As of last year in Japan there was very little in the way of organized English instruction before junior high school. In my town, the ALT showed up once a month and organized a lesson that mostly included games. I actually had a principal tell me to please teach words only. Sentences were too hard. My students learned very little if any English from me. If they were good it was because their parents sent them to eikawa.
This year the Japanese government rolled out new textbooks for 5th and 6th grade called Eigo Noto (literally English notebook.) A lot of people think they suck. I definitely don't think they are great but the material they cover is much more advanced and it means the teachers can no longer shut me down because something is too hard. I can point to the book and they now have no argument.
I'm not sure how other cities are handling the new weekly requirement, but I think some are just having the homeroom teacher teach the lesson while others are increasing the ALT visits. In my city, they've actually hired what they call ATs, assistant teachers, who visit the schools each week. They are Japanese natives (most of them anyway) who speak English very well, (I know this because I interviewed them.) They plan the lessons, meet with the homeroom teachers to go over it, and then they team teach with the homeroom teacher once a week. I still only show up once a month. I jump in and follow the plan for the 5th and 6th grade but I still teach my regular "fun" lessons with the younger grades the rest of the day.
The two ATs I work with are very different. One hates the textbook and asked me to plan and teach a separate lesson last time. This time I haven't had an email from her so I'm not sure what to expect when I get to school tomorrow. I'll have a lesson waiting in case she didn't plan anything. I'm not a huge fan of hers. She's not very genki and she's a whiner. She actually wanted me to leave my flashcards with her last time and looked put out when I explained that I have three elementary schools and my cards travel with me. I've given her websites where she can get her own cards. And the board of education gave her a CD-rom that has materials on it as well; all she has to do is print them out. She's also lost her 5th grade textbook already and says that makes it hard to plan. Uh yeah...
The other girl is awesome and I want to hang out with her outside of school. Her lesson plans are a little schizophrenic though. I like to spend more time on activities but she flits around from thing to thing, often even changing from grammar point to grammar point. But she's always on top of things so I don't complain. Especially since she gets results. Today in my 6th grade class the students could answer questions like "Can you play baseball?" and "Do you like to swim?" with very little trouble distinguishing between "Yes, I can" and "Yes, I do." Some of my junior high school kids still can't do this. Eigo Noto isn't the best, but with some supplemental activities I think the students will benefit.
The other thing my schools are implementing is the "Let's Enjoy English" cheer at the beginning of each class. Four students come to the front and lead the group, going over what they need to remember during English time. They are: big voice, big smile, eye contact, and big actions. I love it and have started doing it with my 3rd and 4th graders too. If they start to slack off, I can just yell out BIG VOICE or BIG ACTIONS and they immediately perk back up. Not surprisingly most of the sixth graders hate it but at my really genki school all the students are excited to come to the front to lead the group. And the fifth graders at all my schools are pretty okay about it.
I was worried about this new year and how things would change, but overall, I am liking it. Although my legs are really sore today from dancing the Hokey Pokey with the older kids and to the Genki English "Hello, How Are You" song with the younger ones. Friday I am back at the junior high and even though I love my ES students I am looking forward to something more sedate. I don't think I could survive if I had to do elementary school all the time.