Editors’ note: In our January Think Tank on Gratitude, Paul Mathieson wrote an article titled “Drawing Inspiration from Inspirational Students.” His article featured one particular student, Takeshi, who not only agreed to let Paul use his photo in a story, but also “added humour and colour to the activity… Moreover, his willingness to put himself out there in that activity opened the door for incorporating student “characters” into other in-class stories and activities.”
We were fascinated by the article and wanted to hear what Takeshi had to say about the class. So, we asked Paul to have him write a follow-up. It seemed unlikely Takeshi would, since he had already finished his English courses, but to our delight, this article, no easy feat for Takeshi, appeared in our mailbox! Here it is unedited (at least by us) to keep his voice. Our deepest thanks to both Takeshi and Paul.
I have experienced many kinds of English classes such as those at junior high school, at high school, and also during my earlier experience as a university student (I am now studying medicine as a mature student). However, no other classes have been as stimulating and exciting as the first-year English classes that I took at Nara Medical University (NMU).
The course curriculum was so tough. Students had a lot of homework and assignments, such as being required to gain mastery of almost 1,000 academic, scientific, and medical English words, writing English diaries (five days per week), and reading advanced research articles about topics such as publication bias in medical research. Throughout the course, students had to state their opinions actively during class group work, which required the ability to think logically. Students also needed to do a lot of preparation for the lessons and the final examination was not easy to pass.
Despite the rigorous nature of the course, the classes were very enjoyable. Our teacher was so enthusiastic and he always tried to make the classes fun. Of course, because of the strict nature of the curriculum and the course assessment, some students struggled to keep up with the workload. However, our teacher always cheered us up by telling jokes, giving us diary challenges and awards, and preparing fun activities. Moreover, his classes were not only fun but they also improved our English and critical thinking skills. Many of the topics in the course were difficult – such as causation and correlation, replication and reproducibility in scientific research, and homeopathy and alternative medicine. But our teacher helped us with each topic by breaking down the information and using easy to understand examples. For instance, on the difficult subject of “conflicts of interest”, he used the example of a referee who officiates at soccer matches in their home country. Furthermore, in correcting our English compositions, he explained the correct use of grammar, constructing theories, and using effective, concrete examples to support our points. Of course, he did not forget to add some funny comments on our compositions as well.
During our last class before the short new year break, our English teacher read us a famous story called ‘A Christmas Carol’. However, it was completely different from a normal English listening activity. This was because the characters of the story were composed of students from our class! He collected our photos in advance and he assigned characters to different students. This added a whole new level of fun and excitement to both the story itself and the activities that followed it.
Most teachers try to give participation-type lectures because the lectures have the possibility to improve students’ motivation. However, it is difficult in practice. Adjustments are necessary to ensure that the theme and the level of difficulty are appropriate for students. But above all, in order to effectively encourage student participation and engagement in lectures, establishing a relationship of trust between the teacher and students is necessary.
In my opinion, most Japanese students are not accustomed to participation-type lectures and do not like to stand out in an unfamiliar atmosphere. I have experienced the chaotic mood of classes in which students do not participate actively due to their feelings of confusion and embarrassment. Therefore, conducting these participation-based classes in Japan has some risk. I think that the reason why our teacher’s participation-based teaching was so successful is that he established trust between himself and the students and he encouraged student participation in class gently and with appropriate timing. However, I think one of the key points in regard to building this trust was his eagerness and enthusiasm. He often told us jokes and made classes friendly and relaxed. In addition, he didn’t neglect the essential aspects of the course, and he helped us to navigate our way through the challenges of our English course and ultimately reach our goal of passing the course. The culmination of all of this was the ‘A Christmas Carol’ story. Many students gave their photos voluntarily and a fascinating story was created as a result. (As mentioned earlier, Japanese students do not like to appear in front of others. However, in our hearts, we also want to be actors. It was the students’ trust in the teacher that brought out this desire.) Enthusiasm and English ability vary from student to student, and it is difficult for students to control this by themselves. But good teachers can help students to overcome such difficulties and challenges and unlock their true potential. I am truly grateful to have found such a wonderful teacher.
Takeshi Goto graduated with a degree in economics from Wakayama University of Economics, and went on to work as a firefighter, a hotel staff member, and an advertising salesperson. While continuing to work, he studied for medical university entrance exams, and he is now a third-year medical student at Nara Medical University.