Friday, June 23, 2006

To ALTs Coming to Japan

Yesterday, in my English Teaching Methodologies (ETM3) class a teacher from a junior high school in Morioka, Mr. M, came and talked to us about working at a junior high school. I would like to give you some important information based on Mr. M's talk and my own experience:
  1. Greetings (in Japanese they day aisatsu) in the morning as you come to school such as ohayoo gozaimasu or greeting a student in the hall way such as saying "konncihiwa" are very important. Mr. M said that students like teachers who greet them. When I was an ALT at a junior high school I was very surprised that everyday I came to school there would be 2 students and a teacher at the entrance saying "good morning" to everyone that came in.
  2. One of the main reasons why ALTs are asked to come to Japan is to make students better communicators. Mr. M said that communication is not only speaking; writing and reading are also forms of communication. When we write we are trying to communicate something to the reader and when read we are trying to understand what the writer is trying to say and then consider how that applies to our daily lives. So, it is important to remember that their reading and writing also play an important role in communication.

There is a lot more useful information I can give you, but I want to see what the learners from ETM3 say! You can also read their blogs, they are listed to the right. They will finish by Wednesday, June 28.

Monday, June 19, 2006

My Son Proves that Error Correction does not Work

My son has been getting the word "daddy" confused with "doggy". I tried to correct him but it did not work. To listen, click here.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The way I see the current state of teacher education

Background: What has made me re-examine teacher education?
Lately, I have been feeling a little down. Here is the reason why:
Last week I watched a television show in Japanese titled "If the world were 100 people". At the beginning, the program mentioned that if the world were 100 people, 50 people would suffer from malnutrition and 14 would not know how to read. Then the program documented the lives of two brothers, aged 9 and 6, from Ghana, who were working on a chocolate plantation, a 12 year-old HIV positive homeless boy in the Ukraine, and a 15 year-old single mother of two children in Argentina. These children were without a family, adequate shelter, and education. It was one of the most heartbreaking stories I had seen (on television, at least). The program reminded me how blessed I have been for receiving a good education and having a supportive family.

How I see the current state of teacher education
After watching this program, student apathy really started to bother me much more than before. The Japanese Teacher Education Curriculum requires that students take certain classes in certain subjects and undergo a 3-week teaching practicum to receive a teaching license in their field of interest. Students can get a teaching license to teach all subjects at an elementary school, or a license to teach specific subjects (for example, English, History, Math etc.) at a secondary school (there are no separate teaching licenses for junior and senior high schools).
Students take from 9 - 14 classes a semester. As you can imagine, because students take so many classes a semester and also have part-time jobs as well as club activities, the amount of work they can do outside of class is limited. It seems to me that students seem to be taking classes not because they are interested in the subject but because they need the credit for their license. So, students sit through 15 - 22 and a half hours of lectures per week (if they go to all their classes), and if they do the bare minimum to pass their classes, they can get their credits and their licenses. Classes are seen more as a burden a students has to undergo to get his/her license than learning opportunities.

Why this bothers me:
What concerns me the most is that aspiring English teachers these days are not showing any intellectual curiosity. Education for students seems to consist of sitting through classes they are not interested in and doing what is asked of them. How can you become a teacher if you are not curious about anything? How can you become a teacher if you think that learning is just doing what is asked of you? To me, learning is not a passive activity where you listen to someone speak for an hour and a half. To me, you learn through a combination of experience, interacting with your classmates, interacting with your teacher, listening to presentations from your teacher or classmates, reading, and analyzing all of the former through writing or speaking. I work very hard to stimulate learners' curiosity in the subjects I teach. I know that my classes could be a lot better; I am disorganized and a little inconsistent in my approach. Nevertheless, I try my best. I think back to the two boys in Ghana working from dawn to dusk on a chocolate plantation and who dream of having an education and I think that maybe I am not where I should be.

