Columns on View All Columns
Visit ELTBOOKS - all Western ELT Books with 20% discount (Japan only)

Humanistic Teaching

An approach to learning English

February 28, 2010


I had a yada experience yesterday, the first I've had in a long time. Direct confrontation, vitriolic refusal, fearful contempt. It's hard to convey the nascent power and negativity contained in just one word. I'm probably a little over sensitive but yada is one word I won't countenance. 

We were having a make-up lesson which we do once a month to allow students to catch up with classes they have missed. At Wise Hat English we not only give make-ups but we carry them over so sometimes we even end up giving them to students who have quit! Students who miss two classes in a month have the option of getting one make-up class or paying half the fee for the month. We are also very laid back about cancellations and don't require notice in advance. All in all we have a good response and no real attempts to take advantage.

Make-up classes invariably have students from different classes as we try to arrange them according to our students schedules while taking into account personalities and experience. Our make-up day is usually long and yesterday was no exception. I won't be writing much today!

During make-up classes we try to cover topics and activities students have missed though invariably there is some overlap because students missing from different classes and different weeks have done different things. Thus it was that I tried to introduce an activity that some students had done more in the month than others. Our theme for the month was weather and time and the activity in question was Wizard Weather. This, a variation of Snow Escape, is invariably popular but not on this occasion. Basically nobody wanted to do it and two of the group, who incidentally were all girls, began yadaing (yadering? I'm not sure which).

Whenever the word yada crops up I take it as a sign that something has gone badly wrong. It's a horrible sound and I admit that all too easily I can react badly to it, making the situation even more negative. But yada completely shatters any English atmosphere that might have built up. And of course, it should be completely unnecessary. Japanese children should be able to communicate their strong dislike without resorting to Japanese. A simple "No thank you!" or a "No way!" are much better and should be sufficient. "I don't want to..[complete sentence here]" is much more complicated and doesn't have the same impact. Finding an equivalent  that has the same emotional impact is important when wanting children to stay in English. "No thank you!" wasn't really enough in this case, but a spirited and varied chant of   "No way!" was enough to dissipate the negativity that had emerged, both in myself and in the girls. We agreed to skip Wizard Weather and do a shopping activity instead. 

I'd be very interested to hear what gets your goat and any strategies you have for dealing with it. My strategy with yada is probably a little bit too confrontational. I jump on it. I guess I want children to see it as taboo. I'm happy to deal with and accept the grievence though I usually push the situation again to get a response in English after I have taught it on the spot. But I think a better strategy would probably be introduce a "No Way!" activity so that children would have something they could use. Anyway, hope to get some comments and I'm crawling away to rest up. Until next time.

« Question Time? | Main | Turning Fifty »


I read the article after your suggestion for my "how to manage this class...:( " post on ETJ. I will definately try this. If I can`t get them to try the lesson, at least they can express it in English! ^_^

I work in public schools and if students misbehave I learn what the Japanese teacher does to counteract such behaviour. I think your friendly attitude is spoiling the child and creating a bad situation for the next teacher. If anyone act resrespectful they shouldn't be rewarded with a special treat such as a shopping game. Too often children try to bully the ALT in public school and people like you are the ones who teach bullying is adventageous. Sent them home and tell them come back when you have learned manners!

Your post raises a number of issues. You seem to be saying that children shouldn't have the right to refuse to do an activity. But why should they have to do what the teacher says? Because the teacher is a teacher? Because the teacher is an adult? Because the teacher has knowledge and experience? Where does authority come from?

I strongly believe that to be legitimate authority must given voluntarily. This means that in a school situation if children are forced to attend classes the teacher's power is illigitimate and ultimately based upon coercion. The teacher may or may not be benevolent but is essentially taking on the role of a jailor. I've worked in public elementary schools but will no longer do so where basic freedom of choice is denied to children. Far from my attitude spoiling children it is the expectation that they should obey without question that is damaging. How many steps is that away from fascism?

The class I mentioned in my column is attended by children who have made the choice to attend. My concern was not with the refusal to do an activity but with the way that refusal was voiced. I do expect children who choose to do English with me to develop and use their English skills. Part of this is not using Japanese, especially when the appropriate English is known or easily available.

I do agree that disrespect is undermining. I also think that respect goes both ways. How respectful is it to force a class to do an activity when they are unanimous in not wanting to do it? I also agree that it is important to watch out for and dissipate bullying behaviour. One way to do this is to encourage childeren to make choices and be accepting of each other's likes and dislikes.

As for the shopping game being a special treat - nothing could be further from the truth. It's a standard activity. I think using rewards and punishments - the carrot and stick approach is little more than bullying. What else are such techniques but methods to ensure that the children obey the teacher?

Compulsory education is disrectful to teacher and child alike. If what I am doing is making it harder for such a crude institution to operate then, personally, I am glad.

Recent Columns

Recent Comments




World Today