Friday, March 20, 2020

End Of ALT Training Online? by Nathaniel Reed

by Nathaniel Reed

Bio: Nathaniel Reed started his ALT journey in 2014. He was mid writing a dissertation for an MA in Linguistics and it struck him that there was no training for this new job. Even low-level jobs have some kind of training to help you do the job effectively, and teachers are dealing with people’s lives.

These thoughts gave birth to ALT Training Online (ALTTO). 

Quickly realising that ALT pay is the same as when the current ALT system started in 1987, he knew that this training must be free. Thankfully there are a lot of helpful souls in the world, even the leading scholars on language education in Japan, so piece by piece it started to build - this blog will take you on the journey so we'll stop there for now.

With a house and two incredible children, every day is full of surprises and happiness for Nathaniel. We are all on a journey though, growing and evolving who we are on a daily basis.

Let today guide your thoughts in some way to be thankful. Who knows, you may even feel like joining the ALTTO team and improving the quality of what we’re doing. It would be great to hear from you.

Around 6 years have passed since the birth of ALT Training Online. After writing an MA dissertation on the roles of ALTs I couldn't help but let go of the burning question: why didn't I receive any teacher training (pre- or in-service?) when I got the ALT job?

With no coding or web development skills, but an ambition to provide high-quality, free training to thousands of ALTs, my mission began.
Alas, hundreds of dollars out of pocket and many aspects of the site needing an update I face a crossroads – redesign it completely or let the thousands of weekly users down. 
It's quite a size now, there’s a lot of content, so the work would take a while….
On an ALT's salary with a mortgage and two children, the decision should be quite simple, but I'm really struggling with the choice.

I’d hate my own children to go to school and get a low-quality education because the teacher wasn’t trained.

The emails ALTTO receives from individuals in need of help and all the positive comments we get have been on my mind for over a year…...
Unfortunately though, it's adios to ALTTO and ALTopedia….

Just kidding!
I've been learning to code and the ALTTO team is growing - so the site is getting a makeover!
New features are in place and we're launching two new modules: ‘Vocabulary’ by Dr David Coulson at Ritsumeikan University and ‘Speaking’ by Richard Graham from Genki English – but this is just the start.

David Hayter is as motivated as ever to keep the wide-ranging guest blogs coming – from Vietnam.

Jake (an established coder) is excelling on the ALTopedia resources site, keeping it maintained and arduously updating resources everyday.
We've new affiliations too, and are being advertised outside of Japan with our new partners, including JET (big thanks to all of them).
The big news……(drum roll)….. is the latest member of the ALTTO team, Nick. He's been working incredibly hard to prepare 'The Monthly Trainer'; an email newsletter that’s just the right length with content covering all areas of the ALT world: what's coming up in your schools, teaching tips, teaching English in English….. one of the major changes the Course of Studies schools are sent is requesting from April 2020 - the timing of The Monthly Trainer couldn't be more perfect.

We're working hard to launch the new site sometime in April – so check our Facebook group for the new link:

Sign up right now for The Weekly Trainer, (first edition end of March 2020):

Join us and make ALT lives better.
You’re still here - great. Read on...
You may know that online courses (in general) have a completion rate of around 10% according to most studies. You may have started one or a tonne of courses online yourself (I’m working my way through 4 at the moment). The ALTTO course/website is no different, although some modules are getting 100% completion rates, interest leaves some users with completion rates of around 20%.
We’ve listened to your feedback, re-reviewed the practice of learning online and have completely changed how the free ALT training course looks - how you the user can develop skills to use in the classroom, whatever your learning style.
It’s much more interactive now. Not just long texts to read with reflection questions - modules are made up of shorter units, a range of media is used, plus interactive features and various questions styles are used to make being an ALT much more enjoyable.

We’re updating the modules too. The three previous categories: Contextual, Teaching and Professional Development are being expanded!

We’re also taking away unpopular modules that didn’t seem to fit people’s interests. We’ve listened to and taken on board suggestions, and then searched far and wide for writers.
We know that the resulting new modules, and whole new course, will deliver exactly what you want and need to make not just make you more confident and better teachers, but also dramatically enhance the potential of your students. 
How would you make ALTTO and Altopedia better? Join the team and make it happen!

-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

Never miss another blog again! Click here to sign-up for our newsletter, "The Monthly Trainer," to stay up to date with everything ALTTO has to offer.

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at so we can work together and spread your story.

