Sunday, December 31, 2006

About Ferries in Northern Japan

Every New Years my wife, son and I go to Hokkaido from Iwate. Usually this entails driving from Morioka to Hachinohe (about 2 hours) and then taking a 6 hour ferry from Hachinohe in Aomori to a city called Tomakomai. We then drive from Tomakomai to my wife’s hometown, Kuriyama. We always take our car to Hokkaido.
This year, because of bad weather our ferry from Hachinohe on December 28 was cancelled. So we decided to take the ferry from Aomori City (about 2 and a half hours by car) to Hakodate (about 3 and a half hours) and then drive from Hakodate to Kuriyama (4 hours). We made a reservation for December 28 and it seemed as if the ferries were running. On December 27 we received a phone call saying that the days ferries for that day had been cancelled because of bad weather so they were canceling all reservations for December 28. Instead, we could show up to the ferry terminal on December 28 and take a number. When our number was called we could go on the ferry. They predicted that there would be a bout 100 cars ahead of us ( a ferry could take about 50 cars). Because the weather was scheduled to get worse we decided to leave on the 28th before the weather got really bad. We got to the ferry terminal at about 6:40 AM on December 28 leaving our house at 4:00 AM. We were told that there were 110 cars ahead of us and that we would not be able to board the ferry until after noon. My wife and I estimated that we would be able to board a ferry between 3 – 5PM. The ferry parking lot was full and there were trucks parked on the street. There were also a lot of people sleeping in their cars as they had probably been waiting for a ferry from the previous day. Most passengers on the ferry our truck drivers carrying goods from the main Island to Hokkaido and vice versa. The ferry terminal reeked of cigarette smoke as many of the truck drivers were drinking and smoking. Everywhere we went there seemed to be cigarette ashes and ash trays. Outside, most of the hundreds of cars and trucks had their engines running so the people inside could keep warm. So the air outside the ferry terminal wreaked of automobile emissions while the inside of the terminal smelled like a bar. This was no place for a 2 year old to hand out so my wife and I went sightseeing around Aomori city.
We went to a beautiful hot spring (onsen) at a hotel called Jogakura (城ヶ倉) in Hakkouda Mountain (八甲田山). My son and I went into the bath together. The hot spring had an outdoor batch and my son and I sat in the bath with me staring at the snow covered trees and falling snow and my son playing in the bath. It was one of the most serene and peaceful moments I had experienced in years. Unfortunately, the clock was ticking and we decided to go back to the terminal to check on the ferry. We arrived at the terminal at about 1PM. There were no fewer cars, people were still partying in the ferry terminal, and it seemed that few numbers had been called since we departed for the mountains. So, we decided to go into Aomori City and eat lunch. For lunch we went to a big shopping mall. In the restaurant, the waitresses were very impolite, my son was crying and refusing to eat, and everyone around us was smoking. It seems like there are a lot of smokers in Aomori city. We saw a grandmother and a mother with her infant daughter enter the restaurant. They sat down and then the grandmother and mother lit their cigarettes up. The food was not so good either. It was a pretty lousy lunch but my son cheered up and ate so the lunch ended well. The shopping center also had a children’s play space where my son could entertain himself.
We got back to the ferry terminal at about 3:30 PM. Few numbers had been called and some of the truck drivers were starting to get a little restless. In the span of 20 minutes there were two outbursts directed towards the ferry ticket clerks. While the truck drivers insulted them, the ticket clerks bowed their heads and said “moushiwake arimasen” which translates roughly to “How can you ever forgive us.”
I took my son on a 30 minute walk and we observed to boats and the trucks. I put him on my shoulders and ran along the edge of the dock. My lungs started to burn a little and realized that it probably was the result of the exhaust coming from all the trucks (please see the picture). My son saw a ferry docked and insisted that we go on. I had to explain to him that it was not our turn. I do not think he understood the specific reason but he accepted the fact that we could not go on the ferry for a while.
We spent the next two hours hanging out in our car and going into the ferry terminal to see if their were any other developments. At about 5:30 PM we drive to a super market to buy dinner. When we got back to the ferry terminal at 6PM I realized that out number had been called and our ferry was boarding. I drove the car to the ferry as fast as I could and we were the second to last car to board. Once we were on the ferry, the voyage was fairly pleasant. We were in the economy cabin which consists of a carpeted floor and some pillows. Every passenger stakes their own territory and then tries to sleep. We staked our own territory, my wife and son slept, and I read in peace. It was very nice. The ferry arrived at Hakodate at about 10PM and then we arrived at Kuriyama at about 3AM. Altogether, it was a 23 hour trip. That is about as long as it takes us to go to Boston. The moral of the trip was that if you can avoid waiting at a ferry terminal do so.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Learning Styles of Japanese JHS and SHS according to the Teachers

