Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lesson Planning and Teaching

Well, 'tis been a while since we last chatted! Or rather, since I wasn't too lazy to write a new post. Also, it's October! I've lived here for two months already! I can't believe it! A few things that have happened recently are that I bought a track suit, and I wore it for the first time two days ago when I went jogging. Well, I also wore it over the weekend to sleep in (just the pants). Today I am wearing them again because the kids at the nursery school are "training" for their field day this weekend. I will also teach in these clothes at the other elementary school today.

This may sound strange to you. You know, wearing a track suit at school. In the US, we would only see gym teachers and the like wearing track suits. Everyone else was usually in business casual or business formal. But in Japan...ho ho...no, that isn't the case. Nearly everyone at the elementary schools wear track suits (even one of the school advisers who sits next to the vice principal!) and even at the junior high, the teachers change into their track suits as soon as they get there in the morning, or some time around lunch. I found it interesting. And kind of strange. Strange, because the vice principal at the elementary school allows us to wear track suits, but he doesn't allow us to wear jeans. What's the deal with that? Some dressed up in dark-wash jeans with a polo shirt and a blazer looks far more "proper" than someone in a track suit. Blows my mind. And thinking about it kinda pisses me off, 'cause I really want to wear the above-mentioned outfit at school, haha.

Anyway, I got a request and dedication. The request was to make this blog post about teaching. So like, lesson planning, teaching methods, and what I actually DO at school. Aaaaaaand, this post is dedicated to all of the people teaching English, from American English teachers teaching English in the US, to English teachers teaching English as a foreign/second language in non-English-speaking nations.

So what do I do as an ALT? Well, one must first consider my title as an ALT: Assistant Language Teacher. I am an assistant. Therefore, the bulk of the work is (supposed to be) done by the JTE, or Japanese Teacher of English. A concept known as "Team Teaching" is emphasized at my schools. In Team Teaching, the JTE, ALT, and home room teacher all work together to teach the students the lesson. But depending on the school, the roles of everyone may differ drastically. The difference may occur at different school systems, or even within the same school district.

For example, a friend of mine who is also a fellow ALT is responsible for creating the lesson plan and presenting it at one of his many elementary schools. But at another one of his schools, the homeroom teacher barely uses him; the teacher even plays a CD (with recorded voices/readings) while the ALT is there! I have observed that there is a JTE at the junior high and high schools, but not necessarily at the elementary schools.

So, what's my case like? Well, I teach at four locations currently; soon to be five. My base school is a junior high (which I'll refer to as JHS), where I teach three days a week. On my other two days, I visit two elementary schools (which I'll call ES1 and ES2) and a nursery school (NS) every other week. I was told two months ago that I'll be holding weekly (or biweekly?) eikaiwa "English conversation classes" in October. Not sure when that starts, to be honest.

So, at the JHS, there are three grade levels, 1, 2, and 3. These grade levels are equivalent to 7th, 8th, and 9th grades in the US, respectively. At the ES's, it is K-6, like the US. There are two JTE's at my JHS; one for 1st and 3rd grade, and one for 2nd grade. Though sometimes, all three of us will Team Teach together; actually, this only happened once, so I'm not sure when it will happen again (it was on a Monday, and nearly all of the Monday schedules have been messed up over the past two months due to holidays or special weekend events that cause Monday classes to be canceled). Because Mondays are messed up, I have only had the opportunity to work with the 2nd grade JTE a few times. That said, I can't really describe how he uses me in class...besides this: he hasn't discussed with me any real lesson plans. Every time I was in class with him thus far, we had a simple activity were I wasn't really needed. Like...making name cards with an English introduction. Or...playing computer games/typing games with the special needs kids. Or...watching a DVD with them. Anyway, I digress.

I work pretty closely with the other JHS JTE. He has me produce the "Mr. Harold version" of text book conversations/paragraphs for both the 1st years and 3rd years. Then he passes them out in class and has them translate my English sentences into Japanese! It's great practice. Oftentimes, I'll use interesting or difficult vocabulary that forces them to look up the words. He believes that because I wrote the sentences, the students will be more motivated to translate it to see what I wrote. Oh, and he also makes them write their own versions in English for homework, which I review and grade. It's actually kind of fun to see what they write. The first years have a tendency towritelikethis,forgettingtoleaveaspace or sometimes putting s p a c e s i n t o o m a n y p l a c e s. It makes it really difficult to read. Then there are the misspellings and confusions of one letter for another. Like r and n. One of my kids wrote "hambungen." Anyway, so I make new stuff like that every week. And we follow the "New Horizon" series of English text books pretty closely, with two new pages a week. It sounds slow, but the books are only a few lessons each, so the timing is actually decent. Plus, more time allows them to grasp the new material better. Theoretically.

Now the ES's. My situation with the ES's is very, very different from most ALTs'. And I am very grateful, 'cause it saves me TONS of time, though the lessons themselves are kind of silly. So at ES1, there is a JTE (again, there is not always a JTE at a Japanese ES), an ATE (Assistant Teacher of English) and an ALT (me). The three of us work together with the home room teacher to teach the lesson plan which was prepared by the JTE. The lessons are based on a ridiculous/hilarious series called "Eigo Noto" 「英語ノート」. (Noto, or nooto, is actually short for notebook.) Please watch this awesome video to see how hilarious it is:

So anyway, back to what I do. Basically, the JTE, ATE, and I take turns at going over various parts of the lesson plan. A note about the ATE: this position is extremely uncommon in schools, I think. Especially for someone like him; he lived in the US for 10 years, so he is pretty fluent.

At the beginning of each ES lesson, we do the usual introduction of "Hello/Good morning/Good afternoon" and asking the day, date, weather, and year. Then the ATE and I start the lesson by having a short dialogue and asking the students what we were talking about. Then we proceed with the lesson using their text books, large picture cards, and the Eigo Noto interactive computer program on a touch-screen television. Usually, I say the new vocabulary words and have the students repeat what I say. Sometimes we play games, but most of the time, we're following whatever is up next in the Eigo Noto lesson plans.

One thing that I don't think is helpful about Eigo Noto are the "chants." For some reason, there are weird chants/mini songs from the lessons. If you watch the video above, you'll hear a chant with, "What's this? What's this? It's a pen, it's a pen, it's a pen," and the students have to repeat it or sing along.

At ES2, the ATE and I teach the lesson with the homeroom teacher (the JTE stays at ES1). At the Nursery school, I basically just sing songs and play games with the kids (who are adorable, by the way). And at the eikaiwa that starts this month, I will prepare everything; lessons and activities. I'm a little nervous about it, because working with adults is faaaaaaaaaaar different from working with kids. I was a "Talk Time" leader back at college, which is similar to an eikaiwa, but I believe my students back then were a bit more seasoned with English than whoever might show up this time around. I also heard that the eikaiwa isn't a very popular activity for the townspeople; it's offered at the town center, though, so hopefully more people will find out about it and be interested. I'm also the first male ALT this town has ever had. So maybe this little change will bring in more people? Here's hoping!

Word of the day: 授業 「じゅぎょう」 "jugyou," which means "lesson" or "class."

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