There have been some questions recently about the design of the NELP program, so I'd like to explain a little about the structure of the program, and why the program was designed in this way.
At Seishin Junior High School, first grade students have eight English lessons per week. Second grade and third grade students have nine English lessons per week. SELP students have lessons with a native speaker twice a week for oral communication class in all three grades. First grade NELP students have eight lessons per week with a native speaker. This includes English A (writing), English B (reading) and Oral Communication. Second and third grade NELP students have four lessons per week with a native speaker. This includes English B (reading) and Oral Communication, but not English A (writing). Instead, NELP students will study English A (grammar) with a Japanese teacher of English along with the SELP students.
This structure is explained several times a year, every year, during our NELP explanation meetings. This information is made available to interested parents and prospective students before they take our entrance exam and the NELP test so that parents and students can make an informed opinion about whether or not the NELP program is right for their daughter..
Last year, however, an amendment was made to this program. It was decided last year that if five or more students had passed the Eiken STEP Test Second Grade or higher and wanted to have a special NELP English A class, a class would be made for them. Last year, we made such a class for our current NELP second grade class, of whom six had passed the Eiken STEP Test Second Grade. Those six students are now studying English A with Brian. This was done, in part, because the parents of last year's first grade students asked if we would be willing to make an amendment to the program.
However, this was not the main reason why this amendment was ultimately passed by the English Department. The NELP committee and the English Department chose to make this special amendment to the design of our program in large part due to the recommendation of the English A Japanese teacher of English, who felt that students who had passed the Eiken STEP Test Second Grade might already be familiar with the content of our second grade textbook: Progress in English 21, Book 2.
Was this the right decision? In some ways, yes. Some of our second grade NELP students possess a high degree of familiarity with the grammar in Progress in English 21, Book 2. It was believed at the time that the amendment was made, that if the students believed themselves to already be proficient in the content of the class, that they would not give their full attention and effort to the class, that they might be bored, that the educational curriculum might not fully or efficiently meet their academic needs, and that this might create an environment conducive to disruption. It was therefore believed at the time that a writing class might be more beneficial. These are factors that need to be considered.
Was it the right decision? In some ways, no. My experience this year has shown that, although these students are generally familiar with the content of Progress in English 21 Book 2, they are by no means proficient. They have discovered during the course of the year that they NEED explanations of the grammar because the grammar is far more difficult than the grammar in PiE21 Book 1 by an order of magnitude. Despite the fact that I covered Perfect Tenses over a period of 5-6 lessons in class, some students revealed during review for the exams that they still did not understand the Perfect Tenses well enough to use them consistently, nor to recognize with accuracy those situations wherein the Perfect Tenses would be necessary. This despite the fact that they have been repeatedly told to ask for help when there is something they do not understand.
Some people feel that junior high school second grade students should not be expected to ask for help, that it is a burden for them to admit when they do not understand. Largely, I agree with this sentiment, however, grammar is generally not covered in the NELP class. This is because some of the students and some of the parents insisted that classroom instruction of basic grammar was unnecessary and redundant. Therefore, the students have been made solely responsible for their own education, and are required, as a part of the course, to take initiative in seeking help when there is something they do not understand completely. For this reason, I have an open door policy after school. I have signs on my doors and I frequently remind my students that I will do tutoring after school with those who wish to have extra practice. Very few students come for this practice.
I am of the opinion that PiE21 Book 2 and Book 3 are of an advanced enough level that even those NELP students who have achieved the Eiken STEP Test Second Grade or higher may still be challenged by the grammar, phrases and structures therein, and that these students could strongly benefit from the controlled practice and the explanations provided by the Japanese teacher of English.
In our Seishin Girls' High School NELP program, NELP students who graduate from Seishin Junior High School may have Oral Communication classes separately from the SELP students, and all NELP students may have the extra 8th Period NELP class on Friday. Some of our students are disappointed that they do not have MORE classes with Native Teachers. I understand these feelings. However, it is my professional opinion that our Seishin Girls' High School English classes taught by our Japanese teachers of English are sufficiently difficult to challenge even my NELP students.