Today, I held a two day workshop on Task Based Language Teaching with 2 junior high school English teachers and 5 senior high school English teachers. For one of our activities we read an article by Jerry Call called "Expanding the Learning Styles of Japanese Analytic Learners" in the book Understanding Learning Styles in the Second Language Classroom by Joy M. Reid. As a task, we made a list of the characteristics of learning styles Call had given for Japanese learners and then discussed whether we agreed or disagreed. We ended up discussing about not only the characteristics that Call gave but also many other characteristics the teachers themselves gave. It was an interesting discussion. The main reason why was that each teacher worked with learners of differing learning characteristics. This reinforced my belief that it is difficult to make generalizations about a society of learners; even one as homogeneous as Japan. Below, I have written some of the characteristics Call and the teachers gave as well as the teachers' opinions.

Characteristic 1: Japanese learners are quiet

Opinion: The teachers were not sure about this characterization. Teacher M, a junior high school teacher, said that her students were not quiet and were especially enthusiastic about speaking English with foreign teachers (ALTs). She added that girls at her school tend to be good at writing but they cannot speak well while boys tended to be stronger at speaking.
Teacher C, a high school teacher, said that her students were quieter but it depended on the situation. In interview test students are very quiet but in class they are very noisy and like to imitate the ALT’s or Ms. C's English.
Teacher Min, a high school teacher, thought that Japanese learners, especially young learners, are very energetic to learn English. However, she said that in Japanese settings, students are supposed to be quiet and listen to the teacher. So, she believes tha that Japanese think that they are supposed to be quiet in class always.

Characteristic 2: Japanese learners are reflective, not impulsive (They tend to think things through carefully before they speak.
Opinion: Teacher K, a high school teacher, reported that an Canadian ALT at his school understood the phrase “The noisy whale gets the oil” but not "The peg sticking out gets hammered"(出るくいが打たれる). He added though, it is hard to know whether Japanese students are really quieter than western students because he has never been to the west to compare.
Teacher R, a high school teacher. said that her school divides their English classes by student ability. In the higher level classes, students are more reflective but in the lower level they tend to be more impulsive.
Teacher Min concluded that Japanese people try to avoid risks, especially in public. They do not want to be embarrassed.

Characteristic 3: Group work tendencies - boys and girls in JHS and SHS do not work well together (Thought of by us)
Opinion: When Teacher E, a junior high school teacher, makes pairs she makes either boy/boy or girl/girl pairs. She said that to communicate fluently, boys cannot talk to girls and girls cannot talk to boys. I, JH, added that I have had similar experiences. Teacher MI, a high school teacher, said that she is very careful when making groups because the wrong combination of learners can have bed consequences for the class.
Teacher K said that in his school he has not seen such problems between boys and girls (except for one class). Teacher Min said that there was not so much tension between boys and girls at her school. She said that one reason could be is that when teachers read classlists or take attendance in some schools, they call boys names and girls names together. In many schools, boys are called first and then girls are called (or vice versa) when attendance is taken.
Teacher C said that she teachers a class where there is only one girl. She commented that the boys behaved differently when the girl was present compared to when she was absent. When the girl was present, the boys tended to be more reserved.

Characteristic 4: Japanese learners are Reticent
Teacher M (JHS) said that she does not think so, because students at her school like to speak English. In JHS, the like to play games. They speak English naturally when ALT comes to the classroom. But, in writing they don’t try to write. I don’t think they are good at making sentences.
Teacher C (SHS) said that her students like to read English or repeat after her but when she gives them activities where they have to write about themselves they do not want to do it. She concluded that students can write about other things but not about themselves. She added that maybe JHS students are not reticent but as they become older they become reticent.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Teaching Debate to Adults

At the beginning of this month I was asked to teach a class at a "correspondence university". This is a university in which most of the classes are done through viewing lectures on-line or reading books and sending reports via the mail. Students also have occasional "intensive lectures" which last for about 10 hours over the span of 2 days. I was asked to give one of these intensive lectures and decided to do a class on debating. Of course, I was planning to create my own mini-curriculum and eventually do a debating class at the university. Unfortunately, I was so busy that I had very little time to actually prepare for the 2 day class. I found a great article on debtate by Daniel Krieger and it really saved me. The article proposes gives a six-class unit plan for debate. I used Krieger's curriculum as the outline for the course and then filled it in with my own activities. I recommend that all those interested in teaching debate read the article.
About the class, there were only 6 students. To my surprise a few of the students could not really read or write English so the first hour I was very worried that the class would be a total flop. I then reminded myself that the focus of the class was learning about debate rather than learning English. We would be doing debate in English but I thought that with a little translation here and there and support from the learners who were very skilled at English all the students could learn a little about debate and experience it. In the end, everyone participated, worked hard and had fun. These learners were all adults ranging in age from 25 to about 70. They had little inhibitions and the difficulty of the task did not deter them from trying. I think that is one of the differences between teaching adults and adolescents. In my experience, adolescents tend to give up a little faster when they think a task they have to do is too difficult or requires too much effort.
By the way, we ended up debating about the following resolution:
"Japan is not a good place for foreigners to live."
A summary of the argument can be seen here.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Problems Encountered When Reviewing Vocabulary

