Mika Mori speaks at the New Directions conference in Malaysia showing a card from her students urging her to do her best!
Mika Mori speaks at the New Directions conference in Malaysia, showing a card from her students urging her to do her best! ©

British Council

Mika Mori teaches English at Itsuwa Junior High School in Kumamoto prefecture in Japan. She recently flew from her school in Japan to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to give a presentation at New Directions, an international conference about assessment and standards in education systems.  She took with her a good luck message written by her students and came back with renewed ideas and enthusiasm, and a couple of new friends. We asked her about her experience.

What did you talk about in your presentation? 

“The main theme of the conference was standards in language teaching. I wanted to share my experience of implementing standards with experts in English teaching and assessment at New Directions. 

The theme of the conference was very relevant to Mika, because of reforms to the national curriculum for foreign language teaching in Japan.  The Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT) has announced a new national curriculum from 2020 and, for the first time, students will be assessed on their speaking ability. We asked Mika how she has been adapting to these changes, and what challenges she and her colleagues face.

“Until I took part in LEEP (the Leaders of English Education Project, a MEXT teacher-training programme delivered by the British Council since 2014), I had never heard of a “schwa”, and I hadn’t realised that, for example, the word “there” can be pronounced in two ways because it has a weak form. After I learned about reduced vowels, linking sounds, elision, and sentence stress, I became more and more interested in how to speak naturally. Then I started learning more about language acquisition. 

… I have been trying hard to improve students’ English skills and have taught English in English, but assessment is still seen as a barrier to reform by some teachers. 

Assessment needs to be aligned with standards, if we are to successfully implement those standards in the classroom. I believe it is essential to assess students’ English skills properly, so teachers need to learn more about how to assess them.  The current move towards four-skills testing at university level is a good opportunity for us to change classroom practice. As the saying goes, strike while the iron is hot!”

Mika’s concerns were shared by other speakers at the conference, including international experts, high-ranking education officials, teachers and professors from many different countries all interested in the interaction between educational standards, teaching and learning, and assessment. 

How did you feel before your presentation?

I was so excited and nervous at the same time. To speak English in front of experts is totally different from just talking with your friends. I tried to choose the right words for my presentation to tell and share my opinion. While I was writing my opinion, half of me thought I finally got the opportunity to tell my thoughts about English education in Japan but half of me was saying to myself “Is my English OK? Can I speak naturally?”  

How did you feel after you had finished your presentation?

I felt relieved and was happy to meet many people who studied English education deeply. I realized that so many people have studied English education and been engaged in English research. So I have started studying the field of English more and more since attending New Directions.

Have you kept in touch with anybody you met at the conference?

Yes, I have. At the conference I met people who were interested in education in Japan, and we have kept in touch. I also made contact with an assistant language teacher (ALT) who recently started working in Japan, and we chat online. I care about English education in Japan and have studied how people learn language, so I am happy to share what I have learned with other teachers around me.