Table of Contents
2.1 “Teach with Empathy, Vulnerability, and Love”
2.2 “A wide and narrow approach with science and connection as its base”
2.2.1 The Science
220.127.116.11 Metacognition and Memory.
18.104.22.168 Connection and Confidence.
22.214.171.124 Connection and a Growth Mindset.
2.3 “Providing tools not just to flourish in TOEFL but for their role as lifetime learners”
3.1 “Teach with Empathy, Vulnerability, and Love”
3.2 “A wide and narrow approach with science and connection as its base”
3.2.1 Lecture 1
3.2.2 Lecture 2
3.2.3 Lecture 3
3.2.4 Lecture 4
3.2.5 Lecture 5
3.3 “Providing tools not just to flourish in TOEFL but for their role as lifetime learners”
If you will let me, I would like to take you on a bit of a journey. These past three months have been an adventure (a very travel-less adventure) for everyone, one way or another, and I would like to show you a piece of my world—not only so that something could potentially be gleaned for your learning, but also so that I can practice what I preach by reflecting on my most recent and life-changing experience. I am an English teacher at an international university here in Japan, and this trimester, due to some unforeseen circumstances, I was tasked for the very first time with teaching a university-level class—TOEFL 550. In two months, with permission of proper authority provided, I designed a full class in a field that I am not academically familiar with, let alone trained in, without an educational background in teaching. Perhaps this may not sound particularly thrilling or life-altering to you, but it was an opportunity that many will never receive (and may or may not wish to receive), and in the hope of showing my gratitude and appreciation of the chance that I was given, I wish to take the proper time to fully process the journey.
In this article, in true accordance with my newly found love of metacognition, to which you will be hearing about likely more than you wish, I will dig into my methodology of designing the class, using my teaching philosophy as a lens; give examples of its implementation; and wrap it up with a brief reflection. Using my own experience, I will be teasing out questions such as what it means to be a teacher and the importance of methodology in teaching. However, as I will go into in a bit, this article is not specifically intended for teachers or those in the educational field (although those who have experience in education may relate to my story more), but rather, it is my hope that all who read this, both the trained teacher and the lay teacher, can perhaps find encouragement to lean into the strengths that they have been given, actively challenge their weaknesses, and always be a learner. Likewise, I want to use this opportunity to present some culture-specific reflections in regard to teaching in Japan, which will be scattered throughout the article.
For those that know the school that I am affiliated with, let it be known and understood that these reflections, thoughts, and methods are my own and do not necessarily reflect the policies and official position of the school and/or the other teachers and faculty within the school. Furthermore, the main purpose of this article is to reflect on the methodology of the class; therefore, there will be no specific examples given regarding interaction with the students.
To be a good student, one must become a teacher. This wisdom has been tried and tested as a mindset for learning. By teaching ourselves and others, we are actively engaging the brain in cognitive processes that facilitate factors such as memory. However, what can we say about the flip side? For one to be an efficient teacher, is it necessary to become the student? I would argue that this is certainly the case. Likewise, I would say that this learning should not be cinched up as finished or considered complete simply by an academic degree, but instead, should be followed with a resolute aim to allow new and old research, experience, and our very students to inform our most prominent teaching and curriculum decisions throughout our teaching career.
While I am aware that several sociocultural aspects potentially cripple the teacher’s control in making their own informed decisions and enacting them for the classroom, I do wish to encourage all educators to consider the power that they have to educate themselves, to store up knowledge for small victory moments of teaching when what we know meets the experiences that we are presented.
This thought, as well, is not just for those who are employed in the educational field but something I would suggest critical for all to consider. For, teaching is not just for teachers; it is not just a job. It is not exclusively for those who have been accredited as educators. We all, one way or another, are teaching others, either implicitly or explicitly, ideas, concepts, beliefs, and facts through our actions and our words. With much of what we say, we are either confirming or disconfirming belief systems and bias. Without factor of age, credentials, gender, sexual orientation, and religious affirmation, we are all teachers; we are all influencers to our children, our parents, our friends, our neighbors, etc. And I believe that we must consider taking responsibility for our own understanding and self-teaching—not just so that we are ourselves are informed, but so that our behaviors and words reflect the closest truth of understanding to all those we come in contact with.
Although this intensity is certainly not meant to draw about anxiety or fear, I do believe it is important to recognize our own power to impact the lives of those around us. Pigeonholing teachers as “those who teach” or “those with a teaching degree” without recognizing our role in the learning process may place a larger pressure on educators than they are systematically currently able to bear. Likewise, it removes from us the privilege of walking in our role, of being good helpers and good learners, for making an impact on even one life, and by thus doing so, doing our part in creating a better future for upcoming generations. Not only this, but it takes away from our betterment as well.
The English Teacher in Japan
Therefore, I want to open up this article to all teachers—in other words, all of us. For, while I intend to go into a very specific experience inside of my TOEFL classroom, the study of language and the power of smart learning is something that I believe everyone can reap some kind of useful knowledge from; for, just as we are all teachers, we are all students as well. Whether it is conscious or not, we learn from the stimuli around us. I hope that through this article, there will be encouragement to increase your active learning, take responsibility for your learning, and for both trained and lay teachers, consider the power of methodology in teaching.
I am going to throw it out there again in case you missed it in the beginning: I am not a trained teacher. I am not academically educated as an educator or an applied linguist. However, I do periodically teach professionally. Perhaps some might be confused by this statement, but give me a chance to explain my situation. As a native English speaker living in Japan, there are opportunities here for non-academically trained individuals to teach English. From my understanding and rationale behind it, this is largely because the priority inside of the classroom is not necessarily the acquisition of someone with the trained skills for teaching, but rather, those with native pronunciation and a lifetime experience with the language. There are pros and cons with this way of thinking, but here in Japan, where a vast majority of non-native English speakers are teaching the mandatory English classes from elementary through until high school, there is a profound lack of opportunity for consistent presentation and assessment of listening and speaking activities by a native speaker. In other words, due to the scarcity, the focus inadvertently shifts to reading, writing, and rote memorization, leaving many struggling with listening comprehension and speaking.
