Words of Wisdom – An interview with Willy Renandya
By Robert Stroud, the University Grapevine Newsletter
Q1. Why did you first decide to become a teacher?
When I finished high school, I was a little lost, not knowing what to do next after graduation. One of the reason was that I wasn’t particularly strong academically. My high school grades were just average. I didn’t do that well in math and science, but outperformed my peers in language subjects. So I decided to enroll myself in a teacher education university and chose English language education as my major. I enjoyed my pre-service training so much that I went on to do my postgraduate studies in the same university. Upon completing my studies, it became much clearer to me that teaching was something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
I have now been teaching for some 30 years that I never regret my decision to work in the helping industry, i.e., teaching. It’s a personally and professionally fulfilling career.
Q2. What is your favorite thing about teaching?
My favourite thing is working with lower proficiency or lower ability students. Unlike their higher ability peers who can pretty much learn and progress through the course with little help, lower ability students need special attention and on-going support from the teacher. I find it professional rewarding when I can reach out to every single one of them using teaching materials and methods that allow them to learn within or slightly above their zone of proximal development. Obviously, working with this group of students require a bit more time and effort. Preparation time is twice as much for this group of students than for the higher ability students. But it is time and effort well spent.
Q3. What do you consider to be your teaching philosophy?
My teaching philosophy has evolved quite a bit over the years. In my early years, I used to believe that teacher-fronted lecturing was the best way to help students learn. I mistakenly believed that what and how students learned depended solely on how the teacher packaged the lesson and how it was delivered to the students. The students’ job was simply to listen and observe attentively and take copious notes. I still do teach in this way, but at a much reduced time.
I now believe that students learn best when they are involved in the co-construction of knowledge with the help of the teacher and their peers. This often means that I spend only a few minutes explaining key concepts and spend more time providing students with ample opportunities to engage in thinking, exploring, elaborating and extending their initial understanding in a collaborative learning environment. Time is also given to students to self-assess and evaluate their learning so that they know what they have learned well and what else they still need to learn. I now strongly believe that when students are fully involved in the learning process, they get to learn more and at a much deeper level too.
Q4. What technology do you most like to teach with (if any) and why?
One tech tool that I have been using a lot in my teaching is Wakelet. It is an interactive online cabinet that allows users to upload texts, images and videos. It is easy to use and completely free. I use Wakelet when I apply a flipped classroom method.
I would upload text and/or video materials for students to view and write their comment on. I also encourage my students to share relevant materials with their fellow classmates on Wakelet. I would then use class time to engage students in a productive discussion about what they have learned from the Wakelet session. The discussion allows students to deepen and extend their understanding in a low stress groupwork setting and enables me to address problems and misconceptions that students might have about the key concepts covered in the lesson.
I also use Mentimeter, an online polling system that allows teachers to quickly check and monitor student learning. I can ask students to give a quick yes/no quizzes to check their understanding or ask them to provide verbal responses to questions during a lesson.
Q5. What advice would you give higher education EFL/ESL teachers?
Knowledge no longer resides with us nor with our school’s library. Students can and should learn from the vast knowledge universe that is now freely available and accessible to everyone. One of our most important jobs is to equip students with digital literacy skills, especially those that allow students to tap on the vast universe of knowledge on the Internet in a responsible manner. For example, we need to teach our students how to search and filter information, manage and store it well both on their physical device or on the cloud and use it wisely to enrich their understanding about themselves and about people from different cultures and language backgrounds.
Q6. Is there anything else you would like to share?
It takes a lifetime to master a skill. Teaching is no exception; it is a skill that must continue to grow. The world is changing rapidly and so are the needs of our students. What used to work in the classroom may no longer work that well today. To keep pace with the fast changing world and to be able to address the changing needs of our students, we need to embrace change and more importantly be willing to unlearn/relearn educational approaches that no longer serve the needs of our students.