Writing Instruction: What Is Being Taught in Japanese High Schools, Why, and Why It Matters

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Bern Mulvey, Iwate University

Citing continuing poor performance on diagnostic texts, MEXT has recently advocated for an increased emphasis on academic English, particularly writing instruction (to include critical thinking). However, little sustained attention has been given to the specifics of what is being taught now, how, and why. In this paper, I present recent national survey results and observations made during six years of teaching both Japanese and English academic writing to Japanese students at two Japanese universities. The national survey results support my own observations, suggesting that—and in direct contrast to prevailing beliefs about the curriculum—many Japanese students struggle to write logically and persuasively in English for the same reason they struggle in Japanese: because nobody yet has taught them how. Accordingly, in order to improve academic English skills, critical reading and writing skills in the L1 need development also—where possible, in conjunction with similar emphases in the L2 classes, and ideally including collaboration among all the teachers providing this instruction.