Cambridge Academy: Year Four and Five

It’s all coming together. Or is it?

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)
  11. Cambridge Academy: Another Quantum Leap (April 2017)
  12. Cambridge Academy: Year Three Mid-Year Update (August 2017)
  13. Cambridge Academy: Year Three Student Progress (October 2017)
  14. The Academy Fluency Course (March 2018)
  15. Cambridge Academy: Stocktake 2018 (March 2018)

This year was a solid one for the Academy but we definitely had some ups and downs.

Mistakes were made (by me)

Let’s start with the downs: we screwed up badly not just once but twice. The first mistake was getting a bit cocky about the Academy and changing the way we explained it to existing students.

In the past we’d gone into each class with 6th graders in, introduced the Academy and encouraged them to join. Almost everyone did.

Last year, we asked everyone to come to a special explanation session on a Sunday, then asked them to come in again in January and line up to sign up for the days they wanted. Only about half the students joined.

This is a mistake we’ll be paying for for the next five years, as we have a year that is quite a bit smaller than it should be. Looks like we’ll have 22 second-year students next year, spread over three classes of 4, 6, and 12 students. Doubly regrettable because the Academy classes work much better with at least ten students in.

This year we went back to the original, more humble model and right now halfway through the explanations pretty much all our 6th graders have signed up. If all goes well we should end up with 28 first-graders in three classes.

The second mistake was delegating too much. As planned I assigned a teacher to each class, but then failed to monitor them as closely as I should have (in my defence we had some pretty serious issues crop up this year that took a lot of time at first and then burned me out later).

As a direct consequence of me not paying enough attention to how the classes were going, the current first-year classes in particular are not where I want them to be, and all the reading classes have gone slightly off course.

Nothing too serious, but changes will be needed next year.

But lots of good things happened too

Despite the lack of attention from me, the classes mostly went well and students learned a lot. We did Eiken last month at the school, and 78 out of 82 students passed the paper test. Last weekend we did interview practice, and everyone was basically okay to pass. This is very encouraging, as our student body is very mixed and doesn’t just consist of elite students.

We wrote 2/3 of the A3 output course, and it turned out really well. I’m proud of all our materials, but this might be the best one yet. We also finished one year of the A5 advanced course.

Very few of our students quit. We lost a handful to graduation and three quit, but we’re hoping to have a healthy intake and we also had four students join from outside. Hopefully that is the start of a trend 🙂

Student numbers

Junior high school 1: 28? (still in the process of pitching to parents)
Junior high school 2: 22
Junior high school 3: 30
Senior high school entry class (1-2 year students): 10
Senior high school advanced class (2-3 year students): 11

Pretty encouraging. It will be interesting to see how many of the new JHS 3rd years stay on into high school, as they were our first big year.

Also, the mathematically gifted among you will notice that this would give us 101 students, finally reaching our longstanding goal of 100 students in the Academy. Eventually I am hoping we’ll have something like 200 in the program (see below for how this may be possible).

Future plans

We’re going to rent the third unit on the ground floor of our building. This will give us all the car parking spaces (an additional four) plus get rid of the grumpy guy that used to rent it so no one will be complaining about our students going forwards. This extra unit will give us about 280 new class places and allow us to have all junior high school levels of the Academy, plus one high school level, every weekday.

I’m going to be much more hands on with the reading classes next year, and with the junior high school first year output classes. This will allow me to develop them a bit more and address structural problems (as well as train our teachers).

I’m going to take another leaf out of SEG’s book and try to find supplementary reading material for our beginner levels. At the moment the students read sets of readers with CDs, but I would also like to mix in picture books and other reading material that they might find interesting. A big work in progress.

We’ll finish the A3 course and start working on our final level, A4. We’ll also write a second year of the A5 course. This will complete the Academy materials, at which point we might start working on a course for elementary school students.

Outlook

The outlook is good. I am not going to be able to be as hands-off next year as I was this year, but I think the program will get a lot stronger because of that.

We will be in a position to recruit hundreds of new students next year, including almost 100 new Academy students, so we will need to start working on advertising for April 2020 from now. It’s going to be intense but also kind of fun 🙂

CLaSIC 2018

I enjoyed attending and presenting at the Eighth CLS International Conference in Singapore this week.

