Friday, July 20, 2018

(Extensive) Reading in Japanese Elementary Schools by Chris Cooper

by Chris Cooper

Bio: Chris is from Yorkshire in the UK. He has just started working as a lecturer at Himeji Dokkyo University (April 2018), teaching a range of English classes from 1st to 4th year students. Before that, he worked as an ALT in Okayama Prefecture for 8 years for Interac and as a direct hire.

Contact: cooperchris17@gmail.com
Website: https://cooperchris17.wixsite.com/englinks (English Links for Language Learners - still very much a work in progress!)
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chris-cooper-95589b47/
ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Christopher_Cooper22


The Teaching Reading module is being written by Rob Waring, who is one of the world’s leading experts in the field of extensive reading. You will learn a lot more than I can tell you working through his module, but for now, this is my little story of how I got into teaching reading and extensive reading at elementary school.

I was an ALT, teaching mainly in elementary schools, from 2010 to 2018. During that time, I completed my masters in TESOL, which got me interested in Language Acquisition, particularly researchers like Stephen Krashen, who is famous for his work on comprehensible input and ‘i + 1’ theory (Krashen, 1982). In basic terms, he said that learners will naturally acquire a language by understanding what is said to them and what they read. Ideally, their input should be slightly above the level they understand. I think this is what set me on the road to extensive reading.

Until recently, and possibly still the case in some schools, there has been a fairly strict speaking and listening only policy in the Japanese elementary school English classroom. We know the alphabet exists, we will learn the names of the letters in order, but don’t show it to the kids too much, it might scare them, and for god’s sake don’t let them try to read the words.

I can see the logic to this policy. Children learning their first language (L1) listen and speak before they read. This is preceded by an 18 month to 2 year ‘silent period’ from birth. Some approaches, such as the original form of Total Physical Response (TPR) (Asher, 2012) even advocate transferring the 18-month silent period to second language (L2) learning.

Also, if you speak with local people in Japan from an older generation, they often describe junior high school English of the past negatively, wishing they had more communication in the classroom as opposed to reading and writing only. The recent elementary school policy may be a reaction to this (although I have no real evidence to support this!).

Some researchers suggest teaching reading from day one of L2 learning (Furukawa, 2008), and whilst this may not be appropriate for very young learners in kindergarten or elementary school, the tide seems to be changing towards a more balanced approach including literacy from an earlier age. Recent materials from MEXT have included alphabet writing worksheets, phonics jingles and two digital picture books, which have now been incorporated into the 3rd and 4th grade textbooks. My concern is, this is not enough.

Most teachers of young learners would probably agree that some form of phonics is a good idea. The new We Can textbooks cover the main letter sounds from each of the 26 letters of the alphabet, plus /ch/, /sh/, /wh/ and the two /th/ sounds. This is a start, but there are around 44 sounds in the English language (Underhill, 2008) and other approaches are more attached to these sounds than single alphabet letters. Jolly Phonics, using the synthetic phonics approach adopted by UK primary schools, teaches the 42 main letter sounds of English (Jolly Phonics, 2018) in an order which enables learners to read words from the very early stages.

Whilst English could be described as phonetically opaque, meaning some words have irregular spellings, according to Adams (1990), around 80-90% of English words do have regular spellings. For me teaching phonics is essential, but how exactly should we do it? The door is wide open for more research into what kind of phonics is suitable for Japanese elementary schools and how it should be implemented in the curriculum.

We know that children learn language by focusing on the meaning (Cameron, 2001; Moon, 2000). Whilst learning how to read individual words can be helpful when reading road signs or shopping, both of these points are covered well in the MEXT textbooks I think, the goal or meaning of reading is surely reading longer texts, like articles, letters or especially for children, stories. The We Can textbooks include ‘Story Time’ and whilst some include rhyme, and may be like poems, they miss out key characteristics of stories, like being genuinely interesting, or having a twist at the end (Cameron, 2001). Whilst their redeeming factor is they may be easy to decipher, I doubt children will enjoy them.

In my last three years as an ALT, I found myself teaching at a ‘Special English Zone’ school, which was a normal public school, but had more English lessons than usual, as the rest of the country will from 2020. It also had a bit of an English budget and as I sat at my ALT desk, contemplating holes in MEXT textbooks, how I could get my students reading and other things, one of my colleagues asked me for any recommendations about materials we could buy...and my answer was graded readers.

I have always liked the use of picture books and have found that if you are friendly with the school librarian and ask nicely, they will sometimes get you some nice books, which you can read to your students, but this was the first time we had purchased books for the students to read themselves.

My approach to introducing the books was very top down, simply handing them over to students, initially having them read in pairs and telling them it doesn’t matter if you can’t understand all the words as long as you can just about understand the story. As books at this level have lots of pictures, most students could do this. I found the following rules to be helpful and popular with my students (based on Furukawa, 2006):

1. There is no need to look at a dictionary while reading.
(じしょはひかなくていいよ)
2. Difficult to understand parts should be skipped over.
(わからないところはとばす)
3. If a book is uninteresting or too difficult, stop reading.
(つまらなければやめる)

These rules seemed to relieve pressure and allowed many students to enjoy reading English books. During reading sessions, I would walk around to allow students to ask me how to read words they were struggling with, and I would encourage them to help each other too. I would observe if students seemed to be reading books at the right level for them, which was helped by checking the reading logs they were keeping, logging the titles of books, dates, a comment about each book and a rating from one to four on how much of the book they understood and how interesting they thought it was.

