Making a difference: one teacher’s story
Now in its fourth year, Japan’s Leaders of English Education Project continues to make a positive impact on the lives of teachers and students around the archipelago. In this dispatch direct from the classroom, one Japanese teacher of English reports how LEEP training is helping bring clarity to the process of planning communicative lessons.
“As a result of attending LEEP training in 2016, my way of teaching English has really changed. For the ten years up until then, I had been groping in the dark,” says Hiroyuki Sakurai, a Junior High School teacher from Nikko City in Japan’s mountainous Tochigi prefecture.
“At every opportunity I attended seminars and read articles by well-known experts in English education. However, I wasn’t able to find any formula for planning good lessons.
“As a result of LEEP training, I now really enjoy planning lessons every day.”
A large part of initial LEEP training involves teachers participating in demonstration lessons, led by British Council trainers. Inspired by a demonstration of content-led reading, Hiroyuki has been slowly transforming the way he plans reading lessons. He shared with us a recent success where his third grade students (15 year-olds) read a text from a Ministry-approved English textbook about Burmese political icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
“For the warmer, I showed the picture of Aung San Suu Kyi and got students to do a brainstorming activity,” Hiroyuki began. This is one of several ideas that Hiroyuki picked up from LEEP training which help make students more mentally active during lessons.
Rather than explaining the text to students and giving them translations, Mr Sakurai has found success by planning key stages that enable students to work together as a class to understand the text for themselves. These include working together to learn key vocabulary before reading, and the use of information-transfer tasks.
“A large number of my students find reading lessons interesting,” says Hiroyuki. “I think it’s because the lesson proceeds step-by-step from setting the topic, through learning the important vocabulary for the text so that individually, in pairs and in bigger groups they can try hard to help each other and enjoy the diversity of ideas that other students come up with.”
In this lesson, Mr Sakurai used an information-transfer task which involved students illustrating the key points of the text using simple line drawings:
“A key point I learned from the LEEP reading session was that by using information-transfer activities you can increase students’ motivation, get them to re-read the text for information, encourage them to think and improve their reading skills,” he says.
“They especially like illustrating the events from the story. They have gradually got used to this activity and compete to see how simply they can illustrate the story without missing out information. When they do their final picture-sharing in groups you can see how much they have tried to understand the finer details of the text by the way they check each other’s illustrations, saying things like ‘Of course’, ‘I see’ and ‘What is this picture about?’”
After giving feedback to his students on their illustrations, Hiroyuki set up a final productive activity. He instructed pairs to write quiz questions based on what they had read and these quizzes were then carried out orally in small groups, ensuring students were given the opportunity to practise all four skills by the end of the lesson.
Now equipped with this more rounded approach to lesson planning, Hiroyuki feels he is giving his students the chance to do more than simply score well in English tests:
“Obviously, there are still many issues and I still agonise over improvements. However, with a basic structure of Warmer, Main Activity and Consolidation, I think each lesson now delivers a concrete outcome.
“Up until now, I just followed the grammar syllabus in the textbook in order. As a result, even if students could get reasonable tests scores on their knowledge of grammar, they were unable to use English to communicate with one another.”
Another sign that Hiroyuki is on the right track came in the form of feedback from one of his students: A student who was so inspired by the lesson that they determined to read more.
“One student researched Aung San Suu Kyi at home,” he said. “‘Nowadays there is a big problem with discrimination against the Rohingya in Myanmar’, they came to tell me, proudly. Rather than simply extracting information from the text and stopping there, I really felt the importance of relating the content of the text to one’s own context and thinking about the lesson along with the students.”
By Ross Malcolm