Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Learning Styles of Japanese JHS and SHS according to the Teachers

Today, I held a two day workshop on Task Based Language Teaching with 2 junior high school English teachers and 5 senior high school English teachers. For one of our activities we read an article by Jerry Call called "Expanding the Learning Styles of Japanese Analytic Learners" in the book Understanding Learning Styles in the Second Language Classroom by Joy M. Reid. As a task, we made a list of the characteristics of learning styles Call had given for Japanese learners and then discussed whether we agreed or disagreed. We ended up discussing about not only the characteristics that Call gave but also many other characteristics the teachers themselves gave. It was an interesting discussion. The main reason why was that each teacher worked with learners of differing learning characteristics. This reinforced my belief that it is difficult to make generalizations about a society of learners; even one as homogeneous as Japan. Below, I have written some of the characteristics Call and the teachers gave as well as the teachers' opinions.

Characteristic 1: Japanese learners are quiet

Opinion: The teachers were not sure about this characterization. Teacher M, a junior high school teacher, said that her students were not quiet and were especially enthusiastic about speaking English with foreign teachers (ALTs). She added that girls at her school tend to be good at writing but they cannot speak well while boys tended to be stronger at speaking.
Teacher C, a high school teacher, said that her students were quieter but it depended on the situation. In interview test students are very quiet but in class they are very noisy and like to imitate the ALT’s or Ms. C's English.
Teacher Min, a high school teacher, thought that Japanese learners, especially young learners, are very energetic to learn English. However, she said that in Japanese settings, students are supposed to be quiet and listen to the teacher. So, she believes tha that Japanese think that they are supposed to be quiet in class always.

Characteristic 2: Japanese learners are reflective, not impulsive (They tend to think things through carefully before they speak.
Opinion: Teacher K, a high school teacher, reported that an Canadian ALT at his school understood the phrase “The noisy whale gets the oil” but not "The peg sticking out gets hammered"(出るくいが打たれる). He added though, it is hard to know whether Japanese students are really quieter than western students because he has never been to the west to compare.
Teacher R, a high school teacher. said that her school divides their English classes by student ability. In the higher level classes, students are more reflective but in the lower level they tend to be more impulsive.
Teacher Min concluded that Japanese people try to avoid risks, especially in public. They do not want to be embarrassed.

Characteristic 3: Group work tendencies - boys and girls in JHS and SHS do not work well together (Thought of by us)
Opinion: When Teacher E, a junior high school teacher, makes pairs she makes either boy/boy or girl/girl pairs. She said that to communicate fluently, boys cannot talk to girls and girls cannot talk to boys. I, JH, added that I have had similar experiences. Teacher MI, a high school teacher, said that she is very careful when making groups because the wrong combination of learners can have bed consequences for the class.
Teacher K said that in his school he has not seen such problems between boys and girls (except for one class). Teacher Min said that there was not so much tension between boys and girls at her school. She said that one reason could be is that when teachers read classlists or take attendance in some schools, they call boys names and girls names together. In many schools, boys are called first and then girls are called (or vice versa) when attendance is taken.
Teacher C said that she teachers a class where there is only one girl. She commented that the boys behaved differently when the girl was present compared to when she was absent. When the girl was present, the boys tended to be more reserved.

Characteristic 4: Japanese learners are Reticent
Teacher M (JHS) said that she does not think so, because students at her school like to speak English. In JHS, the like to play games. They speak English naturally when ALT comes to the classroom. But, in writing they don’t try to write. I don’t think they are good at making sentences.
Teacher C (SHS) said that her students like to read English or repeat after her but when she gives them activities where they have to write about themselves they do not want to do it. She concluded that students can write about other things but not about themselves. She added that maybe JHS students are not reticent but as they become older they become reticent.


Floyd said...

Quite interesting. It is a serious problem for sure. Even now with just a 320 student base, diff classes/students respond differently to any kind of activity I do. That is why I try to do a variety of activities so that eventually (in theory) everyone can learn or enjoy my class. I also try to balance what is fun with what is useful. Sometimes it can we the same thing which is wonderful.

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