In the two years I tried extensive reading in elementary school, I found the level most appropriate for my students was level 1+ of the Oxford Reading Tree series and level 1 of the MPI Building Blocks Library. Some students were able to read slightly higher levels than that, around levels 2 and 3 of the same series.

Handing over books to students in this way can be quite a steep learning curve for them, and with this in mind, at my school we also did other activities to try to ease the path into reading. One was phonics, which I have already discussed, and another was getting the 5th and 6th grade students to read texts they were already very familiar with orally.

Specifically, one was the monthly song. Most elementary schools will sing a song every month in Japanese, but my school sang one in English, which the kids would learn by heart by the end of the month. We would always put a big illustrated print out of the song lyrics on the whiteboardwhiteboard, without drawing too much attention to it. Then at the end of the month I would prepare individual copies of the lyrics for the 5th and 6th grade students to read, fill in the missing words, or I would cut the lyrics up, to be rearranged like a puzzle. Here are some examples:



We had a similar approach with stories learned orally by heart from doing Joint Storytelling (Allen-Tamai, 2013), an approach where students learn a simple dialogue-based version of a story by doing gestures and initially repeating after the teacher, but eventually being able to tell the story as a class together. Again, we would hand out the written version of the story at the end for students to read, here is an example from part of Goldilocks and the Three Bears:



I always remember this one, because one student pointed at the word ‘knock’ and said, ‘Chris, Chris, this word is k-n-o-c-k, right’. Even though he knew the word orally from the story, he was reading the /k/ and /n/ separately. This was probably related to his phonics knowledge, but it made me think this kind of approach was helpful because there is less reading pressure when you read something you know, like a very young L1 learner might start reading a nursery rhyme or picture book that has been read to them many times. Where there is less pressure, there is possibly more room for noticing things about how the words are written. In this case, it was a good opportunity to share with the class that in English, when words start with ‘kn’, we don’t pronounce the /k/.

In March 2018, I asked students who had been reading graded readers for almost two years three questions (answers in brackets):

Did you enjoy reading graded readers?
1. No (0) / 2. A little (5) / 3. Quite enjoyed it (7) / 4. Enjoyed it (3)

Do you think reading graded readers is useful for your English education?
1. No (0) / 2. A little (5) / 3. Quite useful (1) / 4. Useful (9)

Would you like to continue reading graded readers in junior high school?
1. No (0) / 2. A little (6) / 3. Quite (6) / 4. Yes (3)

Whilst my sample was very small, only 15 students in this class, I think what these results show is that these learners thought reading graded readers was beneficial for them. Also, none of them were completely averse to reading English books, which I thought might be the case when I started using graded readers. I would like to see more teachers try reading in their 5th and 6th grade classrooms around Japan, to see if their learners find them to be beneficial too. Linking elementary school to junior high school reading with the interesting reading material that graded readers provide, could make more learners interested in reading, rather than only reading the textbooks’ often dense and difficult to decipher texts.

References

Adams, M.J. (1990) Beginning to read: Learning and thinking about print. London: MIT.

Allen-Tamai, M. (2013). Story Trees. Tokyo: ShoPro.

Asher, J. J. (2012). Learning Another Language Through Actions (7th ed.). Los Gatos, California: Sky Oaks Productions, Inc.

Cameron, L. (2001). Teaching Languages to Young Learners. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Furukawa, A. (2006). SSS Extensive reading method proves to be an effective way to learn English. Retrieved from http://www.seg.co.jp/sss/english

Furukawa, A. (2008). Extensive reading from the first day of English learning. Extensive Reading in Japan 1(2). 10-14.

Jolly Phonics. (2018). Teaching literacy with Jolly Phonics. Retrieved from http://jollylearning.co.uk/overview-about-jolly-phonics/

Krashen, S. D. (1982). Principles and Practices in Second Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon.

Moon, J. (2000). Children Learning English. Oxford: Macmillan-Heinemann.

Underhill, A. (2008). Interactive phonemic chart: British English. Retrieved from http://www.onestopenglish.com/skills/pronunciation/phonemic-chart-and-app/interactive-phonemic-chart-british-english/

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

EMI in Japan by Nicola Galloway

Nicola Galloway, The University of Edinburgh

Bio: Nicola Galloway is a lecturer in Education (TESOL) at the University of Edinburgh, where she teaches on the MSc TESOL, organising a course on Second Language Teaching Curriculum and Global Englishes Language Teaching.

Prior to taking up her role in Edinburgh, Nicola spent over 10 years in Japan, working in tertiary school systems. She was an ALT in Gunma Ken from 2001-2003 and the focus of her MSc TESOL dissertation was on evaluating the JET Programme in relation to Global Englishes.

She is co-author of Introducing Global Englishes (Routledge, 2015) and Global Englishes for Language Teaching (Cambridge University Press, 2018) and sole-author of a research monograph entitled Global Englishes and Change: Attitudes and Impact (Routledge, 2017). She has published Global Englishes-related research in System, ELT Journal, Journal of English as a Lingua Franca and Englishes in Practice.

She led a British Council ELT Research Award, which explored English Medium Instruction in China and Japan and is currently working on establishing a global online network on EMI and Global Englishes (Teaching English and teaching IN English in global contexts). She holds a PhD from the University of Southampton and her thesis looked at the influence of Global Englishes instruction on students’ attitudes towards the language they learn in Japan. 

Intro by Nathaniel Reed


We are very lucky to have a leading authority in global Englishes education write this guest blog for us about a topic that is increasingly relevant to our everyday teaching lives. Using English only in the classroom and teaching other subjects through English has been a goal released by the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT) incrementally. In 2014 the ‘English only in high schools’ reform was enacted (from the policy; English Education Reform Plan corresponding to globalisation, 2014). In 2020 all junior high school English classes are taught in English only too (some cities and prefectures from 2018).

We all, very likely, teach other subjects to a greater or lesser degree in our classes every weekday; if you do a little math, practice the past tense simply by asking questions about history, or ask about capital cities and world languages with interrogative questions, you are using English to teach other subjects - and this comes under CLIL (there is an entire module dedicated to this on the free ALT training course. Teaching other subjects is called English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) and is becoming a cornerstone of English education in Japan.

Japan’s escalator system of education: ES, JHS, HS and university (rather than a gap year or starting work at 16) means that the percentage of students that go to high school (which is not compulsory) and university is quite high. By 2013 a third of Japan’s nearly 800 universities offered undergraduate EMI courses (a rise of 50% since 2005) (Brown, 2015). There are two main considerations for us when teaching in compulsory education and high schools: washback and teacher roles. You may well have read about the influence of ‘Washback’ in the dedicated blog and discovered the influence of tests on teaching and learning in Japanese schools. A summary of washback goes; education in Japan appears to be designed for students to pass tests. If tests don’t test speaking skills, those skills are not practiced in schools - this is called negative washback. However, with the advent of EMI in universities, we are now preparing our students to learn other subjects through the medium of English - positive washback. As English teachers, we powerfully influence the effect of positive washback and our student’s future academic life.

We know then that the roles of teachers are very much changing; we are teaching a lot more than just vocabulary and grammar. Speaking to other subject teachers in your schools is a starting point to put together materials for your classes; ask the social studies teacher what they’ve taught recently, then incorporate that content in your English class, as one example. By speaking to content teachers you can reinforce learning and provide valuable, meaningful English input.

From here, Dr Nicola Galloway brings us into the much wider picture of EMI and Global Englishes - enjoy!

Blog entry:


There has been a 1115% growth in English Medium Instruction (EMI) programs in Europe in 13 years (Wächter & Maiworm 2015), and rapid growth globally. It is both a global phenomenon and a growing field of research. In the field of higher education, institutions are increasingly turning to Englishisation as part of their internationalisation agendas. EMI courses and programmes are becoming the norm in many places where English has no official status, such as Japan. However, provision is fast out-pacing empirical research. This sparked my interest in investigating EMI in addition to my previous experience working in an EMI university in Japan, where I designed English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and English for Specific Purposes (ESP) courses for students enrolled on an EMI programme in international business. As I began researching the topic, I became concerned that despite an incredible growth in provision, there didn’t seem to be any monitoring systems, nor did universities have clear objectives or defined learning outcomes, making it difficult to assess whether such programmes were meeting their objectives. I was also interested in the impact this growth might have on the primary and secondary school sector in Japan and elsewhere.

EMI policies exist, but to my knowledge, universities have not developed clear learning outcomes. As such, it is difficult to measure their effectiveness. Research overall on the effectiveness of EMI, including the impact on students’ learning (of both content and English), staff experiences, university reputation, and different pedagogical approaches, is limited. In a recent British Council sponsored study, I explored EMI in higher education in Japan and China. It responded to Dearden’s (2014, p. 2) call for a “research-driven approach which consults key stakeholders at a national and international level” by providing insights on staff and student perceptions. In addition to providing insights into the driving forces behind, attitudes towards, and approaches to EMI, the study also raised questions as to whether approaching EMI monolingually is the best way forward, drawing on Global Englishes research showcasing how English functions as a global lingua franca.

I found that the Chinese institutions used much more of the student’s mother tongue within the classroom compared to the Japanese institutions that I visited, despite teachers reporting the contrary. It was also interesting that staff felt the use of the students’ mother tongue was a useful pedagogic tool, but were concerned when and how to use it. They also expressed concerns that students may develop a dependency on it. On the other hand, the students saw this as a sign of their teachers’ lack of English proficiency. This finding poses some interesting questions about the nature of EMI policy. Should it be a monolingual endeavour? Should we raise students’ awareness of the valuable use of their mother tongue, and also that English is now most commonly used in multilingual encounters? Should we train students to use English as a lingua franca with other international students and lecturers before entering an EMI university and, if so, how do we do this? I am currently analysing the data in more depth to investigate many of these topics.

