Saw this article in the Asahi newspaper online yesterday. Basically, the government is leaning towards making English an official subject (it isn’t one at the moment, just an extra set of activities), which would mean more classes, and lowering the age at which students start learning English.
Great. This is yet another good idea that is going to be executed horribly.
You know that Japan’s English teachers are on the whole undertrained and not proficient in English (only 20% of JHS and 35% of SHS English teachers have reasonable English qualifications).
I think there should be English classes in elementary school, but they need to be well-planned and implemented by teachers who know how to teach and are proficient in English. Sadly I don’t think we’re going to see either of those…
Am I being too pessimistic?
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This is another post I have been meaning to write for a while. Oxford Owl is a free website created by Oxford University Press. It has a range of useful resources -I’ll briefly list a few here.
The reading section has a range of free ebooks from the Oxford Reading Tree series. Most of the books can be read online, and feature the art, text, and audio. This is a wonderful resource for self-study at home or in the classroom.
There are also a couple of online games and a range of printable resources for students.
Finally, there is a lot of advice for teachers and parents on how to teach reading and support students with reading practice. Although much of this is aimed at native speakers, a lot of it transfers quite well to EFL.
Is anybody using Oxford Owl? Any good features I have missed? Please leave a comment below:
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I saw a fantastic TED talk the other day, and wanted to share it with you. I think it is very applicable to all teachers, including eikaiwa and university.
I would love to be half as inspiring as this woman.
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So the story I wrote about yesterday seems to have caught the eye and the imagination of people I know. I have yet to see a positive response, even among former JETs.
There are various reasons for that, but the most important one seems to be the opportunity cost of this plan -there are probably much more effective things that could be done with the money. I’d like to put all that aside and just focus on what could be done to make the JET Programme and wider ALT utilization more effective.
1. Make JET an up or out program
Almost all ALTs are excited, happy, enthusiastic, and motivated when they first arrive in Japan. That energy and enthusiasm, combined with not knowing anything about Japan, is hugely beneficial for students. However, after a year, depending on how their year has gone, how they have been treated by teachers and schools, and how their particular ALT community is, they will change. Some will pick up bad habits and stagnate in the computer room, some will settle into a comfortable existence, and some will learn as much as they can about teaching and work hard to improve themselves.
At that point I believe most ALTs should move on. JET is, as many have mentioned, an exchange program, a way for Japan to increase its soft power, and a way to internationalize smaller and out of the way communities. I think it works very well in these respects, but most of the benefits are in the first year.
A small number of ALTs should be chosen for promotion, given extensive training and more responsibilities, and put on a career track to become special teachers (with possible tenure, a normal pay scale and benefits, and the ability to teach by themselves). These special teachers would then assist with managing regular ALTs as well as be assigned to schools as English teachers.
This way the current goals of JET programme would be met while allowing it to serve as a source of high-quality native speaker instructors.
2. More oversight
Make schools and boards of education submit plans for how they intend to train and utilize ALTs, and follow up to ensure that they do. Schools that fail to find a useful and productive role for their ALTs should not receive one. The huge variation in how ALTs are treated is probably one of the worst problems with the system, and a lot of it is due to the ‘hands-off’ nature of the ‘recruited centrally, employed locally’ approach currently in use.
3. More training and guidance for schools and teachers
In many cases, teachers and schools aren’t quite sure what to do with ALTs. I would like to see the Ministry of Education provide more training and examples of best practice to schools and teachers. Often, the youngest teachers are assigned to be ALT supervisors, whereas in many cases the head of English would be more suitable.
Many ALTs are stuck in ‘tape-recorder’ team-teaching situations where they basically sit in on another teacher’s class and participate sporadically. This is not particularly useful or fulfilling. Instead, ALTs could take small groups aside for speaking practice (like the Spanish, French, and German language assistants in my own secondary school did), mark and check written work, help with creating written, audio, or online materials, or provide after-school teaching for students.
Having trusted and experienced native teachers as described in 1. above would also help here.
I don’t think the JET programme is all bad. Yes, I would rather see some of the money go towards training Japanese teachers or creating more effective teaching materials (particularly online). However, I think the JET programme provides some very positive results for Japan, and I would be sad to see it eliminated completely.
Finally, one potential positive for this plan is that it may go some way to reversing or even ending the trend towards outsourcing ALTs or teachers, which I think has no redeeming features. It is very possible that the new JET ALTs will not be adding to the total pool of ALTs, but rather replacing assistants provided by dispatch companies. That would be a fine result in my opinion. The sooner the parasitic ALT dispatch companies are driven out the better.
I look forward to your comments!
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I have a lot of history with the JET Programme. I first came to Sendai on JET, had three great years in junior high schools and an elementary school, then was involved in running the Miyagi program as the Chief ALT Advisor for four years. I think I saw the best and the worst of JET.
The best thing about JET is that it has the potential to take intelligent, educated, energetic, and motivated people and put them in a position where they can interact with, inspire, mentor, and befriend Japanese children and teachers. When this works it works incredibly well, and I have had the pleasure of working with some exemplary JETs in my time.
The worst thing about JET is when teachers and schools are not supportive, don’t provide clear working guidelines or support their ALTs, and host institutions are unwilling to actively manage JETs and provide feedback and discipline where necessary.
Assistant Language Teachers on the JET Programme are assistants. They are able to help, support, and contribute to classes when their colleagues and schools work to make that possible. Like many things in English education in Japan, training and implementation are going to make most of the difference, not spending more money or deciding to put an ALT in every school (whether they want one or not). There seems to be an expectation that ALTs should be radically improving English education in Japan, but to me that is like saying that the new textbooks should magically do that. It’s not going to happen unless the teachers and schools facilitate and allow it to.
In the spirit of my ‘if I ruled the world’ blog posts from last month (on elementary school, junior high school, high school, and university English education in Japan) I am going to come up with some suggestions for the JET Programme on the blog tomorrow.
In the meantime, what do you think about the proposal to double JET numbers? Any good or bad experiences with JET? Please leave a comment below.