This lack tries to be filled with Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) positions and similar roles in schools, but from my own experience being an ALT, while I can attest to the fact that there are many sociocultural difficulties, three of the largest issues I saw were 1) a lack of teachers, 2) a lack of control in the classroom, and 3) a lack of consistent teaching. In other words, there are not enough ALTs to go around. When ALTs are assigned to a particular school, they are usually partnered with a Japanese Language Teacher, who typically assigns the ALT what to do for that class, as they have a set curriculum mandated by the Japanese government. Therefore, it could be said that there is very little rein for organic teaching for ALTs inside Japanese public schools. Finally, because many times only one ALT is assigned for an entire school, their time is divided by grades and classes. Thus, the students do not get consistent, daily training by a native speaker. However, this was just my experience with the role; others may have had different, more positive experiences.
Considering speaking and comprehension are crucial for language acquisition, there is a degree of understanding of why an untrained individual like myself can work as an English teacher in this country. More specifically for my case, though, I am blessed to be able to work in a Christian, international school here. While their academic standards are top-notch and they adhere to prefectural and school mandates in regard to education, they have also created an environment that is more suitable for organic, teacher-led education. While many of the teachers are Japanese, many are foreign as well, thus fitting for an international title. Therefore, the educational style and reasonable freedom (in comparison to Japanese public school) that many of us were used to in the West can also be utilized here. Due to this amazing environment, there is less of an unintentional focus on reading, writing, and rote memory, less of a drastic and stretched-thin bandaging of the gaping wound left by it, and more of an opportunity for a holistic approach to teaching language.
My main role in the university for over 2 years now has been the English Center instructor. I’ve filled in other needs, such as translator, but that’s been my base. As the English Center instructor, I am a bit of a “catch-all” for English needs. Many of the university classes are taught in English and require a final paper written in English; there are also TOEFL classes available. As well, many of these students have aspirations to further their education somewhere in the West. Therefore, at the English Center, I edit and proofread term papers, help with English homework, help with college application essays and email compositions for university, etc. I also have the privilege to be able to help out with editing PowerPoint slides, emails, website content editing, and the like for the faculty. It’s fun, all-encompassing work, and I’m gifted to be around such diligent and intelligent students and supportive co-workers.
As I mentioned before, I sometimes have the opportunity to be called upon for roles where there is a sudden lack. This past trimester, I was asked to teach an 8-week, one-credit TOEFL 550 course to help “improve all-around English skills,” and I accepted. Granted, I didn’t truly know what I was getting myself into and I wasn’t confident in the slightest, but I was down for the challenge. With the time-restraints and my ability in consideration, I was given the chance to present the dean with a syllabus of my design. This means than I had roughly two months to create a class from top-to-bottom. So, I did what any person might have done: panicked for a month and then kicked my butt into gear, calling on my strengths (and praying to God that this didn’t turn into a horrific disaster; spoiler alert: it didn’t) to pull this together.
It would be very easy for me to try and describe why I am actually “qualified” for this role as a TOEFL teacher, but to be perfectly honest with you, I am not qualified by social standards and my experiential standards are subpar at best. There is no point in me demanding that I am qualified when I am not; I did not receive this job based off of accreditation or academic prowess, I was given a chance. They took a chance on me. Yet, the school wouldn’t have given me the job if they thought that I was going to fail; that’s just not smart business, and they are more economical and student-minded than that. So, obviously, given my experience with the English Center, they knew that even without the qualifications, I could do a decent job teaching English. They didn’t have to let me design the class, but they did, and through that, I was able to use my strengths to not only think about language and learning but center the class around where my research and experience (and I would also say the Holy Spirit) led me.
While I may not have a degree in education or linguistics, I do have a degree in psychology and behavioral science. Likewise, I was aggressively trained in psychological and sociological research methods and sociological theory and have actively designed and enacted a research project. This, in its basic terms, is my academic background. Personally, I am a language learner; it is a hobby (bordering on obsession) of mine and a necessity as I live in Japan. For all my language-learning years, I have been thinking about how the brain works from my background of academic and personal interests. I have been constantly monitoring and reflecting on how I learn, what works for language, and what doesn’t work. For my learning, I’ve studied, researched, and conducted little experiments on myself. Some people will read this and think that I’m an absolute nutso; some people will read this and think, “I thought it was just me!” Funnily, my intensity toward learning helped pave the way for me to design the class (so consider it a potential blessing, my like-minded friends!). I leaned into that intensity that was always inside of me and found that my teaching philosophy was right there the entire time. In fact, it was the same philosophy that had been guiding my self-learning and studying for most of my adult life.
Using these strengths and experiences as my base, I began developing the class. I am not trained as a teacher, therefore, it’s likely that I didn’t face the class as a “teacher” would traditionally. And while the potential weakness in this will be addressed later, I would say that what was created through the process was something organically fitting for the university, for my students, and myself. While this methodology of design may or may not work for your class or your community, I hope that the words that need to find you will meet you on these pages. Likewise, I hope that you will find the opportunities and courage to be able to, with wisdom and discernment, lean into your strengths while addressing your weaknesses, and teach in a way that stirs up your heart and the hearts of those whom you are teaching.
So, in true social sciences form, let’s begin with a purpose of study. This, of course, is my TOEFL philosophy, which will be verbalized as: to teach with empathy, vulnerability, and love using a wide and narrow approach with science and connection as its base, providing tools not just to flourish in TOEFL but for their role as lifetime learners. This philosophy is TOEFL-specific, but I would say that a general variation of it speaks to how I try to conduct all of my teaching encounters.
“Teach with Empathy, Vulnerability, and Love”
If I were to describe my teaching approach, I would say that I have taken upon some rather large aspects of a person-centered approach of education (or, the student-centered approach of education), a theory originally designed using tenants from Carl Rogers’ humanistic approach, also called the client-centered approach or person-centered approach (PCA). The person-centered approach in regard to therapy was designed by Rogers with the focus being “on the person’s subjective view of the world” (McLeod, 2019). Likewise, one of the main components of person-centered therapy is “the therapist and client as equal partners rather than as an expert treating a patient” (McLeod, 2019). Rogers’ theory has touched many fields such as business, social work, medicine, and education (Zucconi, 2015); however, person-centered education (PCE) is where we will be spending our time and coming back to frequently.
Alberto Zucconi, the current president of the Person-Centered Institute states that the purpose of PCE “is to protect and promote a person’s innate creative capacities of learning from their experiences, to promote wholeness and integration in the individual by focusing on their personal growth, and develop them into creative and competent members of the society who can contribute effectively to their community” and “requires a willingness from teachers to share their power and have better trust in their students” (Zucconi, 2015).
