Sunday, September 1, 2019

ALT Composition In Elementary School by Timothy Nerozzi

by Timothy Nerozzi

Bio: Timothy Nerozzi is an American ALT living and working in Niigata City through the JET Program. He is a third-year teacher and works at both the elementary and junior high school levels.

“I like my town. We have a convenience store. We don’t have Tokyo Disneyland. I want a department store. Thank you.”

This is the kind of short essay I have been asking my students to regularly produce at the elementary level for the past two years.

These sentences are the textual equivalent to a child’s paint-by-numbers. Instead of allowing children to write the kinds of essays they want to write, we’re forcing them to simply choose words out of chapter-specific word banks and fill in the blanks.

I believe that the most effective way we can encourage children to write with both feeling and personal investment is to offer greater autonomy for them in choosing their own topics and essay prompts and using that freedom to build enthusiasm for self-expression.
And, in order to achieve this goal, I have implemented a weekly system of English composition practice with elementary classes at the fifth and sixth grade levels. This system is easy.

Though the curriculum is still ongoing and I have yet to see the full culmination of my composition-focused supplemental material, the results so far have been stunning, and fellow JETs may find a lot of use in reading about my experiences so far.

I am not a certified teacher. Outside of tutoring in my university days, I had very little experience in any form of education until being accepted into the JET program two years ago. Because of this, I am perhaps unequipped to dissect and explain my methodology in academic terms.

However, I hope that my experiences as related here can help readers consider new ways to engage with their students on effective composition.


The problem:

Our current elementary school education curriculum is undeniably speech-oriented. Writing, it feels, is a complete afterthought, shoved haphazardly in at the end of chapters or brought in from outside by ALTs or JTEs that want to supplement the course with more composition.

The alphabet, for example, is taught for exactly one chapter in fifth grade. Students memorize the general shape of the letters and their names. But they learn no phonics and that chapter contains no writing assignments or in-class writing practice – not even of just the individual letters.


As of this year, I’ve taken my students’ composition education into my own hands. 

The methodology:

In both fifth grade and sixth grade, I begin the school year by setting aside ten minutes at the beginning of every class to practice writing the alphabet. This time is usually preceded by a standard call warm-up activity or discussion to get students into an “English mindset.


During the ten minutes of composition practice, the students practice four or five letters each class, from A to Z. Each letter is written five times in both upper-case and lower-case back to back in order to reinforce the two different forms of each letter.  
 
All 26 English characters (upper and lower case) are memorized over the course of two months.

Most students do not finish those two months with a powerful recall ability for all 52 symbols.

However, they finish the alphabet course with a more effective grasp of the alphabet and the ability to think through the selection of a letter. You would be surprised at how effective this small gesture is in encouraging students to write.

Using a printed worksheet with the entire upper-case and lower-case alphabet printed in order, the students then begin each class with spelling practice. I read out English words to them, give their meaning, and then spell each one slowly. The students listen and try and write each letter as I say them.

After I spell the word three or four times, I go to the board and ask the students to spell out the word for me. Students check their own spelling against mine.


The twist, however, is that I am not typically teaching them vocabulary from the textbook.

The students select the majority of our words by putting their suggestions in a box outside the classroom, from which I select the best ones for class practice.

An “English Words I Want to Study” box is kept outside of a classroom in the school for one week and students are free to submit as many words as they like by writing them down on small paper ballots with their name and putting it into the box.

While any student can submit regardless of what classroom the box is kept outside of, the classroom changes each week in order to give each group of students a convenient chance to submit.

Students quickly fall into the schedule of the lessons – the submissions box never empty and often full.



The benefits:

While I wasn’t exactly sure how this lesson plan would turn out, I’ve noted a surprising variety of positive outcomes to this system.

Firstly, the students are ingraining the English alphabet into their brains through repetition and frequent writing practice. They are getting weekly exposure to the names of the characters and individually composing based on their own memory.

