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Amparo Bertram

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05:49 pm: Education theory in Japan
I used my newfound wealth to buy a coffee maker and a blender. I wanted to get a towel rack and trash cans also, but *so* not enough room on my bike.

This morning I attended a two-hour seminar for all the teachers in Moriyama. The superintendent of Moriyama and the former superintendent of neighboring city Kusatsu gave speeches. I thought I'd write up the main points of the latter for anyone interested. Rachael and I introduced ourselves briefly at the very end of the seminar. I rehearsed a few sentences in advance this time, so it went pretty smoothly.

The speaker's topic was "What will be required in education" and he had three main points that he covered over the course of an hour.

  1. Students are the ones doing the learning
    In other words, the emphasis in education should be on students learning rather than on teachers teaching. A teacher cannot simply order "learn this!" and expect the student to learn. A student will only learn when he or she is interested in the subject. Also, many people consider "learning" to be the acquisition of knowledge and skills, but he maintains that knowledge and skills are only tools that can be used to solve life problems. A student may have picked up a lot of factual knowledge and technical skills, but unless those can be applied to solving problems, they are not of very much use. He stresses that students should be encouraged to associate feelings with the knowledge and skills encountered in the classroom, feelings such as the thrill of excitement at suddenly understanding something or working a problem through to a successful conclusion. Teachers should guide students to recognize these feelings, pointing them out when they happen, so the student will become more well-rounded and remain interested in learning. He even went so far as writing letters to the students' parents about such moments.

  2. Students learn in different ways
    Students should be encouraged to work in pairs or small groups to get them accustomed to dealing with opinions that differ from their own. Teachers should initiate conversations with students, pointing out where their opinions are similar to or are different from their classmates' statements. The teachers should also make sure to ask the students for their input on the matter, because they often see similarities/differences that adults miss. He adds that this carries over to the materials used in the classroom. Students should be exposed to a wide range of materials, including things that the teacher personally feels may be boring, because every student is different and some students may gain something useful from a reading or other resource that the teacher hadn't been enthusiastic about. Teachers should approach all classroom materials as having the potential to be a positive influence.

    Taking these things into account, he lists the "steps" toward encouraging students to become interested in learning.

    1. When a student is attempting something new, ask the student questions such as "How should you approach this?" and "What method should you use to solve this?" and "How should you think about this?" This allows the students to come up with their own methods, and the teacher can point out that they have the answers inside them, they just have to search a bit.
    2. As soon as students realize they know how to do something, they usually (especially young students) get started immediately. They are excited about their discovery and rush to put their method into action. Once this happens, students often become caught up in the activity and don't want to stop. It is better to let the class run over a few minutes when the students are excited about learning than to make them stop abruptly.
    3. When a student has finally succeeded in solving a problem, the response shouldn't be just "you did it" or "you finished," it should be more like, "Hooray!" [Note: In Japanese, the word yatta ("I did it") can double as "Hooray" if said as an exclamation, so this is a little like a play on words.] Teachers should point out to the student when they experience this kind of thrill of success. The more this happens, the longer the student will remain interested in learning, because the student knows the end result is a good feeling.

  3. Look at the students
    He makes five distinctions among the kinds of "looking" that teachers should be doing.

    1. Look at the class. The teacher should always be observing the class as a whole. Try not to stand so that some students aren't visible, because then it's impossible to acknowledge them when they try to volunteer answers.
    2. Look at individual students who are speaking. This shows the students that the teacher is paying attention to them. At the very least, the teacher should never turn his or her back on students when they are talking.
    3. Look and understand. Try to see the student's thought processes and the feelings that go along with what they are saying.
    4. Look and understand and respond. Give the student a response appropriate to what the student expressed.
    5. Watch over the students. This is in the sense of a care-giver, someone who looks out for the students' best interests and supports them.

I'm considering walking to to the store so I can just carry a trash can or two back. But thinking about it, that seems like a lot of work. I may ask if they can deliver.

I got the data cable for my cell phone today! That was quite a pleasant surprise. I wasn't expecting it for several more days.



Date:August 25th, 2004 02:11 pm (UTC)

Bike as carrier

If the delivery idea isn't available, I was just wondering if you remember how the people in Costa Rica who didn't have cars used their bikes to carry all sorts of large shaped things around. A bungee cord could be useful for the balancing act, or a big box that could be fastened to the seat. Ticos used to pedal to the store, then find a way to balance and fasten the object to the seat or handlebar and walk the object home. At least that way there were wheels under the object and the bike was holding the weight. Good luck!
[User Picture]
Date:August 25th, 2004 04:16 pm (UTC)

Re: Bike as carrier

Hey, I hadn't thought of trying it that way. Thanks for the suggestion!
Date:August 25th, 2004 02:16 pm (UTC)

Interesting educational theory

Thanks for sharing the theory speech. I'm especially interested that there was no recommendation for external motivation. I just completed another workshop that had a lot of good ideas, yet relied on praise. I'm convinced that it's important to keep the motivation internal. Also emotions are really being recognized in the U.S. as playing a very important part in learning.
Date:August 25th, 2004 04:25 pm (UTC)

Re: Interesting educational theory

He really talked at length about feelings. He thought students should constantly be guided to associate feelings with lessons. Not only should they feel the feelings, they should internalize the feelings and own them. He explained that, in this way, the more feelings the students have internalized as they grow and learn, the easier it is for them to come up with answers when faced with a challenge.

To me it sounded a lot like the educational psychology research about memory. Strong emotions act like tags on memories to aid recall. Perhaps that is the kind of thing he was hinting at, since he seemed focused on making sure that students are given the ability to use their acquired knowledge and skills in practical situations. Being able to recall things more quickly would certainly be a huge benefit.

Also, of course, if positive emotions are associated with learning, students are more likely to want to learn and put more energy into learning, and memory is definitely aided by one's attention and interest, so if it works well it seems like it would be a positive feedback loop. Good feelings-->enjoyment of learning-->better memory-->more success-->good feelings...
Date:August 25th, 2004 06:39 pm (UTC)

Re: Interesting educational theory

Cool! Now just to put it into practice as a teacher. I wish I had more modeling. It never occurs to me at the teachable moment...so easy to slip into the old ways.
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