U.S. Embassy also sponsors seminars for local governments on teaching English at elementary school
The Education Ministry’s current curriculum guidelines already stress developing students’ English-language skills in a balanced way across the four basic communication skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The next set of guidelines will make English an official subject in the elementary school curriculum and will call for junior high school English classes to be taught in English. English is also scheduled be added to the National Assessment of Academic Ability for junior high school in fiscal 2019. Moreover, English proficiency exams offered by private companies will start to be used in university entrance exams. Schools are being called to improve their English-language education both at the primary and secondary level. Local governments and schools are faced with the question of how to improve the teaching skills and English-language skills of the teachers who will be in charge of these classes. This article showcases [U.S. Embassy] initiatives to enhance English instruction [in Japan].
The U.S. Embassy is proactively offering programs for English teachers, with an eye to ensuring they can respond successfully to the Education Ministry’s new curriculum guidelines, under which English will be made compulsory at elementary school. This month, the Embassy held its first-ever intensive seminar for elementary school teachers. Participants were clearly excited about being able to learn English teaching skills that are backed by pedagogical research. In addition to face-to-face training, the U.S. Embassy sponsors online programs, which are popular among students because there are no time constraints. For both types of programs, the Embassy covers the tuition through its scholarships for English teachers. The Embassy says it will continue the programs as part of its efforts to support English-language education in Japan.
Participants find seminar enriching
The setting is the New York University School of Professional Studies (NYU SPS) Japan Center in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo. There, some 20 elementary school teachers are engaged in small-group discussion in a seminar room. Every so often, one of the seminar instructors makes a comment, and the other participants smile and express their understanding.
This is a scene from the Intensive Seminar on English Teaching Methods for Elementary School Teachers sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and held on Jan. 7–8. Most of the participants were in-service elementary school teachers. Day 1 covered approaches to teaching English in English and how to collaborate with assistant language teachers (ALTs). On Day 2, syllabus planning was the focus in the morning, and then small groups gave model lessons in the afternoon. The instructors were mostly university professors specializing in English teaching methods and familiar with school education in Japan.
The discussion here is not for English conversation practice. The aim is for participants to share their experiences and ideas about how to teach English. Hearing all the students speaking in English from the start, University of Niigata Prefecture Professor Patrick Ng, one of the instructors, looked on with admiration for the students’ commitment.
There is no question that the seminar struck a chord with the participants. One attendee said, “The seminar was very helpful. I was able to find out what kinds of initiatives are being done in other parts of Japan.” Another shared, “The seminar was tough, but it would not be meaningful if it weren’t.”
Scholarships make seminars accessible
The U.S. Embassy offers training programs for Japanese English-language teachers at elementary, junior, and senior high schools through tie-ups with the Japan campuses of U.S. private universities. The programs are focused on how to teach the four basic communication skills. Tuition and accommodations are covered by the U.S. Embassy. A total of seven programs have been held since 2014 when the initiative was launched. A total of 280 school teachers have participated.
Since last year, the U.S. Embassy has held workshops on how to teach writing skills. The program is offered through a tie-up with Teachers College, Columbia University. Yasuyo Ochiai, senior program specialist at the Education and Exchange Office of the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Section, says: “In the future, students will need to be able to express their views in writing. Currently, though, there aren’t many training opportunities available for those who teach writing. Our program is unique in that it teaches basic writing skills as well as effective teaching methods.”
Workshops for boards of education
The U.S. Embassy offers workshops of various sizes for local governments and boards of education. The workshops are led by Americans teaching English or English teaching methods at Japanese universities. Six professors are registered to teach these programs at present.
Workshops can be created on topics of interest to the requesting local government or board of education. Requests have been received from over 60 boards of education, and about 85 workshops have been held to date. More than 4,200 people, including ALTs, have attended.
The U.S. Embassy also offers scholarships for online study for teachers who don’t have time to participate in a face-to-face program.
One of the online offerings is an program offered by an American university on methods for teaching English. Over four semesters, students take various courses on English teaching methods, including “evaluating students” and “teaching communicative grammar.” The U.S. Embassy covers the entire tuition. Those who complete the program are awarded a certificate of completion from the university.
Some 120 teachers have completed the program since 2009. Teachers who earn high grades are invited to training programs held in the United States or Asia, and 34 outstanding teachers have attended training sessions overseas. Ochiai comments: “It is also a good opportunity to meet and network with English teachers from around the world. We plan to continue to hold the program every year provided we have the budget.”
With its teacher-friendly format, the “webinar series on teaching methods” is perfect for busy teachers who would like to enhance their skills. The webinar series is composed of six one-hour sessions, which are released on Wednesday evening (Japan time) every other week. Not only can participants pick the webinar topics they are interested in, but they can discover the ideas of teachers throughout the world because of the online format. The U.S. Embassy covers the tuition costs for the webinar series.
In addition, the U.S. Embassy actively provides information. It informs teachers about free “massive open online courses (MOOCs)” on English teaching offered by U.S. universities and tells them about “American English” (https://americanenglish.state.gov/), a free English teaching resources site operated by the U.S. Department of State.
Being proactive increases benefits
Teachers who participate in these programs, whether face-to-face or online, are highly motivated. The Embassy says many teachers report that they immediately incorporate in their school classes the theory-backed teaching methods they learn in the programs.
“I would encourage teachers who would like to attend a program to participate with the intent of actively sharing their views and experiences and asking questions. In that way, they can contribute to all participants’ leaning. We would also encourage them to share what they learn with their fellow teachers at their workplaces,” says Ochiai. The Embassy plans to hold the [intensive] seminar for elementary school teachers again in July. Information on the various U.S. Embassy-sponsored programs is sent out periodically to those registered on the U.S. Embassy’s mailing list for educators. To register on the mailing list, send an e-mail indicating that you want to be registered and giving your name and the name of the school where you work to TokyoPASEnglish@state.gov.