Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kosema: Take 2!

This was a great day! I LOVE Kosema Elementary. This school has their stuff together, and the English program is top notch. All of my English teachers so far clearly care about their students and teaching them good English, but this school clearly has made English instruction a priority from Grade One, and it's apparent not only in the confidence and skill the students show with oral communication, but also just the little English touches around the school. For example, the bathroom signs (boys bathroom/girls bathroom) are cheerfully written in both Japanese and English. This school basically said they didn't need me to do much of anything by way of lesson planning, though they appear so far to be open to my ideas (they got a kick out of my Jikoshoukai lesson). And I've already learned a bunch by watching how the teachers here work with their students, keep them having fun and at the same time learning. This is a great school! Sadly, I'm only there every other week, but they really don't need me that much I guess as their English program is going strong!

Overall, today was just a great day! Every one of the HRTs really knew how to work with me, how to demonstrate lessons effectively, and they are really fun people in general! They were genuinely thrilled that I could speak some Japanese (the last ALT didn't speak any it seems), and they seemed to appreciate my energy and “just jump in with the students” attitude. I got to Kosema at 8:18am (there's only one bus, and so when it gets there I get there, but that seems okay). I had classes ALL DAY (Yaaaaay! No boring free periods until the last one where I just hung out in the staff room, chatted and drank tea...wahoo!)! I also got to sit with an energetic group of fourth graders for lunch, played with another energetic group of fifth graders at recess, and cleaned the school with various students at “Souji” time (Cleaning Time).

I think our schools would dramatically benefit from having students take a more active role in the school's upkeep, ie: our own version of “Souji” time. If I was to start a Charter School, this would be one of the first things I'd implement. From the first grade, the children are sweeping and washing and taking care of their schools (with the help of the older kids and teachers). As a result, the schools here are pristine. Students go at cleaning with gusto, and while it can't be the favorite part of their day, they are solidly good at it and take pride in their work and their schools. Even at the Special Needs school, the kids were cleaning up and serving lunch, etc, to the best of their abilities. One of my Special Needs kids can't articulate beyond basic grunts (as far as I could tell), but he could and did help take away everyone's trays and put the dishes, etc, in their proper places after we were done eating. (in fact, he was a bit too energetic on this as he tried to bus my tray before I was done eating, LOL). This is not to say the Japanese school system is perfect. No school system is. But I think that we can each learn things from each other and both of our school systems would be improved for it.

I also learned a lot about Japanese Classroom management and English teaching in general by working with the folks at Kosema. They have an English program that has been in place for years, and their class format is excellent. They have a room dedicated to English, which does not have desks or chairs (kids sit on the floor), which makes it very easy to do games and interactive roleplaying exercises. They are also excellent at using songs, gestures, repetition and games to get the kids actively involved and remembering vocabulary and pronunciation.

I really liked at the end of each class (and I'm blatantly stealing this for the next time I go to Higashiyama as I always have 2-3 minutes at the end of each class that I need to fill SOMEHOW), both the teachers and students were allowed to comment on the class and how it went. Mainly what they liked and what they learned. The kids could make their comments in English or Japanese. The Japanese I got about 60% of, but the English teachers translated the rest for me. Apparently, I'm a very energetic and funny sensei, and the kids thought that I spoke clearly and made class fun. I feel all happy and excited about this! I also made sure to tell the kids in my comment section how well they were doing with their English, and how much I liked each class, both of which are very true. I need to learn how to say “comment” in Japanese, and then institute this in all of my classes from now on. In one class, the students even wrote down their comments/thoughts before sharing them, an idea I also like because it gives the kids a chance to formulate their thoughts in a way that is more comfortable to them (writing) before having to jump into that which is less comfortable (speaking). I am going to make sure to suggest this idea at every school I teach at (hopefully most of the teachers will go for it—it's a really good and effective technique for reflection and classroom bonding).

Some fun highlights from today:

  • One of the kids asked me what anime I liked, and I said “Hagane no Renkinjitsushi” ie: Full Metal Alchemist. That was a huge hit! I also wrote down how it was written in English, and tried to explain what each of the words meant. A gaggle of kids ran up to me after class and were so excited I liked the show, they started throwing questions about other anime at me (mostly in Japanese) and we had a great moment of anime bonding. Surprisingly, in Japan, Full Metal Alchemist (at least at this school) was much more popular with the girls than the boys. One Piece, however, was popular with everyone. That and Naruto (of course).
  • Kids got a huge kick out of the Obama mask. Instead of whacking him with fly swatters as earlier in the week (he's getting a little beaten up), I just started my class with: My name is, held out the mask and when they shouted “Obama” I said “Yes” (with my arms over my head creating a giant ZERO like in the MARU/BATSU game that everyone here understands) or “No” making a big X in front of my body with my arms. It was a cinch from that point to get them to answer “YES” and “NO” in very loud voices accompanied by the gesture whenever I asked a question. I learned this MARU/BATSU technique in Orientation (without the Obama mask) and it works very well all the way around. This got the kids to also recognize from the first moment of my “lecture” that they would have to not just listen passively but actively think about and repeat the vocabulary. I made sure to give them some other “YES” and “NO” questions, both to keep the class lively and also to make sure they were really thinking about what I was saying and not just responding by rote. Also, it was lots of FUN!
  • Kids got a kick out of my “how many cats do I have in Philadelphia?” part of my self intro (not one cat, not two cats, not three cats...but FIVE CATS). I made each increase of cats a question: “Do I have TWO CATS?” with the MARU/BATSU “Yes” or “No” and they were totally engaged and responsive...even the shy ones. I started this at Higashiyama, but today much improved the technique.
  • Everyone was very impressed that I helped out with cleaning time. I'm less impressed, mainly because if a six year old can do the cleaning, I see no reason why I can't.
  • I broke my dollar store chopstick trying to dismantle my milk box. As an aside, my bones are going to be iron by the time I get home because every school lunch has milk as its drink, and you have to clear your plate and drinks in Japan, OR ELSE. I'm surprised all of these kids aren't basketball players, they drink so much milk! After I broke my chopstick, one of the kids showed me the proper way to dismantle the box. I'm hopeless at this, but trying to learn.
  • Today I was interviewed briefly for the school newsletter. I told them my favorite movie was Labyrinth, and then had to explain what it was about. I really don't have an overall favorite movie, but that's a great movie, so why not?! I was also asked what kind of kid I'd been, and I said an unpopular one. “Oh no,” the teacher said, “that can't be possible.” But it's true. I was about as unpopular as you can get without a prescription. I also said I'd loved fantasy stories, cats and books...basically the same things I still like now. He said, “I must have been unpopular because I really was into studying.” I let that go. I was unpopular because I really was into Star Trek...such is life.
  • Lots of pictures were taken all day, also probably for the school newsletter! I feel like I'm definitely going to be a star in it! And truthfully, the kids were so excited about me, I felt like a star all day (same thing happened at the other schools too). This is a super fun job and I'm very happy to be here!

At home, I debated going to VITS and doing an hour or two of Karaoke, but my apartment was a disaster and I really wanted to cook the scallops and Bok Choy I'd bought yesterday, so I spent the evening doing my own Souji and Ryori time (Cleaning and Cooking). It doesn't sound at all exciting, but it was cold out tonight, so it was exciting enough for me. I'm looking forward to tomorrow and starting out on a better foot with Toyota Yogo. I have three classes scheduled plus music time, so I should have much more to do. I'm very excited about that too!
Onwards to tomorrow!