“Where are you from?”
“I am from Vietnam!”
It would be an understatement to say that we have asked this question 200 times. While Friday is competition day and filled with team pride, it is also test day in academics. Each of the American coaches sits with students individually and proctors an oral English exam on the topics from the past week. From conjugations of the verb “to be” to the names of different countries, we, as English teachers, carefully pieced our lesson plans together during the night. We soon realized, however, that our ambitions would not always be met.
Unlike other subjects, we split every class into two groups to provide a more intimate learning environment and greater attention for each student. While we do not teach English together, we review lesson plans to ensure all students are learning the same topics and equally prepare them for the next school year. There are often unexpected differences in English proficiency amongst classes and students, making our lesson plans fall through and calling for our improvisation skills. Despite teaching in separate classrooms, we acquired three of the same fundamental ideas of teaching English and learned to prioritize them when planning lessons.
“We scratched many of the original lesson plans and recreated them to focus on the basic foundations of the English language. Our focus was no longer to ingrain different vocabulary and sentence structures in their minds; we wanted to lay a strong foundation for them to not only excel in the next school year but also gain the confidence and passion needed to pursue higher education.”
First, repetition is key. Whether it takes 10 or 50 times for students to get a single word, we make sure to emphasize the movement of our mouths to perfect pronunciation. In addition to specific words, reviewing previous material until it seems almost unnecessary is an important step in teaching. We gear our attention to cater students’ individual needs, ensuring that no students are left behind in class. If that means we must review for another 10 minutes, we are willing to repeat the information again until everyone in class is comfortable enough to move on. Although constantly repeating could be initially frustrating for teachers, reminding students of the importance of the information is a key aspect in lifelong learning.
Next, making the class interactive and fun for everyone is essential in keeping all of the students engaged. Learning a second language is definitely challenging and, as a result, can discourage students from paying attention in class. Having students move around in the classroom has proven to be very successful. While teaching numbers, we had students come up to the board and participate in a game in which the student who found the announced number fastest wins. Students were not only interested in the game itself but also engaged with the material as their knowledge was still put to the test. Afterwards, students acquired more of the information as it was exciting and it forced them to understand the material in a more lively way than a boring lecture.
Finally, we realized that providing students with a strong foundation is the most important goal. In the first week, we followed the prior lesson plans completely, making an active effort to get through everything. What seemed like a fairly comprehensive and simple test actually stumped the majority of the student: many scored less than 10%, a grade that seemed quite concerning at first. However, starting the next week, the English coaches paid more attention to the quality of our lesson planning and material on weekly exams.
We scratched many of the original lesson plans and recreated them to focus on the basic foundations of the English language. Our focus was no longer to ingrain different vocabulary and sentence structures in their minds; we wanted to lay a strong foundation for them to not only excel in the next school year but also gain the confidence and passion needed to pursue higher education. This was clearly successful as the average test score went up 20% and students looked less discouraged or confused while taking the oral exam. At the end of the day, if they are capable of continuing to enhance their knowledge in the classroom through the strong foundation we provided them, we have succeeded as coaches during our three weeks at Coach for College in Vietnam.