There are no cheat-sheets or hints. By attempting to write each letter I say as I say it, the students are training their recall ability and learning which letters they cannot generate quickly when writing. Repeated lessons strengthen this recall and make their writing faster and more fluid.

Secondly, the students are accumulating a greater understanding of how English words are constructed, and often pick up on spelling patterns not normally taught at their level. Silent “g” and “k” words most notably.


While our limited weekly time for composition means that there are very few opportunities to delve into and teach the quirks of English spelling thoroughly, I have observed some subtle improvements in students’ intuition for spelling abnormalities and patterns.


Thirdly, the students are selecting their own vocabulary, and in doing so, actively participating in furthering their own writing abilities. Allowing students to orientate, even to a small degree, their own education brings out a more spirited learning environment.

My suggestions box is often packed to the brim with slips of paper requesting a variety of words. We’ve covered “dinosaur,” “firefighter,” “knight,” and more.

Some Japanese words cannot be translated into a single word, so we’ve also done more complex terms such as “the four seasons,” “ceiling fan,” and “the United Kingdom,” among others.

Because these exercises were pre-empted by extensive alphabet practice, the length or spelling of the word(s) is irrelevant. Longer, more complex terms may require three or four spellings from me before everyone can finish, but it’s all possible, and the students know it.



Looking forward:


As we move into the last months of the school year, I look forward to pushing this composition practice as far as it can go. I will attempt to introduce small sentences instead of just words and may begin to experiment with allowing the students to guess spellings before I give them the information as a fun challenge.


This is my first year using this system, and so how it will move forward has always been fluid.

I don’t have a concrete plan for the classroom in the final months of this school year, but I’m eager to push my kids and encourage them to have fun studying the English words they choose to learn and using that knowledge to enhance their regular curriculum.

-          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, July 31, 2019

Life After ALT: 11 Skills ALTs Can Develop To Help You Land Your Next Job by David L. Hayter


by David L. Hayter

Bio: David Hayter worked as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Japan from 2014-2019. Although he primarily taught junior high school, he has taught all the grades from kindergarten through ninth grade. During his time as an ALT, he worked in 11 junior high schools, 2 elementary schools, dozens of kindergartens with hundreds of JTEs to teach thousands of students.

Aside from teaching classes in junior high school, his other duties included training and managing new ALTs, designing and delivering teacher training workshops, and performing other duties for his local Board of Education (BOE).

After his career as an ALT came to an end, he started working as a freelance writer and entrepreneur.

Outside of work, he actively volunteers in his community, enjoys playing video games, loves to cook, trains hard, podcasts, helps run the ALT Training Online blog and writes for his blog, Yokkaichi Connections.


For a lot of ALTs, our lives are only as good as our last contract. Although some ALTs have decided to make Japan their home, there are a lot of us who will, eventually, move on to another career in another country other than Japan.
There are too many stories of ALTs who spent years working in Japan only to struggle with finding work once their days as an ALT are numbered.
So many ALTs are caught up in the honeymoon of moving to Japan and starting to work that they often forget about what's going to come after.

When I first started blogging, it was to help new ALTs get more information. One of my first posts was what to do before coming to Japan. Last year, I wrote a blog post about 5 skills you can develop as an ALT to help with your future employment.

Since I just finished up my own stint as an ALT for 5 years, I figured it was a good time to revisit some of the skills I've learned while working as an ALT, volunteering in the community, and helping out with ALT Training Online. Maybe these are some skills that newer ALTs will want to pick up too!

Flexibility

Almost everyone knows the old ALT mantra of "ESID" (every situation is different). After teaching in a variety of schools with different teachers and students, I can say that it's very true. Each teacher has their own way of teaching. Every class has its own attitude, strengths, and weaknesses.
To be a successful ALT, you have to be adaptable and flexible. That means that you have to be able to look at the atmosphere in the class and adjust your teaching plan accordingly.
Sometimes your lessons may be too hard or too easy. You might be really excited about the content of your lesson and nobody else is. Something you thought was going to be really boring might end up being a big hit.
By watching reactions and changing things up, you'll be sure to have great lessons.
Time Management

When it comes to the daily schedule of the ALT, we sometimes can get a lot of downtime. If you're spending those free hours becoming a better teacher on alttrainingonline.com, then you're already many steps ahead of the game!
Depending on the school I was working in, I sometimes had too much free time or not enough. In either situation, the ability to manage my time effectively really helped me get a lot done.
By paying attention to what I needed to get done and how long it takes, I was able to plan out my day and make sure I handled everything I needed to without too much stress.

