How can English teachers best utilise their training to implement the four skills in the classroom? And what impact has the training had on teachers and students? We spoke with Hiroyuki Sakurai, an English teacher at Nikko City Fujihara Junior High School, Tochigi Prefecture. He is working to improve his classes based on the takeaways he gained from the teacher training.
——How does teaching all four skills improve English language skills? And how do you implement tests that assess the four skills?
“Learning a foreign language is meaningful only if it is useful for real-life communication. The four skills interrelate and intersect. In order to train students to communicate effectively, we try to set up activities to do before, during, and after each activity to practise each skill. For example, when practising reading, students talk about the topic before reading, check their understanding through questions asked by the teacher and interactions with classmates while reading, and write about their experiences and opinions after reading. Many of our students make full use of all four skills and are eager to tackle challenges through trial and error and collaboration.
Regarding assessments, we place great importance on feedback (formative assessment) given in class to improve their English language skills. For example, during a speaking activity, we take notes on, or sometimes even video, the students’ exchanges. We then provide specific feedback on areas that were done well and areas for improvement. In addition, we create comprehensive assessment criteria in line with the CAN-DO list [a list that indicates what students of a certain level are capable of doing].”
——How has your participation in the British Council's teacher training programme affected how you teach and your students’ skills?
Until then, we didn’t have access to teaching theories and evidence of teaching results to guide us on how to improve our classes. But through the training for the Leaders of English Education Project (LEEP), organised by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), British Council trainers taught us about the global standards for foreign language teaching and about their principles. In addition, the fact that it was all conducted in English motivated me to improve my English. My notes from the training sessions are a true treasure. I am currently working toward improving my class structure based on what I learned. By constructing the lessons around real life situations, our students are more willing to express themselves in English. The students themselves feel that their writing skills, in particular, have improved.”
——What is needed to help students enjoy learning English in the classroom?
“I place particular importance on the following:
- Ensuring that each student understands the teacher's English. The ICQs (instruction checking questions) technique has been very helpful when giving instructions.
- Communication activities that involve learning about your fellow classmate or teacher can be highly motivating. We try to do speaking activities that require students to gather information.
- When there is a connection between what you are learning and your own life and thoughts, this increases the students’ interest. Therefore, we are trying to devise ways to make the textbook lessons more personal.
- If students feel they can improve, they will be more motivated. As we listen to them speak, we give them feedback to help them improve. This can be more difficult when there are many students, but we value the monitoring (observation) method we learned in the training programme of LEEP.
There are many other things I have learned from the British Council training and value in my classes, such as incorporating authentic teaching materials and showing models before activities.
The key is to engage students in foreign language learning by making them more interested in the subject. I also believe that teachers should create processes that allow students to recognise their own growth. This requires strategically preparing teaching curricula and lesson plans, as well as carefully updating the plans as a result of observing the students.”