PCE addresses empathy as one of the key conditions (facilitative conditions) for a prosperous relationship between students and teachers. Research centering around vulnerability shows similar findings, and it is my belief that love is crucial for connection. These three emotive components are how I intend to extend my teaching philosophy. Let’s break them down and discuss their research and implications.
Merriam-Webster defines empathy “as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner” (“Empathy,” n.d.). In other words, it’s being conscious and aware of the feelings of others even without necessarily having experienced the same events. It’s being able to say, “I may not be able to understand first-hand, but I recognize what you are experiencing and what you are feeling are valid, and I am with you.” There is an aspect of perspective-taking within empathy. Expert Daniel Goleman puts it this way:
In today’s psychology, the word “empathy” is used in three distinct senses: knowing another person’s feelings; feeling what that person feels; and responding compassionately to another’s distress. These varieties of empathy seem to describe a 1-2-3 sequence: I notice you, I feel with you, and so I act to help you. (Goleman, 2006, p. 58)
Empathy can be difficult to linguistically discern from words such as sympathy, benevolence, pity, and compassion, but the differences in nuances are present. In particular, the distinction between empathy and sympathy should be addressed. While empathy says, “I feel your pain,” sympathy says, “I feel sorry for you in your pain.” Psychologist Edward Titchener in 1909 first translated the German word Einfühlung—which means “feeling into”—into the English word “empathy”; therefore, we could say that empathy is “feeling into someone” or “leaning into someone,” while sympathy is “feeling with someone” (Burton, 2015; Rowell, n.d.; Goleman, 2006). While sympathy usually has a personal investment and connection to the emotion being shared, there is a “distinction maintained between self and other” with empathy (Hodges & Myers, 2007).
Empathy, though, is not speaking strictly about feelings. Experts have distinguished two different types of empathy: emotional (affective) empathy and cognitive (thinking) empathy. While emotional empathy may be what we think of most often in consideration of the topic, cognitive empathy is also extremely important to understand. Emotional empathy is said to be accomplished in three parts:
The first is feeling the same emotion as another person…The second component, personal distress, refers to one’s own feelings of distress in response to perceiving another’s plight. This distress may or may not mirror the emotion that the other person is actually feeling… The third emotional component, feeling compassion for another person… is often called empathic concern and sometimes sympathy. Empathic concern is thought to emerge later developmentally and to require more self-control than either emotional contagion or personal distress, although these earlier components (along with the ability to imitate) probably lay the groundwork for later, more sophisticated forms of empathy. (Hodges & Myers, 2007)
Expert psychologists in the field such as Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman describe that the “compassion empathy” or “empathic concern” component within emotional empathy is actually a separate, third type of empathy (Goleman, 2007).
Cognitive empathy, on the other hand, is ultimately attached to an understanding that others may think differently than we do (theory of mind). It is described as “the extent to which we perceive or have evidence that we have successfully guessed someone else’s thoughts and feelings” (Hodges & Myers, 2007). There may be less of an emotional response within cognitive empathy, and higher cognitive empathy requires a sensitivity and awareness of emotions. (Hodges & Myers, 2007)
Empathy, in and of itself, is a crucial aspect of connection for humans, as it is recognizing the humanness inside of each person and seeks to remove the ingroup/outgroup (or us/them mentality) dichotomy that society often encourages and stirs up. It is recognizing that there is usually more to the story and that assumptions, conclusion-leaping, or emotive reactions are not usually helpful.
While empathy has been studied across many fields, its role and importance within the classroom cannot be ignored, and this is why it has been introduced to my teaching philosophy for this class. Empathy is important for students and teachers to have and for teachers to model. Research shows that students who have empathy—either having been taught it through modeling or otherwise—have “more classroom engagement; higher academic achievement; better communication skills; lower likelihood of bullying; less aggressive behaviors and emotional disorders; more positive relationships” (“For Educators,” n.d.). Where it can be said that teachers modeling empathy is a clear way of enhancing empathy within students, the importance of teacher empathy concerning student performance and learning has equally shown itself in the research. In his book A Way of Being, Carl Rogers (see above in regard to PCE) cites the work of David Aspy and Flora Roebuck (1974a, 1974b, as cited in Rogers, 1995) who took the hypothesis of client-centered therapy and adjusted the terminology for the educational field.
Within a client-centered approach, “facilitating conditions” are addressed. Facilitating conditions are “those conditions or counselor attitudes that enhance the therapeutic relationship and are conducive to successful outcomes in counseling and psychotherapy” (“Facilitative Conditions,” n.d.). These are the “keys” that I was mentioning in passing earlier and lists empathy. Along with empathy, the other two facilitating conditions are described as positive regard and genuineness, and it is tested that those who host these conditions are less likely to be defensive and more likely to be open to their patient. Within Aspy and Roebuck’s research, the facilitative conditions were defined and analyzed as: 1) empathy, “a teacher’s attempt to understand the personal meaning of the school experience for each student”; 2) positive regard, “the various ways in which the teacher shows respect for the students as persons”; and 3) congruence, “extent to which the teacher was genuine in relationship to the students.” (Rogers, 1995, p. 307).
Aspy and Roebuck’s results from their research were dynamic for the educational field, as it presented a positive correlation between these facilitative conditions within the teachers and academic achievements of the students. In other words, the students of the teachers who rated high in empathy, positive regard, and congruence tended to achieve more academic accomplishments than the students of teachers who rated low in those conditions. On a more frightening level that I believe many teachers will feel deeply, the students of teachers who rated low in these facilitative conditions were found to be mentally and academically kept back “in their learning by their teachers’ deficiencies” (Rogers, 1995, p. 308). Rogers then summarizes:
Teachers exhibiting high levels of facilitative conditions tend to have other characteristics:
They have more positive self-concepts than low-level teachers.
They are more self-disclosing to their students.
They give more praise.
They are more responsive to students’ ideas.
They lecture less often. (Rogers, 1995, p. 310)
Considering the higher academic achievements of the students of “high-level” teachers, it would be safe to say that these are positive conditions that led to positive outcomes.
Rogers goes on to say this: “A high degree of empathy in a relationship is possibly the most potent factor in bringing about change and learning” (Rogers, 1975). Therefore, not only are all of these facilitating conditions positive for a successful relationship with the student and the success of a student, but it may be the most critical aspect to have within the classroom.
