First, a little explanation: We are always interested in improving the school experience, so we conduct weekly one-to-one counselling sessions with students, to discuss any issues they might be having related to school, classes, accommodation or just life in Fukuoka. At the end of a student’s stay with us, we also have them fill out a more comprehensive evaluation form, to get their input on all aspects of the school and how to improve it. We recently collected all of the evaluation forms filled out since we moved to our new location in May this year, and analysed them all to determine what we can improve for next year.
Here, for your delectation, is a lengthy overview of the results. We’ve split it into two parts, half today and half tomorrow.
Values are the average score for that category from all students who answered the question. Maximum score was 10.
1. Pre-arrival support: 9.1
2. Lesson/class schedule: 8.15
3. Content of classes: 9.02
4. Textbook: 8.37
5. Accommodation: 8.68
Even our lowest-scoring category, lesson/class schedule, was more than 8/10 on average, which we are quite proud of. However, there is still some room for improvement here.
Here are the most common comments/concerns we received for each topic, in order of popularity, with comment about how we will address that concern:
1. Pre-arrival support
– Send more information about host families
We send an information sheet on the host family to each student before he/she arrives. We have recently updated our host family registration form itself, to ask more personal questions about host families, so that we can add this information to the sheet we send you. However, we also do have to consider the privacy rights of families themselves, so there is a limit to the amount of info we can add.
– Send host family information earlier
In summer, we have a lot more students than at other times of the year. One result of this is that sometimes the host family for a student is not decided until a short time before the student arrives. We generally try to send information to the student at least one month in advance of the student arriving in Japan. However, in some cases this can become as short as two weeks. We intend to solve this problem for next year by implementing a new system of matching students and families, and by increasing the number of families we have registered with us.
2. Lesson/class schedule
Please note that there is a sample weekly schedule (PDF) on our website here, which should give you a better idea of what the class system looks like.
– The schedule changes too much
We try to be very flexible, so students can start studying with us any Monday throughout the year, and select any course they would like. However, this does mean that the schedule of classes can vary greatly from week to week, and sometimes from day to day. This year, we tried a fairly free schedule, so there was more variation than normal. However, we have since changed back to a fixed schedule, so all students’ conversation classes take place at the same time, and other course classes are either before or after those conversation classes. This means your schedule for each week will be roughly the same.
– Classes start too late in the day.
Many students would like to go sightseeing in the afternoons, after studying in the morning, so we try to put classes in the morning as much as possible; however, there are also students who hate starting at 9am, especially if their host family is some distance away, so it is necessary to find a balance between these two. Particularly in summer, when there are many classes, it is often impossible to have all classes start in the morning just in terms of capacity. For next summer, we may implement a system of alternating morning and afternoon classes, so that each student has at least two days a week with afternoons off.
– There is not enough of a break between classes.
– There is too much of a break between classes.
These two concerns show the difficulty of creating a schedule that appeals to all people. However, our new fixed schedule tries as much as possible to have two hours of classes, a 40-minute break, then two more hours of classes every day.
3. Content of classes
– Multiple teachers teaching a single course means teachers don’t always know what happened last class.
We have a formal 引継ぎ (hikitsugi, or passing over) procedure for teachers to report what happened in each class so that the next teacher can continue from the same place easily. We previously preferred to have several teachers teaching one class so that students would be exposed to a variety of accents and types of Japanese. However, given the feedback, we have changed this to a system where each class will have a担当 (tantou, leader) teacher, and that class will only occasionally be taught by other teachers.
– Different levels of students are in the same class.
Before students arrive, we ask them to list the Japanese topics they understand and can use. On the first day, students are given a formal level check test, and an interview, to confirm the class they will be placed in. Then, if the teacher or student has concerns in the first day or two, we can move the student to a different class as required. Finally, at the end of the first week, each student attends a mandatory and private counseling session, where we check again that the student is happy with the level of the class, among other things.
Even with this, sometimes students feel that other students in the class are holding them back, or that the class is too difficult. To some degree, this is an unavoidable part of studying with other students. However, we divide our students into a far greater number of levels than other Japanese schools. Whereas some schools have only two or three different grade levels (for example, ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’ and ‘advanced’, we have six. Even with this, if a student feels that his or her level is not correct, and we have resources available, we will create a new class for that student, even if that means a private class. Student advancement is our most important priority.
As a result of the feedback we received this summer, we have also begun a program of free ‘make-up lessons’ for students who feel that they didn’t fully grasp the content of that week’s classes. We also offer regular free extra lessons from volunteer teachers.
– Other students speak too much English
Some other schools have mostly Asian students, meaning that native English speakers are forced to communicate in Japanese. This can be very helpful for learning. However, schools with mostly Asian students will teach classes aimed at those Asian students: you will be expected to be able to write most kanji already, and grammar points, etc. will not be compared with the relevant English grammar.
We have asked our teachers to be stricter about disciplining students who speak too much English in class, and our office staff ask students to speak Japanese even outside of the classroom.