Last Wednseday, I had my English class consisting of 40 agriculture and engineering unversity freshmen majors. The title of the course, "English A", peaks the students interest and curiosity (I am being sarcastic). The class meets once a week for an hour and a half. Last week, I had a class that did not go so well and I would like to write why:

First, for warm-up I displayed some questions using key vocabulary from previous classes using powerpoint (the file can be viewed on-line here). Students made pairs (every week, students are put into pairs randomly) and one student faced the screen and asked his partner the questions displayed. The partner was not allowede to see the questions. They then switched roles.

The previous week we had read about nigthmares so last week we reviewed the key words from the reading. Students' homework was to write the words in their vocabulary notebooks and do a vocabulary exercise.

To review the key words I wrote the base words and their derivations on the blackboard. For example, I wrote the word terror (the reading was about nightmares) on the blackboard. Students in the vocabulary section of their textbook had two sentences with blanks where they would have to write the correct derivation of terror (answers in parentheses):
1. Jemilia was _______ of being alone in her large house at night. (terrified)
2. The most __________ experience I've ever had was in an airplane. (terrifying)

Next to terror, I wrote terrified, terrifying.

The other base words were decribe, recur, fortune, analyze, neglect and imagine so the blackboard looked something like this:

Terror: terrifiying, terrified
Describe: descriptive, description
Recur: Recurrent, recurring
Fortune: Unfortunate, fortunately

After we finished the vocabulary review, to review the pronunication of the words, I would point to a base word and have the students repeat the derivation. After we practiced the derivations for the seven words, I erase the middle parts of each derivation (e.g. desrcibe: d____ve, de______ ion) and had the students repeat the derivations. Lastly, I erased all the derivations and had the students repeat the derviations for a base word after I reported it.

In the next activity, I used powerpoint again. Students were shown 5 slides for about 15 seconds each (Please see sheets 1 - 5 here). Each slide consisted of the day's base words/ derivations and base words/ derivations that they had studied previously. Also, the words were displayed in various styles. Students were asked to write down as many words as they could remember and then share their list with their partner. (The idea came from Morgan, J & Rinvolucri, M. (2004). Vocabulary. Oxford, p.93)

After making a new list with their partner, students were asked to write as many sentences for as many words as possible in 10 minutes. I told them they could not use a dictionary. I thought that this would be difficult but possible because students had
1) been exposed to the different ways of using words through the vocabulary exericises and reading
2) had studied the words before and should have understood what they mean.

Before this actitivity, I envisioned that the students would work together actively in pairs to write as many sentences as possible in 10 minutes. However, of the 34 students who came to the class that day, the majority of them struggled monumentally with this activity. Many students just stared blankly at their notebooks, other students wrote but completely ignored their partners. After students had written as many sentences as they could, I would say a word and asked if anyone had written a sentence for the word. I decided to pose the question to the entire class because I did not want to call on a pair and embarrass them if they had not written a sentence. None of the students volunteered to give a sentence. After about 3 minutes of uncomfortable silence which seemed like an eternity, a student volunteered to give a sentence. (In retrospect, I have taught in Japan in 8 years and know that most students will hesitate to volunteer answers, but I am stubborn and cantankerous.)

So, the activity did not go well. After the activity ended, I commended the students on their fantastic listening ability and also how impressed I was with their reading ability. I then told them that to learn how to use words, you actually have to try to use them. Making mistakes is important and part of the learning process. That is why I has tried to do the activitiy. I asked students before they left the class to write me some advice on how this activity could be done better. These are the answers I got (They have not been edited but some have been translated into English). I have categorized the answers into Advice, I don't Know, Overall Reflection of the Activity, and Postive Responses:

