Book Review: Inspirational Stories from English Language Classrooms

Book Review: Inspirational Stories from English Language Classrooms

by Flora D. Floris and Willy A. Renandaya (Eds.)

By: D. S. Bowyer

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In late 2020, The Association for the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language in Indonesia, or TEFLIN for short, published a series of eight free ebooks on its website. Dedicated to teacher training and development, these books cover a number of useful themes, such as task-based language teaching, cooperative learning, and materials development. All of them are worth your time and come highly recommended, but today we’ll be focusing on one that is particularly relevant to those of us who enjoy neuroscience-related material, which I assume is everyone reading this article. If not, why are you here?! Go enjoy your life!

Floris and Willy’s Inspirational Stories from English Language Classrooms is an edited volume containing fascinating teacher stories from a wide variety of educators and researchers, including one from our own Curtis Kelly. For a fascinating but terrifying primer on the power of stories to shape people’s perceptions and decision-making, check out Reed Berkowitz’s article on QAnon’s clever storytelling. (See page above, the end of another article he wrote for us.) Or, for those who still want more on the academic nitty-gritty of why stories are so powerful, take a look at these two articles written from a neuroscience and a psychology perspective.

"it’s great to read about other people’s experiences"
D.S. Bowyer
TT Author

Inspirational Stories came about through a desire to provide a resource to empower teachers and learners in a way that we can emotionally connect with, minus the dryness that is common to most training manuals. According to the editors, Flora and Willy: “Our stories therefore have the potential to be used as an instrument to develop students’ language proficiency and also to help us become more reflective practitioners” (p. vii).

The book is divided in to five sections on: becoming a professional teacher, building rapport, learning from others’ culture, engaging students in meaningful activities, and going beyond the classroom. Each story is followed by a teaching activity and a reflection by the writer. Speaking personally, it’s great to read about other teachers’ experiences and see them going through all the same kinds of issues that I have or will, and the creative and inspiring ways that they solved problems.

Take a look at three of the stories from the book, on the next pages, to see what I mean. Download the free ebook here.

Three stories from Inspirational Stories from English Language Classrooms

Floris, F. D., & Renandya, W. (2020). Inspirational stories from English language classrooms. Malang, Indonesia: TEFLIN Teacher Development Series.

Chapter 31: THE MOST IMPORTANT HOMEWORK OF THE YEAR

– Rob Waring, Notre Dame Seishin University, Japan

I first met Airi at orientation some years ago. Even then I could tell she had an “air” about her. She didn’t quite fit into my class and wasn’t quite like the others. Maybe she seemed a bit too combative for Japanese society. I did not know. She was a puzzle. But my intuition told me something was wrong and this might be a tough year.

That night, I got a call from my daughter, Mariko. She, like Airi, had just finished her first day of classes at her university. She called to say thank you.

“For what?” I asked.

“Daddy, I know what it’s taken for you to get me to university, how much you have worked and saved to give me my chance.”

This caught my breath. As a father, I couldn’t help but cry.

So, in the next class, I told my freshmen what my daughter had said, and how it made me feel. I reminded the students how much it cost to send someone to university, and that if ever they felt like skipping class, or not doing homework, to remember that mum and dad were not skipping work to get the money to pay for their education. I told them their homework that night was to go home armed with some cakes or flowers, to sit their parents down, and make them cry.

Airi did not come to class the rest of the week, but she came to see me at lunchtime on the Monday. I can tell she had been crying. Something was different, she seemed calm. Airi told me the week before she had started school, she had been fighting with her mother over wanting the latest new phone as a congratulations present, but her mother had said no.

But Mariko’s gesture made her think. She then told me that that evening after she had done her “homework,” she watched her mother cry hopelessly for ten minutes. Airi had no idea a few words could mean so much. She had found out the phone would have cost all her mother’s earnings that month and she only wanted it just because her best friend didn’t have one. She stopped for a few seconds and cried a little, muttering: “I’m the worst daughter in the world.” Airi told me that her mother had given up all hope that she cared about her family and thought she was ungrateful for what her parents had done for her. She apologized to me for being absent the previous week, but explained she had some important real “home” work to do. She’d been spending all her time discovering a mother she never really knew. They could now talk as a mother and daughter for the first time in five years. Mission accomplished.

Last month, I was invited to Airi’s wedding by her parents. They wanted to thank me. But really, they should want to meet Mariko.

 

(Editor’s note: To see the author’s reflections and suggested activities for this story, download the book here.)

 

Chapter 12: THE POWER OF LANGUAGE

– Maya Khemlani David, Asia-Europe Institute University of Malaya, Malaysia

– Francisco P. Dumanig, University of Hawaii at Hilo, USA

Even though this event occurred years ago, it remains very fresh in my mind and I recollect this incident as if it just occurred yesterday.

I had just completed my English for Specific Purpose (ESP) class for the final year undergraduates at University of Malaya and was walking out of the classroom and down a steep flight of stairs, when I heard someone rushing after me and calling out to me.

I stopped and looked around. It was Ahmad Mosdeen one of the quietest boys in my class, who seldom spoke. He stammered and asked me desperately: “Will I ever pass?” I wondered what had brought on his need to ask this question.

I paused for a while, reflecting on his question. And then responded that if he had been studying and coming for all the classes he would surely pass. “Why do you ask me this question?” I asked.

His response shocked and upset me. He said my predecessor had called him stupid.

My response was swift: “You are definitely not stupid. You will pass your exams if you come for classes regularly, pay attention, and do your homework,” I said in a calm voice and walked away briskly, as I did not want to reveal or disclose my annoyance at the previous teacher.

 

(Editor’s note: To see the authors’ reflections and suggested activities for this story, download the book here.)

 

Chapter 23: POSITIONING STUDENTS AS LANGUAGE EXPERTS THROUGH MULTILINGUAL STORYTELLING ACTIVITIES

– Shakina Rajendram, University of Toronto, Canada

I first met 11-year old Vishva when I was doing my doctoral research in Malaysia.

Vishva had been abandoned as a child, so he lived with his grandmother. Part of his scalp had been burned off when a pot of boiling water tipped over on him as a child, so he looked different from the other children his age, but he always greeted me with the biggest, brightest smile. Vishva had come back to school after missing a few years of schooling because his grandmother had not been able to afford his school fees.

Because of all the schooling he had missed, Vishva could not read or write in English well and he was failing his exams. During his English lessons, Vishva was always quiet and did not participate in any of the activities. However, I saw from the look of his face that he really wanted to join in, but did not feel confident enough in himself.

I asked Vishva if he could teach me Tamil, and that in exchange I would help him with his English. Since Tamil was his first language and he spoke it well, his face lit up and he nodded eagerly.

Over the next few months, Vishva and I worked together on multilingual storytelling activities such as reading bilingual Tamil-English storybooks, and creating dual-language storybooks. In all our activities, I reminded Vishva that he was the language expert and I was there to learn from him. This helped him to take ownership over his learning and to improve his English.

One day, a new boy joined the class. I watched Vishva, my heart full of pride and joy, as he walked up to the boy confidently and said “Hi, I’m Vishva. Would you like me to help you with your English?”

 

(Editor’s note: To see the author’s reflections and suggested activities for this story, download the book here.)

D. S. Bowyer (MA) is a lecturer at Nagoya Gakuin University and a PhD candidate at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies. He’s also a sub-editor for Nagoya JALT Journal and the current treasurer for the Brain SIG. If you want to talk about complexity theory and neuroscience in language education, mail him at: [email protected]

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