Of course, teachers, parents, and caregivers can recognize that principle and intent may be different than execution, and I would say that while I attempted to hold to this philosophy (and hopefully succeeded on some occasions), sometimes the intent was lost in translation. Some of this will be described in the implementation and reflection portion of the article. However, I desire to be someone whose words match their actions, and I am intentionally and consciously trying to achieve that goal.
Dr. Brené Brown is an expert in the field of shame, empathy, and vulnerability, and her research and results have been tested and applied to a plethora of fields and areas of leadership. In her first books that were based on her research in shame and connection, she arrives at a theory of what she called “Wholeheartedness.” Being Wholehearted is the goal. It is about “engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough” (Brown, 2015, p. 10). Being Wholehearted, Brown found, encourages resilience to shame, and it stimulates connection.
Brown tells us that the opposite of Wholeheartedness finds itself in the culture of scarcity, which tells us that we are never attractive enough, never smart enough, never good enough, never whole enough, etc.—always “never enough.” Brown states, “We humans have a tendency to define things by what they are not” (2015, p. 8). The culture of scarcity speaks to our lack rather than our value and worthiness, and it breeds shame, comparison, and disengagement.
If the culture of scarcity aids shame, what can encourage Wholeheartedness? Carrying on her research, she discovered that vulnerability resided as a root of Wholeheartedness. Vulnerability, Brown says, is the “core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences” (2015, p. 12). Therefore, it could be said that vulnerability is at the center of connection. Connecting vulnerability to Wholeheartedness, she goes on, stating: “The Wholehearted identify vulnerability as the catalyst for courage, compassion, and connection. In fact, the willingness to be vulnerable emerged as the single clearest value shared by all of the women and men whom I would describe as Wholehearted. They attribute everything—from their professional success to their marriages to their proudest parenting moments—to their ability to be vulnerable” (2015, pp. 11-12).
So, if vulnerability is the key to connection and Wholeheartedness, what is vulnerability? Brown described it in her book Daring Greatly:
Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in. Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the love to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection. (Brown, 2015, p. 2)
As we are rightly hardwired for connection, it makes sense that that which promotes connection should be worked towards.
I would also say that this train of thought and research beautifully aligns with biblical truths. We Christians believe that we find our worthiness in Jesus Christ, and it is through him that we receive the ability to be Wholehearted. And it is through our worthiness found in Christ that we feel love and belonging. The worthiness of Christ that we clothe ourselves in creates resilience against shame, the “never enough” culture, and the lies of the devil. The traits of Wholeheartedness such as cultivating intuition and trusting faith, play and rest, calm and stillness, meaningful work, etc. all fall in line with areas of refinement that we are promised when we put our trust in Him and what we, with the help of the Holy Spirit through the long process of sanctification, are able to work towards. Likewise, the importance of our connection and communion with God and with others in relation to our experience in this world is not only answered in the Bible, but I would say further emphasized. That being said, I believe this research not only allows us to be able to show how the Bible and science align but also provides us a secular vocabulary regarding biblical truths so that we can lead those who are not seekers of Christ.
Of course, vulnerability works itself out in our personal lives but also in our professional lives. Particularly, we can find the value and importance of vulnerability inside of the classroom, and this is the main reason why it is brought up within my philosophy.
In discussion over Brown’s research regarding education and the teacher-student relationship, Ashleigh Lutz states, “[Vulnerability] pushes students to open themselves up, leave their comfort zones, and learn in a more personal, intentional way” (Lutz, 2018).
Lutz continues to summarize Brown’s work, stating specifically for teachers that, “Being vulnerable in the classroom can promote deeper thinking, strengthen your relationships with students, and prompt more authentic responses. Showing students that you’re not perfect helps them understand that it’s okay to have flaws and imperfections” (Lutz, 2018).
The classroom can be a breeding room for shame—our memories of being shamed in front of the class, or being called out for receiving a poor grade are some that can haunt us for our entire lives—but it’s our choice as teachers to provide an atmosphere where vulnerability can grow. Of course, it begins with us. By owning up to our own mistakes and allowing students to hold us accountable to our word, we are teaching the students to own up to their own mistakes and aid them in staying accountable to their word.
This also aligns with PCE, as vulnerability is the opposite of defensiveness. If we are vulnerable with our students, then we are less likely to get defensive, which means we are less likely to disengage and distance ourselves from the relationship. As well, it allows for the focus of the class to be on individual growth rather than on grades or mistakes, which fits well with PCE.
Finally, there is something to be said for being a teacher in Japan to encourage all components and factors that we can to help facilitate shame resilience in students who are raised within a culture and society that largely is motivated within a model of shame and fear. When vulnerability is shown, it is being taught. When vulnerability is taught, it can be modeled. When it is modeled, then it can facilitate change across a huge spectrum and can be a part of creating individuals who are more likely to move from a place of worthiness and “enough-ness” than fear. And that can cause rebirth within a society. With the science in mind, but also my own experience with vulnerability, I recognize its value and, thus, it was fully worked into the design of the class.
While Rogers suggested that empathy is the most essential factor for learning, I would raise that love is a high contender for importance. This is largely due to my religious beliefs, but PCE easily aligns with the truth of the Bible concerning the wealth of wisdom it has in regard to teaching. As God is love, it is right to use Him and His characters as the base of our definition of love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-12 is describing love on the surface, but due to the lens of 1 John 4:16, we can also read this list as 1) the characteristics of love and 2) the characteristics of God (and vice versa). St. Paul states:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
As I read and write this, I am convicted once more that this is how I want to lead in all of my interactions and actions as a person and how I want to lead my classroom. In some ways, I see a clear connection between these characteristics and the outcomes of PCE.
PCE requires an active surrendering of defensiveness, which can be shown in responses such as envy, boastfulness, arrogance, rudeness, irritableness, and resentment. PCE is not centered on the teacher but on the potential of each student; therefore, we are to reasonably sacrifice our own way, our own experiences to meet the needs of the student and facilitate their own unique learning style. Likewise, PCE requires us to be able to see the potential of our students and see that they have the power to be able to learn and grow, even if they are unaware of it.
This is not to say that to lead in love means to allow all things, though. There are more than a few occasions in the Bible that recognize that to discipline is to love. While verses in Proverbs are frequently used to describe the importance of discipline, Revelation 3:19 reminds us that “those whom [God] love[s] [He] rebuke[s] and discipline[s].” Speaking to parenting, Hebrews 12:10-11 explains that, “They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Countless others could be used in accordance with the topic, and therefore, it’s important to recognize that God, who is love, loves us, and therefore, disciplines us. And thus, correct, reasonable, and logical discipline is loving within the classroom as well.
