Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Looking Up!

Today was not a perfect day by any means, but as an overall trend, it's definitely looking up. I woke up this morning tired and sluggish (unusual for me in Japan) and then inched my way out of bed to make breakfast. Today was an easy breakfast: I'd boiled an egg last night, and with an Onigiri I'd picked up at the grocery store plus of course my usual bran flakes and juice made for a relatively light but filling meal. It was supposed to be raining today, so I left my house with the intention of biking to the bus, but as I approached the bus station, that plan was nixed for two very important reasons: 1. I was running late and 2. I only had ichiman in cash (that's like a $100 bill). In Japan, it's not unusual to just drop a $100 and most places will take it and change it without even blinking (I eventually changed it this evening at the Post Office, having made less than 500 yen ($5) in purchases. Still, getting ichiman changed on a bus seemed like a stretch, and it wasn't really raining anyway (and I needed the exercise), so I decided to bike it instead.

It's a testament to how tired I was that simply biking didn't immediately energize me and lighten my mood. I wasn't grumpy when I got to school, but I wasn't exactly my usual bouncing off the walls self either. The kids brightened me up quite a bit though, and unlike last week where I had nothing planned or conceived for this school, this week I'd constructed two lesson plans around the same theme of months, spent the night before constructing paper dice for the board game that we were playing (came with my teaching materials to enlarge...have I mentioned how thrilled I am with my company's teaching materials?! Seriously, in this regard, the company is absolutely top notch.

When I arrived, my Tanto Sensei ran to me and handed me an enlarged monthly schedule for May for me to look over. It wasn't the most detailed thing in the world, but at least I have an idea of topics, and much more of it was in English, which does make lesson planning a good deal easier. Also, I was able to talk to her about taking a look at the CD Rom my company had given the school so that she would have some idea of the materials I come to the table with, as well as some sample lesson plans for various topics in Japanese that I also have copied in my materials in English. I made sure to emphasize how much easier this would make lesson planning for her and her teachers, and she seemed receptive, which was a huge relief and joy!

My first lesson was a disaster: mainly because I had misjudged how much of the material (the months) the students had understood from this week and last week, so as a result, when game-time came around, they were totally lost. The game I'd had planned “Stereo Game” which was suggested in our Eigo-Note teaching materials, was in one (Japanese) word: taihen. This game basically involved 12 volunteer students choosing one of the months flashcards, keeping it secret from the rest of the class, and then with the class prompted question “What month is this” all were supposed to simultaneously respond “It's _______________ (month).

Yeah. No.

That didn't even begin to happen. .Only three or four of my children had any idea what month they were holding, the sample question flopped like a decomposing fish, and it was pain all around. I tried to rework the game into a drill exercise with minimal success, then had them repeat through the months again before moving onto the second game (the board game) which was moderately more successful, possibly because they only had five minutes ot play. I hadn't had a chance to talk with any of my HRTs before class today either, so they had no idea what we were doing. That added an additional level of pain.

That said, I was grateful to all of my HRTs today, who really took what I had and ran with it. I'm learning so much about how to teach with this age group just by watching their techniques. I also have to change my way of interpreting blank expressions and lackluster response from the students from “oh, they're bored. We should do something more interesting.” to “Oh, they're confused, we should do more drilling and repetition.” As the day advanced, I got a better feel for what an appropriate level of repetition and drilling was and when and how to start setting up the games. All in all, a win.

At the end of the day, my last two classes (fifth graders) were canceled as the students were preparing for the school's Undokai (Sports Festival, a HUGE deal in Japan) so I ended up reading stories and playing games with the first graders. They were oodles of fun! They kept pointing at colors and saying the names of them, and we did an animal names lesson which they all jumped right in for. I had them hopping around saying “rabbit!” and doing the elephant trunk while saying “elephant” etc. At the end of class, they all piled on me, clinging and chattering. It was sooo cute! Also, my buddy who loves Michael Jackson and I spent some time wandering around the building as the day ended. He was looking for his brother, and somehow our path had some likelihood of leading to finding him; I have no idea how or why but better that than sitting in the staff room I say.

(also, as an aside, I'm going to get to be at the May 22nd Sports Festival at Higashiyama. This not only means I get to see this very important festival, but also that I get the following Monday off. Score!)

Today I was very aware of how little I understand on all fronts. I'm amazed at the amount of communication I've been able to manage, don't get me wrong, but the finer points of even basic conversation are still lost on me. And my brain attempting to process everything has definitely lead to fatigue and periods of not being able to think well. This is frustrating, but I'm assuming part of the process. I feel in some way like I've hit a plateau and I'm not sure how to scale it. That may just be the tired talking though.

And on that note, I'm going to hit the sack. The tired is as the tired does.

Night to all!