Advice (20 students)
practice reading, writing and talking
Make sentences in homework. And next time, speak sentences. The time to make sentences need.
To write sentences is difficult. Call on one person. Don't call on all of person.
Take more time memorize words.
I think we me talk more naturally. I think you should increase talking in groups.
Everyone read aloud textbook and homework
It's difficult for me to write sentence. I think better that teacher show us example sentence.
I think that we feel nervous still now. So, it is important to be friendly with each other.
You should call on people once at a time.
I think for one word, I want to know more about derivative and how to use. I enjoyed this class.
Choice and ask to a person. I can't understand how to use a word.
Difficult to remember the mean of words. I want to use dictionary.
How about make group? Not pair.
I think something like game contain in class.
I think more understanding lots of words meaning a person.
I think if we see some example. We can make some sentence. Ex) prevent + O + from doing = I prevented hom from going to school.
Because Japanese people are shy, we give paper that we write sentence.
Almost pair partner have never met before. So we don't get along well with each other.
I think we should understand the used of the words well.
Nominate (= call on somebody)

I don't know (5 students)
I'm sorry I don't know
I don't know good idea.
I'm very difficult problem.
I'm sorry, I don't know.
I can't think of good way.

Overall Reflection of the Activity (4 students)
Today's lecture is difficult for me. But I want to study fun English .
I don't good thinking sentence in short time. So today's class is hard.
It's difficult to make sentence.
Word review is difficult for me.

Positive Responses (5 students)
I think we should write English sentence more. And we will understand English more.
Today's class was good.
I want to do this type of activitiy again.
Today's word review was not difficult for me. Because I understood words.
English game or CD listening or use PC? The class is fine like it is.

What I learned:
  • I thought I had given the students plenty of exposure to the use of the words, but many disagreed with me. Perhaps when we do vocabulary exericises I should tell them don't just fill in the blanks but pay attention to how the word is used and write your observations in your vocabulary notebooks.
  • Students think that they have to write a perfect sentence. I just want them to write something. I have a 2 year old son who knows a lot of English and Japanese. He uses a lot of words incorrectly, but the more he uses certain words and phrases, his usage evolves and becomes more and more standard (meaning grammatically and pragmatically accurate). When students tell me their sentence, I want the sentence to be incorrect because the feedback will help them realize how the word is used and their classmates will benefit from the feedback. Nevertheless, this is a source of great anxiety for students and I have to be more considerate to this.
  • Here is an idea on how I could do the activity without causing so much anxiety. A lot of students wanted to work in groups. Maybe is I had the students work in groups and gave each group a more concrete goal it would have worked better. For example, "Each group has 10 minutes to write the most sentences they can. The group that writes the most correct sentences will have to be sung to by the rest of the class next week." Then, I would collect the sentences, read them and announce the winner the next week. The next week, I could also highlight some gramattically incorrect or semantically/ pragmatically awkward sentences and ask students how they would correct them. I could also highlight some well-written sentences and congratulate the group.
  • Questions directed to the whole class do not work. Learners prefer being put on the spot (being called on) to volunteering an answer. The problem is I prefer the latter and not the former.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Using Jeopardy to Teach Relative Pronouns

Last week I went to the same junior high school I went to last month for a demonstration lesson in front of 30 English teachers and officials of the city I was visiting. I was asked to teach page 60(?) of the New Horizon Textbook. My students were 35 third graders (9th grade). I was supposed to teach the nominative use of that relative clauses (The word being modified is the subject of the that clause, in Japanese this is 主格のthat). For example,

  • This is the dog that ate the cat.
  • The country that hosted the world cup was Germany.

I was not supposed to teach the objective use of that relative clauses (The word being modified is the object of the that relative clause, 目的格のthat).

The above explanation makes the class sound more difficult than it actually was. This class went better than the last one because I decided to flood students with input and encourage them to learn the new grammatical pattern that way rather than force them to speak a grammatical pattern that they did not need to use so much. I also had a graduate student, John Wang, and an undergraduate student, Monchichi, come and help me by joining the various students groups during the activity and providing support. Here is what we did:



  • Use jeopardy to help students learn how to use "nominative that relative pronoun clauses" through input flooding
  • Do 95% of the class in English
  • The students experience group work and speak English within the group

Warm up (Materials: computer, projector)

Plan: Students make pairs. Using MS powerpoint, I display 10 questions. One member of a pair is looking at the screen and asking questions to the other member who is turned away from the screen and cannot see the questions. Then, the members switch.
What happened: Students were nervous at first but did this activity.

Introduce the Key Sentence: (Materials: sentence cards (made by some nice graduate students) to put on the blackboard)

What I did and how the students reacted:
I put the following two sentences in the blackboard:
1. Mr Hall is an Iwate University teacher.
2. He is nice.
I asked students to make the two sentences into one sentence. Most of the students knew how to do this but no one volunteered an answer as I had anticipated so I simply reminded students that the sentence would be:
Mr Hall is an Iwate University teacher who is nice.