PCE beautifully follows along with these biblical truths. Zucconi describes, “PCA empowers rather than cures and promotes the development of potentialities of individuals, groups and organizations through interpersonal relationships characterized by respect, trust, empathetic understanding and authenticity. It makes people responsible for what they do rather than encouraging dependency” (Zucconi, 2015). To rephrase, through a loving and trusting relationship with our students, we have the potential to empower them, so that they can stand on their own feet, take responsibility for their actions, and move forward after receiving the tools that we can give them as teachers. Love—which is made up of components such as respect, trust, understanding, and proper discipline—facilitates preparing students for the world outside their door. We see potential in them, and it is our job to hold them accountable and teach them to hold themselves accountable by showing the positive and negative consequences for their actions.
Therefore, it is love that I intend to lead with in my classes, but of course, love alone does not help a student and must be met with the proper academic structure and content for learning.
“Using a wide and narrow approach with science and connection as its base”
This aspect of the philosophy is pretty straightforward and is just my answer to the question that all TOEFL teachers must face: how much do I focus on the test, and how much do I focus on teaching English? Some may choose to put their time entirely into the test, while others may just tweak a basic English class. The answer to the question largely has to do with the goals of the students and the establishment that you are working for, but I do believe that many TOEFL teachers choose a combination of both. This was how it was for me as well.
I wanted to design a class that gave information and tools to be able to pass the specifics of the test (narrow or specific approach), while also giving the students a broader picture of what the test was asking for (wide or general approach). In other words, teach about the reading section for TOEFL but also teach about academic reading, types of reading, critical reading, etc. As the TOEFL is just a snapshot of a larger picture, I wanted to prepare them for the snapshot while also presenting the larger picture. Especially considering the students that I was working with would be using the TOEFL test as a vehicle to be able to go to school in the States, I thought it all the more important to discuss academic reading and writing not only so they understood the bare-bone basics tested in TOEFL but to further their education on and practice of it so that they could apply it toward their future goals.
While I have already provided quite a bit of the science behind my philosophy, there is oh-so-much more to share. The implementation of this, however, will be discussed more in the next section of this article. Just to share briefly, though, my informed thought is that just basing a class on science loses the human aspect, and just focusing on the relational aspect possibly opens up the students to inefficiency. Therefore, I wanted to design and teach the class through the pairing of science and relation (connection). Thus, I made decisions within the class through those two lenses. Within this, the main processes I used as my base for academics were metacognition and memory. Likewise, the relational aspect of connection tied to confidence and a growth mindset, which also ties into the above portion of my philosophy, was equally informative in my decisions.
In Raoofi, Chang, Mukundan, and Rashid’s (2014) research, they found several important ties to metacognition and the acquisition of a second language. They state that metacognitive intervention can influence language performance and that metacognition is a strong predictor of second language (L2) acquisition, as the use of metacognitive resources positively correlated with success in performing language tasks. The learners in the study demonstrated improvement in their language tasks through the use of metacognitive training. Due to this, Öz’s collective call for teachers to consider designing their curriculum with a conscious effort to incorporate metacognitive practices that will enhance the student’s ability to learn is all the more reasonable (Öz, 2005). Raoofi et al. also confirms that and adds, “In order to enhance students’ metacognitive knowledge, teachers should focus on both teaching language content and teaching the ways and processes of learning” (2014, p. 45).
Metacognition consists of metacognitive knowledge—which is acquired knowledge about the cognitive processes that can be applied to control said processes—and metacognitive experiences, which are internal affective experiences that draw awareness to the cognitive processes (Öz, 2005). Metacognitive processes involve interdependent aspects such as: “preparing and planning for learning; selecting and using learning strategies; monitoring strategy use; orchestrating various strategies, and; evaluating strategy use and learning” (Öz, 2005, p. 155; Anderson, 2002). These aspects should be engaged through teacher instruction and practice. Examples of these practices in a classroom may include pre-assessments (What do I already know about this topic?), identifying confusions (What didn’t/don’t I understand?), retrospective post-assessments (Before this course, I thought… now I think…), and reflective journals (Chick, n.d.).
To explain it simply, metacognition empowers learners, as those who are aware of their metacognitive processes are more likely to employ strategy and, thus, are likely to execute their tasks with higher proficiency (Öz, 2005, p. 155; Anderson, 2002). Those who have been empowered with metacognitive strategies are more self-regulated, self-directed, and more successful learners, as “they are aware of their learning and they know how and when to employ the most relevant strategies to accomplish a given task… in the most effective way. They plan their learning in advance, monitor their learning during the task performance, and evaluate their learning after task accomplishment” (Raoofi et al., 2014, p. 37). In other words, through the use of proper instruction, questioning, and the teaching of self-reflection, learners who are employing metacognition think about the task before the task, during the task, and then afterward, which helps facilitate learning (2016, Millis). The learner engages with the task actively. Considering the way that the brain stores knowledge largely based on category and connection and through repetition, this makes sense. Within this idea of metacognition as facilitating self-regulation, there is interesting cross-over with research on the topic of self-efficacy, although that is a different topic (Tanner, 2017).
To continue summarizing its benefits, it “enhances learning outcomes, facilitating recall, the comprehension of written texts, the completion of new types of learning tasks, and… it improves the rate of progress in learning as well as the quality and speed of learners’ cognitive engagement” (Öz, 2005, p. 151). In other words, building a curriculum upon an informed view of metacognition drastically positions students to do better in class. And considering metacognitive skills are something that can be taught, practiced, and acquired through modeling, on-going dialogue regarding metacognition, and consistent practice, there is much to consider for our students and our roles to encourage their lifetime learning goals.
While the way that I designed metacognition into the class will be described in another part, I believe that the science rightly justifies this aspect of the philosophy. Metacognition is an awareness of how you think, but I also consider understanding and thinking about how your brain works in regard to memory, how we learn, and our basic psychology as an aspect of metacognition. The National Research Council (2000) states, “Learning changes the physical structure of the brain. These structural changes alter the functional organization of the brain; in other words, learning organizes and reorganizes the brain” (p. 115). I believe that understanding the role that we have in the formation of our minds is critical for taking responsibility for our learning (with an added emphasis on a focus on learning and growth rather than performance). Students are to partner with their teachers to learn (which aligns with PCE language), but it is ultimately up to the teacher to first teach the student the importance of the partnership, and therefore, I see the rationale in giving information to my students on the brain in regard to learning, and particularly the brain’s functioning processes that are most visible with language.