This skill is especially handy for anyone going into a management-related field. Let's face it, if you can't manage your own time, you definitely can't manage someone else's!

Planning Ahead

I have to admit that as a college student, I was the master of winging it. I would usually do just enough work to get what I needed to get done at the last possible moment. My work was still pretty good, but it would have been A LOT better (and less stressful for me) if I had gotten an early start and made a plan.
Similar to time management, planning ahead is an essential skill for ALTs, especially for projects and classes that will be taught in succession.
This can be tough for us though as a lot of what we teach can depend on teachers that may, or may not, know what they are doing for their next class.

Either way, if you take care of everything you're supposed to, you can't say that any problems that arise were caused by you.

Communication

This is perhaps one of the most important skills an ALT can develop. Since ALTs often work with other teachers, the ability to community clearly and in a short time are essential to getting a lot done in a short amount of time.

This can also be tough given the schedules of the JTEs and language abilities of ALTs and JTEs (this will become even more troublesome with the addition of elementary school teachers to the English teaching equation).
When it comes to having good communication as an ALT, it's important to start early, be proactive, and put the ball in the JTE's court.
If you don't communicate enough, you may seem uninterested or anti-social. If you try to talk with your JTE too much, you can come off as demanding or needy.
I would usually start with an email or a written note. If I didn't get a response, I'd just go talk to the teacher when I saw them around the school (it usually helps to start with small talk before you get to the business of lesson planning).
Whatever form of communication you use, it's important to be clear and succinct.
If you come from a place of supporting the JTE and the students, you'll really be appreciated by the school you are teaching in.

Collaboration

In ALT life, there are plenty of opportunities for collaboration. You can work with your JTEs and students in the school to complete projects that can't be done alone.
There is also a large community of ALTs out there working on all sorts of projects on-line and in professional groups
Aside from building your professional learning network, belonging to groups looks GREAT on your resume.
If you're looking for opportunities to work with some great ALTs while picking up some knowledge and skills along the way, be sure to check out these groups:
That's about all I could think of off the top of my head. Do you know about other groups? Let us know what they are in our Facebook group.

Social Media Marketing

A few years ago, I came across ALT Training Online while researching ALT training for some new ALTs we were getting in August. Little did I know that volunteering to proofread new modules for the course would turn into the opportunity to run the blog for the site and help with our social media promotion.
Social media marketing is becoming a very in-demand skill for a lot of companies. There are even more opportunities to work remotely and on a part-time basis for clients.
This can become a nice full-time gig or even a side hustle to help supplement your teaching income.

Graphic Design

Along with social media marketing, the rise of internet marketing and the sheer amount of content that's pumped out online every day has created a HUGE demand for eye-catching graphics and well-designed websites.
Most schools (hopefully) have access to a computer. There are a lot of free programs you can use to produce quality graphics for your lessons and other projects.
Whether it's making yourself Batman (like I've done numerous times) or creating a version of Momotaro where he pops out of a Cup Noodle (something I've done once), the students really get a kick out of seeing what you can do with a computer.
The same work you would put into making a worksheet for your class could easily be transferred into layout design for a magazine or poster.
Remember that Google is your friend. The answer for how to do anything you want on almost any program is only a search away!

Writing

Although most teachers want ALTs to focus on speaking and listening skills in our classes, a good writing class can really help your students increase their English ability.
By writing samples for your class, you have a chance to hone your writing abilities.
Don't get me wrong, the English you'll probably write for your students will be simple, but then that's the challenge!

