education elementary English Murakami

Curricular Grumbling

Why do we teach Japanese 1st and 2nd graders about fruit, colors, animals, and numbers? Are these truly the first words that they need to learn in their progression of English education? Should the simplest structures always be presented first? Should we expect students to remember words, or should they be encouraged to use them?

When I was a first-year ALT in Murakami City, I assisted in a model English class conducted at Senami Elementary School, with a teacher named Mrs. Hiki. She was a 1st grade teacher and spoke great English, mostly from her own personal study. She often taught English as part of her class’ general study time and the effects showed. Her students were very attentive and treated English like a special realm within the school day. For the model class, Mrs. Hiki’s goals were: colors, shapes, AND an activity employing the language of colors and shapes. The students practiced these and then participated in a shopping game, where they got to ask for and receive different shapes of a certain color, then glue them onto a larger piece of paper to show their accomplishment.

This class was attended not only by teachers from that school, but a representative from the regional school board, the Kaetsu Board of Education. In the summary discussion of the class afterward, I was rather shocked that his main criticism of the class was that the lesson included too much language, that first and second grade English classes should be sufficient with just teaching the vocabulary words, without any ‘difficult’ communicative language.

I still encounter this attitude sometimes, that students shouldn’t be challenged with “using” language but should just be given the opportunity to “touch” it.  I wonder if this stems from a wish to insulate younger students from the frustrating aspects of language learning, or perhaps from the personal language learning experiences of adult Japanese teachers?