Sunday, 4 April 2010

Professional Discourse 1

Last night I chatted with a young English teacher from Bagan Datoh, Perak. She claimed to be green in the teaching profession and that my postings helped her. On reflection, I thought it is worth discussing the issues we chatted about.  First, we talked about whether "Life's Brief'Candle' is about life or death (tell me what you think people). I am inclined to think that it's about how short and temporary life is and how much we have to make use of it to the fullest. No point regretting like Macbeth or Lady Macbeth (if you consider the full play) after all the bad deeds they had done...We are all 'players' in this temporary life and we bear the consequences of our actions.

The other thing we talked about was the idea of teaching English for proficiency...not to pass exams. Okay! I can hear you screaming already with this idea of not teaching for exams!!! Hold your horses...Just think for a second...stop and think. If every English teacher teaches with improving proficieny as the aim, then he has nothing to worry about. He (and she of course- no gender bias intended) will not teach to the test and shove down students' throats copious exam-based materials (cloze tests, mcq, context questions etc.) to make sure they make the grades. Instead, the teacher will think of teaching strategies and materials to help students improve their proficiency. If your students are proficient, they can handle any tests. Do you agree? Obviously this has implications for the kind of materials we bring into the classroom. I think we need to reassess the materials we bring to the classroom seriously...we have not taught if the exam-based photocopies are doing the teaching for us!!  Where is the part that we really teach? 

This reminds me of a stint last year where a group of teachers and I had to handle a workshop for slow learners (there are no excellent or poor learners, there are fast and slow learners- I believe this firmly). There was a mismatch in terms of what the school wanted (carry out an exam techniques workshop) and the students' language. They obviously didn't have the language (proficiency) and there we were trying to give them tips on how to answer the SPM English paper!!  As a result, teachers had to use 80%  of Bahasa Melayu and translated almost every sentence in the reading passage (materials)! I was glad when it was all over because I had felt uneasy from the start- it wasn't the right medicine for the problem they had. Was this the right approach? Are exam techniques useful for slow learners? 
Do you teach to make your students pass exams?
Do you teach to improve their proficiency?
Tell me what you think.


  1. hi. i agree that if students are proficient in English, then they can handle the English test. once they are proficient, teachers only need to guide them. sad to say, our education system is very exam oriented. if we do not teach them to pass the test,they will complain.

  2. hi, the first reply to my question. thanks!! i agree and we are all guilty in one capacity or another! if only we can change that mindset in teachers..a big step in the right direction. thinking teachers is what we need and thinking experts and administrators up there. there has not been a clear pathway when it comes to english language teaching. i say teach for proficiency and this will affect methods, approaches, strategies, techniques adn motivation.

  3. Hi,
    Talking about having to teach exam materials in bahasa instead of english itself. I'm a new teacher and on top of that, i'm a non-optionist. However, thankfully, my 4-years degree course was carried in English and i had been using english during my 5-yrs tenure with a big company, so, I am quite confident that i would be able to 'teach' english to my students. But, teaching one of the best class in my school (the third class in a rural school), often makes me curious. some students, especially boys, frowned after listening to my instructions. when I paused .. when I realised that some didn't understand, one or two outspoken girls would translate my instructions to them. That makes me feel guilty : whether to proceed with english or to make it bilingual? I often gave up and gave the translations. But, I believe by doing so, all the students in that class opt to listen to the bahasa version instead of english version. and, IMHO that will not improve their proficiency in english. So, what say you teacher? Help me!

  4. hi enuses,
    ur question is about whether to use BM or not to teach English..this my two cents worth ok. there isn't any literature saying you can't use the mother tongue in teaching English. However, since this is an English class, we need to use it sparingly. after all we don't want to be accused of teaching BM nstead of English right, particulalarly for instructional language like ,"Please take out your book.", "Do you understand?", "no talking please." these should be in English. Students will get used to them after a while. my hubby is also a non-optionist so i fully understand ur predicament. as a non-opt u need to understand some basic principles of language teaching, be aware of the different strategies and techniques to teach fast and slow learners. I use BM too in my classes (mixed ability) but in moderation. i know it's easier said than done :) It all depends on ur ss level. but the fact that ur questioning ur practice is a good sign :)


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