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Kids World

Topics of interest to teachers of English as a second or foreign language to young learners.

May 16, 2000

New Beginnings

by Barbara Hoskins-Sakamoto

A New Year - A New Start
Kids I like fresh beginnings–the promise of a new day, the start of a new week, the potential of a new year. So of course, I'm ecstatic about the possibilities of a new century!

One reason I like fresh starts is because they give us a chance to reflect on what we've done, evaluate it, dump what didn't work so well, and try something that might work better. So I've been reflecting, evaluating, dumping, and preparing for a new year of teaching. As a result of this process, I've come up the following three resolutions for 2000.


Resolution #1: I'll treat my students as I'd like my daughter treated.


Miku is ten, and attends lessons just like my students. She enjoys piano and tennis because she likes her teachers, and she knows that they like her. For the most part her teachers have clear lesson plans. They know what skills Miku needs to acquire in order to advance, and they create lessons that are taking her there in manageable steps. They know what's going on in Miku's life outside of their lessons, and take an interest. They also know that she isn't likely to become a concert pianist or a tennis pro, and don't push for perfection. I want to grant my students the same respect I expect from my daughter's teachers.

How I'll keep resolution #1:
First, I'll take a longer view of my lesson planning. That means I'll look ahead to my students' next level textbook, and see what skills and language they have to learn in order to be successful. Then I can plan my current lessons to make sure they aren't shocked by a higher level. Second, I'll talk to them to keep up with what's happening in their lives outside of class. Knowing that Kazuki has a new baby sister can help to explain why his homework is rarely done–his mom just doesn't have time to help. And I know that when he does do his homework, I need to be sure to praise him for the effort that it certainly cost him. Knowing that all the fourth graders are busy preparing for a festival helps me to lower my expectations for their attention for serious study–it's a good time to review rather than trying to teach something new.


Resolution #2: I'll encourage my students to compete less and cooperate more.


I'm not against competition. I enjoy competitive games and so do my students. But I have noticed that the kids who win seem to enjoy these games more than the kids who lose. If we can play for fun, with the goal being the review of language, then we're all winners.

From the time they reach the upper grades of elementary school, my students enter a competitive world designed to weed out the bottom 10% of them before they reach high school. This is the age when most of them start juku in order to gain a competitive edge. I cringe when I think any of my students being labeled failures by society. I can at least make sure they feel like winners in my class.

How I'll keep resolution #2:
If we do play competitive games, I'm going to make sure that everyone gets a chance to win. My students have already adapted Bingo this way. They prefer to play until everyone gets a bingo. I'll also vary the types of competitive games we play so that all of my students' skills are rewarded. Or I'll make the 'winner' more a result of luck than skill, by marking one card with a special star. When the star card is drawn or turned over, we can all applaud the 'winner' for that day.

I will also make more of our activities cooperative. Instead of competing to see who can acquire the most pairs of cards in Concentration, we'll see how fast students can match all the pairs–them as a team against the clock. I'll keep track of how long they're able to keep a memory chain going as a group, and record each improvement. I'll look for games and activities that allow them all to win by working together and helping each other.


Resolution #3: I'll make my students' opinions matter.


I know that Chika and Sakie like to play any sort of Bingo game, because they tell me each week. I know that Rie loves to have books read aloud in class, because she tells me. I'm not so sure what Makoto or Erika like because they never speak up. But I know they must have opinions, and I'd like to know what they think.

Beyond just listening to their opinions about lesson styles and activities, I need to show my students that their opinions matter. If they are brave enough to tell me what they like, or don't like, I need to be willing to adjust my classes appropriately. I don't mean that we should have only games in class because one student likes games. However, I don't think any of my students would really want classes like that, because they like moving forward and feeling the accomplishment of learning new skills in English. So I'm not afraid to ask for their opinions.

How I'll keep resolution #3:
This year, I'm going to give my students "free choice coupons." Each student gets one, to be redeemed for the activity of his or her choice. If I just ask them what they like, the same vocal students will speak up. Since I already have a pretty good idea of their preferences, I'm much more interested in their more silent classmates. The coupon levels the playing field by giving everyone absolute power once.

My promise to them is that I will act on their requests in a timely fashion. If a student wants to play Review Baseball, for example, we can do that in the class the coupon is presented. If a student wants to bake cookies in class, I'll need a week to prepare. If students see that their opinions have power in English class, maybe they'll learn to believe that their opinions can have power outside of class, too.

I feel refreshed and ready to start a new year in a new century. How about you?


Barbara Hoskins-Sakamoto

Barbara Hoskins-Sakamoto came to Japan in 1985 with a teaching certificate in English, a Masters in TESL and an idea that teaching English in Japan for a couple of years would be a fun adventure. Fifteen years later, she is still here, enjoying working with Japanese children and their teachers. Barbara frequently contributes articles to the the JALT Teaching Children SIG Newsletter and the Association for Foreign Wives of Japanese (AFWJ) Journal, and is co-author of Let's Go, the most popular children's course in Asia.



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