Don't have any ideas? 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:

Monday, March 9, 2020

Using Technology To Teach English In Japan by Paul Raine

by Paul Raine

Bio: Paul Raine (MA TEFL/TESL, University of Birmingham 2012) is an award-winning teacher, presenter, author, and developer.

His books include the best-selling 50 Ways to Teach with Technology and the innovative multi-path graded reader Journey to Mars. He has also developed his own website for teachers and learners of EFL ( He has published numerous research articles on the teaching and learning of English as a second language, and is particularly interested in Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). 

He currently teaches at two universities in the Tokyo area.

A nation of innovative technophiles or conservative technophobes?

Japan generally seeks to project a highly technologically advanced image on the international stage: bullet trains, capsule hotels, the giants of the video gaming industry, and electronic consumer goods for every conceivable need.

However, anyone who has visited Japan knows that there are two sides to the country: the innovative high-tech side, and the conservative traditionalist side. The latter seems to be especially prominent in the education sector.

The conservative Japanese education sector

As a case in point, when I was working as a dispatch agency teacher at a technology university in Kanagawa in 2008, the person in charge of infrastructure decided that it was a good idea to install blackboards in a brand new wing of the university. Not smartboards. Not whiteboards. Blackboards. As a reminder, blackboards are 19th century technology.

Another case in point. Anyone who has ever ridden on a train in Japan has almost certainly seen Japanese school children learning English vocabulary from books by holding a transparent piece of red plastic (shitajiki) over the page, which can be used to obscure or reveal text written in red ink, and facilitate rote-learning on-the-go.

The right tool for the right job

Now, you may be wondering exactly what is wrong with these techniques? What’s wrong with “chalk and talk”? What’s wrong with “drill and kill”?

There may well be nothing wrong with such traditional teaching and learning techniques used in moderation and in the appropriate circumstances.

And while I’m not going to go into a comprehensive literature review of the relative merits of the traditional versus the high-tech, the important point to be made here is to choose the right tool for the right job.

There are some things that tech-powered tools do better than traditional ones, and some things that can only be done with technology.
When is technology better?

Digital teaching and learning materials can be copied, edited, deleted, transmitted, backed-up, collaborated on, revised, commented on, duplicated, and converted into different formats much more efficiently and easily than traditional paper media.

Of course, some of these benefits also give rise to potential vulnerabilities and drawbacks, including issues of security, which many Japanese educational institutions are notoriously paranoid about.

But there are also many things that can only be done with the use of technology, most notably anything relating to audio or video.
The benefits of using video to teach English have been well documented, and where would the typical English teacher be without their trusty tape-deck / CD-player / MP3-player / audio streaming website?

Tech is the king of task automation

Then of course there is tracking student progress and grading student work.

“Yes! I get to grade fifty exam papers tonight!” said no English teacher ever.

Technology to the rescue. Multiple choice English tests can be easily administered and automatically graded online with Google Forms, and there are a vast plethora of Learner Management Systems (LMS) offering comprehensive solutions to the create, administer, submit, grade, feedback cycle that teachers love so much.

The chances are that your institution already has an LMS, although whether it actually gets used is a whole other matter.
Enabling the cutting edge

So far we have mainly discussed well-established uses of technology for language teaching and learning, but recent advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), have made a whole new range of cutting edge affordances possible.

Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) systems have paved the way for online Computer Assisted Pronunciation Training (CAPT) solutions, such as EnglishCentral, and Text-To-Speech (TTS) has improved to the point where it is becoming impossible to distinguish computer generated voices from human ones.

Will advances in AI eventually result in ALTs being replaced by blue-eyed blonde-haired English speaking robots? 
Some schools in Japan are already experimenting with such solutions.
But robots still find it hard to interact with and inspire English learners on a truly human level.

So until the arrival of the singularity, why not adopt more tech-based teaching practices in your classroom? Of course, you will be limited by your institution’s infrastructure and its (often infuriating) technology policies, but there are usually workarounds for such issues.

For more information about how to use technology for teaching English, check out my book. 
You might also want to take a look at my list of over 185 English learning and teaching websites.
-          A note from ALT training online’s David Hayter

Never miss another blog again! Click here to sign-up for our newsletter, "The Monthly Trainer," to stay up to date with everything ALTTO has to offer.

If you have something 'ALT' to write about that hasn't been covered in these blogs, email me at so we can work together and spread your story.

Don't have any ideas? 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:

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Working With ALTTO by Steven MacWhinnie

by Steven MacWhinnie

Bio: Steven MacWhinnie is a lecturer at Hirosaki Gakuin University and a doctoral candidate at the University of Leicester

He has been living and working in Aomori since 2007, first on the JET Programme, then as an Eikaiwa school owner and part-time university lecturer.