Writing for companies that produce non-academic content can be very lucrative. You can also take a chance and try to get creative with some of your writing for class. If the students and teachers see what you can come up with, it might inspire them to go a little bit more out of the box than usual.

As an ALT, you can also get some experience blogging. I run this blog in addition to my other blog, Yokkaichi Connections.
Aside from building skills, the things your write online can help serve as a portfolio of your work and get you noticed by potential employers.
Translation/Interpretation

If you've got the Japanese skills, you can make a decent living doing translations for a variety of clients. When I was an ALT, my BOE would often have some documents from City Hall that needed to be translated. Those of us who would read Japanese would help translate forms and letters from Japanese to English and vice versa.
If you want to volunteer, there are also opportunities to work community groups that serve as local tour guides, help people who don't speak Japanese, and promote local attractions.
If you can build a reputation as a reliable translator/interpreter, you'll be able to open up doors that otherwise wouldn't be available to you.

Presentation

When you think about it, teaching something is pretty much giving a presentation (although it's hopefully a little more interactive and interesting than your usual college PowerPoint).
The way you speak, your volume, diction, vocabulary choice, pace, questions, and timing all really add up to either making a great experience or one that's lackluster.
If you can reflect on your performance and how you can improve, you'll become really good at presentations and super comfortable talking in front of crowds.

Web Design

This is another skill that people are willing to pay big bucks for. If you can make a slick website for a person or a company, you can find a lot of work.
Even if you plan on being a teacher, your ability to help out with the school's website may be the difference between your getting hired or someone else.
The days of having to be a coder to make a website are over (although it does help). Almost anyone can do it, but it takes practice to do it well.

If your school has a computer club, this is something else you can do together. You could even use making a website as a group project for your students if you have access to computers.


-          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

Thursday, June 20, 2019

How To Use Logic To Improve Your EFL Students' Writing by Liang Ye

by Liang Ye

Bio: Liang Ye is an accidental English teacher. Her previous professional experience was in public policy with the Singapore Government.

She holds a Bachelor of Social Science (double major in Sociology and Psychology), a Masters of Arts in Sociology, and also a Level 7 Diploma in TESOL.

She currently speaks four languages and is learning another two.

Now, she works as an English instructor in Kansai Soka High School in Osaka, Japan.

It all began with a Facebook post. Well, perhaps even before the Facebook post.

I have lived in Japan for a total of six years so far, and had only started teaching English in classrooms three years ago. Even before starting a formal career in teaching, I found myself correcting English essays from children of acquaintances and entertaining odd requests from time to time. Then, I started noticing something peculiar.

Occasionally, I would receive essays that were written in flawless English, but I had no idea what they were talking about.
How is that even possible? The grammar was perfect! But the sentences had no apparent logical link with each other, and the clauses were put together as if the author was talking in circles or even broken spirals. It reminded me of sample speech patterns of patients with schizophrenia or cognitive dissociation in psychology textbooks. How should I even begin to correct them?
Thus began my quest to help English learners straighten out their writing.
A couple of years ago, I joined a senior high school in Osaka as an ALT for the first time. Among my other classes, I was tasked with teaching 6 classes of about 25 students on how to write English essays, all by myself. I was anxious and excited at the prospect. The students had up to that point only learnt how to make sentences. The earlier encounters with “flawless but undecipherable” essays stood out in my mind.
How do I help students learn how to write clearly? Out of ideas and with no other recourse, I turned to Facebook.
One of my friends, upon reading my bewildered post, suggested that I give explicit instructions in the target logic (reason being that most students in Japan are not exposed to logic in their classes), and pointed me to some resources.

