Thursday, October 27, 2005

So. What's to talk about?

I feel like I should post something just because it seems like ages since I have added anything. I need to post if for no other reason than to get that asse moving. But what to talk about? I have had a pretty sleepy week, in the sense that I have been sleepy all week from getting little sleep. [He glances surreptitiously down at his last few posts.] My weekend was not insanely restful, an the next few days were less so. For some reason on Monday night I had trouble getting to bed, and being not sleepy when midnight rolled around I cleaned my apartment a little. And I got to sleep by about five. And we had a seminar the next day.

Tuesday found me opening my eyes to a clock that read 10:00 and my own shouts of "Holy crap! How did that happen?" I now know better than to use my extra heavy futon-like comforter on nights when I only plan to sleep for three hours. The seminar started at 9:30 am so I was already late. A lightning fast shower and shave later I was in my suit and in my car speeding down the road. I managed to get to the seminar in Anan by about 10:50. The part that had looked to be the only possibly fun portion was the first thing on the schedule, and I was hungry and still sleepy, so it was a pretty sucky way to begin. But a bunch of the other ALTs said they were jealous of my having come late because the morning had been so dull, so I felt a little better. But still embarrassed. The afternoon looked to be nauseatingly boring, all ceremonies and a Japanese speaker slated to talk for two hours. Great. However, much to my surprise he really was great. Amazing, even.

So you know that loads of ALTs complain about the problems with the language education here, especially those with real teacher training. This guy was much the same, but he was SUPER encouraging. His topic was 「絶対評価の現在と課題」which would be something like "The Challenge and Current State of Absolute Evaluation." He's a sub-professor at Hiroshima University. He started talking about how to build an evaluation system for something as subjective as language. He questioned the effectiveness of a number grade, suggesting instead an ABC kind of system, where B is meets expectations and A is above, and C is below. He separated the class marks into three groups: 表現 (hyougen: expression), 理解 (rikai: understanding), and 関心・意欲・態度 (kanshin, iyoku, taido: intrest, effort, attitude. 感意態 kanitai for short). Then with a simple graph of the three areas and the three terms and only three possibilities, a parent can easily see and understand a student's progress or regression. The final mark is out of 5. Average of three A's = 5, and less for lower.

He talked about how to mark intrest/effort/attitude. First he said it should be looked at from the direction of communication. So attitude is not marked by whether they hand in all their homework, or whether they listen attentively to every word the teacher says, but on the basis of whether they try when communicating. So if you ask, "What are you going to do this weekend?" and the student answers, "I'mu... I'mu... I'mu I'mu I'mu... tennisu," that is an A! And he went on tosay, "It's okay if everyone gets an A! You don't need kids getting C for attitude to make a fair scale! Even if their English is terrible, but they try, that's an A!"

He talked about how to make a good class atmosphere. He criticized grammar translation question very strongly (calling them だめだめ問題), and just as you could feel the wave of resentment or panic moving through the crowd, he put forth the kind of questions that kids should get on assingments; the kind where you cannot predict the answer (calling them いけいけ問題). So instead of translating a Japanese sentance into English, assign a sentance that uses a certain grammar, like "be going to." Or have them read a sentance or two and write the next. Basically, he was encouraging the kind of teaching that leads kids to think in English as best they can.

His powerpoint was peppered with funny little things at the bottom. Example: a picture of students studying and one thinking in a thought bubble, "All I have to do is memorise this print to get full marks on that teacher's tests!"

He also attacked the attitude "Isn't it enough that they can pass the high school exams?" saying that todays junior high kids are our leading adults in 40 years. He reminded teachers, especially small town school teachers that the future of those small towns' English rests often solely on their shoulders.

He was basically promoting a student centered classroom over a teacher centered classroom. And he had proof that it works with Japanese kids (just in case there was any doubt?).

Pretty earthshaking stuff as far as English teaching in Japanese public junior high schools is concerned. Nonetheless his manner was soft and encouraging and filled with the confidence of a revolutionary. He may have even said "Let's enjoy the revolution!" I think he inspired a lot of the teachers there. Even my JTE seemed keen and eager to change the system the next day, and her reaction to conferences is almost without fail boredom. IMHO, on the whole, Japanese keynote speakers are really boring compared to your average keynote speaker from anywhere else, whether you are talking about education seminars or graphic design conferences or whatever. But our mid-year seminar last year's speaker sucked the bag and this speaker was awesome, so maybe there really is a revolution happening.

It's a shame that so few of the ALTs speak enough Japanese to have enjoyed the talk so much. Though there is promise on that front. There seems to be a much larger proportion of new JETs this year who have studied a lot of Japanese in the past. A lot of them will be way better than me in very short order.

Anyway, it was fantastic. Who knew there would be anything good in the afternoon? Not me, at the very least.

Last night I went to bed at two and thought to myself "It's nice to be going to bed a little earlier for a change." It's been a long time since I have thought that at two in the morning.


At 12:47 a.m. PDT, Blogger Tom said...

That's really cool! I'm glad your JTE was similarly interested. Let us know if you notice these things coming into play soon.


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