For the past 3 years, Western Michigan University's Haenicke Institute and the College of Education and Human Development have participated in the Japan-US Teacher Exchange program, a six month program to improve the teaching of English in Japanese junior high schools. Funded by the Japanese ministries of Education and Culture, the program brings experienced teachers to one of seven US universities to improve their understanding of the English language, engage them in new teaching methods and broaden their understanding of American culture.
Directed by Dr. Jane Blyth (Haenicke Institute and the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Studies), the program has hosted 10-14 teachers each year. Cohorts arrive in the first days of August and receive intensive English instruction for the first month. During this time they are also getting oriented to the University environs as well as the Kalamazoo area. Within a few weeks, they move in with host families in the area. They engage in a variety of cultural events common to the area and to the Midwest, including sports, music and arts, and visiting points of interest in southwest Michigan.
During the fall semester, the teachers enroll in ED 5020 Curriculum Workshop: TEFL Methodology, co-taught by Drs. Paul Vellom and Jane Blyth. This course broadens their theoretical and practical bases for English language teaching. They also enroll in a CELCIS course designed to support the academic reading and writing aspects of their work. They observe and shadow in ESL and foreign language courses at WMU and also begin observation and action research in Kalamazoo public schools. Then, in January, they work intensively in area schools in teaching and support roles in bilingual and ESL classrooms.
Many of the teachers cite the links between theory and practice as one strength of the WMU program. They leave WMU feeling empowered to make changes in their own classrooms, their schools and across their prefectures.
In May 2013, Dr. Vellom conducted a follow-up observational study, visiting the classrooms of 8 teachers from cohorts 1 and 2 in various communities in Japan. He found that most teachers were able to successfully integrate what they had learned at WMU into their highly structured curricula. They were able to articulate guiding principles that they had developed to guide their decision making in planning and executing instructional events, illustrating the strong impact of their studies at WMU and their rich, engaging experiences with American culture.