U.S. and Japanese elementary school teachers participate in group activities during We Can bilateral training at the Ryukyu Middle School, Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 24, 2019. The training is in support of Japan’s Ministry of Education’s mandatory English curriculum roll-out for 5th and 6th grade students. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)
U.S. and Japanese elementary school teachers participate in group activities during We Can bilateral training at the Ryukyu Middle School, Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 24, 2019. The training is in support of Japan’s Ministry of Education’s mandatory English curriculum roll-out for 5th and 6th grade students. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

Japanese & U.S. Teachers Boost Bilateral Future

by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft
U.S. Air Force

Upon first glance, a first-time observer might think this colorfully-dressed group of fully-grown adults are teaming up for a children’s contest to win prizes and candy, with huge smiles on their faces and laughter filling the ears. The “We Can!” bilateral training program is the result of a partnership between the U.S. and Japanese governments to roll out new English language curriculum for all Japanese students across the country by 2020.

Team Kadena middle school staff shared activity-driven English lessons to Okinawa elementary teachers in support of the Foreign Language Initiative at the Ryukyu Middle School (RMS) May 24, 2019.

Dr. Tracy Rice, regional English Language Coordinator, developed the “We Can!” training program in support of the Department of Defense Educational Activities (DoDEA) role in the bilateral agreement, enabling RMS to host training for local Okinawa teachers.

“The Foreign Language Initiative is a joint effort between the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, DoDEA, and the State Department to foster positive relationships between Japan and the U.S. by providing training for local Okinawa teachers,” said Dr. Rice.

The bilateral training program began in 2018 after Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology revised foreign language requirements for elementary students.

“This endeavor began through collaborative meetings between the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, DoDEA, and the State Dept. in May of 2018,” said Dr. Rice. “There have been several training sessions to include follow-up network workshops on Saturdays.”

The RMS training sessions provide Japanese teachers with teaching activities designed to fully engage students with English language classes.

“The training is focused on interactive cooperative learning and team building challenges that enhance English language acquisition skills,” said Dr. Rice. “The engaging activities are aligned to the We Can! books and can easily be implemented with students in the classroom.”

Okinawa teachers who participated in the “We Can!” training appreciated the format of the lesson demonstrations.

“This is very productive, Dr. Rice has so many ideas, and I was very impressed and touched with her creativity,” said Yuko Sakurai, Ginowan City Kakazu Elementary School teacher. “I was so impressed after our last session that I couldn’t sleep last night because I was making a numbers card game lesson plan with ice cream flavors, an idea I got from this training.”

Not only are RMS staff engaged with the training program, but U.S. students also participate in the cooperative learning environment.

“The Kadena English for Speakers of Other Languages team students are an integral part of the professional development, and they assist with heading English language activities,” said Dr. Rice. “Many of these students are also bilingual.”

Dr. Rice and DoDEA support for the Foreign Language Initiative aim not only enhance national educational programs, but also to further improve international relations between the U.S. and Japan.

“This is an innovative way to foster relationships between Japan and the U.S. while providing educations opportunities for all students,” said Dr. Rice.

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