In September 2012, Dr. Peeter Mehisto visited Japan for the second time. The first time he was invited by the Ministry of Education (MEXT) in 2008 in order to offer assistance, training and consulting on the improvement of bilingual education programs. This time Peeter attended as an expert speaker and trainer for Sophia University’s SOLIFIC department as part of an initiative to spread awareness and deepen understanding of CLIL in the Japanese context, spearheaded by CLILJapan.org founder Dr. Makoto Ikeda.
Peeter Mehisto’s visit was short and jam packed with seminars, workshops and meetings. I met him the day he arrived in Tokyo and we had an editorial meeting for the International CLIL Research Journal (ICRJ) regarding the forthcoming special issue focusing on CLIL in Japan (more information to be posted later on this special issue). After a quick meal of soba and sashimi it was an early night because the next day on Friday 7th of September Peeter was giving his first session – a symposium on “Rethinking How to Teach Content Courses in English: Learning from the Theory of CLIL” hosted by Sophia University. Peeter delivered the keynote speech, after which there followed a panel discussion with Professor Yoshinori Watanabe, Sophia University; Assistant Professor Aki Yonehara, Meiji University; Professor Shaun Malarney, International Christian University; and Assistant Professor Mathew Thompson, Sophia University. The main discussion revolved around how to balance content-based instruction with language-oriented instruction. This was well received and the feedback from the audience was very positive. You can read more on the Sophia website, here.
On Saturday, Peeter and Makoto traveled to Osaka in order to continue the series of seminars and talks at the Sophia Osaka Satellite Campus. Without so much as a pause, they returned by shinkansen to Tokyo, ready for two sessions on Sunday again being hosted by Sophia University. The first session was aimed at current CLIL teachers and CLIL trainers working on special courses being run in various Japanese High Schools under the initiatives being funded by STEP as part of CLILJapan initiatives. This session was extremely informative and shed light on best practices in language teaching and acquisition by giving participants the chance to learn more about research findings and empirical data whilst maintaining a very practical focus. The second session was a public lecture entitled “CLIL Essentials: The Core of CLIL” aimed at giving CLIL practitioners, both new and experienced, a deeper insight into what CLIL involves, what leads to successful CLIL implementation and included many practical demonstrations and a lot of audience participation. During this session, Peeter conducted various interesting experiments which captured the audiences’ imagination about how language can be used as a tool for further learning.
The session was also a chance for teachers to express their own views on best practice, after which evidence from research was presented to demonstrate what exactly makes for successful language acquisition. Audience members were given post-it notes of different colours to represent things they do in their class (yellow) things they felt neutral about (green) and things they felt opposed to (red) and then were asked to vote by posting the stickers onto pieces of paper around the room which featured descriptions of classroom practice.
Thus, Peeter was able to conduct a Needs Analysis with his audience whilst at the same time encouraging participation and reflection. Because I found this activity so interesting I made a note of the scores for some of the items. Here are some of the results:
For the follow-up to this, Peeter referenced the work of Hattie (2009) a large-scale research project summarising the findings of over 800 meta-studies into the most effective teaching practices. One of the most surprising aspects of the talk related to the effectiveness of allowing students to use their own grades – Hattie and his team found this to be the single most effective item in all of the studies, but the attitudes of the participants were initially in disagreement with this suggestion. My own research, which focuses on the use of authentic materials, was validated by the fact that the participants rated the use of authentic materials most highly out of all of the other items, and Hattie also found the use of authentic materials to be effective as well.
After the session, Peeter gave another round of seminars at the International Christian University in Tokyo before rounding up his visit and heading back to London. Peeter’s visit to Japan was a valuable opportunity for educators here to take stock, learn and be inspired to improve our language education programs and our teaching practice. I would just like to extend a very sincere thank you to Peeter for coming all the way to Japan and working so hard, to the SOLIFIC team and Professor Ikeda who organised the entire thing and also to all the participants who joined in at the seminars and workshops. We hope that there will be many more events like this coming to Japan in the future.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to
achievement. New York: Routledge