I asked students, "Why do we use 'who'?" Of course I had no answer so I asked a student, "Is Mr. Hall an animal?" The student, after an initial period of uncomfortable silence said "no." I then asked is "Mr. Hall a thing?" and asked a student for an answer. Unfortunately the student answer, "yes". I then said that I was not a "thing" but a "human" and that we use "who" to add information about humans. (The students had studied "who".)

Next, I then put the following two sentence cards on the board:
1. Kobe is a city.
2. It has great beef.

I then combined these two sentences to make
Kobe is a city that has great beef.

I asked students if Kobe was a human to which they replied "no." I then told them that we used "that" to add information about "things" or "non-humans" and asked them to make a sentence out of the following two sentences:

1. The Nile is a river.
2. It is in Africa.

As a class, students made the sentence
The Nile is a river that is in Africa.

I did not call on a student because I knew that no students would answer in such an atmosphere where they were being taight by someone they did not know and were being watched by 30 or so other strangers. Nevertheless, students seemed to understand so we went to the next activity.

Jeopardy (Trivia) (Materials: computer, projector, name tags)

Preparation:Before we started jeopardy, students made groups. The groups were pre-determined by the homeroom teacher. Each group had 6 people and each person in the group was assigned a letter from A - F.
(Side note: ALTs who teach the same students only once a month, if you are going to do group work (more than 2 members per team) I recommend that you have the HRT determine the groups in advance and tell the students before the class they will do group work. The homeroom teachers knows best which students work best together and how to make the groups about even in ability.)
Students also wore nametags. Before class, students wrote the name they wanted to be called, their group number, and their letter(A-F). The nametag looked something like this:

Group 4
Letter E

The Game

How it was played: I explained that "that" and "who" sentences could be used for trivia and then demonstrated (not explained) how to play jeopardy by practicing a few questions. I told students that jeopardy meant 質問コーナー in Japanese. The rules were that each group would have one leader and that only the leader could answer the question. Of course, the other group members could tell the leader the answer but only the leader could raise his hand. However, the leader would change after every question. For the first question, the leader was student A from each group. After the question, the leader changed. I used powerpoint to display the jeopardy game and questions. The jeopardy template came from EFL Geek and I added the questions. The file that we used to play jeopardy can be downloaded here.

Each question and answer had a nominative "who" or "that" relative clause sentence. When a group answers a question correctly, they were able to rest. The other groups would have to repeat the answer which had the target structure. After they repeated the answer, I would remove the target structure and students would have to repeat the sentence without the target structure.

Question: This is a man from Iwate who played on the Japanese Soccer Team.
Answer: The man who played on the Japanese Soccer Team is Mitsuo Ogasawara. (All the groups except the group that answered correctly repeats.)
Answer without target structure: The man is ^^^^ Mitsu Ogasawara. (Students say the sentence adding the omitted target structure).

How the students reacted: On their evaluation forms, most students said that they understood the "that" construction and they enjoyed the class. Many also said that they had made the effort to speak English in their groups. I owe that to John and Monchichi who worked with each group and helped motivate them to speak English.
During the game, students struggled to repeat the sentence without the target structure.

Overall Reflection

I have learned a lot from my last 3 experiences teaching at a junior high school and senior high school. I am finally understanding the students and what they will or will not do in the classroom. This is good because the next time I teach jr high students I can have a class with activities I know that they can do so that the students remain confident and feel secure but also mix these secure activities with more demanding ones that will force students to challenge themselves without overwhelming them.

I also understand what kind of groundwork has to be done in advance for the students to be able to do group work (This is only if you are a visiting teacher and will only teach the students a few times a year.).

Friday, October 20, 2006

My Worst Date Ever

This is an assignment for a university English class that I teach. I am going to tell you a story about the worst date I ever had. The story is not finished though. I would like you to finish this story in about 100 words. You can finish the story by writing a comment to this post. We will discuss your endings to this story and what really happened next class. Please try to finish by 6PM on Wednesday. Also, please try to use as many words as you can from the story we read, "wedding customs" and some phrases from the "Meet the Father" dialogue on page 41.