Having a basic understanding of how our brains store information and process it from short term memory into long memory is extremely important for language. While we can say that “practice makes perfect” until we turn blue in the face, once we learn why practice makes perfect (or, at least, permanent), we can begin to build strategies to be able to study and remember more effectively. If we know the processes, if we know the basics of how our brain works, we can usually maintain a reasonably high level of control over our mental facilities when it comes to learning; however, many are either unaware of this or do not wish to apply themselves to the process, which is understandable as properly learning material can be very drawn-out and does not often satisfy our desire for quick-fix solutions. While taking the easy way out of learning—cramming before a test, only employing passive techniques (which is not true studying) such as reading and underlining, etc. (The Learning Center, n.d.)—may be able to meet our short-term goals to some varying degrees, particularly as language learners, it’s important to learn things well and properly the first time around, building a steady base, so that our further learning does not get compromised. It’s crucial to engage and to actively learn. Language acquisition is something like an endurance sport rather than a power- or strength-based sport; it’s important to take our time with it rather than just powering our way through.
I agree with Gall et al. (1990, as cited in Tanner, 2017) in the statement, “Learning how to learn cannot be left to students. It must be taught.” However, the sad fact of the matter is that many students are not taught how to learn—often due to teachers being educated in traditional and passive learning methods (Öz, 2005), and perhaps, not having the time, energy, or resources to be able to design metacognition into their curriculum—and as the conflicting and contradicting demands of society telling us to “have a life” but “be academically and professionally perfect” force us into a double bind, it’s often common for us to take shortcuts with our learning and rationalize that it is “enough.” While the difficulty and challenge are valid, I believe it is up to us as teachers to work within our capacity to encourage active learning by teaching what it means to actively learn.
I believe that metacognition is key to unlocking students’ learning, but at the same time, while the science is ultimately fascinating and the implications significant, I believe that the design of the class cannot function or be executed smoothly without positive teacher-student relationships. These relationships are ultimately built upon connection.
Connection and Confidence. When students feel connected with their teachers, school, and classmates, they are more likely to trust, which will encourage more engagement in class, better behavior, and higher academic and social performance. The cultivation of positive relationships can look like: knowing your students, giving constructive feedback, and being respectful and sensitive to students (Rimm-Kaufman & Sandilos, 2010).
Through a positive relationship, I hope to help establish their confidence as language learners, transitioning them from basing their confidence in their ability to learn and do well in English on each grade and performance to their unique growth instead, so that they have a workable source of motivation to take with them throughout their learning life instead of solely relying on institutional pressure.
Connection and a Growth Mindset. Sarah Mercer (n.d.) of Oxford University Press ELT expresses that having a growth mindset and what they described as “grit” encourages language learning. Grit is persistence and resilience. A growth mindset (in comparison to a fixed mindset), is the belief that our learning abilities can grow and be developed. To have a growth mindset, one must feel a sense of competence, control, and connectedness. Concerning connectedness, she states, “When learners feel they belong in a group or institution and when they feel cared for as people and in terms of their learning progress, they are much more likely to engage and be active in their own learning” (Mercer, n.d.). She goes on to say, though, that it is not just a sense of connection to the establishment or teacher, but language learners should feel a personal connection to the language they are learning. They must have a reason and purpose to engage with the language. I believe it is my job as a teacher to 1) try and build a connection with each one of my students and 2) help the students build a connection with me and with the English language that we are studying together.
“Providing tools not just to flourish in TOEFL but for their role as lifetime learners”
Here’s the thing. I’m not typically fond of just doing the bare minimum for a job. And while I recognize that there is room for doing an assigned task and only doing the assigned task, I know that I feel more connected and passionate with the work when I can draw out another layer of meaning. That being said, I don’t believe that is always necessary or even good, and it can be particularly exhausting, but it’s my bent. Likewise, it is what I wanted to achieve for this class.
Perhaps readers have gotten this far and wondered why I am so excitable over a TOEFL class. It’s a good question. Here’s the answer: because I believe that every class has the opportunity to touch students in different ways. Our passion as teachers may facilitate the learning process far more than their general interest in the topic before taking the class or even the material that we present. We have the power of shaping their entire perspective of this topic; and I believe that each topic has something of value in the process of shaping their world. So, yes, in some ways, this was just a TOEFL class. And I taught TOEFL, as I was supposed to (and was pleased to do so), but I wanted to give the students so much more than that. How I attempted to accomplish this will be discussed more in the upcoming section on the implementation of the methodology.
TOEFL classes are unique because they are topic-specific, but at its root, it’s an English class. It’s a language class. And to go another level further than that, it has the opportunity to be a class about learning and personal discovery. What’s the train of thought there? I believe that English and language classes have one of the most amazing abilities to tap into the humanity of us all; language is a living vehicle to connect every topic of study under the sun. It is the vehicle that connects human to human; experience to experience; the far past to the future. It encompasses both the creative and the academic. Language is communication, not only with others but with ourselves. Sure, part of teaching TOEFL is teaching to the test, but the test in and of itself is like several biopsies across four main sections of language, taken to get an overall picture of the health of someone’s overall English. In other words, the makers of TOEFL understand that to know a language means being able to write, read, speak, and comprehend (listen to) that language. The test is designed to reflect the proficiency of the language, but at the same time, students are taking the test to use the language not just test it. The test is a starting-off point for a deeper relationship with English and those who speak English. Therefore, while it’s important to address the test, I also believe it’s important to address the reason why the students are taking the test and provide for them other tools that will help them in their relationship with the language and those who speak the language.
When I say that it’s a class about learning and discovery, I believe that language classes have one of the most unique positions to be able to open up students to exploring their identities. Even TOEFL asks questions about preferences and asks you to make decisions based on your positions. Talking about yourself is a part of language. One may be able to speak without any sign of self, but there is something tragic and lost about this, I believe. Language is self-discovery and others-discovery. It asks questions about who you are, how you think, while at the same time, beautifully asking about your neighbor.
