A speaker at the can do conference stands amongst the listeners

Over 300 teachers and education officials attended two conferences in Osaka and Tokyo on the topic of how to use Can-do statements to improve English-language learning. The use of Can-do statements is gaining ground in English education at all levels in Japan, and these conferences, organised by the British Council, aimed to give teachers and Board of Education officials an insight into their theoretical and practical application.

The day opened with a bilingual interactive workshop led by Professor Naoko Ozeki (Meiji University and Vice President of the Japan Association of College English Teachers, JACET).  Starting from the premise that can-do lists and the MEXT course of study both promote an action-oriented approach to language learning, Professor Ozeki suggested that task-based instruction offers an ideal medium for language instruction and assessment.  Workshop participants looked at the difference between task and exercise, and then went on to explore a range of different tasks that could be used as a basis for student assessment.  Professor Ozeki then wrapped up by looking at how teachers can assess task performance using holistic and analytic methods of task assessment. 

The next presentation was from Makiko Watanabe, an English teacher from Higashi Junior High School in Inawashiro, Fukushima. Makiko is a teacher-leader from the first year of the Leaders of English Education Project (LEEP), run on behalf of the Japanese Ministry of Education by the British Council.  Ms Watanabe gave a clear, engaging and practical presentation of how teachers can implement can-do statements in their own schools, based on her own classroom experience.  She emphasised the need to make can-do statements relevant to teachers’ own students through a continuous process of observation, consultation and minor edits. Most impressive of all was the progress made by students as a result of this approach. Ms Watanabe showed examples of students’ written and spoken work to illustrate how can-do statements allow students to improve their performance in writing and speaking, and backed this up with impressive data taken from external test scores. The key point of this talk was that, rather than being a tool used by teachers to assess their students, Can-do statements are most powerful when students use them as a tool to understand and motivate their own learning. Ms. Watanabe showed that students appreciated them so much that they had even taken to creating their own Can-do statements for lessons when she hadn’t been able to provide them herself. 

The final workshop of the day was a demonstration lesson from Academic Manager Robin Skipsey on how teachers can use Can-do descriptors to think about and plan their lessons. Robin used sample materials from LearnEnglish Teens to illustrate the point that role-play and drama can help students to mentally escape the classroom and imagine themselves in the kind of real-life situations the CEFR describes.

Participants raise their hands during a session
Teachers as enthusiastic students in Robin’s demonstration lesson
The speaker stands in front of the room while participants listen
Makiko Watanabe showcasing her students’ self-assessment sheets