Updated: Sep 9, 2020
Once again it has been a little while since I wrote anything on this blog page. Last time I missed a couple of months as there hadn’t been much going on due to so many cancellations. This time though, I have been a bit busy to spare the hour or so that is needed to put my thoughts down!
Although the covid situation doesn’t appear to be improving any time soon, the Japanese government are appealing for people to follow a policy of living in symbiosis with the virus. On that basis, it has been great to be able to get back into the schools again during the 1st semester, albeit with lots of precautions. I visited all the various elementary schools once or twice each to help out in the English lessons, bringing along special guest teachers each time, to let the students meet new people from far flung places (as well as boring old me again!). The guests hailed from all corners of the world; places such as Costa Rica, Uzbekistan, Georgia (the country) and Italy. I’m sure the students really enjoyed meeting them, and I know that the guest teachers all had a good time introducing their countries and communicating with the kids.
As well as the elementary visits, we were also requested to visit a junior high school to speak in the 2nd grade human rights class. For this visit, the students were to separate into 6 different groups, and I recruited a speaker for each group who would be able to join a lesson for 45 minutes to present and answer the students’ questions. I’m not sure it was fully appreciated how difficult it is to find 6 fluent Japanese-speaking foreign residents who live locally and are available on a weekday morning…but I was happy with the fantastic people who came to help me on that day either way!
That visit was a rare occasion where I was busy with coordinating with the school and the volunteers, and didn’t directly present myself. It was a rare chance to go from room to room and listen to the speakers’ presentations. I gained a lot from them; they all had very interesting points to make about discrimination against foreign people in both Japan as well as in their home countries. One Costa Rican speaker talked about perceived favoritism towards white people above black people among in Japan, while a Brazilian presenter discussed the historical connections between Brazil and Japan, and related discrimination which has been transmitted through the years (continuing to this day).
I found it fascinating to hear what all the speakers had to say, and I’m sure it was a fulfilling experience for the children. It’s a shame that 2nd grade students are naturally so reticent to participate, and that the teachers will allow them to be so (even allowing some students to sleep on their desks!), but—albeit in a very passive way—the students will have gained a lot from the lesson.
Aside from the school visits, there have been a few interpreting jobs, mainly helping people to apply for financial support following covid-related hardship, as well as helping with some job applications, among other things. The main source of my efforts over the past two or three weeks, though, was our Summer English Club which we ran during the elementary school summer holidays.
Aimed at 3rd-6th graders (though in the event we did let a couple of 2nd graders join us as well), we decided to put on this event as a way of helping the children to improve their English communication skills, and enjoy practicing speaking over a few days. This overall objective of the club was not too outlandish, though developing and organising an event like this—stretching as it did over the course of five days—took a lot of work. Thankfully I had wonderful help from Yuka-san, a longtime YIFA member with great English who often supports our projects, and Nanako-san, a YIFA resident (also with great English) who had been working with us for a few months as an intern. It is not an over-exaggeration to say that the English club could not have been run without them…at least not to the level of success that it was. Their help in the lessons, and their advice and suggestions were invaluable.
The first thing was of course to come up with an overall objective for the event. On the basis that they were young children, most likely of little experience speaking English, I decided on the aim of ‘being able to convey information about yourself in English’. To that aim, the idea was to use a lot of games and activities to let the students get used to the basic linguistic points (e.g. I like, I can, I want to). I put together very detailed lessons plans which covered the 2 hours of each day from start to finish, and then set about making the necessary materials that we would need.
Devising the lessons and making all the materials, though time consuming, wasn’t too challenging for me, as it wasn’t much of a departure from the prep-work I used to do in my ALT days. Once the club got under way though, and we met the students for the first time, we had to start being a little bit flexible with regards to the plans that I had made. To be honest the plans were never meant to be hard-and-fast, but more of a guideline to get us started anyway. Some of the students were already learning English at private conversation schools, and therefore had a fairly decent grasp of some of the concepts we were teaching them already. These students didn’t require so much direct instruction of the basic language points, and seemed to be more engaged with chances to communicate more freely, rather than doing the activities (I actually noticed that many of the students seemed to enjoy chatting during the short breaks more than the actual lesson-time!). On the other hand, there were a few students (funnily enough the older ones) whose level was somewhat lower, and who did gain a lot from the structured practice of games and activities.
