We visited Konan University this week. It is an impressive place with some fun innovations. The one we were there to see was the English only zone or “English O-zone” as they call it. The O-zone was a sectioned off part of the floor that allowed those within it to speak exclusively in English. It looked like a great way to give students a way to practice. The O-zone hosts English only events and has plenty of English magazines and books. The really impressive part is that the O-zone has different native speakers to interact with, throughout the week.
Visiting Konan University, I saw a number of similarities and differences between the school and the school I graduated from in the United States. Many of their resources and strategies are useful for greater student learning and I think that some of these things can be used in Hibarigaoka-Gakuen to enhance students` desire to learn English.
The presence of technology in the classrooms at Konan University enables professors to bring in multiple forms of media. Additionally, the use of computers by both teachers and students during class time allows students to create presentations together to present to the class. Bringing in technology to a classroom gives the teacher the opportunity to show more pictures, videos and other media that students can relate to. This in turn helps students learn. While Hibarigaoka may not have all of the same technology available at Konan University, computers and projectors in class can be used to bring more multimedia into the classroom. This is especially helpful for learning a new language, where visuals and songs for learning vocabulary are useful.
One of the most impressive aspects of Konan was the relatively small size of most of their classrooms. Many classrooms had tables arranged so students would be facing each other, encouraging group discussion. Most of the classes I took at the college I graduated from in America were based on group discussion. This was helpful as it enabled students to express their thoughts and get opinions of fellow peers. For language learning, practicing speaking in groups takes some pressure off students. This allows them to be more willing to try using different grammar structures and new words. Having students at Hibarigaoka practice speaking English in groups will give them more confidence in speaking the language.
Lastly, Konan University`s English Only Zone is something new that perhaps can also be done at Hibarigaoka. This is a space that students could eat lunch, read English books and participate in English events. However, students are required to speak only English, and if this rule is broken more than once, the offending student would not be allowed into the English Only Zone for a period of time. Learning a foreign language, there are not many opportunities to practice the language outside of the classroom. For students interested in improving their English, a designated area to practice that language and that language only, is very important. The atmosphere of the space seemed somewhat relaxed as well, as students can come to talk, read or study. This enables learning a new language to feel more fun.
At my college in the United States, every foreign language would have a dorm dedicated to that language. Students would get to live in the dorms, practice the language they were studying, and have events centered on foreign movies and food. This was especially helpful for my language studies in college and made learning a language much more enjoyable once I had exposure to the language outside of the classroom. I learned a lot this way, and I think that we can incorporate elements of this at Hibarigaoka too. Having an English table and planning English movie events after school are a couple of ways to give students more exposure to English outside of the classroom in a fun way.
Our visit to Konan University was very interesting and I hope we can incorporate some of their ideas here at Hibarigaoka-Gakuen as well!