This presentation explicates a nascent research project that aims to understand and support the practical needs of pre-service English teachers who intend to teach at junior high schools and senior high schools in Japan. The presenters will outline the necessity for such practical support considering the current teacher-training structure in Japan. Through intensive workshops and online support, pre-service English teachers will enhance their methodological knowledge and practical teaching skills. Support will be provided in three main ways by: 1) Holding a series of intensive practical teaching workshops focusing on teaching methodology and practice; 2) Creating an ‘English Knowledge Lab’ (EKL) website which will house useful audio and video files, as well as be a host of other teaching support materials such as lesson plans, grammar activities, communication activities, and ICT implementation activities; 3) Producing practical teaching handbooks based on the teaching workshops. This research project aims to provide realistic solutions to practical problems which English teachers in Japan face every day. It is hoped that fellow educators will find this presentation useful when considering making changes to their own educational contexts.
Keywords: English teaching, in-service, Japan, support
The pedagogical landscape is constantly shifting and this creates possibilities for innovation in teaching. In the realm of English teaching in Japan “change” is often the subject of academic debate, yet meaningful and dramatic shifts rarely occur. At the 6th CELC Symposium I outlined a nascent research project upon which my colleagues and I have embarked. The aim of the research project is to transform the landscape of English teaching in Japan by providing meaningful support to pre-service English teachers. Below I will provide some background to this project before discussing the need for change and outlining how a pedagogical framework which supports pre-service English teachers is being created.
I have been teaching English in Japan since 1990. During this time radical change to the English language education system in Japan has often been mooted, but what change has occurred has tended to be minimal. Often reforms are implemented by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) without any firm guidelines on how to implement them. To further compound the problem, schools and teachers must try and implement the new guidelines with almost no support from MEXT.
Nanzan University is a private Catholic university in Nagoya, Japan. I teach in the Department of British and American Studies known as Eibei in Japanese. Eibei is known for the high English level of its graduates and many of the students go on to teach English at junior and senior high schools. The courses I teach focus on teaching methodology and practice. In addition, my seminar aims to provide students with the practical skills they will need after they graduate. My students’ graduation theses cover a wide range of topics – below are some examples of recent theses:
- The challenging teaching situation of English teachers in Japan
- Effective English education: What can English teachers do for students to help improve their English skills?
- Online teaching in Japan
- Introducing an English immersion program into Japan
- English language education in Japanese elementary schools: A comparison with other Asian countries
- A comparison of education in Japan and Finland
PAST RESEARCH AIMED AT SUPPORTING IN-SERVICE ENGLISH TEACHERS
In 2015, I received a research grant from the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). The aim of the research project was to provide support for in-service English teachers at Japanese junior and senior high schools. The motivation for applying for the grant was my frustration at seeing many of my students struggle when they first start teaching. Having taught at junior and senior high schools in Japan, I am well aware of the difficulties that my students face and this provided the impetus for the grant application. The four-year grant aimed to support in-service English teachers through teacher-training workshops and the creation of a dedicated website. In total, five workshops were held with the first four workshops focusing on topics that were chosen by in-service teachers: “Motivation,” “Intercultural Communication,” “Teaching English in English,” and “Creativity in Education.” Guest speakers from universities in Japan and overseas were invited to give the workshops (see Cripps, Miles, & O’Connell, 2017; 2018).
As the research project progressed, I started to invite pre-service English teachers (i.e., students from Eibei who planned to be English teachers) to the workshops. From my experience teaching these students in my seminar and in other classes at Nanzan University, it was clear that they were anxious about their ability to meet the demands of teaching once they graduated. For this reason, I decided to devote the final workshop to addressing the needs of pre-service English teachers. I invited Dr Saori Doi from the University of Hawaii to give a workshop on “Transitioning from a Learner to a Teacher” (see Cripps & Doi, 2020 for a detailed explanation). The workshop was a great success and inspired me to apply for a research grant for a project which would focus solely on pre-service English teachers’ needs to help prepare them for the challenges that they would face.
CHALLENGES IN-SERVICE ENGLISH TEACHERS FACE
Novice English teachers in Japan face three main challenges once they become English teachers: (1) Changes to the curriculum by MEXT, (2) Inadequate pre-service training, and (3) A poor (almost non-existent) support structure. Every ten years MEXT changes its Course of Study Guidelines. Despite the reforms implemented by MEXT, inadequate teacher training has created a worrying gap between educational policy and teaching practice (Kikuchi & Browne, 2009). No indication is given by MEXT regarding how to implement the guidelines and often teachers are left to their own devices as to how to follow the guidelines.
Pre-service teacher training in Japan takes place as part of a teaching license course. Courses are run by universities, and undergraduates take specific classes for the teaching license course whilst also taking their regular classes. Teaching license courses tend to almost exclusively focus on the theoretical side of teaching, in addition to focusing on legal rules and history. The only practical training that students receive takes place in their final year of studies. Students who want to obtain a license to teach at a junior high school undergo three weeks onsite training, and those who want to acquire a high school license receive onsite training for two weeks. More often than not student teachers “shadow” an in-service teacher at the school where they previously attended as a junior or senior high school student. Usually, the student teachers are given only piecemeal guidance when it comes to teaching, and typically they are only allowed to teach three or four classes throughout their onsite training. Once students pass the teaching license course and graduate from university, they then begin their life as an in-service teacher. For their first year of teaching, they are assigned a mentor who will watch over them, but the reality is that they receive little or no help. This “sink or swim” policy has led to a massive increase in the attrition rate of teachers. Many education experts agree that the dearth of qualified English teachers in Japan is problematic and that the provision of teacher-training programs can go some way to help solve this problem (Fukushima, 2018; Steele & Zhang, 2016; Tahira, 2012).
