13 March, 2021 - Chelanna White, Mark Fennelly

Teaching Younger Learners: Ideas and Information
Chelanna White, Mark Fennelly
Our March meeting was in two parts, beginning with a My Share session from Chelanna White, an ALT at the senior high school level in Kyoto prefecture currently teaching 1st year students. Chelanna introduced two ideas for lessons that she found to have worked well.
The first of these involved an idea for giving directions. Chelanna wanted to make the learning and teaching of direction-giving as fun as possible. Additionally, she also hoped to tap into her students' nostalgia for Pokemon.
Her lesson follows the WPPP style structure (warm-up, presentation, practice, production). The warm-up activity involves a review of cardinal directions where the students get to run around the classroom choosing to go either north, east, south or west. Maps downloaded from from pokemonpets.com, are then used to demonstrate how to give directions to specific destinations. Following this, the whole class then practices giving directions. The production part of the activity involves student pairs participating in an information gap exercise where students need to teach the others how to get to a certain destination on their respective maps.
For Chelanna's second activity, she explained the benefits of storytelling and how she uses it in the classroom. The aim here is telling stories in a comprehensible way by using simple English, gestures, pictures and sounds to help students learn new vocabulary and make learning more enjoyable. Students are not required to remember the words. The goal is for the students to simply understand the story - based on Krashen's input hypothesis.
Chelanna likes to get stories from worldoftales.com and adapts the contents to match her students' level. During the story telling she uses a prompter (list of words) to tell the adapted story. Sometimes she also provides a copy to read later. By doing this she has made story telling more enjoyable and feels that it is effective at helping learners remember vocabulary.
After a short break, we moved into the second part of the meeting, by Mark Fennelly, a professor at Shikoku University. He has been involved in the production of Ministry of Education policy materials, and teaching materials based on them. Mark gave an introduction to understanding and using the new course of study at elementary school.
In Mark's presentation, he described the national Ministry of Education English curriculum at junior high schools and elementary schools in Japan. He also outlined problems with it, as well as changes being introduced to address these problems.
He highlighted a number of issues:

  • A lot of students lack confidence in English resulting in 60% of students not interested in working overseas.
  • Student performance has been lacking as per Eiken and TOEIC test results.
  • In rankings based on the Common European Framework, Japan has been languishing in the "A" level.
  • There has been a lack of coordination between elementary and JHS. Some elementary schools had only taught English once a week whilst some once every 3 months and therefore JHS teachers found it hard to build on the English already taught to students.
  • There is a gap between the English taught at Elementary school and JHS in that the first focuses on listening and speaking, whilst the latter focusses mostly on reading and writing.
    Changes to English language education are as follows:
    From January 2021 there has been a change in the university entrance exam. Now students have to demonstrate how they can apply their knowledge by using critical thinking techniques with creative writing tasks. However, there is as yet no speaking test due to problems with outsourcing.
    MEXT has also set a goal that students should be competent in what is described as approaches to communication. In general, this means using the knowledge of context to adapt strategies when participating in a conversation. For example, when introducing your hometown, a speaker would include different information if you were describing it to a friend in a foreign country as opposed to someone you'd like to impress.
    Another change included different types of language activities whereby students will now need to exchange their own ideas, thoughts and feelings, and not just repeat teacher-instructed expressions. In other words, students will now be expected to think about the language learned and therefore make judgments to express themselves through these language activities. The hope is for them to have a meaningful exchange of ideas by implementing skills such as greetings, shadowing, reacting, checking and asking follow-ups.
    Finally, another change Mark talked about related to improvements in coordination between the different levels of schooling. Up until now, the teaching of English at the elementary level has been rather haphazard. Some students received weekly English instruction, whilst others only monthly. As a consequence, when students entered junior high school, the teachers needed to start from scratch when it came to teaching reading and writing as not everyone was on the same page. With the new system, all elementary school students will be introduced to reading and writing from years 5 to 6. All will be taught the names of the letters and be taught the basic sounds of each. They will be taught how to write from A to Z, and how to copy longer sentences. However, the teaching of phonics is not covered under these changes. With these changes in mind, JHS English textbooks will be revised based on the assumption that all students will have a basic level of reading and writing skills.
    Link to meeting listing

Next Item Previous Item