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Vol 34 No 2, April - June 1996
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Managing In-service Training
A Japanese Case Study
by Yoshio Okita


There are forty-six prefectures and eleven jurisdictional municipalities specially designated by the central government of Japan. In each of these administrative districts, a local education center has been established where research and in- service teacher training courses are conducted. These courses cover almost every field of school education imaginable: curriculum development, student counseling, teaching methods, school administration, etc.

The author worked for two years as a researcher and supervisor (R&S) at one such education center. In the English language section, there were three Japanese R&Ss working full time, as well as two native-speaking English instructors. The R&Ss developed teaching resources and took turns arranging and managing in-service training courses for high school English language teachers.



The training curriculum


The ultimate goal of in-service training was to ensure quality language instruction for the future. Each course concentrated on the following goals:


1. To strengthen English language skills and to provide intellectual stimulation outside the professional area of teaching English.


2. To acquaint teachers with the most recent developments in English teaching methodology, pedagogical skills, classroom resources, and career development materials.


It was inevitable that some of the courses were oriented more towards one of these two goals than towards the other. The orientation depended upon the nature of each course.


Most of the courses consisted of six to eight units. (See table 1 for a sample seven-unit course.) Each unit was given on afternoons of the same day of each week consecutively. One intensive course was given during the spring vacation. This was a five-day course, which started at 9:30 in the morning and ended at 5:00. It was open to both senior and junior high school teachers and was so popular that some teachers had to be put on a waiting list in order to be admitted.


The number of teachers participating in each course varied from 40 to 60. The contents of each course fell into two categories: language lab sessions and lecture/presentation sessions.




Language lab sessions


The aim of the language lab was two-fold: to strengthen the teachers' language skills; and to provide intellectual stimulation through language lab work. These sessions were conducted by one of the two native English-speaking instructors. Materials used in these sessions were original and based upon videos with "closed captions." This video format was originally intended for use by the hearing-impaired, but it is becoming widely used now to help people with limited English proficiency enjoy movies in English. Some TV programs in North America use closed captions and many video movies have this option.


This is how the system works: when you play the video on an ordinary video cassette recorder (VCR), you can get the picture, speech, and sound as you would on any video movie. However, when you have what is called a "caption decoder" plugged in between the VCR and the monitor, there appear captions that are synchronized with speech. In the lab sessions, the video was edited so that it would be arranged into several highlighted parts, the number of which would be equal to that of the total number of days the course was to be given. Each highlighted section was shown daily in the same order as in the movie. The video movie was dealt with in a three-fold process, by which participants' interests were stimulated through pre-viewing, task-viewing, and post-viewing activities.


Pre-viewing. Participants watched the selected portion of the movie without captions to grasp the general idea.


Task-viewing. A handout was distributed listing words, phrases, and expressions. Many of these vocabulary items were too culture- bound for Japanese to adequately understand without explanations by someone brought up in an English-speaking environment. This process was often followed by participants' questions. In the handout, there was also a number of context questions relating to the video segment. Participants were asked to look for the answers to these questions the next time they viewed the video. These context questions were of two general types: True/False, or Wh- questions. The questions were sequenced so that when you discovered the right answer(s), you could very easily follow the plot. Participants then watched the video again, this time with the captions appearing on the monitor. Finally, the native speaker instructor called upon the participants one after another and asked for the answer to each question. The questions that elicited opinions resulted in much discussion about society, culture, history, word usage, grammar, etc. These discussions were so animated that time limits were often of no avail.


Post-viewing. The participants enjoyed watching the video a final time, now with more confidence and enthusiasm.




Lecture/presentation sessions


These sessions provided the participants with recent developments in teaching methodology, pedagogical skills, and classroom resources. A different theme was put forward for each course with lectures, discussions, presentations and workshops involving participants, R&Ss, and native-speaking English language instructors. Some sample themes were:


  • how a Japanese teacher of English and an assistant English teacher whose mother tongue is English could more effectively team-teach;
  • how students' reading skills could be improved;
  • how communicative competence in English could be improved;
  • how game activities, as a vehicle for practicing language targets, could be integrated into a planned curriculum;
  • how a grammar-translation classroom could best be transformed into a more communicative setting.


