Case Study for English 4 skills CBT

*The article below is based on an interview with Ayumu Miyagi, an English teacher in Konan Gakuen High School in Okinawa prefecture that took place on 15 June 2018. We would like to express our gratitude for his valuable support.

Q:
Could you describe the practices and policies in Konan Gakuen High School?
A:
We have two general policies as an institution. Firstly, Konan Gakuen aims at fostering individuals who will “energize the Southern part of Japan”, as per the name of our institution¹. We support our students so they can actively seek opportunities firstly within Okinawa prefecture, then across Japan, and eventually across the globe. Secondly, we strive to develop our students into individuals with a potential to flexibly adapt to a world with a complex socio-economic climate experiencing rapid advancement and change in the areas of science and technology.

[Konan Gakuen, Konan Junior High School and Konan High School][Konan Gakuen, Konan Junior High School and Konan High School]
As for practice, we actively introduce new technologies to our students: for example, we introduced iPads and secured Wi-Fi access across the campus in 2013, and started using Chromebooks in 2017. This is because we believe that utilizing the latest technology and raising awareness of the current trends in the world will help our students adapt to rapid changes in society. The latest technology also supports teaching in classes. Using electronic devices, such as tablet PCs, enables a wide variety of teaching methods which are not necessarily possible in a conventional style of group sessions with 40 students listening to one tutor.

With the forthcoming reform in university entrance exam systems and the change in the official guidelines for school-teaching, we are going to face a huge turning point in education in Japan. At Konan Gakuen High School, we introduced Progress, provided by Pearson, for some curricula for first-year high school students in 2016. This is because it allows us to assess students’ speaking skills in line with their level. It is one of our attempts to provide our students with all four skills in English: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking.

¹ The word “Konan” consists of two kanji characters, “Ko” meaning “to energize, invigorate” and “Nan” meaning “the south”.
Q:
What has been your experience with Progress?
A:
When I looked into Progress for the first time, I appreciated that its marking criteria enabled very detailed assessment. Even in a single class, you get students with different levels of English. The fact that Progress changes questions, according to the level of students, allows all students to be assessed in accordance with their ability. Unlike mock exams at a fixed level and with the same set of questions for everyone, Progress encourages students to do their best, which gives them a feeling of satisfaction.

The questionnaire just after the initial iteration of the exam had many positive responses, such as “I enjoyed tackling this exam. It was awesome” or “It felt like an innovative exam of the new era”. Of course, at the same time, some students were not used to taking an exam in front of a computer screen for an hour and got exhausted by the end. We may need to provide support for students so that they can feel comfortable working in front of the screen for a long period of time. I believe this process itself will be an important form of support as we anticipate the reform in education.

Progress provides a set of three exams throughout an academic year, starting with the first one in March. We are holding the second exam in July. We hope that the students will get into the habit of taking this exam regularly.


Q:
Could you comment on the relationship between teaching in classes and Progress exams?
A:
For normal classes, the main tasks are general training, although we have some activities especially for improving speaking skills. Thanks to Progress, we now have three opportunities per year for students to assess the applicability of their learning outside the class. It enables the students to realize that they can “actually apply their knowledge in variety of circumstances in real life”, which gives a good motivation for learning. Especially in the Speaking section in Progress, candidates are asked to describe a drawing or a photo. The students naturally feel that they need to use every single piece of knowledge of English they have, which I believe inspires them a lot.

[Students during the actual Progress exam][Students during the actual Progress exam]
In the textbooks for Communication English in High Schools, topics get more and more complex as it progresses, from cultural matters to science and technology and AI. Progress, on the other hand, starts with asking simple questions about daily life and the student’s surroundings. This enables students to check what level of basic English skills they may have. Progress also provides detailed marks in six sections: four skills (Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking), Grammar, and Vocabulary. This allows students to know their strength and weaknesses in each skill and area of knowledge. Moreover, they are provided a score conversion sheet with CEFR, TOEFL iBT, and IELTS (the scores of Progress can be compared to other English language exams via the Global Scale of English, or GSE, based on CEFR). Thanks to this, we can advise advanced students to take an exam that is more suited to their level, based on their achievements in Progress, which further motivates them to learn English, aiming at a higher level. I believe the primary mission for English teachers is to improve the English skills of the students; however, the exam results gained through Progress also serves for teachers to develop our lesson plans and long-term schedule, so it is also greatly useful for refining the English lessons we provide to students.

Interview support and Editing: Kyoiku Kaihatsu Shuppan Co. Ltd.