My city puts on an “English Camp” for the most motivated and advanced English students in the city. English teachers select one to three students from each school depending on the size, and send them after school to a place with us foreigners to do various English games and educational activities. So far, we have done different games, sports, trivia events, relay races, and other sorts of educational and not-so-educational activities for the kids to give them a chance to learn new English and practice the English they know.
Unfortunately, they typically select the most academically advanced students, and not the best English speakers. They don’t seem to understand that the most successful speakers in camp are students with outgoing personalities (something rarely observed), and talkative students with better verbal skills who are naturally inclined to speak more regardless of the language. Most of the exercises are based on speaking and listening, and yet the Japanese teachers fill the camp with bashful bookworms who can probably write and spell better than most of us native speakers, but are simply too shy to say much of anything in English.
This isn’t always the case and it is changing somewhat. I must concede that the students at camp definitely seem more motivated to learn and try speaking than their peers who don’t come to the camp. But I still constantly meet kids at the camp, try to have a simple conversation, and wonder why anyone chose them. On the occasions where they involved me in the decision on who to send to the camp, they always try to select students who do well on tests, and not always the ones who will succeed. I tried to explain all of this, but I was still constantly at odds with my Japanese colleagues on the subject of which kid to send to English Camp.
Once they get to the camp, we do a number of activities, some of which are good, and some of which leave a little to be desired. We have so far done a murder mystery, where groups of students must go around to different places to gather clues. I ALWAYS play the dead body in this one. We also do a scavenger hunt, types of English relay races, another group game we made called “Welcome to the Jungle,” and introductory classes on amusing aspects of our different cultures. I taught the kids how to play “Casino Craps in Las Vegas” and have previously done American Football. Our city’s Indian National Lydia teaches “Bollywood Dancing” Joelle Kuiper from New Zealand teaches a Maori dance called “Haka.” Other people teach other stuff from other places including cooking and games. I just pulled out the chips and salsa for 5 minutes after the craps game.
They bring in several teachers, and our bosses from the Board of Education, but after the activities are finished, there is little to no supervision. Overall, it is about what you would expect from an overnight retreat with 50 unsupervised 8th graders. They stay up all hours talking and running around where they aren’t supposed to. To be honest, I am always surprised at how well they behave (by American standards anyway), but they still manage to break and bend the rules.
During my first year working in Koriyama, I actually enjoyed doing the camps, but as time wore on, they became less and less appealing. We previously did about 5 camps a year, and due to budgetary changes, last week was the last overnight camp I believe we will do. Here are some pictures from a previous English camp from last year when I enjoyed things more. This is our (unfortunately retired) Scotsman Jolan Martinez with my student Chiemi. Chiemi is now finishing her third year of Junior High at Katahira-chu (she is roughly equivalent to an American 9th grader) and will be headed to high school sometime this April. Chiemi is actually a pretty good speaker when she wants to be.