One of the key driving forces behind monolingual ideology in EMI contexts is the belief that English-only in EMI will benefit English language development although, as mentioned they are not stated in clear objectives or learning outcomes. This is rather different to other content related language teaching models like Content and Language Integrated Language (CLIL). However, many universities do refer to the English language learning benefits of EMI, indicating that they think students will improve their English skills alongside their content knowledge. It is surprising, then, that despite the goal of improving students’ English skills, many do not offer suitable, and specifically subject-specific, language development support alongside EMI classes. There seems to be an assumption that just because a student has achieved a certain score on an English proficiency test, such as TOEIC, IELTS or TOEFL, they can function in EMI settings; they passed the test and, therefore, they must be capable of academic study in English. Some universities do offer structured language support, and I hope that the Teaching English and teaching IN English in global contexts network will provide a platform for such programmes to showcase good practice. Overall, more research is needed to measure language proficiency gain, particularly in institutions where this is the key driving force behind the policy. Rogier’s (2012) study in the UAE revealed that on average students gained a mere one half on an IELTS proficiency band over four years of EMI study, which can be achieved with 200 hours of study in a general English course (Rogier, 2012). In China, Hu, Li, & Lei (2014) found that EMI students made the same English language proficiency gains on two tests as those taking the comparative programme in Chinese at the same time as taking general English classes. Of course, there are studies which report more positive results, but there is a lack of studies to support the belief that EMI should be a monolingual endeavour to promote English language proficiency gains.

More research is also needed on how English is used in these programmes, particularly given the linguistic diversity of many cohorts of students. The switch to English in these settings does not necessarily mean a switch to ‘native’ English. Promoting an English-only policy in EMI is not reflective of how the language us used in these settings. Today, multilingualism, not monolingualism is the norm and it functions as a global lingua franca. In ‘international’ universities, many of the students are from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds and, therefore, students will use the language as a lingua franca. They will not only be communicating with ‘native’ English speakers, nor will they be communicating in ‘native’ English. More work is needed on EMI language policy.

There is an increasing literature reporting on the positive effects of using students’ mother tongue in the classroom (see Auerbach, 2000). Despite policies promoting the ‘English Only’ approach, Hall & Cook's (2012) study with 2,785 English teachers in 111 countries found that own language use is an established practice, noting that the need to maximise new language in the classroom does not preclude the use of the learners’ own language, as it may provide efficient shortcuts within the learning process, be more related to the learning processes the learners are using, or be more relevant to their external learning goals (2001, 2002)(p.282). As noted, my own study revealed interesting insights into staff and students’ perceptions of language use and I’d like to see more research on how languages are used in these programmes. There is a growing body of research in the field of translanguaging (Creese and Blackledge, 2010; Garcia and Li, 2014) showing the beneficial effects of moving across languages in communication. The spread of English as a global language has resulted in the emergence of a number of related fields of research, including English as an International Language (EIL), English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and World Englishes (WE). These have been grouped together under the one umbrella term of Global Englishes (Galloway and Rose, 2015) in its exploration of the impact of the global spread of English on English users and learners. Global Englishes research is very relevant to those researching EMI, particularly given the calls for change to ELT practice to reflect the changing needs of English language learners in today’s globalised world. However, English-only ideologies remain strong; this is evident in the global EMI movement. In pre-university contexts in places like Japan, the ‘native’ speaker ideal also remains strong. I hope that practitioners in diverse contexts who recognise the changing needs of their students will be able to encourage a shift away from the ‘native’ English model. Intelligibility, not ‘native or near-nativeness’ is important to function in today’s globalised world, and it is about time that ELT caught up with how the language is used outside of the classroom. I am hopeful that research in both of these fields (GE and EMI) will grow. EMI contexts are emerging lingua franca settings and, as such, they are attractive research settings to look at policy and practice. With more research, universities may also be in a better place to devise clear objectives, learning outcomes and academic and linguistic support for their students.

Reference


Brown, H. (2016). English-medium Instruction in Japan: Discussing implications for language teaching. In P. Clements, A. Krause, & H. Brown (Eds.), Focus on the learner. Tokyo: JALT.

-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at alttoblog@gmail.com so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 

For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:  http://www.alttrainingonline.com/blog.html

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

ICT and the Cutting Edge in Japanese Public School English

by Jessie James Lucky

This is the third part of a three part series.
Be sure to check out part one - What is Kenshu? Teacher Training in Japan and part two - Kenshu for Me: My First Few Years in Japan

Bio: Jessie is an ALT from Portland, Oregon, USA. He got a certificate in TESL from Portland State University and worked as an adult educator as well as technical trainer for a national bank in the US before coming to Japan.

Jessie has lived in Japan for over 14 years and currently spends most of his time working at two schools in the Kumamoto area. He has a wealth of teaching experience. Outside of school, he teaches students of all ages and levels. More recently, he’s been teaching business English for working professionals, students facing entrance exams or TOIEC tests, students preparing for work and study abroad, as well as community English classes for senior citizens and young kids.

Outside of the classroom, Jessie has a lot of hobbies. These include Capoeira, canyoning, waterfall climbing, instrument making, and heavy metal to name a few. 