My Worst Date Ever
I was 15-years-old when I met her. I was the time-keeper at a junior high school lacrosse tournament. I was keeping time for the final match and it was extremely thrilling. It was so thrilling, in fact, that I forgot to start the stopwatch after a time-out in the second half. I realized this when the referee asked me how much time was left in the match and the time on my stopwatch was not moving. A girl, the manager for one of the teams, happened to be keeping the time and kindly told me how much time was left. I told the referee and a crises was avoided. After the match, the girl, Debbie, asked if she could have my phone number. I was very thankful that she had saved me from a lot of embarrassment and gave her my telephone number without thinking.
A few days later I received a phone call from Debbie and she asked me to go to the movies. Although I was not interested in having her as a girlfriend, I appreciated how she had helped me at the tournament so I said yes. I told her, though, that I was going to bring a friend and she said fine.
The next week my friend, Tim, and I took the train to Debbie's house. We met Debbie and her friend, Wendy, in front of her house and then started to walk to the movie theater. As we were walking to the movie theater, I noticed that Wendy looked very unhappy and she was not talking to Tim. I also really did not have anything to say to Debbie. I realized that although she was nice, I had nothing to talk to her about: We could not even become friends (which I hoped that we would) because we had nothing in common.
We continued to walk in an uncomfortable silence. A car with 4 noisy high school kids drove by us and I heard one of the kids shout something out the window. A minute later the same car drove by us again. A minute passed again and the car approached us one more time and stopped. A small guy got out of the car. Although he was small for a high school kid, he was bigger than me as I was puny little junior high school kid. His 3 friends in the car were big though. The small guy, looking very angry, approached me and said "Are you the guy who is dating my sister?"
What happened next? Please write a comment to this post.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Doing a Cross-cultural Understanding Class at a High School in Japanese

Two days ago, I went to a high school in a medium-sized city in Iwate. I gave a class to 40 high school students (from different homerooms) interested in my university. The high school requested that I give a "university lecture"for about an hour and then take questions from the students for a half-hour. I did a lesson about culture and talked in Japanese. This is what I did:
Ice Breaking: Students line up by birthday. They cannot speak nor use their hands. They can communicate by winking the months and blinking the days. After students made a line, I planned on putting them into groups of four with 2 boys and 2 girls in each group (this was essential for the main activity).
What actually happened: This activity proved to be difficult for the students. They felt embarrassed to wink and blink at each other and the line was never created. This activity is usally works well at the university, but high school students are a little more self-concious. After I put students in groups of 4, we had another problem: there was a lot of tension between the boys and girls in the groups.
Introduce the Topic: I said our goal today was to learn a little about what culture is and investigate some of the problems and understanding that might occur when people of different cultures meet. After defining "national culture" and "microculture", I talked about the different nationalities in Japan and the very high school I was visiting as examples of a microculture.
Examining our own culture: I gave the following scenario to students: "A group of aliens from Mars has just come to your high school. They are friendly people and have been across the universe researching the culture of other planets. They have come here to learn about the culture of your high school. Remember they know nothing about high schools on earth. Please brainstorm what you would tell them. For example, What do you eat?; What do you wear to school?, What do you do in school?, What do you do outside of school?". I gave the groups a few minutes to brainstorm some things they would tell the aliens and then called for volunteers to give some ideas. After some coaxing, 7 students gave ideas. The most frequent response to the aliens' inquiry was "we work hard", so I told the students that the aliens might consider the students of the school to be very busy.
I believe if I had done the following this mini-activity would have worked better:
Have each group choose a person to present before the activity started and tell each group that they have 5 minutes to come up with at least two ideas. I realized that brain storming is supposed to be a stream of ideas expressed freely, but students who are not used brain storming probably need to have it more structured at first.
The Anbura and Leba Activity:
Students formed two cultures; the Anbura and Leba. The Leba culture was very outgoing while the Anbura culture was much more reserved. Half the students received Anbura description sheets and the other half received Leba description sheets. I then asked students to read the sheets and gave them some questions to answer about their respective cultures with their groups. We then had an "Anbura, Leba Exchange Meeting" where students pretended to be the other cultures.
Students seemed to understand about their cultures. However, when the role play started most of the boys decided they were too cool to participate but many of the girls were really into their roles.
After the exchange, I asked the Anbura what they thought of the Leba and vice-versa. Some students answered in jest calling the other culture "sexy". Other students gave serious answers: one Leba called the Anbura "shy" while another Leba called the Anbura "cold". I then had the Anburas read their descriptions to the Lebas and vice-versa.
I told the students the point of this exercise was the following:
The descriptions of each culture written on the paper students read was objective and positive. However, a lot of students impressions of the other culture they met was negative. The Anbura were seen as cold by the Leba but the Leba did not know that the Anbura had a protocol for interacting with other cultures. Thus, we should not be hasty in making negative judgments about other cultures. I completed my "sermon" with some personal experiences I had in Japan where I made hasty judgements about people which I later regretted.
Conclusion of the class
The ending of this class should have had a period of reflection for the students but I had already used up an hour and ten minutes.

