in which they filled out their best and worst experiences as a language learner.
In addition to the WTC work, we planned for students to prepare for their upcoming scavenger hunt/field trip, we collected issues of the Monterey Weekly, tourist maps of Monterey, and created a video asking people on the street directions to different locations.
These materials can be found on our class website under the "Lesson Plans" and "Show and Tell" pages.
I began the class by introducing myself including my history as a teacher and as a language learner and explaining some information about the course and the syllabus. I told the students about a particularly difficult experience that I had learning Japanese, and some of the learning strategies that I used to learn Japanese.
We then segued into our first activity. I handed out the "Best and Worst Learning Experiences" worksheet, which had been given to us by Professor Kathi Bailey. I asked the students to take five minutes to write about their experiences. When they were finished, I asked the students to discuss with each other for three minutes their best and worst experiences. We did this speaking activity twice. After the students were finished, I asked each pair to introduce their partner and to tell us about their partner's worst and best language experiences.
After the preliminary speaking activity, I asked the students to find a new partner. I handed out a worksheet that Wing and I created, which asked the students to scan a map for different locations around town. Then using a newspaper, I asked students to identify and write down different events reported in the Montery Weekly newspaper. This activity lasted approximately 30 minutes.
In the post activity, I asked students to identity the location of several places on the map using verbal instructions that I gave. Finally, I played a the "Asking for Instructions" video that I made and asked the students to write down key words that they heard.
We then wrapped up the class by explaining to the students the objectives and procedures for Thursday's scavenger hunt.
What's not apparent from the narration of the lesson is the high anxiety and lack of interaction that spanned the entirety of the class. Looking back on the video recording of this class, it is apparent that WTC is definitely a problem for this class even though individually most of the students are capable of holding short conversation, and a few students are capable of holding longer, discourse length conversations. Even during the planned speaking activities, students seemed reticent to talk to their classmates.
After reviewing the lesson, I concluded that there were three problems with my instruction and the lesson:
1) The majority of the lesson was teacher-centered with me standing in front of the class transmitting instructions and information. I was actually horse by the end of the class and the students looked exhausted from boredom.
2) The activities for this lesson were not properly scaffolded to allow students to work from easier tasks to more difficult tasks, and the instructions for the lessons were not properly worked out or transitioned, leaving an impression that the activities were unrelated to each other and that the lesson lacked clear objectives.
3) The students were not working as hard as the teacher, and they did not experience any team building work that would help them work together and lower their anxiety.
As a result of this lesson, we concluded that the students definitely showed low signs of WTC in group and whole class settings. The low amount of WTC may have been contributed to the lesson structure, group dynamics, or individual anxiety and perceived speaking competence.
Our Action Research Question for the following week is, "How do we set up and manage activities to encourage WTC among students in four different activity-settings: whole-class discussions, small group work, partner work, and individual work?"
Our plan of action for the next week is to:
1) Organize tasks into pair/groups
2) Call on specific students
3) Arrange learning spaces to group stations instead of facing the teacher
4) Include post-task with whole group discussion