From there, I went on to build a 1-year writing course, through trial-and-error, with explicit instructions in logic built into the class. Inevitably, being a newly-minted ALT, I made mistakes and some activities fell flat on their faces. However, there were also elements that worked out very well. In fact, so well that towards the end of the academic year, I had students who reportedly passed Eiken level 2 as they got nearly full marks in the writing section, despite failing the Reading and Listening section. Back then, I had no idea that this hardly ever happens until I told my spouse (a JTE, or Japanese teacher of English, in another school). He had looked at me, his mouth agape, and said in wonder, “That has never happened before”.
Although I have only anecdotal evidence that incorporating logic into a writing course works, I suppose what I did is still worth sharing.
So for those who are interested, I have outlined four basic steps (with some sample activities thrown in as well) to help students learn how to build an argument in English writing.

Although there are many ways to build an argument, the most basic style of writing, when stripped down to its barest form, requires the writer to follow the “If A, then B. Therefore C.” pattern (also called Chain Reasoning).
The key aim here, therefore, is to use the concept of “cause and effect” as a foundation, and then use scaffolding activities to help students learn how to use chain reasoning to write coherently, while avoiding complicated meta-language or brain-twisting Aristotelian syllogisms.
These four steps can either be expanded into a full semester course with lots of practice and examples, or condensed into one lesson, depending on the level of the students and the aim of the writing course.

Teachers can also consider including higher-order thinking strategies such as inductive/deductive syllogisms, logical fallacies or introduce different types of evidence in advanced writing courses.
By teaching students how to build stronger arguments, we also teach students how to think more critically; and this, I believe, should be the cornerstone of a balanced curriculum.


Step 1: Start with the importance of time sequence in cause and effect.

Example activity:

  • Introduce the following two clauses:
    • (A) The window was broken.
    • (B) The boy threw a ball.

  • Draw a timeline on the board and ask students to indicate whether A or B happens first.

  • Then, show the following sentences:
    • Sentence 1: The window was broken because the boy threw a ball at it.
    • Sentence 2: The boy threw a ball at the window because it was broken.

  • Emphasize that sentence 2 is incorrect due to the wrong order of cause and effect.
You can reiterate the time-sensitivity of cause and effect with several other (obvious) examples, depending on the level of your students. You may also consider using games or create worksheets to emphasize this.

Suggested grammar: “A because B”, and “A, so B”.

Step 2: Introduce and go through the following logical errors related to cause & effect.

  1. Circular reasoning*
  2. No relationship in cause and effect
  3. Cause and effect are reversed
  4. Insufficient explanation
Example activity:
  • Use obvious examples and ask students what is wrong with the sentences. Here are some examples of sentences with their corresponding logical errors:

  1. Fast food is unhealthy because fast food is bad for your health.
    • (Circular reasoning)
  2. The sakura trees are blooming because it is raining.
    • (No relationship in cause and effect)
  3. The students passed their Eiken test because the teacher is happy.
    • (Cause and effect are reversed)
  4. I am poor because I eat fast food.
    • (Insufficient explanation; this can also fall under error 2 or even 3, but I’ll be using this as an example to introduce chain reasoning later in Step 4).
* Among the four types of errors, circular reasoning is a very common writing pattern among Japanese students, in part due to a lack of control and vocabulary in English. I found the following example (adapted from a student’s essay, and modified for dramatic and comic effect) to be very helpful in driving home what circular reasoning is:
I agree that it is important to learn a foreign language. First, if I learn a foreign language, I can speak a foreign language. If I can speak a foreign language, I can speak to foreigners. If I do not learn a foreign language, I cannot speak to foreigners. For example, because I speak a foreign language, I can speak to foreigners.
To help students recognize and avoid circular reasoning, I find it useful to ask students to think in very concrete terms, by using specific situations, rather than thinking with abstract concepts.

Step 3: Introduce hypothetical scenarios.

Example activity:

  • Introduce the following two clauses:
    • (A) The window will be broken.
    • (B) The boy throws a ball.

  • Draw a timeline on the board, this time with a mark in the middle indicating “now”. Ask students to indicate where on the timeline should A or B happen in the future.

  • Then, show the following sentences:
    • Sentence 1: If the boy throws a ball, the window will be broken.
    • Sentence 2: If the window is broken, the boy will throw a ball.

  • Emphasize that sentence 2 is incorrect due to the wrong order of cause and effect. 
Suggested grammar: “If A, (s) will B”.

