An overview of Japanese School Systems
This blog post is named “Total Recall”, and not after the Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie, but because the school visits and volunteer teaching were a recall from the past practicums that I completed back in Canada. Although learning and teaching varies from school to school, here are some of the obvious differences and similarities I noticed between Japanese and Canadian schools during my placements in Japan.
I found the classrooms in Canada to be more collaborative in nature. Even though there is a lot of collaborative work involved in Japanese classrooms, there is still traditional setting present in the structural layout of the classrooms. Just like in Canada, Japanese classrooms have a lot of students’ work, relevant artwork decorated inside the classroom and in the hallways. School décor have themes like – Halloween, etc. Teachers have blackboards, computers and television in the classrooms to show multimedia content to the students, similar to Canada. Unlike Canada, in Japanese schools, students are expecting to clean the classrooms and schools. Everyone at school has lunch in the classrooms, and student take turns to serve lunch to their peers. The school lunch is highly important element of Japanese School traditions. It brings the students together and they also learn about time management skills because everyone has to start and finish the lunch at the same time. The library in some schools (that I visited) in Japan is now replaced by learning commons, where students can work on computers and have meetings with fewer books around and more technologically focused study and work areas. Teacher usually comes into the classrooms for each grade. The classrooms have storage places at the back of the classrooms for Randoseru (Japanese Backpacks) used mainly by elementary students. Schools have science labs, music rooms, gyms, food and fashion classrooms, art workrooms and wood workshops, and even nurse’s office. Just like in Canadian schools. One of the schools had an engineering work room, where students could make model trains and work on other engineering and technology based projects. Overall, I found the classrooms in Japan to be similar to that of Canadian ones with few differences here and there.
Learning Commons area in Japanese Schools
Scaffolding and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) concepts are noticeable in both Canadian and Japanese classrooms. Most importantly, I found that some students in a group had much stronger English speaking skills than their peers, and were helping them operate within the zone of proximal development. Advanced English speaking students were helping their less advanced English speaking students to get better in conversing and writing in English. Teachers show students visual images, sounds, and videos (both on blackboard and on projector), and a lot of repetition is involved in the classroom learning. In the end of the class period, the teacher summarizes the concepts and lessons learned in the class with the students. Again, a lot of visuals and textual presentations are involved in the Japanese classroom lessons. Students get small break in between class periods, where they can read, interact with teachers and peers, or play games or do some activities with other students. It is very active during the break period. This reminds me of elementary schools back in Canada and how they include Body Break activities in the classrooms.
From my experience so far, I found that Japanese classrooms use both formative and summative type of assessments. Though, summative feedback seems to be commonly used, formative like students telling teachers about what they understand so far was noticed. I found that a lot of elementary school tests in Japan (from what I observed), are highly visual and colorful in nature compared to that in the Canadian schools. This means that a lot of favorite characters and games are put in the tests, so that they are less intimidating and more engaging. For example, in a math test, students have to play a mini game which includes a favourite anime character in each step, to find the answer. It can be a game of ladders or a simple arithmetic game. I found this concept of summative assessment very interesting. However, this may vary within schools and grade levels. In Japan, when a student finishes the test early, they have to keep their test with them, but they read a graphic novel or some similar book while they wait for their test to finish.
Ninja Amazement Park
All students are expected to participate in school activities, such as festivals, sports day, etc. It is compulsory and students spend after school hours to prepare for an event such as school festival. It can take up to a month to prepare for such events, that involve a lot of music, drama, costumes, etc. However, in Canada students can take Drama and Music classes as an option and they are not considered compulsory subjects like in Japan. A lot of students in Japan also take tutoring classes in swimming, piano lessons, and Shuji (Japanese Calligraphy). Depending on parents (and schools), students are expected to perform high academically, which can sometimes be overwhelming for some students. I will find out more about how schools in Japan deal with such student stress issues, and report it in the next blog post. However, we asked about this issue, and schools say they are aware of it and try to provide as much support to the student as possible, though I like to find more about the kind of support available to the students.
Temaki Zushi (Hand Rolled Sushi)
My role as Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) involves conversing with students, and teach them pronunciation and grammar. I am learning to use a lot of activities and visual images and short videos with students to further engage them. For example, in order for students to practice English word, we would throw in a fun activity, where whole class dances, sings or participates while repeating English words. It’s really fun and engaging. One thing I noticed so far is that not a lot of students or even the classroom teacher spoke much English, even if I tried to converse with them. I had to use some Japanese or take guidance of the student tutors to interact with the students and even the teacher. I feel like it’s highly important for students to interact in English in order to practice and improve, but learning some Japanese and learning more about Japanese culture from them was surely a treat. In my second practicum in Calgary, I learned from my partner teacher to add less content in my presentation, engage students with interest questions, and use whiteboards more often. I try to use these methods where ever possible in my role as ALT in Japanese schools.
The next blog post will be called “Mario and Luigi’s Squid Dance!” and it will encompass more about my experiences in Hakodate and Siriuchi town.