What is more important, the teacher or the system?

I have spent the last six years helping to set up, run, and teach at a small private language school. Most of my energy has been spent on trying to find the right materials, the right activities, and the right curriculum to best help my students.

However, recently there have been a lot of articles and news stories about how the most important factor in whether children learn is not the educational framework but rather the teacher. One example is this article:

“Building a Better Teacher” (NYT Magazine, March 2010)

So, have I been wasting my time in trying to design a good system? I don’t think so.

I hope that having great materials and a clear, logical curriculum will make it easier for teachers to do their jobs. It is not a substitute for a good teacher, but rather a complement to one.

Japanese learning tools online

Learning Japanese can be frustrating, mainly because the writing system makes it difficult to read for language acquisition. Here are my top five online learning resources. A few minutes of these every day will really help.

1. smart.fm
Very slick site with reading, listening, example sentences, and some typing. It’s basically an online SRS (spaced repetition system) that someone else has made for you. People with more time/discipline can make their own with Anki.

2. readthekanji.com
Learn kanji by typing in the readings. This site has the best system for showing progress I have ever seen, using a kanji chart that slowly changes colour as you progress.

3. skritter.com
This site is amazing, because it lets you practice handwriting kanji, keeps track of progress, and rates your stroke order and appearance. Amazing.

4. www.renshuu.org
This site is great for studying for the JLPT or Kanji Kentei tests. Again, the site organises what you need to know, and keeps track of your progress.

5. iTunes
A bit of a cheat, this last one. Combined with an ipod, podcasts (audio and video) are probably the best way to get listening input and practice.

Hope that helps! Would love to hear about any other good sites in the comments below.

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