Thank you to everyone that attended my presentation and especially to those that asked questions or talked to me afterwards.

Here are my slides in PDF format:

Please feel free to leave a comment or contact me by email if you have any questions.

Classroom Management Hack

Making Pairs with an Odd Number of Students

This year I started teaching a new version of a course: a second-year extensive reading-based class. The class is an elective compulsory class (so the students have to take it, but they can choose which teacher to take it with, and the teachers have free rein to determine the content of the class).

The new version consists of 35 minutes of silent reading (students can also work on their preparation sheet for speaking during this time) followed by about 35 minutes of speaking and ten minutes of writing.

During the speaking part students talk to each other about a book they read this week. They have a preparation sheet where they have already written about their book which they can use to help them.

My colleague Dan E. suggested I try the ‘speed dating’ format for this, and we ended up with students working in pairs for five minutes, then changing partner and repeating. We usually manage about five iterations. Students can use their preparation sheets the first couple of times, but should try not to after that.

The key to this is to spend as little time as possible making pairs and moving, in order to maximise student talking time. The easiest way I know to do this is to create a map of the classroom on the board (see picture above). The white squares are desks. The yellow rectangles are two desks pushed together.

I number the students, then they move to their initial pair and do the first iteration of speaking. Then I ask the students facing the window to stand up and move 2-3 spaces up to a new partner. Repeat as many times as you want to (although be aware of when students are going to cycle back to the initial point).

This works very well for pairs, but I had 31 students today. Thankfully I found an easy solution. I made a group of three with the extra person, but (this is the key) all three of them were ‘facing the window’. This, combined with having students move up three spaces each time they changed, meant that no one student was stuck in the 3-group more than once.

In fact, the students seemed to enjoy the 3-group for the novelty, so it worked out really well.

This seems like a small, unimportant tweak, but it solved a problem that had been bothering me for a while 🙂

27 Mar 2018, 12:49pm
Academy stocktake
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Cambridge Academy: Stocktake 2018

New classroom
Our new classroom

We just finished our annual stocktake. You can see last year’s post here. Last year we bought a lot of duplicate sets of YL3-5 books to accommodate our larger classes of junior high school first years.

Books YL1-10
YL1-10 books

YL11-80 books
YL11-80 books


Total number of books

I was pleasantly surprised to see some of the books that were missing in the last stocktake were back this time, meaning that someone had just forgotten to return them during stocktake week or had been absent. This is the third year of doing stocktakes, and despite not tracking book lending at all, we seem to have only lost a negligible number of books (and they may come back at some point too).

We didn’t quite reach 10,000 books, but we’re close and should cross that line within the next month or so.

The lower levels (YL1-10) mainly consist of multiple copies of books (up to ten copies of each book/set), while the higher levels are mostly individual titles. I would like to expand our range for YL11-80. Our highest level students (reading at YL50 or so) have just graduated, so the highest students from April will be YL40-ish.

Looking at our usage patterns from the last couple of years, new students tend to start YL1 together, go on to YL2 together, then start diverging. Our current first years (soon to be second years) are reading YL3-6, with most of them on YL3-4, a few on YL5, and one on YL6. This means we need the most books at YL1-5, as that is where the faster first years and the slower second years are going to bump into each other. I think students reading above YL5 will probably remain spread out, although we might have to shore up YL6-10 a bit once our larger cohorts get there in the next year or two.

This library will serve 90-some students next year. The current maximum capacity of the Academy is something like 144. If we beef up the upper levels a bit our current books should be adequate for that. Ultimately I would like to rent a third classroom, which would give us a capacity of just over 200. Having said that, I was hoping to have 100 students by the second year 😉

We’ll see how things go.

The Academy Fluency Course

The Cambridge Academy is a six-year English program for junior and senior high school students at Cambridge English School in Sendai. 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)
  11. Cambridge Academy: Another Quantum Leap (April 2017)
  12. Cambridge Academy: Year Three Mid-Year Update (August 2017)
  13. Cambridge Academy: Year Three Student Progress (October 2017)
  14. Cambridge Academy: Year Three and Four (February 2018)

Background

The fluency course was not originally part of the Academy plan. Originally I wanted to run the Academy purely as an extensive reading course that would supplement what students were doing at school (and cram school/juku). This is much easier logistically and makes scheduling and running classes very simple. It’s also more profitable as you can fill classes with students of different levels.

