Inspiration can come from many different sources. As as teacher, I think the most powerful inspiration for me has always been the students themselves. When I see their individual gifts and I understand their determination to master English, I feel a strong desire to be a part of their learning experience. Also, when I witness the tremendous collaboration between other teachers and their students, I am overcome with great happiness. I am reminded about what a wonderful life experience language learning can be.
Recently Makoto Ishiwata, a colleague of mine and also the President of Kaplan Japan, shared a link to a video. For nearly 15 minutes, I sat spellbound watching the students at Kaplan Omotesando Center give amazing performances. Click here to view their English Presentation Festival. From public debates to musical productions, these students tackled nearly every performance challenge under the sun… in English!
I’ve recommended role play, use of presidential speeches, and debates in the past, but the students in Japan so nicely demonstrate the range of possibilities for public speaking activities. If you watch their video, you may rethink your approach to designing a class project and embrace the idea of a public performance. Just how high can you set the bar for ELLs? You may be surprised!
After watching the collection of student performances, I had many questions for my colleague in Japan. He graciously agreed to answer them all. I hope you will enjoy my interview with Makoto Ishiwata. The transcript is printed below.
TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW:
JENNIFER: Makoto, who are your students? They’re amazing! I’ve just watched your Spring Presentation Festival, and I’m very impressed by their creativity, their enthusiasm, and, of course, their proficiency in English. What kinds of backgrounds do they have and for what purposes are they studying English?
MAKOTO: Why, thank you so much! I’m so happy to hear you found them that way. Their backgrounds vary, their ages are between 10 and 70, but most of them are in their late 30s and professional in law, medicine, engineering, financing, architecture, education, and so forth. Their purposes vary, too, but they’re all interested in developing their full potential through their English learning experiences.
JENNIFER: How many times have you held this festival? Who attends them?
MAKOTO: As a matter of fact, we just finished our 12th festival last weekend. Who attends them? It’s open to public and shown by students who are taking project work class.
JENNIFER: Can you tell me about the timeline? How much time did the students have to work on their various projects? How much preparation was done in class?
MAKOTO: It’s a six-month project, but we enroll students in the project work class anytime, even in the last one or two weeks before the festival, so only those who started at the beginning of the course spend the full six months. The class meets once a week for 100 minutes, but students exchange ideas daily in English on Facebook.
JENNIFER: How much control and involvement did the teachers have in the various projects? For example, did the students choose speeches from a set of famous speeches selected by their teachers? Did the teachers decide the topics and roles for the debates? Who did the casting for the play and the musical?
MAKOTO: The class is completely student-centered. Students start discussing things from scratch, from deciding on topics to writing scripts, to casting and to rehearsing. The teachers sit in class to give them advice when necessary. The only exception was the famous speech recitation; the speech is chosen by the school, and it’s given in the form of a speech contest.
JENNIFER: What impresses me the most is how all the students rose to the challenge of public speaking and public performance. I noted their communication skills extended to body language and eye contact. Did the teachers coach them in order to develop these kinds of non-verbal communication?
MAKOTO: Yes, teachers give advice on both content and delivery. Learning body language and eye contact is one of the most crucial areas of learning, in addition to verbal communication skills such as vocal variety and vocal projection.
JENNIFER: Based on your experience, what are the roles of public speaking and dramatic performances in language studies? Has any student feedback confirmed your views? Did you find that one particular kind of project resulted in a stronger language learning experience than another?
MAKOTO: I strongly believe they help students develop human skills, paying particular attention to the use of language in communication. The feedback from students certainly confirms this view without fail, but it tends to be stronger when they have longer experience. It’s difficult to say one kind of project provides a stronger learning experience than the others because they are all equally useful. However, I would say a drama project is most challenging, as it requires the most time, talent, and teamwork effort.
JENNIFER: Well, thank you so much for sharing the video with me and telling me about all the preparation that went into realizing these amazing productions. I really wish you and your students all the best!
MAKOTO: Thank you so much, Jennifer.