View Full Version : 2014 Textbooks: Impressions and Ideas

April 2nd, 2014, 09:37
The new school year is upon us, and so too are the latest textbooks. Some are different to last year, some are the same. Post your impressions, and any ideas on how best to use them, below.

April 2nd, 2014, 09:44
Crown English Expression I

Impressions: It's not confirmed yet, but it looks like my base school will be using Crown. Browsing through the sample copy, I am highly unimpressed. Each "lesson" has a short English paragraph at the start (barely five lines in most cases), then goes into two pages of grammar that may or may not be relevant to the paragraph. There are some assorted English phrases used to illustrate the grammar, but they aren't relevant to each other, or to the paragraph. The text is small and cramped, and the typeface hard to read at a glance (which is all students usually give it, especially when revising).

Images, taken from the publisher's website:

3490 This is a "lesson".

3491 This is a "speaking activity".

Usage: The only way I can see to use this with an ALT is to make completely non-textbook lessons that reinforce the grammar point being studied, or link to the introductory paragraph in some way.

Conclusion: This might just be one of the worst textbooks I've ever seen, for using with an ALT or not.

April 2nd, 2014, 09:55
Having spent yesterday reading MEXT materials it's becoming increasingly obvious that whatever the government intended with the so-called "new curriculum" has been completely obliterated by most of the textbooks being released. To the extent that I can't believe these companies actually read it, since their textbooks go directly against the guidelines. The new focus on grammar is even worse than the old textbooks. So long as they keep using these textbooks I can't see anything happening but Japanese average level of English communication ability actually going down. Somehow they've managed to make actually speaking English even less important while claiming they want it to be the main focus.

Of course I'm being naive and the fact remains that the tests are the only important thing and the tests prioritize rote-learning of grammar and vocabulary. Essentially the government saying "focus on communication ability" is the same as saying "teach useless things that will harm students' future prospects". And of course, even if they change the center test, the universities (of which a large percentage are complete jokes of institutions) will run the same old tests which if anything prioritise grammar to a greater extent.

Appearance != reality I suppose. The government makes all the right noises but does nothing to change the underlying structures that will remain rigidly archaic.

April 2nd, 2014, 10:37
Reserving space but we're using provision for "communication" and it's basically an old school reading book (and long fucking passages). Moving from vision quest standard to advanced this year. Will post more in front of a computer.

Also totally agree with Jiggit. Welcome to my conclusion last year and my prophecies two years ago.

Alright, here are the two books we're using in first year

Vision Quest I Advanced (Keirinkan). Many of you know it, but for those who don't here's pretty pictures.

Your standard introduction, provides you with a small listening section (where there are occasional mistakes or incorrect usages, but still mostly grammatical).
Teachers may spend up to 10 minutes on this page before abandoning it for the grammar section
Here with have the awesomeness of the grammar section. Obviously left side is explanation in standard Japanese Assembly style grammar, rather than having a meaning focused approach. Vocabulary is assumed with minimal support. Right side is the exercises. There may be up to three of these pages in a unit focusing on various grammar points.
Next we have the "expression" section, which has limited connection to the previous grammar section. Initially I was all like WOO, this is great, but it's highly repetitive and the students tire of it very quickly.
Finally, we have the "activity" section at the back of the book for each unit. These activities are even LESS connected to the grammar that the students are learning. I will admit that some of these activities are interesting, but they don't seem to affect student English ability in any measurable form.

There is one thing I did leave out which is the practice that occurs every few units. These are often basic writing activities, but are rather poor at showing how to think structurally in English. (See my other post here in Teaching for the complement I made for VQ for writing)

Onto the second book. Pro-Vision (Pearsons) is being used in our "communication" class, which is fundamentally just reading comprehension.


Very nicely layed out book. Very little Japanese IN the reading section, and topically pointed questions beside the block of text they refer to. The two supporting books that go with it provide the students slightly more focused learning, but they are still VERY heavily grammar dependent. I do not have the teachers copy yet to look at (It's on its way, but I imagine it looks like all the others with each sentence translated into Japanese), and I highly doubt the teachers are going to play the audio for the students (the units are fairly long. Gonna do a word count later).
At the end of the unit there is your basic "hunt for the content" questions, then this listen/react page. The "make your own comments" area is sorta interesting as it appears to be designed to help students organize the ideas and summarize content. Except it's not really expanded on from there (from what I could see).
Finally, after all that fun of reading and finding words (without understanding HOW questions work....) we get to grammar explanations... again. It's really rather tedious when they have grammar explanations in the reading book AND the expression book.

