Students Can Do So Much More If We Just Let Them

I think it’s easy to pigeonhole students and say they don’t care about English — or that they lack any ability to communicate. But don’t students have the same basic needs as anyone else? The need to connect with people and feel connected; the desire to understand and be understood. The desire to be validated and feel validated? As such, I think that before we go saying what kind of people Japanese students are, we have to remember what kind of people we are asking them to be.

The English classroom and school in general is sometimes a bad nesting ground where students learn to undermine themselves by ignoring their needs to connect and care. Often without even noticing it ourselves, we English teachers tell students to read, repeat and memorize the grammar explanations without acknowledging a single student’s wants or needs. We teach them a pattern of “don’t question”, “don’t engage” and “don’t care” and we skip on to the next chapter or the next test as if there were no consequences. So, is it any wonder we get students who are apathetic or afraid of speaking or have low communication skills…?

We have to realize that there is a whole system of teach-and-test, teach-and-test, which is set-up to churn out graduates as quickly and efficiently as possible. The goal of the system is not necessarily to churn out good communicators, and it can nurture a pattern in students of being unable to care, connect or listen…

The system is huge, so it may seem like it’s impossible to do anything about it. However, I think that reversing this pattern may be as simple as stopping it whenever we can. We can emphasize the change by designing a classroom flow which allows students to speak to their classmates and share their ideas and concerns. It can be as simple as showing ONE student what it feels like to connect with somebody.

I think our students can be so much more if we just let them fulfill their basic needs of feeling connected, validated & understood. So, before we allow ourselves to fall into the old trap of thinking that Japanese students are flawed or incapable of something, why not try listening to them more and see just how connected, caring and fluent they can be?

Communication Teachers are the Future of English Ed in Japan

Test preparation puts a huge burden on students and ALTs to focus on reading comprehension at the expense of learning to communicate. And from my experience, the JTE is fully capable of teaching these reading comprehension classes by themselves. Although the ALT can add something to these classes, I have come to the conclusion that it is a tremendous waste. ALTs have one very special and outstanding skill: that is, the ability to teach students communication skills and how to speak. What do we say when we don’t know what to say? What is the word we’re looking for? How do we communicate an idea simply? These are all skills that ALTs can teach students simply by talking to them.

Okay, so we all know the testing system in Japan isn’t going to change, right? Well, it doesn’t have to if ALTs start changing the way we do our jobs. We have so much flexibility to turn our job into what we want it to be and we can change the system by doing so. Prepare communication activities every chance you get. Visit other classes and speak to students while they work on something in woodshop class. Insist on having quarterly communication tests with all your students. Ask your JTEs to have a conversation corner so that you can talk to each student for a few minutes while they fill out yet another test-prep worksheet in the regular class.

There are more ways than I can even imagine that we can change the nature of our jobs as ALTs. Changing the role of the ALT by the kinds of ideas and materials we bring to the table can redirect the course of English Ed in Japan even without changing the entrance examination method.

Communication is the answer, I believe, and Communication Teachers are the future.

Make Speaking to your Students Easier with Eikaiwa Cards

Eikaiwa cards logo

Communication skills are needed now more than ever. Help your students build them with these easy to use cards.

I carry a pack of these eikaiwa cards with me everywhere. They are perfect for striking up conversations with students and getting them to learn communication skills.

On each card there are 5 questions related to a theme, like “comics,” “sports,” and so on. I have a student select a card and then I proceed to ask them the questions on the list, making variations as needed for skill level or coherence. When I’m finished, I can either give the card to the student as a collector’s item, or let the student ask me some questions.

There are three question packs with about 36 cards. Please download them today and start using them with your students.

Question Pack 1 (PDF)

Question Packs 2 (PDF)

Question Packs 3 (PDF)

Logo and Description (PDF) – Fixed

Preview: each card has a theme and 5 related questions. Ask the questions one-by-one or use them as a guide. Give the card to students when they are done.

Preview: each card has a theme and 5 related questions. Ask the questions one-by-one or use them as a guide. Give the card to students when they are done.

Using these cards gives students a chance to learn more English and practice speaking in more natural ways.

This sheet can be handed out to students trying Eikaiwa cards for the first time, or you can print them on the back of every card for quick reference.

This sheet can be handed out to students trying Eikaiwa cards for the first time, or you can print them on the back of every card for quick reference.

The quick description on this card, lets students know what Eikwaiwa Cards are all about and what to do when they don’t understand a question.

Planning a Self-Introduction with Speaking

Your self-introduction is not only a chance to entertain and show students something about your home country. It is also a chance to open their minds to the idea of speaking English. After all, even in the first grade of junior high many students enter class with the belief that they can’t speak English — and possibly never will.

That’s why this year, in addition to handing out my comic which tells students how they can work with ALTs to improve their English, I’m going to try to show my students that English is a spoken language — not a dead one, only to be read and written — by having them do a little speaking themselves. I’m thinking that something as simple as having them walk around and introduce themselves to each other in English will go a long way.

Well, that’s what’s on my mind these days. How about you? What are your plans for your self-introduction this year?