The core fundamentals of teaching English at junior high schools in Japan are writing, reading and listening. You’ll see that “speaking” is strangely missing as it’s not assessed through established tests, stupidly. But I think that students tend to find that writing English is the most difficult aspect of learning the language. Anyway, one of my responsibilities is checking students written assignments, which is something that can sink you further into depression or provide comedy gold.
The majority of the written work given to students consists of easy ways for them to practice using the grammar quickly; filling in the blanks or correcting the sentence order. But it’s when the assignment is a little more “open” that the true nature of their writing ability is revealed. This week for example, the third grade students have been set the task of writing eight sentences about their favourite memory of junior high school. They’ve been given a model, ideas and examples to build from. And let’s just say, the results have been mixed.
I have one student, the brightest of the third graders at a particular school, who wants to eventually study aboard. She’s competed in speech contests, participated in English camps and appears to be the only one willing to answer any questions in class. So it came as a shock to realise the stark contrast between her speaking ability and her writing. Basic grammar had been forgotten, the spelling was a mixed bag and there was far too much repetition. Meanwhile other students had copied directly out of the book, including the fictional names provided. I got a laugh when I ask one of them about their friend “Sharon”.
Simple mistakes are the ones that get frustrating. Time and time again, after correcting them and explaining their errors, students still manage to make the same problems. Teaching requires patience and while I wholeheartedly agree, I feel that the responsibility lies on the student to study and understand from their mistakes. This is how we typically learn and grow as individuals.
In regards to other grades, I’ve already expressed my problems with the second graders’ English level, and checking their work further reinforces those concerns. The majority of the boys love baseball. Heck, they play a classroom version involving rolled up textbooks and scrunched up pieces of paper. But a large percentage fail to even spell b a s e b a l l correctly. Here are a few comical examples of their attempts:
– Dasedall – bassbora
– Besebol – besabolla (My personal favourite. Try saying it with an Italian accent)
One of my favourite programmes of all time is The Simpsons and marking some of the students work can be like reading material from that show. So when one of my students answered a question using “Me thinks”, I was immediately reminded of Ralph Wiggum exclaiming “Me fail English? That’s unpossible”. Additionally, students often forget a simple piece of grammar or a phrase and thus awkwardly try to use a combination of vocabulary as a replacement. Again I refer to The Simpsons when Homer says “Marge, where’s that… metal… dealy… you use to… dig… food” when talking about a spoon. You’ve just gotta laugh sometimes.