Basically, my kids get to do a lot of translation thanks to inferior book design combined with teacher in ability to actually teach skills rather than information. It will be an interesting year to be honest, and I hope the kids don't suffer to much.

As it stands I doubt I will be doing very much with these kids other than visiting their classes. I've been thinking about this for a while, having read New Horizon (JHS) and comparing it to SHS books, and there is a huge gap in... non-testable content that they should be familliar with when entering high school. I have kids in third year who still cannot make/answer questions beyond your standard "hunt for the answer" because they've never been taught how questions work, just the grammar that goes around them.

April 2nd, 2014, 11:47
I've stuck a couple of images in my post about the Crown book so people can judge for themselves.

I'll be interested to see what others have in their English Expression textbooks, but it certainly looks like MEXT have told schools to put ALTs in the wrong class.

April 2nd, 2014, 11:50
I don't think MEXT have told them to do it. Otherwise we'd probably be in the communication classes... However what I've seen of the communication textbooks doesn't look like it's much more suited to ALT stuff.

There are a few ALTs in my prefecture (including one who is in a high level school that was charged with being an early tester of the new system) that are actually in the communication class. I know vision quest has a team teaching handbook but do all English Expression texts have that?

April 2nd, 2014, 11:58
I haven't seen one for Crown, but I've only seen the sample pack they gave to the JTEs. For obvious reasons, those tend to focus on the JTE stuff like workbooks.

April 2nd, 2014, 14:19
We didn't buy the teacher set this year for vision quest advanced or pro vision so I dunno.

April 2nd, 2014, 19:34
We're using Genius, which is sort of the same as Grove, Big Dipper, or Power On: the lessons are basically pages of text with a picture or two. We're also having the kids get Forest and its workbook. I really like Forest as a grammar reference since it actually explains how the grammar actually works rather than just giving translations, as well as explaining stuff that normal textbooks miss like capitalization rules and preposition usage . There's pictures too for the kids who need visuals.

April 2nd, 2014, 21:07
We didn't buy the teacher set this year for vision quest advanced or pro vision so I dunno.


April 3rd, 2014, 10:53
Posting to update. Put content in my post w/ pretty pictures.

And ya, Jiggit, I misunderstood what the teacher was saying to me. We bought a teacher set, but we didn't buy the big box. Apparently there were different teacher sets you can purchase, and they didn't use most of the Vision Quest set last year (which made a few people angry). They were hoping the ALT book would be more helpful than it was.

April 3rd, 2014, 10:56
They were hoping the ALT book would be more helpful than it was.

I guess you can see their point, though? If you were anything like me I doubt you used it much, right?

I hadn't really considered what the textbooks cost but it's probably pretty hefty. College textbook price and then some I'd imagine. Obviously it would be better if all schools were fully equipped but as we know plenty of schools are woefully underfunded.

April 3rd, 2014, 11:12
I guess you can see their point, though? If you were anything like me I doubt you used it much, right?

I read it once, told them that things would take an entire period if I did it they way it says in the book, and they just basically laughed at me and said we weren't wasting our time like that in expression.

I hadn't really considered what the textbooks cost but it's probably pretty hefty. College textbook price and then some I'd imagine. Obviously it would be better if all schools were fully equipped but as we know plenty of schools are woefully underfunded.
The textbook for the student itself is rather cheap actually. I think they end up paying about 200$ for the entire year worth of text books for all their classes. Most are about 500-1500yen. I got in a "bit" of trouble when I assigned a 3000yen text book for the second year optional English class (but was redeemed when it was proven to be useful not only in class but also on the trip). The teacher versions are much heftier in price they said, and apparently that Vision Quest set was supposed to be the cure all for the new curriculum (assuming they had actually read HOW to teach it rather than just taught it their normal way).

April 3rd, 2014, 11:14
apparently that Vision Quest set was supposed to be the cure all for the new curriculum (assuming they had actually read HOW to teach it rather than just taught it their normal way).

I don't have a gif that facepalms hard enough.

April 7th, 2014, 20:10
So we had the first of our subject meetings today, and I found out that we're using Genius/Forest for the communication class and Crown for the expression class. Apparently, we've also been ordered from on high to not let the expression class be just about grammar. Cue teeth sucking. At least one of the JTEs actually wants the students to do presentations, debates, and essays and such in the class where the students are supposed to learn how to express their ideas. Of course the reply to that from the other JTEs was "but when will they learn grammar?"

