While developing children’s English language proficiency, the more crucial role of the English language specialist is to develop children’s soft skills such as their social, emotional, and self-confidence skills in order for the language acquisition process to unfold more organically and to have a lasting effect. More specifically, the teacher’s efforts need to be channeled into equipping students with the skills and tools to communicate their thoughts and ideas and express themselves freely. This applies not only to kindergarten and primary-school teachers but also to teachers of high-school and university students across Asia who, as they mature, become more concerned of what others think and expect of them thus facing difficulty speaking up and sharing their points of view, without fear of judgement and criticism. This is a two-way process of building the emotional and social skills of children by developing their linguistic skills and vice versa.
Building students’ self-confidence comes as a priority so that children can take risks in their thinking and discover answers independently. In a student-centered and activity-based classroom, such as that of the International Baccalaureate school, students take responsibility for their own learning with the help of the teacher-facilitator who makes the learning less difficult. Every time the teacher provides opportunities for exploration and experimentation, the self-confident child would grab these opportunities and construct knowledge from experience. This leads to another critical aspect of teaching, namely the provision of classroom environment conductive to learning and maximizing students’ potential. Is the classroom equipped with the appropriate tools and materials for the independent or guided discovery by children with different learning capabilities and styles? The role of the teacher is to design such classroom settings and activities that reflect real-life situations and enable the realization of different learning scenarios thus putting teaching into context. Moreover, confidence plays an important role to be successful as a learner as it leads to enjoyment and enjoyment makes the learning process easier.
Second in importance is the emotional development of children. On average, children who face difficulty coping with failure have a harder time overcoming challenges and learning the language through trial and error. Positive reaction to challenges is the key for acquiring new information as new concepts are learned best through engaging and challenging learning experiences. All of the pieces come together into new meaning when children figure out things for themselves with failure as a crucial element of learning. The role of the teacher in this respect is to show children not only that failure is part of the process/game but that it could also be fun at times if we are willing to laugh at our mistakes and take things less seriously and less personally.
In terms of their social development, it is crucial for children to feel comfortable interacting and communicating with peers and adults first and foremost in their mother tongue so that they can confidently apply the second language and thus fortify their knowledge and understanding. In addition to nurturing students’ social skills, the teacher needs to establish an emotionally and psychologically safe learning environment in which students feel comfortable expressing their ideas without fear of being ridiculed or judged. A few very basic tips on how to build a safe learning environment include using eye contact with all students, addressing students by name, asking for each student’s thoughts about the subject.
The last point is relevant for educators who come from Europe, North America, or Australia and in some respect to educators from other continents (though as much as I am aware South American and Asian communities have much in common) and would like to undertake a teaching practice in Asia. My personal advice is to be highly sensitive not only to the varied backgrounds and needs of the students but also to the cultural factors, trends, and context (as well as to religious values) and shape your teaching approach accordingly. You can benefit from cultural trends (for example, ghost stories are very popular among Indonesians and a perfect topic for discussion). You must also recognize the existence and value of the students’ cultural characteristics in order to capitalize on their strengths while building their weaknesses. Last but not least, we, as Western teachers in Asia, need to adapt ourselves and adopt a culturally appropriate, non-threatening model of instruction without imposing our own cultural values or standards and instead maintaining and upholding the core cultural values of the host country. Teachers need to be firm when requesting student attention, or obedience, but they need to do it in a culturally polite manner. In brief, the very role of the Western teacher of Asian pupils is to develop the social and emotional skills of the young learners while assisting them in acquiring new knowledge in a culturally respectful and sensitive manner.
I would love to hear the opinion of other experienced educators. What skill do you find most necessary for effective and efficient teaching?