To “handouts” or not to “handouts”?

February 7, 2009
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That is sometimes not the question in my school. I heard from one of my former students about the use of handouts in our Japanese school. Basically, we give out handouts containing supplementary exercises and other notes not in the books (like Mojica-sensei’s keigo and sonkeigo notes). Other that those, we were told not to give out anything else. Aside from the obvious cost-cutting reasons, memorizing from handouts is not a very effective way to learn or teach a foreign language.

However, I’ve been made aware that there are lesson handouts that are sort of “reviewers” — the grammar patterns and their English explanations. Something like: (noun) は (place) にあります。This is then followed by an English translation.

During my teacher training, Kouchou-sensei stressed that we are not to use too much explanation in English, and as much as possible, keep on giving examples until the students figure out what the sentences mean — to get their brains to analyze everything.

From my point of view as a teacher, to give out a “reviewer” like that to your students is something like spoon feeding them everything they need. You don’t let them for think for themselves. You give them something on paper for them to memorize.

In my classes, I give out example sentences, mark the key points like the nouns and particles, then ask someone how he/she understood the sentences. I’ve never had a student who answered incorrectly.  I find that this is more effective because they are analyzing the sentences by themselves, and not having someone dictate the meaning for them.

Handouts might be OK if you are teaching high school kids, because when I was that age, I remembered that we used to memorize a lot of things from handouts. But you are teaching adults, most have finished college and some have even advanced degrees. To treat them like they can’t think for themselves is stupid.

When I was still a student at Nihongo Center, I never had a teacher who did that. They all made us take notes. Mojica-sensei especially had a very rich vocabulary, and I still had pages and pages of the notes I took down from all of my classes. I recently “unearthed” my Elem 1 notebook (with my lousy Hiragana); I had lots of patterns + example sentences which I remembered Alfred-sensei writing on the board. He never wrote down the English parts.  I guess even then, English-translated handouts were already ‘taboo’? Incidentally, it was Alfred-sensei who “required” us to bring notebooks to class – he did tell us on the very first meeting day to always bring a notebook. Even after I moved up to different Nihongo levels, I always had a separate notebook. :)

I love it when I see most of my students take down notes during lessons — it means that something I said is important to them and they don’t want to forget it. It means that they want to retain something. It means they don’t want to rely 100%  on the book. It means they have their own learning and study habits. To do this is to let students take charge of their own learning, and to let them fgure out the best way to learn a foreign language. To do otherwise is to not acknowledge the fact that you are teaching highly capable people. 学生の脳の力を認めないということです。。。

I guess to each his own when it comes to teaching styles. Maybe the end is justified by the means, maybe not…but spoonfeeding is really one style that I won’t be adapting in this lifetime.

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2 Responses to To “handouts” or not to “handouts”?

  1. March 23, 2009 at 14:49

    i’m japanese teacher too,
    this post is very good,
    yokatta

    • Cat
      February 6, 2013 at 18:21

      Thank you for your kind words!

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