In my last ‘kenshu’ we were exploring the use of ICT (information and communication technology) and did an English Lesson using it. As I discussed in my earlier posts, no other ALTs were invited to or participated in this training or the meetings that were related to it. Although all the Japanese teachers of every subject, including English, did.

I was the only foreigner invited, and probably only because I was in the actual lesson. As I said in my previous post, I was barely listed on the lesson plan and as you might expect awkwardly included in the post-lesson meeting Q&A. I did not participate in many of the pre-lesson meetings, although I was invited by my teacher to most of them. In some cases, we agreed it was better I wasn’t there for different reasons.

The town that I work for has elected to take an early lead in ICT implementation in Japanese public schools G1-9 (elementary and junior high school). We have tablets in every classroom, digital textbooks, touch screen projectors and network access in every classroom. We have added this technology just over the last few years. Our job was to include this technology in our lesson and it went fantastic in my opinion.

We have tablets in every classroom, digital textbooks, touch screen projectors and network access in every classroom.


It is my belief after participating in this kenshu that ICT will spread to G1-9 public schools all across Japan over the next 5 to 10 years. One of the biggest issues is not, in fact, acquiring the hardware or software. One of the biggest obstacles is training the teachers in its use and keeping them motivated to use it.

ICT is kinda like the ALT acronym, except that it doesn’t get bored if you forget it’s there, it just collects dust. ICT will be a great tool for ALTs too...but we are unlikely to be trained in it along with our Japanese counterparts. We are unlikely to be invited to their kenshu for ICT. If you are an ALT do yourself a favor and try to get invited.

One of the biggest issues is not, in fact, acquiring the hardware or software. One of the biggest obstacles is training the teachers in its use and keeping them motivated to use it.


Even if you are computer literate you will face some difficulties using ICT in your lessons if your Japanese counterpart is not competent or willing. In this case, your understanding of Japanese culture and ability to help your fellow teachers understand and utilize ICT will be of utmost importance.

Our schools use ICT support specialists. We found in our research that such specialists are of critical importance. It’s not enough to give the schools hardware and software, they need to know how to use them. It’s not enough to just train them, they need ongoing help and support.

We found in our research that such specialists are of critical importance. It’s not enough to give the schools hardware and software, they need to know how to use them.


The on-site staff that comes to the school at least once a week really ensures that teachers can and will continue to use the technology. These people probably won’t speak English, so if you want to use ICT it will be helpful to speak as much Japanese as possible so that you can communicate with these individuals to navigate the specific hardware and software available to you. At the very least a good relationship with your JTE who can work with the ICT specialists on your behalf and bridge the communication gap for you will be necessary. (Easier said than done, I know.)

Some things you can do with ICT if/when you get it in your school


This is in no way meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather a quick list of things I have done and am doing personally using the ICT that is available to me.

#1 Copy yourself


You no longer need to go to class just to pronounce things for people. You can record it and they can watch that.

Today’s tablets and cell phones almost universally come with mics and cameras. You can record anything, anywhere, any time.

File sizes, formats etc. are an issue. As time progresses these issues will be more easily overcome. ICT support specialists can also help.

#2 Record your students


Never have time to talk to each student individually or listen to all their presentations? This is where ICT can help.

The Japanese school day can be hectic and difficult to schedule one-on-one encounters with students and teachers. I’m having some students at schools I’m not at that day record their tests and speeches and I evaluate them later in my off-time.

It’s like written homework that they do on their time and you mark on yours, except its done with an audio-visual piece and focusing on listening/speaking skills.

#3 Have your students record and watch themselves


Many kids are much more interested in making a recording than standing in front of people. Kids that will shut down in front of the class will smile, laugh and put all their effort into a video, especially if their friend is holding the tablet for them while giving them cues.

I honestly found it amazing to watch. They really like recording themselves. They can also re-watch their own videos, watch their friends’ videos etc.

Like anything else, not all kids are the same. Some will be shy and not want to do it. Over time, they will get used to it. Novelty and dislike will both wear off and it will become a routine, but useful, tool for spoken language practice.

#4 Use Powerpoint and other multi-media presentation software


You can get all dirty writing with markers and chalk. You’ll also bore the kids with a very two-dimensional visual experience (unless you can draw well with chalk, but it’s time consuming). You can use ICT to create and present colorful, engaging audio-visual slides, songs, videos etc. to go with whatever you are teaching.

ICT presentations take time to make, but once you’ve made them, they are faster and easier to use than chalk or just standing and using your voice box alone. In the long run, they are easier and require less of your effort and time to create a higher quality lesson.

#5 Present student work


As the hardware becomes available students can use their own tablets and/or you can use a projector to show the students their peers’ work. You can also use this to show your own work when going over the answers to tests and quizzes or to give examples of more creative writing tasks.

You just need a projector or screen large enough for everyone to see and the tech to take a picture of the students’ writing/tablets for them to write directly into. If you have a tablet and the kids don’t, you could use your tablet to take and send the picture to the device which is feeding into the projector.