I have no idea why they're bitching about not having time to cover grammar since my school has more English classes than any other school in the prefecture (that I know of)

April 7th, 2014, 20:19
Ya.... I think there are similar orders going around the school right now, but both first year teachers have absolutely no interest in doing anything beyond the text book. Or if they do, they have no interest in talking to me about it.... which is fine if they can't be arsed.

All I know is if they all of a sudden dump presentations or shit on me, I'm gonna make sure I don't get blamed for it failing later.

April 7th, 2014, 21:28
I think for my school at least getting the kids to do discussions and presentations in all their classes is one of the big selling points. But one of the other selling points is getting all (or most) of them into big name universities.

April 7th, 2014, 22:28
My school is making the right noises funnily enough. They've said they might move some of the grammar lessons to communication classes. I think you just have to compromise, what I did with my teachers is point out to them where it says (in Japanese) that grammar should be used to support the classroom activities and shouldn't be the whole point of the class, then I wrote some lesson plans that explained how each exercise is practicing which grammar point from which part of the textbook. Basically acknowledged that grammar is important and that the textbook is full of grammar but insisted that we should at least try to focus on real "expression" not on explaining grammar in Japanese. Also I said that we'd (probably just me) check their homework and explain points the kids didn't seem to follow over again, using some Japanese.

If the ALT is like "no grammar is rubbish let's do speaking activities all the time" then obviously the teachers are going to see it as the random foreigner being shortsighted and not realising what's actually important. Show them that you understand why grammar is important and that they are stuck between following the textbook/test and seemingly contradictory governmental guidelines and offer them a medium. And honestly if you can just produce the lesson plans and show them to the most sensible teacher you'll probably get what you want accepted unless it's a daft proposal. I dunno I'm not doubting you guys know this but it's all about how you present it and you have to be proactive.

inb4 my school is like "eto we decided grammar is most important after all"...

April 10th, 2014, 16:17
I just got a look at our "teacher" sets for vision quest II and I Advanced.

I Advanced is identical to Standard as far as the ALT Team Teaching Textbook is concerned.

II Does not have a Team Teaching textbook at all. From the looks of it, it is actually scripted so the teacher teaches the standard book, and then has a "listening/activity" day where they read out a series of basic instructions (which are far too wordy), and has the students do work sheets (from the book) which involve basic T/F answering, dictation practice (with WAY too many blanks for hand writing speed), an "opinion" section, some group read.

Either way, it doesn't even feel like level II was written by the same people as level 1.

April 10th, 2014, 17:04
II has no in for ALTs really. I'm basically deciding whether I want to focus on teaching writing or speaking. In my experience doing speaking activities with 2nen is like pulling teeth but that's kind of what an ALT is for... on the other hand I can probably teach them to write better than the JTEs can... As far as I can tell though the JTEs don't really teach them how to write, just what to write, is that broadly correct, gizmo?

April 10th, 2014, 17:43
Pretty much. There isn't any focus on structural types (difference between a simple answer and more complex writing). They are shown connecting words, but really only in the sense of identification, not implementation (something you only really learn through trial and error). They don't have any writing support skills like initial planning, structuring/organizing, outlines/flow maps, drafts, peer correction.... pretty much anything you may have learned in HS back home for English writing, or what they teach the slow kids at university writing support centres.

They also aren't particularly good at teaching them what to write either, as they often don't have any practice in critical thinking or linear processing.

Ya, VQ II is VERY ALT unfriendly, and it really seems like it was planned around the idea that the ALT teaches first year students and gradually the SHS transitions the class from ALT stuff to JTE stuff by 2nd year start. I mean hell we're not all that useful for third year, assuming a teacher has actually shown them HOW to read, rather than grammar in reading.

April 10th, 2014, 20:57
I bought a copy of the textbook I used in my high school English class (Lively Art of Writing AKA the LAW book), and my JTEs seemed pretty interested in it. Obviously, I can't just copy the book for the kids, but it should help me remember the actual steps for writing an essay so I can teach the kids. I'm fairly sure they wouldn't be able to master my usual method of bullshitting an essay in one go.

April 11th, 2014, 00:15
coop, I posted a thread earlier about essay writing. If your students are better, use your system, but if your students are shite I think my approach is a good framework to work from. It helps overcome several critical deficiencies in their writing skills if you implement it correctly (disclaimer: there are probably many glaring omissions and mistakes in it, but it serves a purpose)

April 11th, 2014, 07:26
Sweet, I'll take a look at it. The JTEs are fretting a bit since the students' levels seem lower than we hoped.