Sunday, 24 June 2012

Revitalising English in the classroom

 (credit: NST, 24 June 2012)

REFRESHER COURSE: English language educators come away with innovative ideas and renewed enthusiasm for the teaching profession from a recent conference

MOHD Khairin Ismail, like any teacher fresh from teacher training college, is still adjusting to his new role as an educator. The Sabahan admits that the language barrier is making it difficult for him to connect with his pupils eight months after joining a Chinese vernacular primary school in Skudai, Johor.  “I only have a smattering of Mandarin and the youngsters speak little English or Bahasa Malaysia. That I’m inexperienced in teaching makes the gap between my pupils and I seem wider than it is,” says Mohd Khairin, who teaches English, Art and Physical Education. The 27-year-old teacher signed up for the recent 4th Johor English Language Conference 2012 in Johor Baru hoping to find useful pointers on improving his teaching skills and relationship with his pupils.  He was one of more than 350 English language practitioners, in- and pre-service teachers as well as parents who attended the three-day meeting themed Revitalising the Teaching-Learning Link.

Jointly organised by the Johor Baru English Language Teaching (Jelta) and the Johor State Education Department, the conference exposed participants to “creative strategies, tools and resources to make English language learning more exciting and meaningful inside and outside of the classroom”.  Its main co-sponsor was M Suites Hotel, which provided the venue, meals for participants and accommodation for speakers (see H3).  Other co-sponsors included Oxford Fajar and Permas Publications. The New Straits Times was the official media partner.

Conference organising chairman Vincent D’Silva is pleased with the enthusiastic response from participants — who came from Johor, Kuala Lumpur and Penang — throughout the duration of the symposium.  “They were serious about getting the most out of the event. I think they came away with salient points as we had covered an extensive range of relevant issues affecting English language teaching,” says D’Silva. The theme chosen this year was kept general so as to allow teachers to “pick papers or workshops that will interest them,” he adds.  Indeed, participants had a tough time deciding on which paper presentations, seminars and demonstrations to attend as many were delivered simultaneously during parallel sessions held over the three days.  Workshops and demonstrations proved to be a hit with the attendees, especially school teachers.

The one by freelance teacher trainer Lucille Dass entitled ACT — To Awake The “Sleeping Giant” Within, which promotes the use of fun activities to enhance language learning, was conducted to a full house.
Those who were late to get the pink slip for her session had to be turned away. Requests for a repeat of her workshop were also turned down due to time constraints.  Judging by the popularity of topics such as using music in the classroom, choral speaking, incorporating web 2.0 and 3.0 technologies into lessons and getting students to participate in class, it is evident that teachers are eager to pick up practical tips for the language classroom.

 Jalinawaty Abdul Jalil, who teaches English at SMK Taman Daya 2, JB can vouch for this.
 “Such events inspire me to experiment with new methods. For example, I first introduced journal writing in 1998 because it was recommended by (English master teacher of 25 years) Rahmah Sayuti (who also presented a plenary paper on Digital Writing —Integrating Web 2.0 in Pedagogy to Improve Writing and Critical Thinking at the Jelta conference). Jalinawaty swears by this approach as a way of improving written proficiency in English. She even encouraged a new acquaintance she met during a lunch break to give it a try.  “It has not only instilled the love of writing into my students but also brought us closer as whatever they write in the journal is between them and me,” she says.  

Politeknik Ibrahim Sultan lecturer Parahsakthi Chidambaram finds it heartening to see that English language classrooms in Malaysia have become “much more alive and creative” since she last became a teacher 14 years ago.  “I’m glad it has improved tremendously with the use of visual aids and technology,” says Parahsakthi, who taught in schools for 20 years before she began lecturing in Pasir Gudang.  She deems the ideas shared by presenters suitable for learners of all levels.

 “My students do role-play all the time. I’d like to get them to perform skits that require the audience to take part such as the method demonstrated by plenary speakers G. Mallika Vasugi and Dzeelfa Zainal,” she adds.
 Both educators agree that they feel renewed enthusiasm for their profession after attending the conference.
 As for Mohd Khairin, attending the symposium was time well spent.  He received lots of useful advice from fellow participants after he shared his dilemma as a new teacher at a vernacular school.  “They need to know that you are making an effort to understand them by picking up Mandarin,” suggested a teacher.  “Take this as an opportunity to learn a new language,” said a parent.  Mohd Khairin takes his “trials and tribulations” as a new teacher in his stride.  “I’m looking at this positively. I came to this conference to learn from experienced teachers and to pick up tips on capturing the imagination of my students. I definitely benefited from it,” he says.

The Thinking Teacher

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