Since “If A, then B. Therefore C.” is the most basic pattern in building an argument, using the grammar “If…, (s) will…” is probably the easiest way for students to string ideas together in an argumentative essay.

Step 4: Introduce chain reasoning.

Example activity:

  • Introduce the following sentence and ask students why does the author think this way:
    • I am poor because I eat fast food.

  • Then, show the following paragraph:
Fast food is more expensive than home-cooked food. If I eat fast food everyday, it will cost me a lot of money. Therefore, I will become poor if I eat fast food everyday.
Break down the paragraph in the following way:
  • Pattern 1

    • Fast food is more expensive than home-cooked food. (Link 1)

    • If I eat fast food everyday, (Link 2)

    • it will cost me a lot of money. (Link 3)

    • Therefore, I will become poor if I eat fast food everyday. (Conclusion)
Teachers may consider using a variety of examples, or introduce different grammar that follow the same thought pattern. Another pattern is to move the conclusion up in the paragraph and make it the topic sentence:

  • Pattern 2
    • I will become poor if I eat fast food everyday. (Topic sentence)

    • This is because fast food is more expensive than home-cooked food. (Link 1)

    • If I eat fast food everyday, (Link 2)

    • it will cost me a lot of money. (Link 3)
This second pattern is useful in writing courses where students are taught that topic sentences come at the top of paragraphs. Students can then practice building longer chains of supporting sentences into their paragraphs and work towards writing a full essay.


-          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

Monday, May 20, 2019

Tips For Teaching Japanese Teenagers And Young Adults by Lina Gordyshevskaya

by Lina Gordyshevskaya

Bio: Lina Gordyshevskaya graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2015 earning an MA with honors in Scandinavian Studies. She obtained a CELTA in 2016 and Delta Module 1 in 2018.

Throughout her career, she has taught YL (young learners), teenagers, and adults of various levels in different contexts, including conversational schools and universities. Currently, she is teaching Business English at an IT-company in Tokyo and loves her job. She writes regularly for her blog, Side Notes on ELT.


Think of a typical Japanese teenage learner. You have probably come across some of them. Quiet and unresponsive, they never look at you and seem uninterested in whatever is going on in the classroom. All your questions are met with deafening silence. Little by little, you start feeling like you are banging your head against a brick wall until one day you realise that you have had enough.

The worst thing you can do in this case is to be quick to judge and give up on this whole situation. Yes, Japanese students are remarkably silent, but let us look at some reasons behind their silence.

Jim King (2014) stated in his research paper on social anxiety and silent behaviour of Japanese learners that the main reason is their cultural background. He wrote that in Japan, reserved behaviour is ‘culturally acceptable and positively regarded’ (p.234). Japan is a very high-context nation which means that one has to read between the lines. Less is said, but more is meant. The Japanese tend to place a higher positive value on silence in comparison to overt verbalisation (ibid).

Seiko Harumi (2001) added one more explanation. According to her, Japanese students’ use of silence is the result of the pedagogy of foreign language teaching including curriculum design and the methods used in teaching.


Indeed, Japanese classrooms are rather teacher-centred.

Foreign languages are taught starting with grammar and vocabulary, and the emphasis is put on receptive skills rather than productive.

In a country where an individual’s social status and position in the social hierarchy are important, students are seen as subordinates and their role is ‘to listen, observe, and learn’ (Atkinson, in Banks, 2016) and not to express their opinions. Of course, nowadays, this is changing but there is still a long way to go.

Taking into an account the abovementioned reasons, we can say that there are definitely quite a few challenges that foreign teachers are facing when teaching in Japan.

The question is what they can do about it. What can you do about it?


1. Problem: Your students avoid eye contact. When you speak, they often stare at their desks, but they will not look at you.


Comment: Surprisingly, it does not mean they are not listening. Of course, not all of them are paying attention, but many do. They avoid eye contact because, in their culture, the teacher is a superior, and one is not supposed to look openly at their superiors.

