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Academy business curriculum extensive reading high school JHS junior high school language courses Language learning school management SHS

Cambridge Academy: December 2016 Update

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Academy beginner book section (YL0.1-0.7)

You can read about the Cambridge Academy in previous posts:

  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)

Well, a lot has happened since my last post about the Academy (July 2016). We have had several schools visit, and I have talked to lots of people, and I have realised that in order for someone to start a program like the Academy in a school, the following four conditions are necessary:

  1. the desire and autonomy to begin a program
  2. the knowledge of ER to explain it to teachers, parents, and students
  3. a critical number of junior and senior high school students
  4. a large amount of money for books

So far I haven’t talked to anyone with all four of these, so we are putting our plans to license our system on hold. After all, if there are no potential customers it doesn’t make much sense to develop a product, right?

I’m still very happy to answer questions and give what advice I can though -feel free to leave a comment on this post or drop me an email.

Progress Report

We’re approaching Year Three for the Academy, and a lot is going well, and some things are going less well. We haven’t seen the growth I was hoping for (100 students are still out of reach), but we have a solid 70-some and next year is looking somewhat hopeful to break three figures.

1. Shadoku/Students that didn’t do shadoku last year

Our new first year reading curriculum incorporating shadoku is working extremely well. This year’s first year students are possibly doing better than last years’ (who are now second years). The second years are struggling a bit and I am trying different things to help them out, including having them re-read at a much lower level, etc. Not sure if the situation can be fixed completely, but at least we’ll do better going forwards.

We’ve also bought a lot of new books, particularly at the intermediate and advanced levels. Still not enough, but much closer to being able to meet our students’ future needs.

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Academy intermediate book section (YL0.8-2.9)

A few of our students are really taking off with their reading, breaking the YL2.0 barrier and becoming more independent and motivated readers. It’s wonderful to see.

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Academy advanced book section (YL3.0~)

I would say that somewhere over half our students are doing really well, and most of the others are doing okay. Maybe 20% are not doing well, and I hope some of them can be salvaged. Most of the ones who are not doing well started off badly, and I wasn’t skilled enough at the time to notice or help them.

2. Student reading targets

I’ve also noticed that students that read a certain amount are doing well, and those that read less are not. Using this data, I have come up with provisional weekly targets that we’ll start using next year with our students:

JHS1 2000-5000 words a week (100,000-250,000 words a year)
JHS2 3000-7000 words a week (150,000-350,000 words a year)
JHS3 4000-10000 words a week (200,000-500,000 words a year)
SHS1 4000-10000 words a week (200,000-500,000 words a year)
SHS2 5000-15000 words a week (250,000-750,000 words a year)
SHS3 6000-20000 words a week (300,000-1,000,000 words a year)

Based on these a student that joined our program in JHS1 and stayed with us until the end of high school would read 1,200,000 to 3,350,000 words. I predict this would provide them with some pretty decent English skills. The targets include in-class reading as well, so students with decent reading speeds might be able to clear the target just by reading in class for 55 minutes a week.

These numbers are provisional and we’ll probably adjust them after working with the students a bit next year. Looking at our current student data though, they seem reasonable. For comparison, in my university classes I require students to read 8,000 words a week to pass the course and 25,000 words a week to get a top grade.

3. Original junior high school output (speaking and writing) curriculum

We’re currently working on making our own curriculum for junior high school students for the output (speaking and writing) classes. As I mentioned in the improvements to curriculum post, the output classes have actually proven to be extremely important, and in the future we’ll be recommending students take both classes if at all possible.

Reading classes are much more profitable, but so far the results of students that only take reading are not satisfactory so we’ll have to abandon that idea as a profit centre 🙂

We should have the original curriculum for JHS1 ready to try from April, and then develop year two in 2017 and year three in 2018. Using the new curricula, we will now place junior high school students in their equivalent year class instead of trying to stream them by ability. High school students will be streamed by ability/level.

4. Assistant teachers

We have a couple of assistant teachers this year. They were students in the program last year, and are now attending local universities. We asked them to help us out as part-time staff.

The huge advantage of recruiting assistants like this is that they are very familiar with the system. It’s a win-win: we get dependable and skilled assistants that we know and trust, and they get to continue their English studies while doing fairly well-paid and interesting part-time work.

Best of all, this model should be fairly sustainable: I would expect we’ll have at least one suitable student per year graduating and we can keep them for four years while they are at university.

5. The next steps

Right now we need to do a few things before the end of the year. I would like to write a student guide to the curriculum that explains what they need to do. I think this will help students and their parents get more out of their classes.

We also need to buy some more books, although we can probably slow down a bit now.

Another stocktake will have to happen at the end of the year and book purchases to fill in holes.

We’re going to need more shelves soon too.

We’ll also be taking over another school and inviting their students to join our program from April. Hopefully this will build up our numbers a little bit.

All good stuff. I’m really looking forward to how the Academy develops as we go into our third year.

Anyone else working on extensive reading systems? Any questions or comments?

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ALTs expectations high school junior high school SHS teaching

Updating the ALT Playbook

A list of dos and don’ts for ALTs and other language teachers

JET programme banner 2

I read Baye McNeill’s excellent book Loco in Yokohama a few weeks ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a great read and it took me right back to my days teaching in junior high school as a first- and second-year ALT on the JET Programme.

It also reminded me of what I used to do in the classroom back then.