My Overall Impression of the Class:
Like my previous experience at the junior high school, it is not easy to go to a school and give a class to children only once. I need to be more conservative in my planning and compromise more of what I want to do to what the reality of the situation is. However, I do not want to compromise too much or I will be giving the students a typical lesson and there will have been no reason for me to come and visit the school.
It is exciting to do a class in Japanese, but I realized that the class is a little drier; it is easier for me to make jokes and be more of a performer when I do a class in English. When I speak Japanese, I sometimes have to devote most of my cognitive resources to producing the language and do not have enough left for spontaneous humor or entertaining performances.
Also, when I make a mistake in Japanese, students sometime laugh and lose their concentration.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Trying a Task-Based Lesson at a Japanese Junior High School

This week I was invited to a junior high school in rural Iwate to give a demonstration lesson (a 50-minute lesson). I taugtht 35 second graders (8th grade US - 14 years old) and there were approximately 30 local teachers and officials wathcing the lesson. I had never met these students before and had not developed any kind of working relationship with them. This was also my first time going to this school. To top it off, the students seemed a little nervous about having 30 onlookers watching them.
I was asked to teach a page of the textbook. Below is the text of that page. I have changed the content slightly. The students had not studied this page before

"A New Parking Area for Bikes "
Lincoln Park will become a parking area for bikes.
People complained when a bike fell on a little girl (Jasmine Kuroda) near the station. They asked the city for a new parking area.
But some people are against the plan. They think we should keep the park.
A park or a parking area - that is the question.

New Words

become, complain, little, girl, boy, against, for, should, ask...for

Key Sentence

People complained when a bike fell on Jasmine.

I am now going to write the Task I decided to try, how I went about doing it, and the successes and failures of the lesson:

Here were my goals for the lesson.
1. Do 95 % of the class in English with the students understanding.
2. For the students to experience and enjoy group work.
3. Reading Strategy: Students make use of their background knowledge (what has happened in the chapter up until " a new parking area for bikes") to understand the text.
4. Reading Strategy: Students use the outline of the text I gave them to understand it and put it together.

The task I picked for the lessons was an "ordering and sorting task". I divided the above text into 6 parts (sentences) and gave each part a letter (A - F).

A: They think we should keep the park.
B: Lincoln Park will become a parking area for bikes.
C: But some people are against the plan.
D: People complained when a bike fell on a little girl (Jasmine Kuroda) near the station.
E: A park or parking area - that is the question.
F: They asked the city for a new parking area.

The Task
For the lesson, I printed each sentence onto a small piece of paper and placed them in an empty classroom (Click here). The objective of the task was to go to the empty classroom, find and memorize one of the sentences, go back to your classroom, write down the sentence, and then recreate the whole passage with their group.

Preparing for the task
The class of 35 students was divided into 6 groups. Each group had 6 students (one had 5). Before the class, I asked the teacher who usually teaches them to made sure the students were sitting in groups. Each student in each group was assigned a letter(A~F). I asked the teacher to make sure that each group would have 2 students who were very good at English, two students who were average, and two students who struggled with English. Students who struggled with English were assigned sentences C or B. Students who were average were assigned sentences A or F, and students who were advanced were assigned D or E.
These students had little experience with group work so I brought 4 graduate students from my university to help the different groups because I imagined each group would struggle mightily with the task.
Students also wore nametags which in addition to their names had their sentence letter and group number. By the letter on a student's nametag, I could tell whether or not she struggled with English or was pretty confident in it. I still called on students indiscriminately because I do not believe on only calling on the "good" students. However, it is nice to have an idea beforehand about the likelihood that a student will respond to a question.

Doing the Task and the Class
Here is what we did for class:
Note: When the class began, students were already sitting in groups of 6.

1) Greeting and Review: The guest teachers introduced themselves. I then asked students "How're ya" (intentionally using a strong American accent) and told them they could answer by saying "Great", "Good", "OK", "Not so good". I then had all the A students from each group stand up and ask "How 're ya" and answer around in a circle. I called some other letters too. I did not plan this but the atmosphere was so tense that I wanted to try someting to loosen things up.
For review, I reviewed what had happened up until "A New Parking Area for Bikes" reading. Usually, I would ask the students questions but I knew in such a tense environment students would not want to raise their hands so I summarized what had happened. The purpose was this was to get them thinking about what "A New Parking Area for Bikes" was about

2) Task

I told students our goal for the day was to write the newspaper article from the text titled "A New Parking Area for Bikes". First, I said that we would have to learn the new words. I introduced the new words using word cards the graduate students made. I first used the new word in a sentence and then asked the students what they thought the word meant. I wrote the sentences on the blackboard before class to save time (Please click here to see what the blackboard looked like). Of course, the students did not answer and I should have known better. Afterwards, a teacher advised me that I give the students a multiple choice answer. That would have been much better rather than directing a question to the whole class.

