An Unexpected Lesson

Yesterday was my day in Joei Elementary School, this week it’s the 5th years, they’re about ten years old. Anyway, I arrive half an hour early so we can go over my lesson plans with the class teacher during break and incorporate anything they’ve thought of. I’m still learning which teachers prefer to let me do the planning and which teachers would rather I stood at the back silently (well ok, theres only one of those), most teachers would rather it was a team thing which is brilliant because it means that I feel like I’m actually being useful. And it’s great in terms of my teaching ability because I’m actually learning from them! (Admittedly this learning curve is not with my favourite age group but what can you do?!)

In this case the 5th year teacher and I were on the same program. (I’ve been moving my promary schools on at much the same pace, 1st lesson introductions, 2nd lesson complicated introductions,etc. etc. The variety of vocabulary used just depends on the age group as does whether it’s all done with games or songs or whatever.) This week we’ll do body parts and health, health being ‘I’m happy/sad/hungry/ill’ etc. etc. rather than the dreaded ‘How-are-you?-I’m-fine’ scenario! So I’m in my Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes outfit with some groovy cut outs of body parts and she’s made up this magnetic face thing she wants me to use. All in all the lesson planning took us 5 minutes of ‘I want to do…yeah me too’ and we literally just scribbled down the timings. So nice to be able to do that for once!

So then I’m sat in the staffroom and I get chatting to a couple of teachers who are total Anglophiles…apparently the new craze in England is ‘ahh-ko-ro-ji’, takes a while but then we start talking about Time Team. Yes Tony Robinson’s fame extends this far! ‘ahh-ko-ro-ji’ translating as ‘archaelogy’. As the conversation winds a very wendy path one of the quiet guys at the back asks about King Arthur. How to get an obsessive talking 101!?! So I’m trying to keep my English simple, because this is WAY beyond my Japanese and suddenly everyone is asking questions and talking and it becomes this fantastic discussion involving the whole staffroom. Questions being asked in English, Japanese and a bit of French thrown in for good measure then translated and discussed and ‘what exactly did you mean?’, everything’s being dissected into understanding. Whether he was a historical person? What do I mean by myth? What does ‘once and future’ mean? Who were the Romans, and the Saxons, and the Vikings? Did they have anything to do with the Normans? Where is Glastonbury?

Now this school does not have bells. So I suddenly become aware that I am still in the staffroom and I should probably have gone to teach my lesson by now. And then I realise that the staffroom actually feels a whole lot more crowded than usual, turn around and am knee deep in children. The 5th year class and their teacher are sat on the floor behind me watching the show! The 5th year teacher joining in with the translations and dissections…and then we really got going because one of the boys wants to know ‘Didn’t Arthur have a big sword?’ and so thats Caliburn up for grabs…and the kids really do join in, I have not heard them stretching their English so much, huddles of kids dissecting meaning from English phrases and discussing how to ask ‘Was Arthur a Shogun?’, ‘Was Merlin a Mahjo?’, ‘Did Arthur get married?’ and they have to figure it out themselves because their teachers are trying to figure out in their own huddles how to ask ‘When did the Romans leave Britain?’, ‘Was Arthur a Celt?’, ‘How many knights of the round table were there?’

It was something of a free for all and it was easily the best lesson that I have taught there. Not because I imparted useful language (like the class after lunch got) such as Eyes, Nose, Mouth. But because they were actively trying to use English to communicate. The kids got to see their teachers trying to use English and followed suit. They were interested in something from Britain, and for once they got to see their ALT being passionate about something rather than dressing up in rainbow coloured socks and pulling funny faces. It’s the sort of thing you get told is great to do during teacher training, seize the moment of education rather than have everything written down and trying to teach to formula. Its also something I have been told by more experienced teachers in the UK is practically impossible to do, even at primary level, since there are so many things that have to be taught there simply isn’t time to grab random chances and opportunities. I somewhat cynically noticed during my PGCE that all the example videos and handouts they gave us of realworld application of this came from the seventies and eighties…maybe thats just coz St. Martins Art Department has no money for new videos rather than no one doing it since the seventies and eighties…

I am desperately tempted to pull Arthur into my next few lessons now, but to do that would not mimic the success of that random lesson in the staffroom. What I need to do is leave Arthur on the edges, something they can ask me over lunch. How I can get them to stretch their English into communication again during a lesson of useful words is what I need to figure out now.

Any ideas gratefully recieved!

12 thoughts on “An Unexpected Lesson

  1. Elementary school. They haven’t been desensitised to education yet!
    But it was the teachers who started the Arthur discussion.

  2. That’s an interesting one; and I envy you slightly, as Arthur and Arthurian myth in general is one of my big fascinations. Knowing a few Japanese artists on deviantart, I get the impression that the big thing with Arthur is because of the film with that bloody Kiera Knightly – so perhaps finding another character who has been put into film recently and has some form of historical importance – they’re more likely to have heard of the name if it’s been a major film; but might want to know some real details. So anything Troy or Alexander related…


  3. Actually with this particular age range it seemed to be Disney-based (Sword In The Stone would you believe!) and Sean Connerry based, my Anglophiles are quite obsessed!
    I wonder if I can start on classical mythology with them….oooh that would be nice.

  4. Take one (1) picture of Excalibur, labelled as such, and put it on the wall as a poster, if you can do such a thing.

  5. yes; damned that over-sensitive post button. Perhaps if you change the word from ‘post’ to ‘deploy’ I might be less frivolous in pushing it.

    [Deploy This Comment]

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