Discipline in the Japanese TEFL Classroom
My experience in teaching English to young learners is based in Japan. At the start of my time teaching, my student group consisted of two children of the same family. The siblings are a boy, age five, and a girl, age three, who participate equally in the English conversation sessions. Three main factors of this situation present difficult walls, preventing forward progress. Those three factors are distracting objects, counter-productive classroom philosophies, and personality conflicts.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Brandon F. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Lesson Duration Considering the Age
First, the English conversation takes place in the children's home and playroom which is full of toys. The sheer multitude of play-time objects means that keeping the attention of the children during the allotted time is difficult. It's understood that at these two, very distinct age groups, any activities should not be extended too long. Despite the glaring differences between lesson planning for a three-year-old and a five-year-old, one of the commonalities is that activities and lessons should be kept simple and short. If they’re excessive, the students will lose interest, motivation, and they will make no progress. The children's mother wants to prioritize their time playing as opposed to strict studying. While this is appropriate for the children's age group, maintaining discipline and stable attention in a sea of toys is difficult. My solution to this problem is to be flexible in my lesson planning, incorporating whichever toys or games the children are momentarily infatuated with. If they express enough restlessness, I try to entice them with a different toy or game which is connected to a lesson I had planned.
Second, as I mentioned briefly above, the children's mother has a specific image in mind for the lessons I teach. Her priority for the lessons is for the children to enjoy themselves. Despite this environment, both of the parents mutually express a desire for the children to demonstrate enough English capability to enroll in a foreign school within two years. With both of these standards, set by the parents and my direct employers, I need to make sure each lesson balances relaxation and productivity without sacrificing the primary objective: fun. My counter to this is to make sure that the Activate phases outweigh the Study phases of each activity. During the study phases, I prioritize group work where the five-year-old and the three-year-old complement each other's strengths. As often as possible, I create games which have a dynamic of the two of them working together to solve puzzles or play creative games as a team while I role-play an opposing force. During the games and puzzles, I try to elicit English from them both. Where one struggles with English I ask the other to help without spoiling the answer. Of course, this is one specific example of the general structure I use to overcome the playtime-focus imbalance dilemma.
Third, the most difficult to overcome issue impeding progress in our classes is the personality and maturity conflict between the two children of the class. I am tasked with addressing both children simultaneously, lest one become jealous or disengaged and cause upset. The five-year-old boy is shy and easily irritable, still in the swings of the “mine" developmental stage. For this reason, he is easily thrown in to temper tantrums and crying fits when his younger sister becomes more involved with the toy he's using than he likes at the moment. The three-year-old is enamored with her older brother and often wants to be involved with whatever he's doing. When the children get too on-top of each other and cause a ruckus, unfortunately, I’m not the only present authority, responsible for conflict-resolution. The children's mother is a presence involved in each lesson by by her preference. This means that when the children need a disciplinary correction, I’m not the active authority of the lesson. Considering the frequency with which the boy has temper tantrums, classroom disruptions are plentiful. This is my area of study and my next step of growth as a teacher. My experiments are still yielding results. I’m working on learning how to attract the children's attention during their disputes, create equal shares of playtime with the toy-of-the-moment, and moving beyond conflict to the next game or activity which will distract the children and encourage them to forget their conflicts. There is room for improvement in this section of the job.
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Properly managing discipline in the classroom is a challenge which every teacher must learn to conquer. Regardless of whether the setting for the lesson is a traditional classroom or an in-house playroom, a teacher must be prepared to keep the students engaged and under control while the lesson is in action. Despite roadblock distractions such as excessive toys, a split in the classroom power dynamic, or difficult-to-manage children, teaching young learners must always be an engaging and flexible process which has room for just as much energizing fun as it does for language development.
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