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This Year's Dear TJ


MEXT's English Education Reform PlanResponded by Ask TJ


"Dear TJ" is where you can ask Tokyo JALT members about teaching, researching etc. and get responses from us and the rest of Tokyo JALT. This month, we address the following question about MEXT and English teaching in Japan. If you have any comments, advice, etc., please free free to contact us.

Dear TJ,

Since MEXT proposed the English Education Reform Plan, it seems like there are a lot of changes expected in classrooms at school. I work at Eikaiwa and do not have many opportunities to observe English classrooms at schools, so I thought to ask if anyone in the community could provide some insights into how classroom teaching is changing or how they change their own teaching to meet the reform that MEXT has been attempting.


Eikaiwa Employee

Thank you for your quesion, EE! One of our members has given the comments below. We hope this will help you grasp what is currently going on in English Education in Japan.

Dear EE,

In answer to your query about the new educational policy I have some comments from the viewpoint of JH and SH.

Here the new policy aims to help Japanese students to be confident in expressing their opinions and improving their thinking skills. To this end, from Eiken 3rd grade there is now a writing section on the test and there should be some good washback from this as teachers focus on giving students practice in meeting the requirements.

In my school we train the students from J1 to write book reports, summarizing the story and giving their opinions. They need scaffolding of course and are gradually able to write longer and more detailed reports as they move through the school. In their 2 hours weekly of LS (listening and speaking) they also do a lot of pair work. Interviewing a friend and then reporting back what the friend said is a useful activity, adding a comment each time. One thing we always do in this kind of activity, where the pairs are rotated to give extended practice, is to give time after each interview for them to ask for expressions they needed but didn't know. These are shared on the board to extend their range. They will pick up expressions from other pairs if they seem useful. In J3 they tackle a very simple debate format giving opinions on simple topics 'summer vs winter' 'trains vs airplanes' 'school uniform vs free dress' and have to challenge the opponent's opinion. The class votes on the best reasons given. In the Eiken 3rd grade writing they are supposed to give 2 reasons for their opinion so this activity helps with that.

In high school we have a Global Studies program, one hour each in S1 and S2. There's a lot of input as there's a lot to learn about the world, current news, background to world religions and human rights, issues concerning women and children and so on. We've been feeling a need for the students to spend more time expressing their own opinions beyond, 'strange', 'scary' and 'poor them' so have started cutting back on the input and giving more practice in more extended opinions. It's challenging as we also have a fresh intake who haven't gone through our JH program. One way to facilitate this is to give a menu of possible opinions initially as students often lack the vocabulary needed. Another is to have them work in groups, preferrably with a strong student in each group, with each student then working on her own with members of other groups. Again, working with other students in pairs gives more practice in listening to different opinions, for example surveying 5 - 10 members of the class and then presenting the results. We were inspired by a presentation from Rikkyo University about their freshmen discussion course at one of the Young Learner events in 2017. In this required discussion class they start with topics closer to the students' life experience and gradually move into more general social and global topics, adding in more of the language needed at each stage to manage group and pair work.

I used to run an English essay writing course for the graduating grade and from that experience I learned the importance of having the students ask questions, focus on what they don't know and want to find out.

At both levels it's important to give students choice in the topics they want to talk about. This is a very different approach from the 'chalk and talk' style of the past. Moving from a grammar-based program focussed on solely accuracy to a skill-based program with a focus on output, self expression and fluency seems to be where we are heading - at last!

Finally, I would add that in developing students English skills parallel text can be helpful as save on time spent in explaining the meaning of the English on the page. We have used this in the scripts we give students for skits. The focus is on production but the Japanese is there as a safety net for those who need it. Likewise in Global Studies we show some video material in Japanese - which is not popular in some quarters! To us it ensures that the students can understand more difficult content and can then focus on talking and writing about it using English.

I hope these comments are of some use.

Best regards,


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