Friday, October 2, 2009

The first conversation class

I had 34 students this morning. In my opinion, that is a lot, but at many schools in Japan it seems to be the norm; in some places, I have heard teachers having double that number, so I should really count myself lucky. I have ten students in this class who took my communication class last semester, and there are few others who were in my reading and writing classes, so I have some familiar faces which is nice.

In this class, we will be using the textbook, 'Keep Talking' by Macmillan Languagehouse. I chose this book mainly due to its focus on conversation strategies, but also because there are explanations written in Japanese. While there are some teachers who do not want to use Japanese in the classroom I myself find it very helpful as it can create a more relaxed mood, foster humor, and get some students laughing or at least smiling, bring students and teacher closer together as there is a common point, and students can feel less intimidated because they know that the teacher can use Japanese if the student cannot really explain what they want to say or how they feel, and finally it can help to make explanations for certain tasks clearer thus helping them to run smoother and avoiding the loss of time due to having to explain again.

Well, we started off in the same way as the other classes so far - I asked them what my name was and how to spell it, and then had them write their names on cards. I made a slight mistake, if you can really call it that, by not taking their pictures right after, but instead I went on to the classroom English. However, I noticed immediately and while they were working I went around and took them. Again, having the same students helps a lot with certain instructions. I then asked individual students for the answers, and I again wrote them on the board. I then had them repeat after me. I had to stop once to ask two students to pay attention, but afterward they were OK. It is always difficult knowing how to deal with situations like that, especially on the first day, but at the same time it is not something to be neglected either because it can lead to some serious trouble later on.

We continued on with the classroom English practice, but I noticed that students were losing interest, or perhpas they were just tired, so I tried to make it a little more interesting in the following ways:

For the question, 'Could you speak more slowly, please?' I explained the usefulness by speaking really fast, which is something I cannot do too well, I now realize, and encouraging them to use this question if someone is speaking really fast, or too fast for them.

For another question, 'How do you pronounce this word?', I had them repeat after me quietly then loudly, then had them repeat parts of the question both quietly and loudly.

Once we had finished the classroom English, I had them ask their partner the questions and write down the answers. Again this was to provide me with some idea of their level and also some personal information. I also had them choose a new partner in order to get them to meet the other students because what often happens is that students will sit with their friends and will tend to stay in that arrangement for the whole course.

Next, I asked a couple of students to hand out the syllabus and the absentee slips and I explained the course. Finally, I handed out the personal detail question form and asked them to bring it to me today or by Monday at the latest, as this will give me another chance to meet the student and help build a more positive relationship between the student and teacher.

I was considering writing down my impression of the first class, but I opted not to because really it is only the first class. Of course, many students were quiet and some looked tired or disinterested, but really, what teacher has not had such students in his or her class in the beginning. Isn't it really important what happens from here? Of course, I understand that first classes are vital to the course, but maintaining the rules and focusing on the goals laid out in the first class is also of equal importance.

Well, I think that is it for this post. If you'd like to leave a comment, by all means please do!


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