While the NELP classes with a native teacher may be more 'exotic', I feel that the first priority of the school should be to provide our students with THE BEST education that we can, and our responsibility to provide the education that our students NEED, in my professional opinion, far outweighs our desire to provide the education that our students WANT. The Seishin Girls' High School English classes, as taught by our Japanese teachers of English, WILL prepare ALL of our students for university.
I am an English teacher. I studied English at university. I first became an English teacher more than sixteen years ago, and have taught English in both America and Japan. However, although I can teach my students English and I can prepare them for university and I can prepare them to study abroad, again, my PROFESSSIONAL opinion is that the Japanese teachers of English at Seishin Junior High School can BETTER prepare students for high school entrance exams than I can, and that the Japanese teachers of English at Seishin Girls' High School can better prepare students for university entrance exams than I can.
It is further my opinion that even my highest level NELP students could strongly benefit from basic development of their grammar skills.
Now, unrelated to the NELP program, the English Department made a decision last year to change the content of the English lessons for the Seishin Girls' High School third grade students. Most, though not all, of the students no longer have English conversation with a native teacher. Shocking, isn't it? Why did we do this? Isn't English conversation important? Is it really? First of all, our Seishin Girls' High School students have classes only first and second term. Secondly, a number of our high school third grade native English teachers had noticed that the third grade students did not seem particularly dedicated to their oral communication classes: that in fact, because oral communication was not a necessary consideration for university entrance exams for most students, most students were not giving their class their full attention or effort, and were instead placing their emphasis on other subjects. It was felt, therefore, that students would more fully benefit from greater preparation for university entrance exams, particularly in listening, as we had noted that listening test scores have been steadily falling. So now, our third grade students study listening with a Japanese teacher of English.
This has been an almost universally unpopular decision with the third grade students. Why? They naturally miss interacting with the native teachers. I have been told that the listening comprehension class is not as interesting because there is less activity or interaction. In Oral Communication, students could talk more, interact more, play games and so on. Many have told me that oral communication was much, much more fun. Hmmm. What is our goal? Is our goal to educate or to entertain? Certainly oral communication was more fun, but was it in the best interests of the students. Do you see the bearing this has on the NELP program?
I don't doubt that students may find NELP more entertaining than a grammar class. I don't doubt that I'm not as strict as some of the Japanese teachers, that I don't demand the level of respect that the Japanese teachers do, that I don't give as much 'drudge work' as the Japanese teachers do in terms of repetitive exercises and activities. I don't doubt that my class is more interactive, and I don't doubt that my class requires a broader range of creativity and self-expression. I don't doubt that my class may seem more 'fun'.
However, is 'fun' what we're really after? Or is it 'education'? Aren't those repetitive exercises necessary? Couldn't our students benefit from a few lectures in Japanese on the meaning and uses of various grammar basics? Considering that entrance exams require students to understand the Japanese terminology for English grammar, considering that Japanese entrance examinations for junior high school and high school require a particular kind of understanding and interpretation of grammar, and considering that Japanese entrance examinations for junior high school and high school have a particular style quite different from tests in, for example, America, wouldn't it be a good idea for students to receive at least SOME education in English from someone who knows how to prepare students for those kinds of tests? I may be an expert in English (and I think my qualifications are such that I can describe myself as an expert), I am by no means an expert in Japanese entrance exams. However, our Seishin English Department Japanese teachers of English ARE experts when it comes to preparing students for Japanese entrance exams and that is an expertise not to be lightly discarded nor taken for granted.
So, instead of giving my second grade NELP students an English A grammar class with a Japanese teacher of English, we instead gave six of them a writing class with Brian - and it is an EXCELLENT writing class, by the way. However ...
Was it the right thing to do?
Some of my first grade students would LIKE to have the same kind of class, but ...
Will it be the right thing to do?
These are not questions that I can answer alone, but they are certainly questions worth asking.