This difference in level was somewhat problematic in terms of deciding how to progress, and it was important to keep a mixture of different activities in the schedule to cater for the different needs of the respective students. On top of this though, I did listen to the students’ voices (we asked them to submit reflection sheets at the end of each day), and noted that, though all the students were enjoying the club, in the section where they were to write ‘something new they have learned’, some students were not able to write anything. The reasons for this are just as likely to be a lack of awareness/ ownership of their learning process, as the fact that they already knew all the content, but I did make an effort to add in some language points that would be useful to the higher-level students as well (though naturally having to teach them in an off-hand, indirect method i.e. not as part of the overall aim of the lesson).
An example of such a change that was made to the plan was on the 3rd day, when we were practicing talking about what countries we wanted to visit. The original plan was to have a simple interview activity whereby the students would walk around the room, asking each other ‘Where do you want to go?’. Having decided that that practice was too simple for many of the students, I added a section onto the worksheet for students to ask ‘Why?’, and find out people’s reasons for their choice. Of course, this open-ended type question offers flexibility to the students as they can give short simple answers or more detailed responses, so it was a perfect compromise in terms of creating an activity that could cover the needs of all the students. On top of that, we could teach the students the word ‘because’, which many didn’t know beforehand, then, in the final writing activity where students solidified what they had learned, we let them know that ‘because’ can be used to link phrases in the middle of a sentence as well, to allow them to write a very long sentence. In their reflection sheets, many students wrote about these activities, and the use of the word ‘because’. I was glad with the changes that we made to the lesson plan, and that the students seemed to gain English knowledge thanks to them.
We continued on in the same vein for the last two days also, trying to marry direct instruction of language points with more flexible communication opportunities. I think we were overall successful in doing so. On the last day, we let the students write their self-introductions (and draw nice pictures to accompany them), then present to each other as they had on the first day of the programme. It was nice to see both how much more confident the students were around each other, as well as their use of new language points and words that they had learned. To finish the week together, we brought some nice games like ‘Guess Who’, 'UNO' and 'Connect 4', and just separated into groups to enjoy playing together. It was an ideal way to end our time together. We then took a nice photo together and said our farewells. I sincerely hope that we will be able to run the English club again in future years.
Here's a couple of pictures of the English club...
That club finished in mid-August, and following it we had our remaining two English Tea Parties, which were very successful, if understandably rather low in numbers! The second one made it to both local television AND newspapers, thanks to the good people from cable channel, ZTV, and the Yomiuri Shinbun, who came to cover the event. I can only presume that what with covid there aren’t a lot of events going on at the moment and they are struggling for content! Either way, it was nice to see our event on TV, and hopefully the (very) few people who caught the broadcast will have gained an interest in YIFA and our projects.
It’s September now, which means it has taken me about 3 weeks to write this blog post… I kind of forgot that I started it, but I have been somewhat busy getting back into schools with the guest teacher programme, as well as helping out local foreign residents occasionally with procedures and applications. I’ve also had lots of writing tasks lately as well unusually; writing two articles for our YIFA MATE newsletter, one about the English Club as well as my usual one about British English. I also wrote about residency rights of foreign residents for a local human rights newsletter, focusing on problems faced by some people in the context of the covid-19 situation (a couple of my friends have been stranded in the UK for six months due to the strict regulations). It’s a challenge writing in Japanese, but one I actively enjoy, especially as it helps me to improve my language skills a lot.
We had a visit to an elementary school last week to join the music class and share and introduce music from around the world. It was the first time for me to join a music class with the programme, but, overall—mainly thanks to our Bolivian musician friend Miguel, who came to join us—they were very fun and successful classes. I can’t be bothered to write any more on the subject right now...and I’ve got some proper work to be getting along with. I’ll have a little reflection about the guest teacher visits sometime soon, as well as my thoughts about the upcoming Halloween Party at the end of October... If anyone has been bored enough to read this far down the page, thanks a lot! Will write again soon!