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Friday, June 1, 2012

Teachers vs. Students in Freshman English

Lisa Huang

Self-introduction video, computer software homework, two hours of class every week – do all these things remind you of something? I’m sure what comes to mind is your Freshman English course. What did you think about this course? The answer might be different from person to person.

If we knew what was going on in the teacher’s and the students’ minds when talking about Freshman English, we would not only be able to create a better learning environment, but also make the course a greater success. Now we are going to take a peek into the minds of both a Freshman English teacher and his students. (The information is collected through an interview of an FCU Language Center teacher and a survey of students in two of his Level 4 Freshman English classes.)

Do you know what your teachers think about the courses they teach? Well, I CAN’T tell you exactly how every teacher views their courses, but I do have a teacher who shared his opinion with me. While Freshman English is required by the school, this teacher believes the value of the course depends on each individual student. If you say, “Well, I’m not really interested in what the teacher thinks about the COURSE,” then I have got something else for you – the teacher’s opinion about his students.

There are many types of students, but this teacher says he can generally separate all students into two different types—smart and not smart. The teacher’s definition of who is smart depends on their critical thinking ability. Smart students are pushed by the teacher so that they learn even more. The not-so-smart students, those students who sleep in class or don’t go to class, are not pushed. The teacher respects their reasons for their behavior and believes the students have their reasons for doing what they do; however, he also requires that they take responsibility for their behavior. As for his expectations for his students, this teacher expects different things from different students, depending on their ability and attitude. Therefore, his students don’t have to worry that their English is poor; their teacher won’t set a goal that they can’t achieve.

After this little peek into a teacher’s perspective, now we can take a glance at what students think. According to the survey the author administered to this teacher’s two classes, most students KNOW that doing their class work is important because it can help them strengthen their basic English skills. Moreover, most students like Freshman English because the school provides a good environment for them to practice English. However, there are some students who think it is meaningless to take Freshman English because they don’t use English in their daily life; for them, it’s just waste of time. Still other students don’t like the class because they think the class is scheduled too early in the day; it’s hard for them to get out of bed before 10 o’clock.

When students were asked what they want to learn from their Freshman English course, they responded in many ways. However, there are three things that almost all students said they wanted to learn. The first is to improve their grammar. The second is to learn practical things which they can use in real life. Finally, they want to improve their speaking ability and communication skills. Apart from the things they want to learn, the way their teacher teaches is an important factor influencing weather the students can learn effectively or not. Without a doubt, the teacher’s teaching style can help students fully concentrated in class. Furthermore, if the teacher can present the course content in a clear and simple way, students will be able to learn more easily. Giving students a group discussion activity is one way to motivate students to participate. Moreover, if the teacher combines games with the class activity, then he doesn’t need to force students to study; in fact, what the teacher might need to do is stop the students from learning once they get started!

What if a teacher speaks Chinese in class? Will that make the students think that he has lower expectations for the students? According to the survey, 62% of the student answered “No.” Most students think speaking Chinese is necessary in order to make classroom instruction clear. Interestingly, I also found that some students believe that, because their teacher speaks so little Chinese in class, the question must be important if the teacher speaks Chinese in order to answer. On the other hand, 34% of students think that if the teacher speaks Chinese, it is because he thinks the students don’t understand what he is teaching; therefore, they think that the teacher’s expectations are too low. The remaining 4% of students think it’s OK for the teacher to speak Chinese sometimes, but not all the time; otherwise, it might make the students think their teacher has low expectations.

Although this article is based on survey responses from only two Level 4 Freshman English classes, I hope you might still learn something from it. For me, I think it is interesting to look at this course from both the teacher’s and students’ perspectives because by learning what the teacher and students think, we might make the course more productive!

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