Cambridge Academy: Another Quantum Leap

The Academy Fluency Course

JHS 1st-year class doing verb exercises

We’re into week three of the new academic year, and we’re starting to see the results of the changes I wrote about in the previous update.

You can read previous Academy posts here:

  1. Extensive Reading for Secondary Students (April 2015)
  2. Six Months In (September 2015)
  3. Year One (February 2016)
  4. Looking at Year Two (March 2016)
  5. Stocktake (March 2016)
  6. Shadoku explained (April 2016)
  7. Some improvements to the curriculum (April 2016)
  8. December 2016 update (December 2016)
  9. Cambridge Academy: Year Two and Three (March 2017)
  10. Cambridge Academy: Stocktake 2017 (March 2017)

Our new reading classroom (the second)

I have to admit I was a bit jittery before classes started on April 1st. I was nervous about the new materials for the output classes, I was nervous about teaching six nights/twelve hours a week, and I was nervous about the larger class sizes.

It’s looking like I needn’t have been 🙂

New Materials

We’ve been working on the Fluency course for about a year now. We have year one in draft form, and will be using it with the three classes (28 students) of JHS 1st years we have this year as an alpha trial.

If anything, the materials work even better than I had hoped. Students have responded extremely well, they are visibly improving already, and the classes are just fun to teach.

The course is based on the New Horizon content, but vastly expanded and designed to get the students speaking, reading, and writing fluently. The first year of the course is 15,000 words long (three times the amount in all three years of New Horizon) and students explicitly study 720 words in the 48 lessons.

Students do speaking and writing practice, speed reading, verb/pronoun exercises, and memorize and write dialogues. They are constantly working for 60 minutes. It’s a beautiful thing to see and teach.

We also use Quizlet (search for CA OUTPUT 1 to see our lessons) to preview and practice vocabulary and questions for the class, and students do Duolingo as optional language practice.

This year we will write the second year of the course, and next year we’ll have a beta of the first-year course at Cambridge and at another partner school, while we do the alpha of the second-year course at Cambridge.

Teaching Six Nights/Twelve Hours a Week

This also went way better than I had expected. I didn’t intend to teach six nights a week, but we had so many students wanting to join that we chose to add another day (Mondays), as well as increase class sizes (see below) to accommodate them.

The classes are fun, and even with the extra preparation needed for the first couple of classes, have so far not been too overwhelming. I have an assistant in each class but, to be honest, haven’t really needed them so far.

Larger Class Sizes

This might be the best thing of all. Up until this year, all our classes had a maximum of six students in. This year due to unexpected demand (we were expecting up to twenty JHS1 students: we actually got twenty-eight) we increased the class size to ten.

I was expecting it to be more difficult to teach. I was also expecting the parents to be unhappy.

The thing is, with our new fluency course, it’s easier to run the class as students need less individual attention. The atmosphere actually improved with more students in the room. In fact, I think this will work equally well (or better!) with twenty or thirty students.

Parents haven’t complained. In fact, many of them have told us their children are really enjoying the classes.

So if we can secure a larger space I will try to increase class sizes to twenty next year 🙂

Very exciting to hear about this. I really want a peek at your materials!

Happy to show you in person next time we meet 🙂

Me too. Please let me know when you are looking to sell content, Ben.

We need to find all the typos and fix the level, etc. (hence the beta next year with another school). I think we should have something to sell (to a publisher or directly) in 2-3 years.

I’ve very curious to see what other teachers think about this course. I think a lot of them are going to hate it.

In some ways it’s very old-fashioned and mechanical: lots of repetition with a view to memorize and eventually internalize the language. Not a lot of touchy-feely chances for the students to express themselves (at least in the first year) 😉

It’s designed for normal junior high school students to see results and support their school studies in an time-effective way. The materials are also designed so that schools can use them easily and teachers won’t need much training. The materials create the lesson.

I’d love to see public junior high schools adopt them. Then we’d have a real impact.

And of course, we have an hour of extensive reading/listening in our input class alongside the fluency output class. That is also making a big difference 🙂

Maybe I will get a presentation slot at the JALT conference in November. I am guessing you will be there????

No, I think I am done with JALT 🙂

My last academic presentation (until further notice) will be at the Extensive Reading World Congress in August.

Need to make more and talk less 😉

18 Apr 2017, 3:08pm
by Trevor Lawless


Sorry if you mentioned this before, but are you grouping the students by ability or are you putting them into class based on their year level at JHS?

Hi Trevor

It’s by year. The materials are based on the JHS curriculum. Student levels are all over the place, but there is enough flexibility built in to keep everyone occupied.

So far it’s going really well 😀

And of course it makes it really easy to market and run admin-wise…


Leave a Reply

  • Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • %d bloggers like this: