Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Why Homework Doesn't Work

So this just happened.

I was on the train coming home from work when a group of elementary school girls troops in and sits in my booth. They chat there in their yellow hats for a second before one says "OK, let's do homework."

All the kids reach into their leather backpacks and haul out their drill books.

"First, Maths" says the little leader girl. They all open their books to the same page and ready pencils. Leader girl starts dictating out answers, and the followers start meticulously copying them into their own books. This goes on for two stops.

"Next, Japanese" continues the leader, and the girls switch to their Kokugo drill books. Again, the leader starts rattling off readings of various kanji, which the others dutifully write down in hiragana in their drill books.

This group dynamic is why homework doesn't work in Japan. I suppose there is some minimal benefit to copying answers, but it pales in comparison to the learning that happens when one actively engages with the materials and works through them, making both mistakes and discoveries in equal measure.

By the time students reach my classes at university, Japanese kids have an outright allergy to homework. They feel its uselessness, and abhor its presence. This is why I tell them 1) I don't care if they make mistakes and 2) I only give homework worth doing. Drills are all done in class, and usually in pairs so students can discuss why answers are right or wrong. The homework I give is instead either thought-provoking tasks that showcase what they have learned, or else time-consuming creation or investigation necessary to realize a project they are working on. It is mostly individualized, so that although they may consult with each other and get others to check they homework, each feels responsible for doing and, more importantly, understanding their own homework.

The concept of 'homework' needs a revision if it is to have any use in education. This is true outside of Japan as well as inside.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

First Class of the New Year (steal this idea)

The first class of a new year presents several problems.

First, students are in a stupor following the winter holidays. You can't continue where you left off, and there isn't enough time in the semester to start something new.

However, you have to motivate students and have them working with you to get over the final push in the face of oncoming tests/exams and FREEDOM!!

What to teach? Buzzwords are the perfect first class back topic.

Step One - Their buzzwords.
Get students in groups and introduce the term 'buzzwords'. In Japan, the Yukan company makes a list of most popular buzzwords, so I write them on the board and have students explain what they mean in English. Have each group take one word, research it for 5-10 minutes, then explain its origin, use, and meaning.

Step Two - English buzzwords
Although the English world doesn't have one authoritative ranking on English buzzwords, choose one that seems reasonable to you and repeat the above procedure, having each student group explain one buzzwords. Tell students that if they cannot find the word in the allotted time that is OK, as researching pop culture there is no penatly, but they must at least make a good effort.

Be non-judgmental in your comments and praise students for their effort.
I have included 2016 English and Japanese buzzwords below:


English Buzzwords 2016
1.      webrooming 6th December 2016
2.      liquid biopsy 2nd November 2016
3.      nowcast 4th October 2016
4.      mic drop 13th September 2016
5.      sharewashing 2nd August 2016
6.      moto-doping 6th July 2016
7.      swipe 8th June 2016
8.      Brexit 3rd May 2016
9.      crowdbirthing 7th April 2016
10.   rainbow 26th February 2016
11.   vapourware 23rd February 2016
12.   Physical Cookie 9th February 2016
13.   sandscape 2nd February 2016
14.   stuffocation 19th January 2016

Japanese Buzzwords 2016
Yukan 33rd ranking
  1. 神ってる
  2. 聖地巡礼
  3. トランプ現象
  4. ゲス不倫
  5. マイナス金利
  6. 盛り土
  7. 保育園落ちた日本死ね
  8. ポケモンGO
  9. (僕の)アモーレ
  10. PPAP
  11. 復興城主