Van and I have become used to the typical Myanmar lesson. To be perfectly honest, I should widen that to include most classes in most countries. We have not become hardened to it.
Every class that we observe which has the teacher droning on for over half of the class time makes me sad, disappointed, angry, frustrated, disillusioned, challenged and motivated. Note that many of those adjectives are negative. Every class stabs at my natural desire to get English to every corner of the globe. Good English which is comprehensible to native speakers and non-natives alike. However, there is one positive adjective; motivation. I want to fix the situation. I want to point out the errors and make the teacher think.
Most of the teachers that I observe never stop to ask why they are doing something in their classroom. They focus exclusively on the what of teaching, not the how. I can see it immediately in the stance of a teacher before they even start teaching; dynamic, student centred lessons have a teacher who is reading a plan, setting up a scene, looking at and counting the students. Traditional classrooms will have a teacher scribbling a ton of information onto the blackboard or staring absently out of the window with arms crossed. At the beginning of class, the teacher will refer to the myriad of information that he or she has diligently written until the students check their phones or start to daydream.
The topic of the English class that we observed was countable and uncountable nouns. We stayed for only 30 minutes of 2 hours. The human brain has a concentration span of 20 minutes. I am not advocating for 20 minute classes; I am telling teachers that they need to change activities every 20 minutes at the very most regardless of the full class length. I have taught classes which were 3 hours, or even 4 hours. Provided that the teacher structures the activities so that the students are stretched and made to think that chunk of time passes quickly; both for the teacher and students.
The teacher translated for 10 minutes to begin the class, before one of 7 students stood up to read aloud his homework. He stumbled over the words and showed all the signs of someone petrified by his actions. Only one student was subjected to this old-fashioned method of torture. It seemed a strange way to begin the class as he only checked the homework of one individual in this public humiliation ritual. This does not allow the other students to feel included or useful. They sat staring out of the window as the boy stumbled through his short paragraph. It is very hard for a teacher to correct in this way, because it is difficult to listen for the mistakes. When humans read out loud, we tend to self-correct any wonky grammar or expressions, and when we listen, we also auto-correct errors that we hear. When we read, it is much easier to spot mistakes. It really is a very inefficient use of class time for everyone involved with the procedure.
The board work of the monk was unclear which made it hard for the students to focus. He wrote ‘Un’ which from afar looked like 'An' and then completed a small spider diagram of the ways in which we use uncountable nouns. It was a very basic class which all of the students have covered previously.
Like many monks, he has studied abroad in Chiang Mai, and has the level of respect that being a monk and having studied abroad brings in the tight-knit community. We have invited the monk to come to our house for some feedback and guidance as he himself admits that the students are disinterested. He frequently has 20% or more of the class missing, which is not a sign that all is going well in the classroom.
NEH Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer
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