His research interests include motivation, engagement, and language awareness. He has published articles on motivation and engagement and is now working on understanding how students use language in the completion of tasks.

I have been helping with proofreading for ALTTO since 2017. Although at that point I was no longer an ALT, I was curious about what ALTTO had to offer.
Back when I first came to Japan to teach as an ALT, there was nothing in the way of solid training.
ALTs were generally left to sink or swim, local BOEs might provide training of some sort, but generally, there wasn’t much in the way of support. I was excited to see that ALLTO was planning on developing modules that would support ALTs new to Japan.

I’d like to elaborate a bit on why I decided to offer to help with proofreading the modules. Back in 2007 when I first arrived in Japan, even the orientation conference in Tokyo didn’t provide much information on what was actually expected of ALTs.
The little information that was given was mostly focused on telling ALTs to not get into trouble. There was no real education on being an educator.
Looking back at my own experience as an ALT, I can’t say I was particularly good when I first arrived. I was very lucky to have worked with some talented JTEs who took the time to teach me how to be a teacher. I was lucky to be able to understand Japanese and be willing to adjust my teaching style as I learned new things about teaching.
ALTTO now has modules providing in-depth detail about different aspects of teaching, what I spent nearly 3 years learning by trial and error is now readable in a few hours.
While my own experiences are rather different (I worked in a rural area), the module on what to expect and how a typical day might go would have been useful information to have when I started.

As I worked for 5 years as an ALT, I saw many ALTs come and go, and I listened to what the JTEs had to say. Even now, I have friends who are JTEs and they often bemoan the lack of education for new ALTs who come to Japan. While I can’t directly speak to the situation now as I am not longer working as an ALT, I remember that many people came to Japan to work as ALTs more as a way to see the world and they weren’t particularly interested in developing their skills as teachers.

I doubt that the situation has changed significantly, but I do know that for the ALTs who come to Japan and want to be more than a tape-recorder and actually teach, ALTTO provides a lot of important resources for those individuals. A friend at the BOE has often commented that the ALTs who come really need more training resources.
Even the ALTs who seem interested in developing themselves as teachers, don’t have access to good training tools.
Even very basic information is lacking. For example, a new ALT went to visit an elementary school. He was asked to teach the alphabet. In the US at least, most would start by showing a picture of an apple, and saying a /æ/ apple. This isn’t wrong, but it only served to confuse the children in the class who were using a different system, learning a as in ant (ɛənt). This simply goes to illustrate the severe lack of training for new ALTs who arrive in Japan.

As I said above, I am no longer an ALT. This might raise the question of why I still decided to volunteer to be a proofreader for the ALTTO project. I work now as a university educator, partly in the training of English teachers. I also worry about the skill level of incoming freshmen students. I am a long-term resident of Japan and I care very deeply about developing not only the English skills but the global sensibility of Japanese students.

Part of that process is by providing students with competent educators who are knowledgeable and able to impart that knowledge.
If ALTs are effective teachers, I suspect that students will become not only better at the English language but see the value in English as a global means of communication.
For these, among other, reasons I am happy to volunteer my time to try and help this excellent project succeed. The only way forward is through more education, both for ALTs and for their students.

-          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 so we can work together and spread your story.

Don't have any ideas? 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:

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Working With ALTTO by David L. Hayter

by David L. Hayter

Bio: David L. Hayter is a teacher and freelance writer based out of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

He first gained experience in education by working 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 Japanese teachers of English (JTEs) to teach thousands of students.

Aside from teaching, 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).

Outside of work, he actively volunteers in his community, enjoys playing video games, loves to cook, trains hard, is working on a new podcast/blog, and helps run the ALT Training Online blog.

Working with ALT Training Online (ALTTO) has been one of the most positive experiences in my life, both personally and professionally. The skills I have gained and the relationships that came from it have helped me tremendously.

The first time I came across ALTTO a few years ago was completely by accident. The board of education I was working for provides one month of in-house training every August for new ALTs. As veteran ALTs re-contract throughout the years, they are expected to teach the newly arrived ALTs how to teach in Japan (it's easy, right?).
A simple Google search for "ALT training" led me to the site and my mind was blown. It was like finding cheat codes for a game!
This was the first time I had come across a website dedicated to making ALTs in Japan better teachers. Best of all, there was no charge for any of the information!
What really drew me to the site is that it was made for ALTs, by ALTs.
These weren't articles published for journals or posts about the struggles of one ALT. It was a systematic plan for what ALTs need to know in order to do their job well made by a community.

