I sense you are a busy man, Jimbo, so I want to thank you for taking the time to leave comments and ask follow-up questions.
I really liked the themes you had written for each grade. I think it is the way English in schools should be. In the schools I worked at 中 3 was not the last chance to get the basics. It seemed to me that by the time students reached 中 3 they had absolutely no chance of catching up if they fell behind in 中１ and 中2. Perhaps your school is different from the schools I have worked at.
I have to totally agree with you regarding the 中３ comment - in theory. It seems to be that the cut off line for English students to either 'get it' or not happens much earlier than 中３. I'm not sure if more students give up on English in 中１ or 中２, but the 中２ theme actually came from hearing too many girls mumbling "Eigo dekinai" (I can't do English) to themselves during class.
I tend to see the glass half-full more than half-empty in most situations, and therefore when I was thinking about a 中３ theme, I wanted to appeal to their sense of "never surrender". Having survived puberty in 中２ and become top dog in the JHS, they start 中３ in an interesting psychological state. They are actually likeable again and almost ready to handle being negotiated with. In the past few years I've gotten more head nodding from the 中３s during this theme presentation than most other classes. They seem to believe that I'm on their side and speaking the truth (i.e. your life will be HELL in high school English class if you don't buckle down this year and make some progress - and I know you CAN do most anything if you put your mind to it).
Your comment makes me want to emphasize the reality of 'keeping up' in 中１ and 中２ even more than before. Thanks a lot.
In the high school I worked at the theme for 高III would have been "study, study, study for the exam".
Point well taken. Yes, the university exam takes almost all of their attention, for almost all of the year. For years I felt like I was adding to their stress rather than supporting them during this stressful time. So, a few years ago I changed my syllabus to focus more on 'self-awareness' and 'make yourself the best you can be'. I promised to try and make the two periods a week an 'oasis' from exam study, a place to "enjoy using all the English that you've learned til now". I do many personality tests, Show and Tell, movie scene-acting, poster presentations, impromptu speaking, simplified debating, poetry, warm fuzzies, the enneagram, 100 things about me, You teach a lesson, chicken soup stories, more psychological quizzes, etc.
The 'polish, polish' was a wimpy translation of "migaku, migaku" which has some meaning to most of the students via their mothers or teachers, that the more they become 'polished' young ladies, the brighter their future will be.
My batting average is about .750 using this approach. Happily, about 75% of the girls really do look forward to our class each week. Unfortunately, I lose the other 25% almost completely, either mentally or physically.
Just out of curiosity, what kind of school do you teach at?
It's a 80 year-old private Catholic girls junior and senior high school. We are not as academically oriented as we are holistically oriented. That being said, we certainly support all the girls - from those who want to go to national public universities to those who want to go to a trade school.
If you look around my blog, you'll find my school's HP.
Regarding your new theme, what do you mean by the right balance in life? Balance between work and play?
Yes, or risk/safety, excitement/boredom, challenge/comfort, praise/criticism, highs/lows - anything at all that we feel that we want more of or less of in our lives.
The older I get (soon 44) the simpler the formula seems to be. Everything in life works best when in balance. That's not to say that we need to live within a very narrow prism of experiences. In fact, my 'foreign-ness' cringes at the sometimes perceived sheltered life of many of my students in Japan. However, when I compare it to the ugliness of the reality that many Canadian kids have to face at such a young age, I always think the best scenario falls somewhere between the two extremes.
Being in Japan for 18 years, I've also realized few things in life are black and white. For example the differences between Japan and Canada are not good or bad, they are simply different. When we can take the best of both worlds and balance them together, we will be happier.
I am looking forward to hearing more about your new grading system and how it works out.
Thanks. So am I. I'm convinced that if we reward EFFORT, explicitly and consistently, we can reach the vast majority of the students who are not intrinsically test oriented. If we can then show students the relationship between EFFORT and improvement, the system will begin to feed into itself.
I would love to hear anyone's experience with this kind of approach.
If you're still reading at this point, thanks for your perseverence. I'm realizing I tend to babble...