These past few weeks have been full of excitement and learning! I feel as though I’ve become more comfortable living with my new host family and navigating through the city. But at the same time, so many things have been happening that I feel like I can hardly catch my breath!
My new host family consists of my host father and mother, as well as two sons, aged 9 and 13. With an additional host sibling to the mix, life at home is quite a bit more hectic. Yes, the household is busy, but like my last host family, everyone is eager to discuss our lifestyles, and the similarities and differences between Japanese and Canadian culture. Through our conversations, I have learned a lot about Japanese culture, from traditions and holidays, Japanese cuisine, to the most popular sports in Japan. In these past few weeks with my host family, I have watched more baseball than I have ever watched in my life previously! It’s great to see the differences in familial dynamics, and everyday routines between my two host families. But at the heart of both family environments, I can see that a love for one another, as well as a love for their country’s history and culture.
The other topic I would like to talk about in this blog post is my developing conception of the Japanese school environment. Before coming to Japan, my perceptions of education in the country was one that was extremely standardized and strict. And although standardized testing certainly plays a large role in student examinations, especially when going in to junior high and high school, and throughout high school, everyday learning tasks were not. For example, teachers often used the process of inquiry to get their students engaged. A question would be posed to the entire class, and students would be free to discuss with their peers the issue posed, as well as the solution. Most desks in classrooms were arranged so that students were able to work with their classmates. During some learning tasks, students were also welcome to move around the classroom to ask each other, and their teacher questions, or find a more comfortable working space. The process of scaffolding, especially in mathematics classes, were very important in the classroom. Every week, student schedules would differ because the staff would come together and adapt their lessons and schedules to fit the needs of the students.
Another interesting thing to note is the different courses offered by Japanese schools. Probably the two most interesting classes are moral studies, and integrated studies. In moral studies, students would explore themes such as appropriate behavior, right or wrong, as well as duty and responsibility. Students would discuss and explore their thoughts and feelings surrounding an issue, which was often presented in the form of a story. Through these stories, students were exposed to more mature themes, such as death. It was interesting to see how teachers approached these subject with their students, as well see how students reacted to these topics. Through storytelling, and active listening, I felt as though the teacher did and excellent job of modifying her lesson and guiding the class in a way that made the material accessible to students. In integrated studies, students would explore multiple subjects simultaneously. I hope to be given more opportunities to observe this class, as I feel it will be valuable in my learning journey through my interdisciplinary education class.
At Ainosato Nishi Elementary School, I have also been given the opportunity to share information about myself and about various things in Canada with another TAB student. Through a PowerPoint presentation I shared information about my family, hobbies, and likes. We also discussed food, sports, and animals in Canada. With the English teacher, we worked to adapt and modify our presentation to fit the English comprehension levels of the class. I felt that through each presentation, I learned techniques and strategies to better engage with the students in my class. Modifying the words, using large gestures and comparison, as well as asking simple questions are some of the things that we did to help our students understand, and be more interested in our presentation. We also taught the game Stella Ella Ola to some grades. I really enjoyed being actively involved in the classes, and for having the opportunity to develop my communication skills when a language barrier exists. I felt like these tasks were especially valuable in helping me to formatively assess student understanding and engagement through their expressions and participation.
Every lunch period, I eat my meal with the students, and rotate between different desk groups. After lunch, I am also able to help the students clean up, and then play with the students. I feel that this has really allowed be to get to know the students better, as we are given the opportunity to communicate freely. It is also during these moments where their individual personalities shine, and when I can make meaningful connections with the learners. It is easy to see how natural it is for a genuine community of care to develop, especially when teachers spend time with their students in sharing classroom tasks, and in daily, simple discussion and play.
I feel as though I have only scratched the surface of everything I wish to write about my experiences so far, and I know that I’ll be learning and experiencing so much more in the upcoming weeks. I feel as though I have developed a much deeper connection to everyone at school, as well as my host family, and am already dreading the day I will have to separate from them!
(Special education classroom at Ainosato Nishi. Other classrooms often had desks groups together)
I look forward with sharing my thoughts in the next blog!
Until then! Mata ne!