The site covered a lot of information and had opinions/information from many different teachers. The modules are also backed up with extensive research for those who really want to do a deep dive into ALTing.
Other sites and resources dealing with education and teacher training in Japan usually had some other kind of angle. This wasn't the case with ALTTO.
To me, it seemed like other sites affiliated with the government were trying to portray teaching in Japan in a certain light. Other private sites were more focused on trying to sell a product/service.
After pouring over the site for a few hours, I noticed that there was a call for proofreaders.
I was getting into blogging and writing so I figured this would be a good way to help the cause, become a better teacher, and gain some transferrable skills all at the same time!

Initially, I offered to be a proofreader. After getting in contact with Nate (the founder of the site), he asked if I would like to take over the blog part of the site. He saw the work I was doing on my own blog and thought I could help out. This eventually led to me helping with other areas of the site like social media.
My work with ALTTO has led to opportunities to write for education blogs, be a guest on podcasts, and interact with professionals all over the world.
Although my time teaching in Japan has come to an end, the things I've learned working with ALTTO continue to help me for the rest of my life.
Companies and schools are looking for workers who are not only good at their job but are also skilled in collaboration using technology.
While my main motivation for helping with the site was to improve teacher training and education in Japan, it's very true that this kind of experience does look GREAT on a resume.

Looking back over the past years, I never thought something I started doing during my downtime in October of 2017 would turn into a community of ALTs making a difference in Japan and across the world.
In closing, I'd like to give a big thank you to Nate, the team at ALTTO, all of our blog contributors, our readers, and everyone involved in the ALTTO community. Our work wouldn't be what it is without you!
-          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 so we can work together and spread your story.

Don't have any ideas? 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:

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

From Sage On Stage To Guide On The Side: My Journey As An Educator In Japan by Jason Wolfe

by Jason Wolfe

Bio: Designing a classroom experience centered around creativity and innovation is an exciting topic for this educator with a background in plant ecology and corpus linguistics. 

Jason Wolfe, a Canadian long term Tokyo resident, has taught eikaiwa, high school, and university, and now teaches design full-time and speaks about design thinking.

His volunteering keeps him active in the maker movement, JALT, and TEDxYouth@Tokyo. A collaborator with many groups seeking to provide a much-needed perspective on the future of learning, Jason’s insight into the benefits of tactile explorations inspires the creative problem-solving confidence that will challenge your perspective.

A Little History

I came to Japan in late 2005 and started doing the eikaiwa stuff, GABA mainly, and although I have some issues with the company and how they treat their “non-workers,” I had a positive experience because of all the connections I made there, both personal and professional. 

Over time I found my way into a national high school teaching higher-level English to returnees. This was a nice jump as I was tasked with creating and implementing my own curriculum for the first time.
This was more of teaching something ‘in’ English, instead of teaching English as a language or second language. 
I would later learn proper terms for this, PBL, CLIL, etc.
This was a major high point because previously I'd always had to teach a prepared curriculum and, being who I am, generally had issues with it. I taught what I was interested in, and at the time, it was environmental issues and philosophy.

That school was at the beginning of a transition from a 3 + 3 (junior and senior high school) to a 6-year school, and more importantly, a switch to an International Baccalaureate (IB) school. This is usually done by introducing a cohort on the new plan while the older grades are still in the old system. Every year you add a new cohort as another grade graduates and slowly the school is transitioned. I became part of both schools and there was some learning involved with the IB methodology.

Although the IB program we were teaching, the Middle Years Programme (MYP), was a methodology designed to be implemented with any national or regional curriculum, it was a very different approach. The biggest learning change was assessment. This included rubrics and very clear instructions on what is expected from students to receive a certain grade.

Grading was also organized into four or more criteria with very clear distinctions. In a nutshell, there was much less of “I think this is a 7/10, feels like a 7…” These and other IB related things really opened my eyes to education and what it means to be an educator.

From Sage on Stage to Guide on the Side

From then I started defining what kind of educator I was. I realized I was not really interested in what I thought education was ... students as empty glasses to be filled by the all-knowing teacher.

I wanted to challenge and motivate my students ... create life-long learners (some more IB jargon).

Currently ...