This first iteration of the Academy did not work well. We found that without help it was difficult for students to learn English just from reading. We also found that students did not form a social bond with the school or their peers and thus missed out on motivation. Some students did well with the ER-only model, but many did not.

The second iteration of the Academy imitated SEG in having reading classes and communication classes. For the latter we used commercial textbooks. This worked better than ER-only, but there were problems with the tone, content, amount of material, and amount of repetition in the textbooks. The classes also worked well if run by an experienced engaged teacher but less well with less experienced teachers.

In order to deal with these problems, we created the Academy Fluency Course. It was written from scratch, extensively trialled with our classes here, and is designed to provide students with huge amounts of repetitive practice in reading, speaking, listening, and writing. Fluency is gained by repeating tasks you can already do, and the goal of the Fluency Course is not to teach students new language (although they do encounter huge amounts of new vocabulary and grammar in the course) but rather to allow them to practice enough to internalise some of the language they know and become fluent in using it.

The Cambridge Academy now consists of 140 minute classes: 20 minutes of workbook/school work/individual study, 60 minutes of input (extensive reading and listening), and 60 minutes of output (fluency course).

The Academy Fluency Course

Junior high school 1: Year One (these materials are in beta and are described in detail below).
The theme for this level is the students daily and school lives.
Junior high school 2: Year Two (these materials are in alpha).
The theme for this level is Japan. Students read and talk about different areas/aspects of Japan.
Junior high school 3: Year Three (these materials are not written yet).
The theme for this level is the world. Students read and talk about different areas/aspects of the world.
Senior high school initial course for first and weaker second years: (these materials are not written yet).
This level will provide a transition between the junior high school materials and the advanced course below.
Senior high school advanced course for stronger second and third years: (this is being written now).
This level is based on the PDR method and involves students reading, thinking, discussing, and writing about topics each week.

In 2017 we ran classes using the Year One materials. Halfway through the year we started writing the Year Two materials with the second and third graders. The plan is to write Year Three this year alongside the advanced high school course and to use them with the third year JHS and our advanced high school class.

Fluency Course Year One

The first year of the Fluency Course is based on the first year junior high school textbooks and has the following student components:

  1. 12 4-week student textbooks (April to March) with a total of 512 pages and 84,249 words
  2. a 48-unit student writing workbook
  3. 12 monthly reference sheets with questions and vocabulary
  4. 3 4-month student record sheets

There are also reference/class/teacher components

  1. 240 index cards with questions and answers (you will need one set for every two students in the class for pair work)
  2. 48 verb exercise answer sheets (you will need one for each student in your largest class)
  3. 48 Quizlet vocabulary and question datasets (available through the Quizlet website)

The main component is the student textbook, split into twelve montly booklets. It provides the vocabulary and questions for all the other components. The April book is slightly different from the others because it provides a gentle introduction. Each book contains the following:

Week One and Two
Vocab quiz (15 items from the timed reading texts, previewed by Quizlet)
3 timed reading texts with questions (April 45 words, May-July 60 words, August-November 80 words, December-March 100 words)
Verb conjugation table (to be read aloud -one verb per week)
Timed verb translation (30 items)
Example dialogue for reading and memorizing (April-July 3 exchanges, August-November 4 exchanges, December-March 5 exchanges)

Week Three 
No example dialogue. Instead students write their own (length as above).
April has example dialogue.

Week Four
Instead of three short timed readings, there is one reading with three times the word count.
Teacher corrects and chooses the best student dialogues, then prints them for students to practice with.
April has example dialogue.

Results

The Fluency Course depends somewhat on the fact that students are also learning English at school. It is designed to cover the gaps in students learning, mainly speaking, reading, and writing exercises, and particularly drilling these.

So far results have been very encouraging. Our students are not all particularly academic or motivated, and it has been very encouraging to see all of them improve and succeed using the Fluency Course. More able/advanced students are able to challenge themselves within the course, while weaker ones can support themselves and keep up.

I will write a description of an output class in a future blog post.

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