Concluding on a Positive Note:
Although I believe everything I wrote above, I also think that the students I teach at this university do a commendable job of doing everything they must to become teachers. I do not think I could handle 15 (or even 10) different classes as well as a part-time job, club activities and out-of-class study. Overall, I am lucky to work with the students I work with. However, sometimes I worry that students' busy schedules make them forget that they want to be teachers because they are interested in their subjects and want to show their students how interesting their subjects are.
In the English Teaching Methodologies Class I am teaching this semester, we are writing blogs. Recently, I realized that I might have been giving the students too many detailed blogging assignments and the blogs became more of something that students just had to "get out of the way" rather than an interesting means to express their thoughts about English education and their own education. This week, I asked students to write about anything they wanted to. Pinch Hitter , who majors in junior high school English education, wrote about his experience teaching English in a city called Kitakami. Happy Days, who majors in Elementary School education, wrote about her once in a lifetime chance as nursing home volunteer (a requirement to get your teacher's license) . Happy Days also has asked for some advice on how she should prepare to teach all subjects for her elementary school teaching practice. Maybe some students who have already done her elementary school teaching practice can give her some advice!
Reading these two blogs have given me some hope for teacher education. Despite the problems, we have many dedicated aspiring teachers who will some day make wonderful contributions to education in Japan.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Problem with "Open Classes" in Japan

An "Open Class" is my translation of the term kenkyuujugyou. An open class is where a school makes a class available for teachers from other schools to watch in an education conference that it holds. In my experience, there are usually 30 to 60 observers of an open class and after the open class there is some kind of mini-conference between the teacher of the class and the observers.

There is something that bothers me about the meetings that take place after an open class. In these meetings, the teachers (if there was more than one class per subject there will be multiple teachers) present about their class, they then open the floor for questions, and lastly an "advisor" who is either an official from the Board of Education or a university professor gives feedback. These kinds of post-class conferences usually last an hour and a half to two hours.

The other day I attended an English class at a junior high school. In the meeting afterwards there was a lot of questions I wanted to ask and parts of the class I wanted to discuss but could not because I was one of 40 people and I did not want to take away someone else's opportunity to ask a question. Also, there were questions I wanted to ask to clarify the questions some of the participants asked to the teachers of the open classes. There were even questions directed towards the open class teachers I wanted to answer. I also wanted to ask the advisor a question about his feedback but was unable to given the format of the meeting. I left the meeting with a lot of questions unanswered and also with no real idea about what the other teachers thought of the class and their opinions about how applicable the teaching methodology shown that day (Task Based Language Teaching) was to their respective teaching contexts.

If I was in charge of such an event, I would divide people in small groups and have the open class teachers circulate and talk with each group. I would also give each group a topic to pursue or come up with a list of questions they want to ask the open class teachers.

Someone said that "Japanese teachers would find it difficult to participate in small group discussions." I agree, but if I were to facilitate such an event I would try it anyway because I am stubborn about the necessity of small group discussion. Why? Because it is more difficult to speak out in front of 40 people then it is to speak out in a small group.

I would like to note that even taking into account what I wrote above, the meeting was interesting, the advice was informative, and the atmosphere was nice. I just believe that these kinds of meetings need to be devised in a way so that teachers can interact more with eachother.

Vocabulary Notebooks and a Tip for Learning the Order of Hiragana

In a recent post I wrote about my experimentation with vocabulary notebooks in two of my classes. Through the notebooks, I encourage learners to use mnemonic techniques (a technique to help you remember something) to help them remember difficult words, to write derivations of new words(for examlpe derivations of register are registration, preregister etc..) and write collocations or sentences for new words.
This week I collected 40 vocabulary notebooks but realized that I was kidding myself if I thought that I could actually go over each notebook in detail this week. However, I did learn through a quick perusal of the notebooks that the learners were not using mnemonic techniques and had a difficult time understanding the concept of derivations. I have decided to reintroduce the technique of mnemonics and give learners the opportunity to think of some keywords to remember words by working in pairs. I will also introduce some common prefixes and suffixes in class.
By the way, here is a mnemonic technique for remembering the order of the phonetic characters in the Japanese Hiragana alphabet. To remember the order, just memorize the English sentence below.
さ said
な Nancy
ら rap