I currently teach Design to junior high school students at a private 6-year high school in downtown Tokyo called Kaichi Nihonbashi Gakuen. This is an IB MYP class and since we follow the national curriculum I had to align my course to the national standards of 技術 (Industrial Arts) and 家庭科 (Home Economics).
Yes, I teach sewing and cooking.
But, I do it in a design thinking sort of way, where I provide problems and challenges and they have to solve them by making something.
Here are a few examples of some problems and solutions:
  • Design a locker shelf that will make the classroom a better learning environment for you and your peers (1st-year JHS wood processing project). Students use SketchUp to 3D design their shelf and planning models then make the real thing.
  • Design a Japanese inspired healthy breakfast cookie (2nd-year JHS nutrition project). Many people skip breakfast and a cookie is a hand-held solution to that problem. But, a cookie is a little strange for breakfast...hence the Japanese culture addition.
  • Design a product that will make elderly people healthier ... using only the parts from an old umbrella! (3rd-year JHS community/society project). There are too many elderly people in Japan (contentious!) and too many umbrellas. Let’s create something that solves both problems.
One thing I try to do as we go from 1st year to 3rd year is to try to make my projects less and less Googleable.
This is to force them to be creative. 
Kids are naturally creative, but in high school they are busy and the whole system seems to reinforce the idea that creativity is not as important as test scores and finals.
If I don't think about forcing creativity, they'll resort to using Google, not due to lack of creativity, but lack of time. The students will Google that project and see what comes up ... I think the idea of giving students something unGoogleable is a must for this generation.

Another task I strive for is radical creativity. As I tweak and update my lessons from year to year I look for areas where creativity can be maximized. This is how I ended up with the challenge to make the elderly healthier using only parts of an old umbrella. Recently I have found that the projects coming back to me are similar and following a trend. I will have to tweak them and possibly allow them to use any waste resource and might even add unGoogleability to the lesson requirements.
When I Google the students' ideas, I want to see nothing in the results.
How can I implement lessons that push for maximum creativity?
A lot of my personal inspiration for creativity comes from the D-School at Stanford. I started following a lot of their steps in my English classes and my science lessons and eventually, I ended up teaching Design. I am very happy with this transition.

Although I teach a little English on the side, my full-time work is as a design teacher - challenging and, hopefully, inspiring students to maximize creativity and prototype like crazy.
The goal is to make quick and dirty solutions to the problem and then iterate and expand.
The language of instruction is English. I teach two classes, the DLC and the GLC class, or the lower and higher English level, respectively. They will study Design for the three years of junior high school.

The goal of the 4-year MYP program at my school is to get their English proficiency up to a level where they can study in an IB Diploma Programme (DP) class in English.

This is a daunting challenge as DP classes are rigorous and challenging. The first year class comes in at a very low-level English and I often have to use some Japanese, provide some bilingual material, and/or have a Japanese teacher assist at times.
Navigating the material at their level is a challenge but the complex nuances of IB assessment is also very complicated (in Japanese too) for their young minds.
Here are some pictures of students working:

Other Responsibilities

The biggest responsibility I have outside of teaching is managing the English book library. The library is a little small and the English books were very few and of limited quality and interest. I have to choose, buy, and process most of the Englsih books.
I love books, but I am not a trained librarian, I had to learn/guess a lot of stuff, and it is a learning process.
There are a few different categories I try to build upon. I make sure to get English books that:
  • Correspond to the taught curriculum in both Japanese and English
  • Inspire a love of reading
  • Should be part of all libraries (I don’t know if anyone will read War and Peace, Marcel Proust, or Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations...but they are there as an antilibrary)
  • Facilitate academic research for the end of junior high and senior high school projects
  • Progress students through the extensive reading program
Here is our (English) library
For the extensive reading program, I need to provide materials that will allow for a transition from a basic beginner escalating up to native, or near-native, high school level. We try to do this in 4 years, junior 1 to senior 2. The minimum they need to achieve is CEFR B2 in all 4 skills, but even at that level, the DP course will be quite a challenge.
Another thing my school does and I am directly involved with is native speaker homeroom teachers (HRTs).
I am currently a third-year HRT with the GLC class and have to deal with all the responsibilities that go with that. Parent/Teacher interviews, discipline, dealing with personal issues, fieldwork in another city for 3-4 days, classroom tidiness, and other things.
It is a lot of work but mostly, very enjoyable.
I am now in my 4th year at this school, happy and content, but wondering how to keep adding creativity to my life and where the next changes will happen. I have always found that my favorite age to teach is junior high, but it takes a lot of energy and I am not sure I can do that until retirement (although I could as this position is permanent). Change is approaching...but when, where and what...TBD.

-          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 so we can work together and spread your story.

Don't have any ideas? 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: