The Yomiuri article below explores how an integrated school system and three-way team teaching approach works at Tawara Primary and Middle School and how such an approach is affecting English education in local public schools. The Tawara Primary School was created in 2005 when the primary and middle schools–which are located next to each other–were chosen to participate in a pilot program exploring the integration of primary and middle school education, following the government’s designation of Nara as a special structural reform zone.
NARA–At Tawara Primary School, the sixth graders are busy studying English. But unlike other schools, they don’t have just one English teacher–they have three.
During a recent visit by The Yomiuri Shimbun to the school in Nara, the sixth-graders were preparing to play a card game to practice the expression, “Can you…?” Before launching into the activity, middle school English teacher Kazumi Toriumi and an assistant language teacher gave the children and their primary school homeroom teacher an explanation of the game.
Toriumi is in charge of developing the English curriculum for the whole of Tawara Primary and Middle School. The school was created in 2005 when the primary and middle schools–which are located next to each other–were chosen to participate in a pilot program exploring the integration of primary and middle school education, following the government’s designation of Nara as a special structural reform zone.
For the project, the buildings of the two schools were connected with a corridor, and the teachers’ rooms have been combined into one. The students are now referred to as first- through ninth-graders.
Under the scheme, every grade has an English class almost once a week, while the fifth- and sixth-graders have a second English class each week in which their studies are in line with the first-year middle school student curriculum.
In the three-way team-teaching approach, Toriumi explains the target English expressions, while the ALT gives examples of pronunciation. Then, in accordance with revised national teaching guidelines to take effect in 2011, the homeroom teacher takes over the class again, leading their students through the Eigo Noto (English Notebook) workbooks.
Toriumi likens the role of homeroom teachers in this approach to an “adult student,” who acts as a bridge between the students and the ALT. Thus, the homeroom teachers can better understand how the students are feeling while being taught. In addition, their participation in games can help to stimulate the children because they do not have many classmates to work with–the school has a student body of just 81.
Asked about positive effects from collaborating with the primary school teachers, Toriumi said communication has greatly improved between the primary school teachers and those at the middle school. The combined staff room makes it easier for them to discuss how to teach classes and what points are proving difficult for the students, helping them share information on the children daily.
One advantage even before the 2005 merger was that Tawara Primary School’s relationship with Tawara Middle School was exclusive.
“If Tawara Middle School had more than one feeder primary school in its district, it would have been difficult for us to combine the buildings into one,” Principal Atsushi Kiguchi said.
As a middle school teacher, Toriumi wonders if it would have been possible for her to get involved in primary school education if not for the fact that the two formerly separate schools were right next to each other.
“It’d take time for middle school teachers to go all the way to other primary schools to teach,” she said. “In addition, we’d feel some psychological barriers when visiting the teachers’ rooms at other schools.”
Her comments suggest that a successful link between primary and middle schools for English education depends on good bilateral communication.