Okayama: Wonderful teachers and my first school visit

Okayama, JapanI was in Okayama last weekend for the OUP Teaching Workshops. Okayama is famous for several things, including a story many of you know (at least in translation) and a food enjoyed by the main character in that story. Finding the name of the story and the name of the food is your webquest for today!

While in Okayama, I had a chance to visit the International School of English (ISOE). ISOE is an English immersion pre-school/kindergarten with students as young as 2 years old. When the students move on to elementary school, many continue in after school English programs. I was only at the school at the tail end of their day, but noticed several things that impressed me.

The teachers I met were all licensed/certified teachers in their home countries, the U.S., the U.K., Australia, the Philippines, Uzbekistan, and Japan. I think it’s wonderful when children can hear a range of English voices-_-it reinforces the idea that English is an international language—and I appreciate when schools value a teaching license in addition to EFL training, especially when teaching young learners.

As I wandered through classrooms, I saw older children working on replies to pen friends in Scotland and Australia. Since the Scottish and Australian teachers want their students to practice computer skills, they send messages via e-mail. Since the ISOE students need to work on writing (and because the school has only one computer) they reply via snail mail. The main point is that the students are using English in a meaningful way, to make and communicate with friends.

Students also seemed excited about upcoming home stays in Australia. Apparently they have two trips each year, and while not all students go on each trip, the opportunities provide a tangible goal and reward for learning English. Until students are old enough and fluent enough they can attend English camps, so all students have something to look forward to. Obviously, not all schools can take their students to English-speaking countries, but all schools can give students real reasons for learning English and real rewards for doing so.

My visit to ISOE was definitely a highlight of the weekend (along with the fabulous teachers I met at the workshops, of course!) and I appreciate the teachers and students who allowed me to interrupt their classes with my wandering :-)

If you have questions about ISOE, I’m sure that Malcolm Harding, the owner, will be happy to answer in comments.

P.S. If you want to check your answers about Okayama’s famous story and food, I’ll post those in the comments tomorrow!

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