In this issue of Teaching Assistance, a recent graduate from Akita International University’s Graduate School of Global Communication and Language arranged an online interview with her former MA program supervisor, Chris Carl Hale.
Chris Carl Hale (CCH): So, I-Ting, can you tell me a little bit about what you’ve been doing since you graduated from the M.A. program?
Tsai I-Ting (IT): After graduating in March 2022, I travelled to Hokkaido from Tokyo in April 2022 to start working in SMiLE Niseko (an acronym that stands for Social Mobility is Language Education) here in Hokkaido, where I teach English in several public primary schools.
CCH: How are you finding that experience?
IT: I find it kind of challenging to use only English to teach English to young Japanese learners. For example, when we do class activities, students cannot really understand my explanations, so then I’ll have to do a demonstration with lots of gestures, but some students still don’t get it. I also have to show a lot of pictures to help express to them what I’m saying.
CCH: Are you finding your education at AIU has helped prepare you for the challenges in your current position? Or are there things you wish you would have learned more about?
IT: I wish I had taken that course called Teaching English to Young Learners offered by Professor Tomohisa Machida, but I didn’t. I’m kind of regretting that now! But, thankfully we had a lot of practical courses, and I learned about how to teach vocabulary through English, and that has helped me in my current context.
CCH: Is your plan to teach in primary or secondary schools, or is your plan to teach in college someday?
IT: My plan has always been to teach in college, but after graduation from AIU, I had to think of how I could stay and work in Japan. And in the meantime, I am getting good practical teaching experience up here in Hokkaido. Also, the kids are really adorable!
CCH: Can you tell me some of the most memorable moments from your AIU experience?
IT: Memorable? Oh my gosh, well, I’ve never actually been to AIU!
CCH: (laughter), Oh, right, you’ve never set foot on campus! You are one of the few students that got their master’s degree without ever coming to AIU. COVID-19 really changed things. Do you feel like you’ve missed something because your learning has been entirely online?
IT: I’ve definitely missed out on experiencing a campus life. And for learning, I still think it’s better to have face-to-face classes, but doing it online is another kind of experience because I learned how to teach through Zoom, which I did in my three practicum classes. I feel like I was getting the hang of it, and now my first job is teaching kids face-to-face!
CCH: I could see how not getting face-to-face teaching experience is definitely something that you missed while you were in M.A. program. Don’t you think?
CCH: I mean, obviously it couldn’t be helped—the country was closed to international students for two years. So academically or conceptually, what are some of the most memorable moments from your M.A. experience? Like your classes, is there anything that stands out to you as particularly useful to your career as a practicing teacher?
IT: Ah, I would say that the most useful course was the Foreign Language Acquisition class because in that class we did a conversation analysis project. It gave us a chance to analyze classroom conversation and discover what’s really happening by looking at turn-taking, overlapping, repair, tone, and so on. The result was really surprising to me. I felt like I was really doing something in the FLA class compared to other classes.
CCH: (laughter) Well, I’m glad you feel like you were doing something in our class. You talked about your conversation analysis project which was designed to make you appreciate what is called “action research.” Tell me a little bit about the research you did in that class.
IT: Yes, I collected data and then transcribed and analyzed it. I focused on repair practices and found out the teacher mostly used other-initiated, self-repair on grammar (where the teacher indicates an error, but the student repairs it). For the students, they also used self-initiated self-repair but in relation to correctly using the language. I was expecting that in the classroom, most of the repair would be other-initiated other-repair, such as when a teacher corrects the students’ mistakes.
CCH: Do you find that the research skills that you learned in that class are helping you now in your teaching?
IT: Yes, so now when I’m having conversation with my students, I focus on using EPA (explicit positive assessment) and error correction, especially clarification requests and elicitation (Hale, 2011). Knowing that my job is to make students feel comfortable speaking English, I now let them know it’s fine to make mistakes. So, what I’m doing is giving positive feedback to them in any way, and at the same time repairing their mistakes implicitly. Also, when I talk to the students, I try to recognize the way they talk and find a better way to reply to them when they don’t understand something.
CCH: Do you find that you are doing a lot of behavioral modification of your students?
IT: I think so, especially when I use clarification when I want to check their understanding.
CCH: Okay, so you’re doing something very similar to the teacher in your study using clarification checks or other-initiated repair.
CCH: Good. I’m glad to see that. So, what advice can you give M.A. students who are about to graduate soon?
IT: The students should try to find an area of research that is meaningful, read articles that are related to their field, and attempt to publish something. We need to continually improve ourselves.
CCH: It was great to talk with you, I-Ting!
IT: Thank you, Professor Hale!
Hale, C. (2011). Breaking with the IRF and EPA: Facilitating student-initiated talk. In A. Stewart (Ed.), JALT2010 Conference Proceedings. JALT. https://jalt-publications.org/sites/default/files/pdf-article/jalt2010pr...