Wednesday, May 15, 2019 marked the first time I, along with the English Weirdness team, met the English students of Sakata Minami High School in Yamagata, Japan, in an online video ‘class.’
As you may recall, in 2018 Sakata’s inspiring Principal Ms. Hiroko Nakahara and English Weirdness established a working relationship wherein the students of Sakata’s innovative and revolutionary English-as-Global-Skill program would view and study our videos as part of their English curriculum. In addition, we agreed to meet in an online video conference regularly, so the students could discuss the videos, and the language issues presented in them, directly with us. Wednesday evening was the first of these meetings. In attendance was myself, the original Weirdness team of Tomoko and Uriel, Nakahara-sensei, her colleagues Ikumi-sensei, Yokose-sensei, a contingent of local media there to cover the event, and of course, the students.
These students were very impressive indeed. We were all a little nervous, but after some interesting introductions in which the students explained their hobbies and interests, we began our discussion of English grammar and learning in general. The students were attentive, taking notes as I spoke. They were eager to ask questions, exactly what we had hoped for in providing the model of teacher-student interaction we depict in the English Weirdness videos. I’m not sure whether it is our model that has inspired this in them, or Sakata’s teachers and program, but it was encouraging to see, because it is often a challenge for Japanese learners of English to assert reveal their doubts by asking questions.
In addition to their interesting and insightful language questions, which I think I managed to comfortably answer, they asked me several interesting and insightful personal questions, which I managed to uncomfortably provide no answer for. Real stumpers! They asked me, for example, what my favorite song was, and I had no idea what to say. I guess I’m better at being put on the spot for grammar questions than questions about my own interests; something to remember when asking similar questions of my students.
The featured student-performer of English Weirdness episode 1, Tomoko, also joined in the meeting. As a Japanese student who came to Canada to study, the Sakata students were also excited to ask her about her own experiences. I think her responses may have inspired the Sakata students to think about studying abroad themselves, so maybe we need to develop a Weirdness exchange and host the student for a visit to Canada.
It was only the first meeting of what will be many. As each new episode of Weirdness is released and presented to the Sakata students, there will be more of these online meetings to review. But if this first one was any indication, the collaboration between us English Weirdos and the inspiring students of Sakata Minami school is off to a great start.