Triple-team teaching at primary school

Kenichi Sumitomo / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

YOKOHAMA–On a recent day at Oi Primary School in Oimachi, Kanagawa Prefecture, fifth-graders were taking an English lesson led by Canadian assistant language teacher (ALT) Tony Brockman. “Choose one,” he told the students at one point, to which some of them reacted with confused looks.

However, the children soon had the expression repeated to them in Japanese: “Please choose your favorite card,” said Tadashi Inoue, who was standing next to Brockman as his interpreter.

At the town’s primary schools, English lessons are taught by a homeroom teacher, an ALT and a “third teacher”–a Japanese interpreter like Inoue. Inoue, 60, has been in the position since April this year. In the previous month, he reached the retirement age as a middle school teacher of the language.

Under the revised teaching guidelines for primary schools, which will be implemented in 2011, English will become compulsory for fifth- and sixth-graders. But in Oimachi, English lessons were first introduced for students of all grades at the town’s three primary schools in 1997.

At the same time, the town’s board of education decided to hire a former middle school teacher of English to serve as the third teacher for these lessons.

“Our first ALT was not so fluent in Japanese,” Kazutoshi Natsukari, the board’s superintendent, says of why the town made such a decision 12 years ago. “Therefore, we were concerned that even though the students were exposed to the native speaker’s authentic pronunciation, they would be left out without understanding what was actually being said.”

Since the 2008 school year, all public primary schools in Kanagawa Prefecture have been offering English lessons through a team-teaching approach with homeroom teachers and ALTs. Some municipalities, such as Yokohama and Minami-Ashigara, also have hired Japanese assistants, but they usually do not work as “the third teacher” for English lessons like those in Oimachi, but rather serve as substitutes when ALTs cannot cover such lessons.

Isao Kaneko, 63, Inoue’s predecessor for three years up to March, says it is difficult for primary school students to enjoy authentic English when they are taught by an ALT alone.

Emphasizing the importance of the “third teacher” who works as a bridge between an ALT and the students, Kaneko says, “A Japanese interpreter can help an ALT come up with English expressions that are more understandable to the children.”

An official at the Kanagawa Prefectural Board of Education points out that such Japanese assistants can play a role beyond that of an interpreter. “Because primary school teachers are quite new to teaching English, they can learn how to offer lessons from these interpreters as they used to teach the language at middle schools, which is another advantage of this approach,” he says. “The approach may become more popular among other schools.”

(Jun. 30, 2009) Daily Yomiuri

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