“The Cup of Tea” in Primary English Language Teaching

I used to read a lot of books, attend many webinars, and watch a great number of recordings on Primary English Language Teaching conferences and videos of successful practices. I even went to the training workshop in Da Nang to learn the approach in August 2011.  We also conducted a professional development for primary teachers right after we came back last year. However, I met and talked to a few trained teachers and I was so disappointed. They consisted on teaching English on their own approach, that is, the methods they learned 10 years ago or the habits of teaching for years at primary schools stressing on grammar and vocabulary to produce test-takers though they were trained well with new approaches.

This is the second time I have worked on the ELT training program with primary teachers of English from different provinces in the North of Vietnam. Fortunately,  I had an opportunity to meet Professor Hoang Van Van from the Vietnam National University. He is the architecture of the 10 -year English curriculum  and and editor in chief of the textbooks from grade 3 to grade 12. On the trip to Thai Nguyen, we have talked a lot about the National Foreign Language Project 2020 and the newly written textbooks for students. I was really inspired with his wisdom and insights. Talking of how to teach English with the new curriculum and textbooks, I proposed that teachers have to change their beliefs on teaching and learning English. They can not teach English successfully through newly introduced approaches and technology with the old ideas or beliefs. Dr. Van strongly agrees with this point in that he always recommended teachers studying the curriculum philosophy and reading the teacher’s books when talking to them on the first day of the training program here at School of Foreign Languages, TNU.

In my sessions on How Children Learn, I was trying to integrate this idea into the training tasks. With the same warm-up activity “Introducing Flower” (participants will provide some information on a flower, and then they go around the class to exchange by asking Yes/No questions to other participants, finally they will stick the flowers on the prepared tree), I did offer a metaphor in that the tree without any leaves or flowers is the National Project 2020, and teachers are the flowers and the leaves. Therefore, teachers will play the most important role in implementing the project. Successful or not, teachers will be the key factor. I illustrated this point in a slide as follow:

The National Project 2020 and the Teachers of English

I continued the training session with a story because they have learned with Professor Phan Van Que on Motivating Children through Storytelling.

Once upon a time…(A slide in my presentation)

 This is the story about Zen. It seems to many people that it is not related to Primary English Language Teaching. However, I found this one thought-provoking in that it gives us meaningful lessons implicitly. …

The Cup of Tea

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” 

It is overfull. No more will go in!” (Slide by Phung Huy EDU)

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” 

You must unlearn what you have learned…

The message I want to send to all teachers here is that they are full of experiences and thoughts about teaching English to children. They have taught for years in their own way. How can they acquire a new approach with their set beliefs and practices? Now, they have to temporarily forget what they believe in for a long time to accept a new skills and knowledge. When I introduced this metaphor to the teachers, they seem to reflect thoughtfully about that. Personally, I believe I am successful in the first steps….

(Ideas and Photos in this post belong to Phung Huy EDU 
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3 thoughts on ““The Cup of Tea” in Primary English Language Teaching

  1. Dear colleague, your ideas are right, and the Nan-in story is a wonderful illustration to it, thank you. I’d personally refer to the adage, ‘old dogs can’t be taught new tricks’ with the remark that perhaps intelligent old dogs could be, but then those trick would remain tricks. The whole system of ingrained habits with all their underlying philosophy, training from decades before, their views of the world should change for a real change of pedagogical behaviour. And that’s a very tall order. However, we can never give up. Best of luck to you! By Peter

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