Each course put stress upon systematic analysis of actual practices in relationship to important theories in language learning and teaching. Usually lecturer(s) and presenter(s) were invited to the course and an honorarium was paid from the course budget. The lecturer was someone with profound theoretical knowledge on a particular theme, or someone who had undertaken academic study and analysis and could discuss the recent approach(es) to language learning. Usually this lecturer was from a university or college. Since there are three teachers' colleges and several universities with pre-service teacher training programs in the immediate area, it was not difficult to find highly qualified people. Lecturers, especially from teachers' colleges, were pleased to enjoy a reunion with some of their former students; and some of these lecturers were well-known across the nation. When it was announced beforehand that a prominent person would lecture for the course, the number of applicants usually increased. Lecturers were chosen regardless of whether their mother tongue was Japanese or English. Attracting a large number of participants was our top priority, so we carefully chose whom to invite for the chosen theme.


Some presenters were prominent teachers at local high schools who had successfully put theory into practice in the area of the theme we had chosen. Some of these people were at first hesitant to make a presentation, but when they completed their talk, they expressed gratitude to us because they had the opportunity to look back and analyze their own classroom teaching in an affirmative manner. The result was that they become more confident and creative- important elements of quality teaching.


Listening to invited teachers from local high schools, participants felt encouraged to look at their own teaching practices from a new perspective. As a result, they were given added impetus to become more effective. If we had invited only lecturers/presenters from a university or college, some participants might have been dissatisfied. In Japanese, there is a saying which states, "That's a nice drawing of a rice cake." Applied to their work, this means that something may appear good in theory, but could be useless in practice. Both theory and practice are necessary if one is to improve his/her professional expertise.


After the day's session came to an end, many participants invited the guest lecturers or presenters to a nearby coffee house to thank them for the time, thought and energy expended in preparing the sessions, and to carry on our discussion of teaching in an informal manner. The R&Ss joined these informal get-togethers, and also exchanged ideas and opinions. Usually at the end of the last day of a course, the participants, native English-speaking instructors, and R&Ss threw a party at a restaurant. This provided an opportunity to exchange various impressions and opinions about the course.




The role of the R&Ss


As R&Ss, our role in the course was two-fold: course design, and lecturing.


Course design. R&Ss took turns being in charge of a course. When the period and the number of units for the course had been decided on, we discussed the course contents. For example, we talked about what video movie would be chosen, and what theme put forward. In choosing the video, preference was given to those that enjoyed popularity with people of all age groups, and those that featured social and/or cultural issues of current interest. Some videos used were Roman Holiday, Dances with Wolves, Lawrence of Arabia, The Sound of Music, AFiddler on the Roof, and Driving Miss Daisy . There were dozens of videos to choose from, all of which had been purchased in North America. Since one of the native English-speaking instructors was in charge of the video sessions, his opinions about which video(s) to use were seriously listened to.


The R&S in charge of the course then edited the movie for each unit. Worksheet preparation was the responsibility of the instructor(s), who chose the words, phrases, expressions and context- questions to be listed for each unit. Quite often instructors collected some materials for the discussion of cultural and/or social issues relating to the video session.


Deciding on the theme for the lecture/presentation sessions was as difficult as selecting the video. We had to consider who would be best qualified to talk on that theme-a person from a university/college, or a person from high school. We tried to have information on local teachers and their specialty area(s). In order to do this, we made extensive use of journals and publications available at the library, and we attended a number of academic meetings in the field of English education.


Lecture/presentation. Lectures were given by R&Ss as well as by specially invited people from outside. The purpose of these R&S lecture sessions was to bridge the gap between theoretical study/analysis by the university/college specialist and the classroom teaching experiences presented by the high school teachers. Sometimes classroom teaching experiences were examined and discussed through the use of videos not manufactured for commercial use but in-house productions that showed actual classroom participation and teaching. These self-made videos were taped at high schools either by the teacher who showed them, or by one of the R&Ss. Watching, analyzing and then discussing this kind of video was one of the most intriguing and useful of all course activities. It was also a lot of fun. This was partly due to the fact that the teacher in the video was a fellow teacher of the participants. The behavior in the video was similar to what participants actually did in class. Furthermore, by watching these videos, participants became aware of practical teaching situations in other schools (i.e. level of the students, discipline, motivation), and in particular what kind of teaching was being successfully implemented in other class settings. Participants were open-minded enough to engage in this self- examination, and allow others to "video-analyze" their teaching so that all could later benefit.