#6 Drilling software


There is a wide plethora of free and at-cost software for drilling English. My school purchased some and the kids use it. There are also free sites online. You can find links to some of them here on this website in the following link ---

#7 Digital textbooks


You can use materials to present to the class which correlate directly with their textbooks if the school acquires the digital rights. It is also possible, if the students have tablets, for them to look at the textbooks for themselves and go through some of the activities including audio-elements that are not possible with the paper text.

#8 Quiz games


You can create a quiz game using tablets where the students write their answers and they are projected on the board in a game-show format. You can even do wagers etc. Jeopardy style. The kids love it, its fun, and you can focus on written English, grammar, culture, listening etc. as you see fit. It’s adjustable for all levels.

This is the third part of a three part series.
Be sure to check out part one - What is Kenshu? Teacher Training in Japan and part two - Kenshu for Me: My First Few Years in Japan

-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at alttoblog@gmail.com so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 

For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:  http://www.alttrainingonline.com/blog.html

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Kenshu for Me: My First Few Years in Japan by Jessie James Lucky

by Jessie James Lucky

This is the second part of a three part series.
Be sure to check out part one: What is Kenshu? Teacher Training in Japan

Bio: Jessie is an ALT from Portland, Oregon, USA. He got a certificate in TESL from Portland State University and worked as an adult educator as well as technical trainer for a national bank in the US before coming to Japan.

Jessie has lived in Japan for over 14 years and currently spends most of his time working at two schools in the Kumamoto area. He has a wealth of teaching experience. Outside of school, he teaches students of all ages and levels. More recently, he’s been teaching business English for working professionals, students facing entrance exams or TOIEC tests, students preparing for work and study abroad, as well as community English classes for senior citizens and young kids.

Outside of the classroom, Jessie has a lot of hobbies. These include Capoeira, canyoning, waterfall climbing, instrument making, and heavy metal to name a few. 

My employer told me to submit an essay, written in English, which was related to a nonsensical topic they gave me, written in broken English. Each year it changed slightly, but it was something along the lines of ‘How to effectively use the ALT in English lessons to teach X teaching goal’.

I often wrote that the best thing they could do is quit their job, go abroad to learn English/TEFL and let me teach in their stead. I even started submitting the same essay each year, maybe only changing a few passages to make it a little more blunt/silly/funny depending on my mood that year. No one noticed, why would they? The essays may have caused some controversy if any of the Japanese had (or could have) read it.

I often wrote that the best thing they could do is quit their job, go abroad to learn English/TEFL and let me teach in their stead.

As instructed, I brought enough copies of my essay for everyone in attendance to receive one, as did all the other ALTs and JTEs. I received a copy of everyone's essay and they mine. Several days worth of reading (if you bothered, I often did, foolishly) on the same nonsensical topic from ALTs who by-in-large had no training in linguistics or education and had only been in Japan a short while.

The Japanese teachers wrote more on more topics, all in Japanese. Their materials usually were not given to the ALTs unless we asked for them, but why would you? (Why did I?) The topic was always, in truth, how to pass off English classes if you didn’t actually speak English by using someone who did. No professionals or experienced teacher trainers were ever brought in to teach or lecture.

There would be small brainstorming sessions done in groups with JTEs and ALTs and there was always some confusion about how much would be done in English and how much would be done in Japanese. The biggest issue for me was that few to none of the JTEs attending were competent language educators and most of the ALTs were untrained and very inexperienced so there wasn't a lot to learn or gain from the experience. It was a lot of confused people sharing their confusion. At least the prefecture could say that they had given their JTEs training by conducting the fiasco. And that really was the goal of it.

It was a lot of confused people sharing their confusion.

I stopped attending these meetings. I started attending the meetings the ALTs weren’t invited to when I could. The information at these other meetings and discussions were still often suspect and I ended up not attending many of them also. I was, however, able to identify which kenshu actually had new information. Most of this information was about policy changes and other things that weren’t necessarily useful for professional development but meant a whole lot to changes in the job, like increased class hours per week and curriculum changes.

I participated in kenkyu-jugyo. For me, this has been the most beneficial. It has allowed me to engage my co-teachers about methodology and class planning without constraints of time or desire. Since we are presenting a lesson with a specific goal or focus there is every effort made to do the best job possible. I was fortunate to work with a very passionate teacher who was selected multiple times for very large projects and very progressive teaching goals. In each case, I was proud of the lessons we were able to create and deliver together.

I participated in kenkyu-jugyo. For me, this has been the most beneficial.

Although, as I discussed above, I have major concerns about the effectiveness and relevance of the overall Japanese kenshu system, I feel that the experiences have helped me to develop, and if anything, understand the system I work within better.

The teacher I worked with has never fallen short of thanking and recognizing me for my part in his work, although I have never been selected or even contacted by anyone but him to participate and I have only really been recognized by him as a professional in the lessons. I gave up on being ‘seen’ by Japanese educators long ago. Sometimes you can only really have a peer relationship with the Japanese educators you work directly with, and that is good enough for me. One wall at a time, one person at a time.

This is the second part of a three part series.
Be sure to check out part one: What is Kenshu? Teacher Training in Japan. Part three about technology in the classroom will be coming in a few weeks.