Like many ALTs, I came to Japan with little teaching experience (I had taught a couple of classes and done some tutoring in China). I received minimal training and very little supervision from my colleagues and supervisors, both in the school and in the local board of education. I got a lot of advice from other ALTs and just muddled through.

Thinking back now I can think of many ways I could have been more effective and served my students better. Don’t get me wrong, I think I did my best with the information I had and made a positive contribution, but I could have done so much more.

Here is my advice to ALTs and language teachers in Japanese junior and senior high schools:

  1. DO think about your goals for the year, the month, and the class. Lesson planning should end with the language target and textbook page, not start there. Try to link lessons together so that students can review and preview past and future activities and language.
  2. DON’T worry about things being fun. Video games are fun. Hanging out with your friends is fun. Language classes are seldom fun. Instead of fun, think about challenging, achievable, and meaningful. Success is the most motivating experience for students, and many of them are turned off by classes in which they never experience success. Give them that, and they will enjoy the class much more than if they had done some ‘fun’ activities. I haven’t seen many math classes here in Japan revolving around games, so why should language classes?
  3. DO think about time on task. Many classroom activities involve just one or two students, while all the others just watch or get bored. Games like pass the parcel, criss cross, and relay games were staples in my classroom, but I now believe that having students ask and answer simple questions in pairs for a couple of minutes would have been a much more useful activity. I bet many of the students would have enjoyed it more too.
  4. DON’T talk too much. I believe students need to use the language to acquire it, which in any class bigger than five students or so means doing pair or small group activities. Make sure there is a healthy balance of teacher talking time and student talking time in your class.
  5. DO set homework and encourage students to practice outside of class. Self-study using printed, audio, or online materials is  the only realistic way for students to get good at English. Model appropriate activities in class and follow up to see what students are doing. Take an interest in the students who are practicing and keep nagging the ones that don’t.
  6. DON’T give up. I haven’t met a single student who doesn’t secretly want to be good at English. Keep giving them the chance to have a bit of success, to find something interesting to do in or with English, and you might be able to change their future relationship with the language.

What do you think of the list? Anything to add or disagree with?

Categories
JHS junior high school materials reviews SHS university

Review: Question Quest The Language Card Game

We’ve been trying out Question Quest for the last few weeks at Cambridge English.

question quest

 

We love AGO, the UNO-like simple English question game, and David Lisgo’s Switchit card games.

When I saw Question Quest’s website I was extremely interested. It seemed like it would appeal to our teenage learners and complement our existing card games so I ordered a copy immediately.

Once it arrived I was impressed with the production values. The game is very attractive, with incredible artwork, quality materials, and a sturdy box.

The good

  • The artwork is beautiful and very appealing to Japanese teenagers
  • The game includes English and Japanese instructions
  • The materials are high-quality and pretty sturdy
  • The language covered is very appropriate for our students
  • Cards include example sentences to help students
  • The gameplay is interesting and more skilled players are more likely to win
  • Students practice strategies such as asking for more information, asking a third party, and expressing their lack of understanding
  • Reasonably priced (1575 yen for over 100 cards)

The bad

  • The game as written takes a long time to play (probably 20-40 minutes), which was a bit long for us
  • It took a while for us to understand the rules, both teachers and students
  • Some of the example questions on the cards are a bit unintuitive

Overall

This is a very promising resource. We normally do some kind of game or activity in the last 5-10 minutes of class, so found that Question Quest did not quite fit in that time. However, we were able to adapt the game (teacher asks the questions to students, playing without the conversation strategy cards, etc.) to fit the shorter time.

We also took some time and played some full games. Lots of fun and the students are practicing useful conversational gambits.

Overall I recommend Question Quest to teachers of teenage or young adult students (although it would certainly work with the right group of adults too). It’s an attractive and versatile resource. A single pack is a very reasonable investment for a small classroom: teachers with larger classes would need one set for each group of up to 4-6 players.

Has anyone else tried this game?

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business EFL eikaiwa ES expectations high school JHS junior high school kids language courses Language learning school management SHS study trips travel young learners

Taking Students Overseas

ANA plane

I just returned from our second overseas study trip with young learners. It was one of the most exhausting things I have ever done, and involved a large amount of stress for a relatively small return.

Taking students overseas can be a very positive activity for an eikaiwa school:

1. It can be profitable
2. It can raise the school’s profile and image
3. It can be hugely beneficial to student motivation

However, there are also huge potential risks:

1. Worst case scenarios are really bad, and could prove fatal to the school
2. It can involve a huge amount of supplementary work
3. Unexpected expenses can eat up your profit and even push the trip into the red

After two ‘successful’ (I define successful as not having encountered any serious problems) trips, I have learned a huge amount about what doesn’t work. The next two posts will be detailed trip reports and reflections.

Does anyone else organize overseas trips?

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EFL eikaiwa Language learning online resources self-study SHS teaching

Literal music videos -a fun homework assignment?

I was doing some research on Youtube the other day (heh) when I came across an interesting subculture. It seems there are quite a few people that enjoy redoing music videos so that the lyrics describe what is happening in the video. You can see one of my favourites below (the Smashing Pumpkins, doing a teenage angst song from my misguided youth):

I showed it to my daughter and she mentioned that it might be good to practice English with, as it is fairly understandable and has subtitles.

What do you think? There are hundreds of these things on Youtube. They might make a fun homework assignment or filler activity in class…