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Goodbye Ainosato Nishi Shogakko!

Hello Everyone!

I hope that everyone in TAB is having a great time at their respective countries! And for everyone else reading this blog, I hope you are doing awesome as well!

Even though this was my last week at Ainosato Nishi Elementary School, I was still able to learn so much about Japanese school culture, as well as observe some very useful teaching strategies. Something that I didn’t expect prior to arriving in Japan, was the amount of formative assessment. After each activity, from cleaning up, to practicing a song for the cultural festival, to participating in an English learning task, both students and teachers actively participated in formative assessment. For example, after playing a game of dodgeball for club activities, students would raise their hands and share their thoughts about their own, as well their classmates’, performance and participation. Teachers would also provide their thoughts about what happened in the previous activity. After each student would provide their assessment and feelings, the students would applause. I found this to be a great way for students to practice introspection, public speaking, explore their own learning, as well as have their own thoughts and feelings be acknowledged and validated by their peers.  Another example would be after a learning task in English class. After the activity, students would rate their own performance, as well as write down some of the things that they had learned in the class. The same as an exit slip, this practice allows students to think about their own learning, as well as provides teachers an opportunity to formatively assess their students. In some activities, students would also assess the performance of their peers on a simple rubric.

I feel like I can’t write about my experience at Ainosato Nishi without discussing the preparations surrounding the upcoming school cultural festival. During the cultural festival, students are divided into their grade levels. Each grade level performs a musical performance, and/or drama performance first for the school, and then for the school and family members. Preparation for this cultural festival starts months in advance, and requires the full cooperation of all teachers at the school. In my assigned grade four class, students were to perform a modified version of a play called Neverland. Every morning, both grade four classes would gather and sing at least one song from the play. Usually before lunch time, the students would also practice the lines and actions of the play for two periods. It never ceased to amaze me, the incredible enthusiasm of both the students and teachers as they prepared for this performance. Despite the rigorous and strict guidance of the teachers, everyone seemed to be having fun, and were all equally motivated to do their best.

(Practice for School Cultural Festival: Neverland)

Our last day at Ainosato Nishi Elementary School was a lot more heartbreaking than I had expected it to be. It was amazing to see the learners grow and mature, even in the short span of time I was able to spend with them. I felt that I learned a lot through teaching them English, and through the observation of the excellent teachers at the school. Everyone, both staff and students, were incredibly welcoming, therefore it didn’t take long for me to feel a part of the community that I first observed and admired when I first stepped in to the school. I am sad to be leaving such an amazing community behind, but I know that I have gained invaluable memories and experiences that I will forever take with me in both my future teaching practices, as well as everyday life.

After my school volunteering was done, Hokkaido University of Education set up an two-day excursion for international students, as well as four of the Teaching Across Borders students in Japan. During this excursion, we had the opportunity to explore nature outside of Hokkaido, learn about a dormant volcano near Sapporo, make udon, as well as visit an Ainu museum. Like Calgary, Sapporo is close to some very impressive mountains, and beautiful nature. It is great to see how treasured nature is in Hokkaido, and the efforts made in order to conserve and protect the wildlife present. For me, I think the most valuable part of the excursion was learning about the Ainu people of Hokkaido. Like Canada, the prefecture Hokkaido is approximately 150 years old. Like the indigenous people of Canada, the Ainu people were forced to give up their culture and language, and their traditional ways of living and thinking were seen as savage. In recent years, Hokkaido has been making an effort to bring back Ainu culture, as well as acknowledge both the validity and complexity of Ainu ways. Through visual displays, and through the stories of our tour guide, we were able to learn a lot about the rich culture of the Ainu people.

(Fall Nature Excursion ... Thank you for the picture Christine!)

During my last week in Sapporo, I was given the opportunity to sit in on multiple classes and the Hokkaido University of Education. One of the classes I joined was an English class, where students worked through a textbook and listen to audio clips related to their future plans and aspirations. In the second class, students presented through PowerPoints, something interesting about Japan. This included badminton, general differences between Japanese and Western culture (ex. Food and beauty standards), as well as the process of gift giving. The third class was an Art and Music class, where we were given the opportunity to present a PowerPoint about Canada as well as chat with the students. It was interesting to see how English was taught to university students, compared to how it was taught to elementary students.  It was also particularly interesting to see how the Arts and Music professor incorporated English in to his class, despite the class itself not having to do much with the English language. For example, tasks and assignments would be given to the students in English. Also, due to the generally smaller class sizes, teachers knew their students well, and a sense of community was established.

Until next time! Mata ne!

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