-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at alttoblog@gmail.com so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 

For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:  http://www.alttrainingonline.com/blog.html

Friday, April 20, 2018

What is Kenshu? Teacher Training in Japan by Jessie James Lucky

by Jessie James Lucky

Bio: Jessie is an ALT from Portland, Oregon, USA. He got a certificate in TESL from Portland State University and worked as an adult educator as well as a technical trainer for a national bank in the US before coming to Japan.

Jessie has lived in Japan for over 14 years and currently spends most of his time working at two schools in the Kumamoto area. He has a wealth of teaching experience. Outside of school, he teaches students of all ages and levels. More recently, he’s been teaching business English for working professionals, students facing entrance exams or TOIEC tests, students preparing for work and study abroad, as well as community English classes for senior citizens and young kids.

Outside of the classroom, Jessie has a lot of hobbies. These include Capoeira, canyoning, waterfall climbing, instrument making, and heavy metal to name a few. 

Hello there! I would like to share with you some things I’ve learned about ICT in Japan, but first I’d like to go over some realities as to why many ALTs might miss this kind of information.

What is kenshu? (研修)


For those who don’t already know, kenshu is the Japanese teachers’ primary method of professional development.

There are other terms, and transliterations into English that could be used and different kinds of events and activities that take place besides just 'kenshu' but I will use it here as a blanket term. Another term which is relevant is the 'kenkyu jugyo' (研究授業) or research class, usually translated as demonstration class. It is when you prepare a special lesson to test or highlight specific teaching methods, points or resources etc. and other teachers come to watch. Kenkyu jugyo and kenshu tend to go hand in hand and I include the jugyo as a part of the bigger picture- the kenshu, meaning professional development.

Lectures and conferences are not that popular for Japanese G1-12 public school educators, although they do exist. Those lectures and conferences that do take place tend to focus on other aspects or issues in education like human rights, bullying, community involvement etc. There are not a lot of subject-specific lectures or conferences for Japanese G1-12 public school teachers that are well attended. Most Japanese teachers’ professional development for their primary subject takes place at mandatory kenshu. Lectures may take place at kenshu that are subject specific, but usually, there are speeches by other teachers who may have attended some other kenshu that may have had an expert lecturer. Each municipality sets the rules and decides how much of this takes place each year, but it is safe to assume that every Japanese English public school teacher will be subjected to several mandatory hours, if not days, of kenshu every year. It may not be apparent by looking at the way they teach sometimes but Japanese junior high school English teachers are receiving ongoing mandatory skill development.


Each municipality sets the rules and decides how much of this takes place each year, but it is safe to assume that every Japanese English public school teacher will be subjected to several mandatory hours, if not days, of kenshu every year.

Beyond mandatory kenshu, there are opportunities for Japanese English teachers to participate in things like JALT, to take English lessons, to travel, attend lectures, take TESL certification courses, study for and take standardized English tests etc. But very, very few do. Even those who might want to often cannot because they are so busy with their regular job responsibilities.

ALTs don’t participate in most kenshu, why not?


The answer to this question, in my view, starts with the question; what is an ALT? The Japanese G1-12 public school English education has struggled with this question, and that is putting it nicely. ALTs were first included/brought in as a remedy for some of the issues in their system, namely lack of spoken language accuracy and fluency, everything but meta-linguistic memorization (also inaccurate but they were/are good at it). We were brought in as a band-aid. The ALT has become something more than that in some places. In other places, there are entire municipalities that no longer use or hire ALTs. Some no longer see the band-aid as necessary or effective. If you haven’t heard this before, brace yourself- ALTs aren’t meant to be teachers. We usually are not staffed in the same way the Japanese teachers we work with are. We are not usually seen as professional human resources. We are for the most part seen as teaching TOOLS. The primary verb used in association with what we do and provide is ‘fureai’. ‘Fureai’ is the word you would use to describe what happens with animals at a petting zoo. It is very different than the relationship between teacher and student in Japan. They might use ‘fureai’ to describe encounters with guests from a field outside of teaching, like police or firemen etc. interacting with students. The verb implies a difference and unfamiliarity between the two interacting parties but does not directly imply any intentional sharing of knowledge, teaching ability or leadership. No quality but difference is required for ‘fureai’ to happen.

If you haven’t heard this before, brace yourself- ALTs aren’t meant to be teachers.

In short, we are there for students to experience interacting with us, nothing more. Our unique claim to fame is providing authentic native-speaker sounds. The way only a lion can roar, the way only an elephant can trumpet out its nose, so too can only the native-speaker make those ‘yo-sugite-wakaranai’ (too good to understand) English sounds. That is right, for many Japanese, the English sounds you make are seen as unobtainable for Japanese teachers of English, often even at the University level. Requiring us in classes assumes their native (as in native to Japan) teachers can’t do it.

So our role is having a quality that Japanese believe they cannot achieve. What kind of kenshu do you require to do what you can already do? So what, if any, professional development would apply to a teaching tool known as ‘the ALT’? None.

You don’t speak Japanese. They don’t speak English. (assumptions, yes)


Another reason ALTs are not traditionally included in the same kenshu as native Japanese teachers are is that since you aren’t Japanese, it was assumed you can’t speak or learn to speak Japanese. Areas that are more exposed to foreigners have moved on past this for the most part, but especially in less-exposed areas, it is common to meet people amazed with foreigners who speak Japanese. Following this, there isn’t much effort or intent on the part of Japanese to teach their language to foreign residents.