Concerns


Our greatest concern was to bring a large number of participants into the training program. While we hoped to have 40 to 60 participants, the actual number was often much lower (except for the intensive course). If the number of participants remained low, and if there were no indication of any increase, there was a real possibility of a budget cut that would have limited course contents or forced a cut in personnel. Fortunately, enough teachers did sign up for each course.


We conducted a survey at the end of each course in order to ascertain why this was happening. The reason given most often was that teachers were simply too busy with daily school work: marking and grading papers, mimeographing materials (handouts, test-papers, announcements), attending staff and committee meetings of one kind or another, dealing with student disciplinary problems, and managing/coaching sports teams. Regarding the last-mentioned "chore," teachers in Japan are expected to be responsible for extracurricular activities, which sometimes means they must be at school, well beyond their regular work hours-including weekends.


Another reason for lower attendance was that many teachers now have opportunities to attend intensive language courses outside Japan during vacation time; more and more teachers seem to be participating in such summer-time study courses. An advantage to studying outside Japan is that they can concentrate on their coursework without having to be distracted by school activities. Overseas seminars and intensive courses also provide participants an opportunity to engage in a number of extracurricular activities designed to give the participants time to both relax and reflect on their studies.


The third reason given for lower attendance was that there is now more opportunity in Japan, for teachers to not only talk to native English speakers but also discuss with them matters of mutual professional concern. The introduction of a new national program in 1987 has afforded English language high school teachers in Japan with many more opportunities to actually work with and jointly plan and implement classroom teaching with native-speaker instructors. More high schools in Japan have access to these Assistant English Teachers (AETs). As a result, it appears that many Japanese English language teachers no longer feel the urgency of studying at our center as they once did.




Propositions


The only apparent way to attract more participants to the course is to offer programs that provide unique perspectives on language learning and teaching. Here are two proposals for courses that meet this objective:


English education in the Japanese context. If English education is considered in the context of language learning in Japan, valuable insights can be gained regarding the particular needs of Japanese learners. Very few of the intensive English courses for teachers abroad focus exclusively on English education in Japan. Some teachers commented that such courses offer little if anything new or worthwhile because they do not take into account practical considerations here in Japan. Courses offered at the education center should focus on the problems that arise in the classroom setting in Japan.


An introduction to computer-assisted instruction (CAI): Although CAI is still in the developmental stage there is little doubt that it will play an important role in education. These days more and more high schools have computer capability and have been provided with the means to link into a local area computer network system. The problem still remains that there are not enough teachers who have sufficient information on how to effectively use this hardware; nor do enough teachers know about available software to assist their students. In fact, although many schools have an abundance of machinery and/or software, they are far from effectively utilized.


On the other hand, there is a growing number of teachers who recognize the need to incorporate more CAI into their teaching and their students' learning. There are many computer-education study groups across Japan; and in many cases, teachers are creating original software to bolster the effectiveness of language programs.




Yoshio Okita teaches in the Pre-service Teacher Education course,Kwansei Gaukuin University
 

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table 1

A sample schedule of an in-service
teachers' training course

Unit
Date

Language Lab Session
Time (Location)

Lecture/Presentation Session
Time (Location)

Unit 1

Sep 30
Orientation* & Language Lab (Video part #1)
14:00-15:45
(Language Lab)
Lecture*

16:00-17:00
(Room #101)
Unit 2

Oct 7
Language Lab
(Video part #2)
14:00-15:30 (Language Lab)
Lecture/Presentation*

15:45-17:00
(Room #101)
Unit 3

Oct 14
Language Lab
(Video part #3)
14:00-15:30
(Language Lab)
Lecture**

15:45-17:00
(Room #102)
Unit 4

Oct 21
Language Lab
(Video part #4)
14:00-15:30
(Language Lab)
Presentation***

15:45-17:00
(Room #101)
Unit 5

Oct 28
Language Lab
(Video part #5)
14:00-15:30
(Language Lab)
Lecture/Presentation*

15:45-17:00
(Room #103)
Unit 6

Nov 4
Language Lab
(Video part #6)
14:00-15:30
(Language Lab)
Presentation***

15:45-17:00
(Room #101)
Unit 7

Nov 11
Language Lab
(Video part #7)
14:00-15:30
(Language Lab)
Lecture/Presentation*

15:45-17:00
(Room #102)
Note: session with

*

  is by a researcher & supervisor

**

  is by a college or university professor

***

  is by a school teacher


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