Solution: I would say that the only way is to accept it and take it calmly.

2. Problem: You asked your students if they understood your instructions / explanations. They all said yes or nodded but when you told them to start with the task it appeared that some of them did not understand what to do.

Comment: In Japanese culture, there is a concept of honne as opposed to tatemae. Honne is what an individual actually feels and thinks and tatemae is what they show to the public. It is very important that one keeps the face no matter what. Admitting out loud that there is something you did not understand is unacceptable and even humiliating from a Japanese person’s perspective.

Solution: Learn to read their faces. Many students will not say ‘no’ directly, but they will still look a bit confused. If this is the case (i.e. if you see some confused looks on their faces), give instructions / explanations once again but more slowly. You can also ask stronger students to translate your instructions into Japanese for those students who seem lost.

Another option is to learn some basic Japanese. Before starting with the task, those students who do not understand what to do will most likely whisper something like ‘What are we supposed to do? I didn’t understand’ to their neighbours, so you can act on this.


3. Problem: You ask them to share their opinion, and they freeze.

Comment: They want to give the right answer, but they do not know which is right. Giving a wrong answer means to lose your face, so instead of taking a risk they prefer to keep silence and avoid a potentially embarrassing situation. Another reason is that they are not used to expressing their opinions because they have hardly ever been asked to do that before.
Another reason could be that they are afraid of making errors, e.g. using wrong grammar, or they simply cannot find the right words. Many Japanese people have an erroneous belief that they should either speak perfect English or not speak it at all.

Solution: Instead of making them answer your questions directly, ask them to discuss the questions in pairs. You can walk around and comment on some interesting ideas you hear.

After a while when your students get used to this kind of interaction start asking them to report their ideas back to you. At first, they will struggle, but it is easier to repeat something you have already said rather than coming up with an idea on the spot.


After some time you will notice that they need less time before reporting. It took my students roughly seven weeks to get used to it, but eventually, they could do it easily and with little hesitation.

Make sure that you explain clearly that mistakes are okay and that the main idea of communication is mutual understanding rather than linguistic perfection (even if you yourself somewhat disagree with this).

4. Problem: A variation of the previous one, but a more severe one where your students do not want to communicate with each other either.

Solution: Instead of making them speak, why not ask them to write their answers down? Give each student a small whiteboard and a marker and see if it works. After all, communication does not necessarily have to be oral. After a while, when they get used to you and your classes, you can try encouraging them to become more verbal.

5. Problem: Your students smile all the time and seem to be positive, but one day, you overhear that some of them were complaining about your classes.

Comment: Smiling does not mean that they like you and enjoy the lesson. They are just being polite. They are not doing it on purpose - they just do not want to discomfort you. In Japan, people avoid being direct as this might offend other people. However, this does not mean they do not want to give feedback.

Solution: What you can do is to ask them to write down how they feel about today’s class, e.g. what they liked and what they found difficult. My students were quite keen on this and shared many difficulties they experienced. By knowing more about their feelings and learning issues I was able to assist them more effectively.

And once again, learn some Japanese to be able to understand their real attitude from what they say to their classmates.

While all of the above might alarm you, one thing you should know is that after several weeks, your students will get used to you and become more open and relaxed.

They might even start being honest about not understanding something and ask questions.

Just be patient and attentive to their needs, show them that you are sensitive to their fears and difficulties they experience and create a comfortable atmosphere.
Teaching is a rewarding profession, and teaching in Japan might be one of the best experiences in your life. You are the teacher, and everything is in your hands.

References:

Banks, S. (2016). Behind Japanese students’ silence in English classrooms. Accents Asia, 8 (2), pp. 54-57.

Harumi, S. (2001). The use of silence by Japanese EFL learners. JALT Conference proceedings.

King, J. (2014). Fear of true self: Social anxiety and the silent behaviour of Japanese learners of English. In K. Csizér & M. Magid (eds.), The impact of self-concept on language learning. Bristol, England: Multilingual Matters.


-          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. 

