The entire foreign language learning process here seems to be memorize and repeat. I think this is helpful for the lower levels of the language, particularly with students who are lower level learners. With students who are actually learning the language and getting a grasp on it, I think that kind of memorizing and repeating just dulls the learning experience and doesn't permit growth in functional usage of the language. Granted, my experience with language education is pretty much limited to my time as a language student (which is a frighteningly large number of years....), and I have zero knowledge of teaching methods, so I may be wrong about some things. But it seems to me that if an intelligent student is merely repeating phrases and memorized conversations, they may be expanding their knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, but if you stick them in a real every-day situation, they're still going to have a lot of trouble pulling up those memorized phrases to function on the spot. I sure did.
So I'm having an experiment day in my classes today. We're a day ahead of the rest of the classes, so it doesn't interrupt the curriculum at all. My experiment's purpose is to put them on the spot (in a really controlled way cause they've never done this before) and make them have a conversation. I started with a theme, Spring Break, and gave them questions to think about. I had them write a short essay on where they were going, what they wanted to do, how long they would be staying, what the place is like, and any experiences in their chosen vacation spot, as well as anything they wanted to throw in. I gave them 15 minutes to write it, and then I had some girls read theirs from their desks. The four who read theirs did very well! I was impressed. The next part was making the conversation. I explained the scenario, talking on the phone about spring break, and demonstrated an example conversation with my co-teacher. Then I gave them an example outline and gave them 3 minutes to make an outline with their partners in a box on their paper. I had six parts, starting with a greeting, going through the questions I'd had them answer on the front page, and a farewell. From that and their paragraph I had them face their partner and talk on the phone. I told them not to worry about making mistakes, and had them repeat it as many times as they could in the time alloted to improve their conversation.
A few groups got it, and from what I heard they did it really well and had fun. That made me happy. I need to figure out a better way to introduce the outline though. They seemed to not know what to do with it. I asked my co-teacher, and she said that Japanese schools don't tend to use outlines, so they've probably never made one before.
I have two more classes today, one the same level as my first class, and one the next level higher. I'm pleased that it worked as well as it did the first time. I was worried that it would flop completely. I want to figure something out and propose it to the other ALT to add into the curriculum for next year, maybe two or three times in the year, just to get them introduced to the idea. Especially for the second and third year students, I think it would be really beneficial. So what if they've memorized dozens of pre-written dialogues. That means nothing if they can't use them when called to.
As a random off-topic note, I remembered to bring my headphones, but I forgot my mp3 player and apparently the music on my flash drive got deleted, so I'm being a jerk and pretty much just wearing the headphones as ear plugs.... and I'm still twitching. Gah! It really doesn't help that the desks are on top of each other and, like I said in my last post, it's dead quiet in here. That's a really bad complex to have in this country. I thought it was bad enough back in the states!