Adding to that, learning a language asks you to find out what works best for you. Students who study language (or anything for that matter) without knowing what studying tactics work best for them, what distracts them, what motivates them and fuels them, what discourages them, what tricks work best for memorization, etc. are not effectively optimizing the tools that they naturally have. They are not using their brain efficiently. It’s like they are just throwing a handful of half-cooked spaghetti at a wall, hoping that at least one piece is going to stick. When we know our brains (both their weaknesses—or rather, their challenges—and strengths), we can work more effectively and learn more efficiently. As language largely relies on memory and its study must be done on a personal and a communal level, knowing your brain and following in line with its design, allows you to cook your spaghetti to properly al dente, be able to throw one strand of spaghetti at a time with precision and efficiency, so that it sticks to the wall each time. And eventually, you have a whole bowl of spaghetti on the wall (oh, the image).
As language has the capacity for this, to summarize, I wanted to present the students with tools that will help them in the future with all of their English-related activities and relationships and allow them to know their learning habits and bents so that they can master English effectively and efficiently and be able to carry that through to their other academic goals.
There are also two final things to say about what I hoped to come out of this class in terms of “giving them tools for the future,” and they are of a far more personal nature. Above, I mentioned I designed the class intending to lead it with empathy, love, and vulnerability. This is not just because scientifically it is proven to improve academic achievements or because it fits with my biblical convictions (although there is nothing wrong with that reason), but because by leading with these, I want to set myself as a role model for these students. Much like in metacognition, to be empathic, to be vulnerable, to love well, you have to be shown how to do it. And you have to be shown that it’s okay. They have to be shown that they are not going to be shamed by having emotions or being vulnerable. As their TOEFL teacher, it is my job to teach them English and the TOEFL, and I can help facilitate that goal through these components. However, as their friend, as their teacher, as their older sister, as a maternal figure, by presenting myself as empathic, loving, and vulnerable, it is my hope that will pick up on this, learn from his, and that they, too, will grow into empathic, loving, and vulnerable adults. While I did receive some confirmation that this goal was obtained after the class, the results of these intentions are likely something that I will never know fully, and it will just be a part of their processing of experiences with other adults. But, because I love my students, I want to do everything I can to do right by them, and in their vast experience with those who are older than them, I want to be at least one gentle but stern voice for them to recall.
Earlier, I also mentioned that there is something tragic about speaking without a trace of “self” present. While there is something to say about group mentality in America as well, here in Japan, where the individual identity is largely influenced by the collective and cultural identity, knowing self can be all the more difficult; giving yourself the allowance to take ownership of your thoughts and presenting those thoughts to the outside world can be all the more terrifying. While I still believe that there is a necessity of finding yourself and finding your own identity within your own language, there is something to be said about finding strength and empowerment in a language that easily hosts cultural vocabulary of individualism and self-discovery. There is something to be said about connecting with a highly emotive language that is removed from you yet relatable, as all languages are connected through the fact that we all have one. While English is not all-encompassing and those who speak it are not perfect, it is a possibility that there is an allowance of individual identity and freedom of self-expression and thought that exists within its words. If this is something that I can tap into with my students, then that is what I want to present to them.
To give some form to the practice of the philosophy, I want to briefly discuss small specifics of teaching for a bit. Here is a reminder of my philosophy: to teach with empathy, vulnerability, and love using a wide and narrow approach with science and connection as its base, providing tools not just to flourish in TOEFL but for their role as lifetime learners. As structured similarly above, I will briefly break down how each of these aspects of the philosophy were intended to be executed through the design of the class.
“To teach with empathy, vulnerability, and love”
Largely, my desire to lead with these emotions and within these spaces acted itself out in the interaction I had with the students. As I’m sure many teachers can attest to having the intention of doing, it was my conscious effort each class to check in with the students, hear their needs and concerns, and hear what they are enjoying. This aspect of my philosophy is something that can only be generated from my own heart health first so that I could thus extend it to the students. However, to be empathic, vulnerable, and loving requires planned intention as well. Before meeting online for classes, I would set up notes to the side of my screen, reminding myself to ask about specifics for the class and for the students before diving straight into the lesson. It’s easy enough for me to lose track of my plans as soon as the call came through and I saw their faces, so placing a physical reminder in front of me created space before and sometimes after classes.
Likewise, I attempted to keep myself open to “disruptive engagement,” as Brown (2015) describes it. In other words, to some reasonable degree, I allowed the students’ perspectives and current conditions to shift my perspective for my design for given assignments. I attempted to honor their hard work with understanding regarding their current academic load and honor their honesty, vulnerability, and trust in sharing their burdens with me by periodically adjusting due dates or course load. I attempted to give them choices on dates and materials when it was available so that they felt more empowered and in control of their academic life. With that being said, it was also my full intention to hold myself accountable to my words and hold them accountable to the school structure. Pairing empowerment and mobility with responsibility and accountability, I believe that I was able to realize aspects of PCE.
Finally, one of the larger assignments that I had the students do every week was a reflection journal. I had some parameters in place, but I mostly left it up to the students’ interests to guide them in what they wrote about each week. Likewise, I wrote responses to each one of their journal entries, and I encouraged the students to engage in conversation with me through the journal. By doing this, I was blessed to be able to hear some personal stories, and I was able to share and be reasonably vulnerable with the students by sharing pieces of my story as well, which I believe increased their trust in me and positively reflected on our teacher-student relationship.
“A wide and narrow approach with science and connection as its base”
As mentioned before, I wanted to attempt a wide (general) and narrow (specific) approach with teaching TOEFL. In other words, I attempted to balance teaching to the test, teaching a general English class, provide practice for the TOEFL, and provide lectures on different components of metacognition and brain processing. This juggling act was largely due to the fact addressed above that teaching metacognition (which I include brain processing in relation to language as being a part of) is scientifically shown to be correlated to self-regulating behavior and, specific for this class, improvement in language skills. I will give you a brief list of discussion points for each lecture to show how I designed the class to facilitate this. There were sessions dedicated specifically to practicing the TOEFL section previously discussed after its lecture.
Lecture 1—Language and the Brain
- Memory, including decoding and encoding, short term memory, and long term memory
- Myelin and nerve pathways
- Heuristics, including assumptions as negative in language learning, questioning as the key, and recognition and recall
Lecture 2—Reading for TOEFL and Academic Reading
- Ten types of questions, including strategy and hints for each question
- General hints, tips, and strategies for the section
- Types of academic reading, including scanning and skimming
- Critical reading
- Seven strategies of academic reading
- Purpose for reading
- General reading strategies using metacognition (before, during, and after reading)
Lecture 3—Writing for TOEFL and Academic Writing
- General overview
- Integrated writing, including overview and writing tips
- Independent writing, including overview and writing tips
- General test tips
- Characteristics of academic writing
- Common mistakes
- Academic papers, including outline, thesis, citations and sources, plagiarism, in-text citations, writing styles, and resources
- General overview
- Eight types of questions, including their identifiers and hints
- Tips to improve
- General overview
- Task 1, including structure, template, example, and grading
- Task 2, including all of the above
- Task 3, including all of the above
- Task 4, including all of the above
As you can see, the collective curriculum attempted a wide and narrow approach, diving into brain processes and metacognition as its starting point, in regard to general English proficiency in the four categories, and specific tips, strategies, and information concerning the specifics of the TOEFL test.