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Friday, April 19, 2019

Then And Now: Teaching In Japan by Neal Graham

by Neal Graham

Bio: Neal Graham is an ALT from Canada. He first worked in Japan over 20 years ago and later returned to teach here again.He has a BA in English and a CELTA. He also lived in Japan for 5 years in the mid-2000s working in the eikaiwa industry. Before becoming a city ALT, he taught at the university level in Japan.

Foreward: The following is a now-and-then comparison based on my experiences as an ALT. This is not meant to be an absolutely definitive tale of the way it was versus the way it currently is. Rather, it’s just a few casual observations based only on my experience and my situation. There are differences between my employment situations now and then that may have affected my perspective. For example, now I am a direct-hire municipal ALT whereas I was a prefectural-JET ALT many years ago. Other people will have completely different experiences.


I was a prefectural ALT with the JET Program 22 years ago. I stayed in Japan for 2 years and then returned to Canada. A while ago I came back to Japan and now I’m working as a direct-hire city ALT.

A lot has changed in Japanese schools in those two decades.

I could write about the many educational changes that have occurred, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll talk about a few non-educational changes that I’ve witnessed.

Compared to other countries Japan is still a very cash focused country, although this keeps changing bit by bit.

When I first worked as an ALT in the late 90s, I was paid in cash.

Once a month I was handed an envelope filled with money. This surprised me. The school had set up a bank account for me on my first day, and eventually they did change me over to a direct deposit system, but the cash payments continued for a quite a while. Certainly electronic deposits were possible in Japan at that time. I’m not sure if that happens anywhere anymore. My current employer has been depositing my salary directly into my bank account since I was hired.

I remember some Japanese teachers in the school were regularly paid in cash. Was this because they preferred to be paid in cash? Or was it a systematic quirk of my school?

To accommodate all the cash floating around the teachers’ room, a bank representative would come to our school once a week to take care of our banking needs.

Salaries could be deposited, spending money could be withdrawn and other banking transactions could be facilitated. I opened an account at that bank (Oddly, it was a different bank than the one where the school had opened my main account) so that I could do some banking from the convenience of the teachers’ room. Perhaps there are some banks somewhere still offering this service today, but I haven’t seen it.

Another change I’ve experienced involves ALT school assignments. When I was a prefectural ALT in the 90s, each ALT was assigned to only one school.

City ALTs that lived in that prefecture were shared between two Junior High schools. I spent every day at the same school. Every student had a lesson with me at least twice a week. I was able to get to know my fellow teachers and all the students very well. I participated in club activities and all the school events. I attended teachers’ meetings. I was treated as any other teacher at the school.

Now, as a direct hire city ALT, I work at many different schools – sometimes more than one in a single day.

It’s difficult to get to know the students very well. Although I’ve gotten to know some, I don’t know them in the same way as I was able to 22 years ago. I teach more than 1,400 students across my many schools so it’s difficult to know all their names. I understand the budgetary benefits of having one teacher go to many schools, but those may come at the expense of other social and cross-cultural benefits.

The most significant change I’ve seen has been around smoking.

When I was an ALT 2 decades ago, smoking was allowed in schools. There was a lounge area in the teachers’ room of my school where teachers would gather to smoke during the day. Many teachers also kept ashtrays on their desks. There was also smoking in the library and in many classrooms. I’m not sure whether or not it was officially permitted in the classrooms, but it happened.

Since the majority of teachers at my school were smokers, their smoking habits were completely accommodated.

Now, not only is smoking not permitted inside or on the grounds of the schools I go to, but it seems that only a small minority of teachers are even smokers. This is a big change that seemed unimaginable in the late 90s.

Clearly some of these changes are more significant than others. It’s nice to see schools change their attitudes towards smoking. I miss the personal touch that the weekly visits from the bank employee brought to banking. I always struggle to have good conversations with the ATM. I enjoyed working as an ALT 22 years ago and I’m happy to be back in Japan working an ALT again. I wonder what changes will occur in the future?

-          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