SUPPORTING PRE-SERVICE ENGLISH TEACHERS
Since joining Nanzan University in 2012, I have been working towards trying to help prepare my students for the reality of classroom teaching after they graduate. I often run mini workshops which focus on practical skills such as classroom dynamics, how to foster learner autonomy, and how to teach the fours skills. In 2021, I received a five-year grant to help support pre-service teachers of English (JSPS research grant Kaken ‘B’ No. 21H00551). This research project aims to research and support the practical needs of pre-service English teachers who intend to teach at junior high schools and senior high schools in Japan (Cripps, 2021). Through intensive workshops and online support, pre-service English teachers will enhance their methodological knowledge and practical teaching skills. Support will be provided in three main ways by:
- Holding a series of intensive practical teaching workshops focusing on teaching methodology and practice;
- Creating an “English Knowledge Lab” (EKL) website which will house useful audio and video files, as well as a host of other teaching support material such as lesson plans, grammar activities, communication activities and ICT implementation activities;
- Producing practical teaching handbooks based on the teaching workshops.
The plan is to hold mini-teaching workshops at least twice a year. These workshops will be targeted at pre-service English teachers, but in-service English teachers will also be welcomed. The first workshop was held in June 2022 (see below). Work has already begun on the creation of the English Knowledge Lab. A dedicated server has been set up and the research team has started designing the EKL website. The first of many practical teaching handbooks is slated for publication in December 2023. The themes of the handbooks are likely to mirror those of the mini-teaching workshops.
WORKSHOP NO. 1 AND FUTURE WORKSHOPS
The first mini-teaching workshop was held at Nanzan University on Saturday, June 15, 2022. Twelve pre-service teachers from my seminar attended. Two guest speakers were invited to give separate sessions. The first session was given by Professor Sean H Toland from the International University of Kagoshima. The theme of his session was “Cultivating English Language Learners’ Creativity.”
The second session was given by Professor Hiroki Uchida, Dean of Akita International University’s Graduate School of Global Communication and Language. The title of Professor Uchida’s session was “Why Can’t They Write?” and focused on innovative ways to teach writing to high school students to help improve their writing and their spoken communication skills.
The feedback from the students about the first mini-teaching workshop is currently being analyzed in detail to help inform the design of future workshops. However, initial analysis indicates that the students found the workshop extremely useful and that they would like to attend further workshops. A presentation based on the research project is slated to be given at the 9th CLS International Conference in December 2022 and a paper is also being written on the first workshop (Cripps, Imai, Toland & Uchida, forthcoming).
The English language teaching landscape is forever changing and therefore educators need to adapt to circumstances and provide practical pedagogical solutions to existing problems in order to help fellow teachers and their students. The feedback that I received at the 6th CELC Symposium when outlining our research project was very supportive and encouraging. I hope that the workshops, the English Knowledge Lab, and the practical teaching handbooks, will go some way to helping support both pre- and in-service teachers of English in Japan.
A second workshop is currently being planned for November 2022 and two more workshops will be held each year until 2026. It is likely that some of the workshops will also be given online to allow educators outside of Japan to share their expertise. Our aim is to involve as many experts as possible in the research project. If you are interested in giving a session for one of the workshops, feel free to contact me.
Acknowledgement: This research project is being generously supported by Nanzan University’s Pache Research Subsidy I-A-2 for the academic year 2022 and by the JSPS Kaken B fund No. 21H00551.
Cripps, A. C. (2021). What skills do pre-service teachers think they need? HICE 2021 Proceedings, pp. 518-531.
Cripps, A. C., & Doi, S. (2020). Addressing the needs of pre-service English teachers through a one-day workshop. Academia, No. 108, 69-84.
Cripps, A. C., Imai, T., Toland, S. H., & Uchida, H. (forthcoming). Thank you for your precious advice: Providing pragmatic support for pre-service English teachers in Japan. The 9th CLS Conference Proceedings.
Cripps, A. C., Miles, R., & O’Connell, S. (2017). Motivating instructors and learners of English: A teacher-training workshop. Academia, No. 102, 105-124.
Cripps, A. C., Miles, R., & O’Connell, S. (2018). Integrating content with English language education in Japan: The perspectives of in-service and trainee teachers. Academia, No. 103, 259-267.
Fukushima, M. (2018). English for elementary school teachers in Japan: Ways of enriching teachers’ experience in learning and using English. 富山国際大学子ども育成学部紀要 第9巻 第2号 (2018.03).
Kikuchi, K., & Browne, C. (2009). English educational policy for high schools in Japan: Ideals vs. reality. RELC Journal, 40(2), 172-191.
Steele, D., & Zhang, R. (2016). Enhancement of teacher training: Key to improvement of English education in Japan. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 217, 16-25. 10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.02.007.
Tahira, M. (2012). Behind MEXT’s new Course of Study Guidelines. The Language Teacher, No. 36, 3-9.
Dr. Tony CRIPPS is a professor of English at Nanzan University. His research interests include CBT, ESP, material design, MOOCs, pedagogical innovation, and teacher training. He is currently working on a major JSPS research project which aims to provide pedagogical support for pre-service and in-service Japanese teachers of English.