As much as administrators assume the foreign teachers can’t speak Japanese they assume (when they probably shouldn’t even accept) that their Japanese English teachers can’t speak English.

In most countries, any kind of meeting or training for English teachers would probably be possible to conduct in English. This should easily bridge the gap between English teachers whose first language is not the same. Unfortunately, in public schools in Japan, getting qualifications and credentials to work as an English teacher does not require much mastery of the actual English language. As much as administrators assume the foreign teachers can’t speak Japanese they assume (when they probably shouldn’t even accept) that their Japanese English teachers can’t speak English. Thus, the kenshu is provided almost exclusively in Japanese so that English teachers who don’t actually know English can participate. The ALTs, who they assume can’t use Japanese, are thus excluded...from English teaching kenshu. Some Japanese English teachers will complain if kenshu is done in English. Some Japanese teachers of English are capable of and interested in participating in English language kenshu etc. but they are not the norm. Some Japanese teachers are less interested in challenging themselves in English than their own students are.

What exactly are they doing at kenshu where they can’t speak English?


It all boils down to the Japanese belief that bilingualism isn’t possible for most people. When talking with Japanese educators about the shortcomings of their mandatory English education, I often hear the same thing. It sounds like an excuse at first, but I don’t think that it is. They will state that their goal is not a high level of English or fluency, but that their goal is to make the students familiar with English and to give them a ‘base’. They will say that only those motivated and capable need to be fluent, which sounds reasonable enough. Part hard work, part natural talent. They don’t realize/believe that everyone can learn multiple languages to fluency through effort and exposure alone. This includes people employed as English teachers. Some non-native speakers of English, who are not Japanese, are also devalued in Japan as language educators because of this core belief that their English is somehow flawed.

Japanese teachers’ competence and professional advancement are mostly based on the opinions of their seniors almost to the exclusion of actual results.

Because of this belief, there isn’t a lot of pressure (but it has been increasing lately) on the JTEs to be competent English speakers. There isn’t much pressure for them to bring their students to fluency or competence either. As obsessed with Japanese educators are with test-scores, the students’ test scores are not a primary rubric when evaluating the teachers themselves. Japanese teachers’ competence and professional advancement are mostly based on the opinions of their seniors almost to the exclusion of actual results. Kenshu can be seen as more of a task than an opportunity. Great kenshu lessons and impressive results don’t go unnoticed though. Many of their seniors will look at actual results when making evaluations. Making good small talk, doing things in a way the current boss arbitrarily likes, getting on the bosses good side etc. are also of equal import. Assuming the teacher is particularly concerned with advancement. Many teachers are overwhelmed with their work and just happy to get through each day. Taking on extra work, yakuwari (jobs/roles at the school) is another way to advance...which is unlikely to improve core-subject performance. Some teachers are more focused on other aspects of their work and don’t see English as a priority for them or their students, even though they are English teachers.

The ALTs role in all this? My advice is to learn Japanese language and culture. Your job is to make sounds and then, like everyone else, just get along. With wisdom to it, the Japanese place a lot of value in getting along.

What training and kenshu IS done for ALTs?


It varies widely across Japan. There is no standard. In most areas, as much as half of the mandatory kenshu (delivered on a yearly schedule) for JTEs will include training for ALTs. For the most part, the ALTs’ tasks and training will be conducted separate from that of the Japanese teachers, for reasons explained above (language barrier). It varies by prefecture and program (like JET or dispatch companies). They usually receive a week or two of training with other ALTs when they first come to Japan, although some will only receive a day or two, even if they've never worked in Japan before. There will then be two to three 'meetings' or 'kenshu' a year with other ALTs and they may or may not participate in one or two of the Japanese teachers' kenshu for their local area. The dispatch company 'meetings' can often focus more on life in Japan and administrative issues, all of which are important and helpful but not necessarily 'professional development' for a would-be language teacher.

For the most part, the ALTs’ tasks and training will be conducted separate from that of the Japanese teachers, for reasons explained above (language barrier).

Often the ALTs will join 'kenkyu jugyo' but their role in planning, post-lesson discussion and kenshu will be limited or non-existent. The JTE usually authors the lesson and the ALT will not even attend any of the meetings about the lesson before or after with the other teachers and BOE officials involved. Even if the ALT helps author the lesson they will not be given credit or named in the official lesson plan and documents submitted as anything other than the lesson's ALT which is about as important as being the textbook or one of the chairs the students sat on.

What has my experience been with kenshu?

That does it for the basics of kenshu. I’ll share with you my own experiences with kenshu over the last 14 years in part two.

This is the first part of a three-part series. Be on the lookout for the second part, "Kenshu For Me: My First Few Years in Japan" on May 2nd and the third post about technology in the classroom later in May.

-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at alttoblog@gmail.com so we can work together and spread your story. Don't have any ideas? ALT training online we have a list of topics to write about that need a writer. Email in your interest to write and we can set you up. 


For upcoming blogs see the blogs tab here:  http://www.alttrainingonline.com/blog.html