In terms of assignments, I attempted to work upon the idea that “a little bit every day” encourages language growth, and that a daily “checking-in” with the language, produces results as it aids the brain in long-term memory storage. Therefore, I gave them quite a large portion of homework across the four fields: writing, speaking, listening, and reading. The intent of the amount of homework was for them to practice self-management and regulation and do just a portion every day; as well, the class was pass/fail, so I encouraged the students to not focus on perfection but instead focus on consistent practice. I gave feedback and correction for each assignment, so as to improve connection with the student and help encourage their growth. For the end of the term, I had them write a book report in an academic paper format, which attempted to put to use all of the metacognitive tactics that we learned in class: reflecting on the book before reading, asking questions during reading, and writing a reflective paper after reading. It was an outline, rough draft, and final draft design, with them having to edit their paper as per my corrections and instructions.
“Providing tools not just to flourish in TOEFL but for their role as lifetime learners”
Largely, this was intended to be accomplished through the use of understanding metacognition. While learning about metacognition and practicing and applying the skills aids with language, it is of significant value in all fields of study. More than that, being conscious of how your brain works, consciously sorting out what strategies work for you and what don’t, and applying what you learn to your own life has the potential to make students more apt for self-regulation and self-management. Edutopia poses this: “Metacognition plays an important role in all learning and life experiences. Beyond academic learning, when students gain awareness of their own mental states, they begin to answer important questions: How do I live a happy life? How do I become a respected human being? How do I feel good about myself? Through these reflections, they also begin to understand other people’s perspectives” (Price-Mitchell, 2015). In other words, learning about metacognition and learning about how to learn also teaches students how to learn about themselves and ask themselves important life questions. There are some drastic implications to this regarding mental health. There is even research being done on the connection between schizophrenia and metacognition as a possible venue of interrupting the perpetuation of mental disability (Lysaker et al., 2020; Cella et al., 2015).
Therefore, by introducing these lectures on the brain, talking about metacognition for each of the four sections of language, it is the hope that I am encouraging these students to engage with themselves and with others more deeply, which not only impacts their academic and learning career but their entire lives. Likewise, ultimately, it is, of course, my hope and prayer that some of the questions that they are brave enough to ask once they look at their heart find their ultimate answer in Jesus. This can also be extended to the first portion of the philosophy, which I mentioned earlier; hopefully, through modeling empathy, love, and vulnerability, they can take those into their own lives.
This class was about improving their English and improving their TOEFL scores, and I believe we worked toward accomplishing that, but I also know that I introduced some seeds that hopefully will bloom into something beautiful.
With all things said and done, the class ended up reasonably well. I believe at least some of the students left the class feeling more empowered in their language learning; they recognized that they learned new things and there seemed to be an agreement that they wished to apply them to their life.
Personally, I learned so much. While I do believe that my lack of formal education in teaching may have hindered me in some ways, it wasn’t because things went poorly, but rather, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. In other words, while I assume that those who have a background in teaching were given tools that I did not have, I can’t even know what those tools might have been. I only worked with what I had inside of me and what was provided for me, and that proved to be enough for what we are were trying to accomplish.
When I was doing some of the research for this post, I ran across an article that said that it’s important not to just teach and lecture on metacognition but to fully ingrain it into your curriculum. In some ways, I think I relied too much on lectures and missed an opportunity to employ metacognition more into their assignments. Although, given the fact that the entire class was done online due to COVID-19 and the fact that it was a once-a-week, one-credit class, I think it was as balanced as I could make it in this run. If I were to do it again, I would consider trying to apply more pre-, during, and post-reflective aspects to their assignments and balance out each class more. The other aspect to it was that much of this metacognition-led material was new to the students, and therefore, I think I rationalized it to some degree that I needed to lecture upon it well and thoroughly. However, as I mentioned, I believe it would have been even more effective to limit the actual lecture on metacognition and instead spend more time giving them the space to grow their metacognitive skills once they acquired the knowledge. Limiting the amount of homework would also be another adjusting point if I were to teach this again. As much as I hoped that the students would apply the “little bit every day” design without pressure or perfectionism, it ultimately just didn’t end up being reasonable.
As fun as designing the class was and researching and studying the material so I actually understood what I was teaching, as most teachers I think would agree with, it was the students who made the experience. Getting to know them, hear their thoughts, watch them grow in confidence and performance (in their English but also their personal lives) was the greatest gift. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we were unable to have the TOEFL test this trimester, so I wasn’t able to measure the TOEFL side of their academic success in the class, but I do believe that they were given all the tools that they need to be able to do well.
When I was given the task of teaching the TOEFL 550 course, I didn’t truly realize how much it would entail. As much as I’ve had endless respect for teachers, it does take becoming one to recognize the full weight of teaching even one class. For those who do this professionally every year or even those who used to do it for any length of time, I truly commend you. Although my background is not in education, I believe that I was able to use my strengths to at least design the class with informed understanding. That being said, I would say that the design is actually the easy part in the teaching field, as all of that can be thrown out the window once you get to know the students that you are in charge of.
Through this article, I reflected on the methodology of designing the class and its implementation. While my experience with teaching TOEFL may be extremely specific, and while you may disagree with aspects (or everything!) about my philosophy, I hope that there were nuggets of truth to encourage and/or inform you, or at least entertain you. As I truly believe that we are all teachers in some capacity, I believe that we should do everything in our power to not only empower our students but also empower each other as both learners and teachers through the sharing of our experiences. Considering teaching this class was an opportunity that was gifted to me, I want to pay it forward in the best way that I know how at the moment: by writing it all down. As much as it was in my power, I wanted to help my students recognize that we were all in this together; likewise, by sharing this experience, I also wanted to extend that solidarity to you, friend. Thanks for sticking with me on this journey. Peace to you all.
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