After introducing the new words, I gave students the instructions for the task. I spent a lot of time thinking exactly how I could give them instructions in such a way that they would understand. Below is what I told them:

We are now going to make the newspaper article. The article is divided into 6 sentences. Sentence A, sentence B, sentence C, sentence D, sentence E, sentence F. Each sentence of the text is in room _________, but it is in a secret place. Each of you has a letter on your name tag. The letter is your sentence. People with sentence A, please raise your hand. Each person with Sentence A will go to room _____ and fins sentence A. When you find Sentence A, please memorize it. Then return to your group and write your sentence on Sheet 1. After your group has written all the sentences, use the sentences and make the article. The sentence order is not A, B, C, D, E, F. (文書の順番はA,B,C,D,E,Fではない). Use the hints, to help you put the article together.
You have 20 minutes to finish the task. In other words, you have 20 minutes to make the article.

Students quickly found their sentences and were able to write their sentences on their respective sheets (Sheet 1).
I had written an outline of the article on the blackboard to help them put the sentences together:
1)There is a plan.
3)There are some problems with the plan. 
4)The conclusion.

Time started to run short and 4 of the six groups were unable to put their sentences in order. Students were confused by the outline and they had not learned the phrase "There is" to my chagrin.

I realized that had I written the outline as below maybe the students could have put the article together:
1) A plan
2) Why? (2 sentences)
3) Problems (2 sentences)
4) The conclusion

Post Task:
We read the actual article in the textbook out loud. I made the mistake of calling on a group who had successfully put together the article to read their version out loud and they were too shy to do so.
I gave students the following evaluation sheet. I wanted to know which of the words we had studied that they understood. I also wanted to know which parts of the task they could do and which they could not do. The purpose of this task was to think of the main ideas of the sentences and how they fit together. One teacher told me that perhaps my evaluation sheet was a little ambiguous. Maybe I should have written something like this:
(1 = Strongly Agree; 5= Strongly Disagree)
1) Today I understood the main point of the sentences 1-2-3-4-5
2) Today I understood how the sentences fit together: 1-2-3-4-5

My Reflection: Doing a research class in front of many onlookers is an incredibly humbling experience. It would have been nice if I had known the students beforehand but oh well.

Good points: I did a class in mostly English and it almost worked. Students understood the task and the new words.

Bad Points: Students were unable to put the sentences together and perhaps thus the lesson did not accomplish its main goal. Furthermore, the evaluation was a little ambiguous.
When I gave a question to the entire class, it was never answered. This is common in Japan; I should know better than to direct a question to an entire class of students that I do not know, but I cannot help it, it is my nature and the way I was educated.

Overall: Unfortunately, I fear that a lot of teachers watched my class and it might have reinforced their belief that English classes in English only do not work and children must be spoon fed everything to learn. My opinion is that doing something new in the classroom never goes smoothly the first time. As time progresses and the students and teacher get used to the new activities and working with each other, the class will go smoother.. For students to become good English learners, they have to learn how to read English by themselves. On November 7, I will have another opportunity to go to the junior high school and teach. To be honest, doing this on top of my university work is incredibly burdensome, but I will give it another try and hopefully do better. Trying new ideas at the junior high school level has given me the opportunity to understand the students better. I must further think about how to adjust the class plans to be more suitable to the needs and abilities of the students. I have a feeling that no matter what I do though, classes in this kind of high-pressure setting will never go smoothly. The reason is that students will be trying something for the first time and they need the opportunity to get stuck on a task or make mistakes. This will help them learn how to do the task in the future, I believe.

Monday, September 25, 2006

My Lecture about Vocabulary Learning in Xinjiang

I spent the past week in Xinjiang, China visiting two universities with which my university hopes to have exchange.

In one university I was fortunate enough to be able to observe a freshman extensive reading English class. The day I observed the class, I also gave a lecture to 200 English majors about learning vocabulary, it was a very exciting experience.

One of the things I talked about in my lecture was the different information we need to know about a word to be able to use it and understand it completely. In a nutshell, the different kinds of knowledge are
Form: Know the pronunciation and spelling of a word as well as be able to pronounce and spell it.
Meaning: Know the meaning of a word instananeously after reading or hearing it. Have a concept of a word: For example if the word is bicycle you might have such concepts as "healthy" "good for the earth", "better than cars in rush hour". Understand how a word is composed: For example bicycle = bi + cycle, tricycle = tri + cycle. Understand other words associated with the word. For example bicycle: handle bars, seat, wheels, etc. Know other ways of expressing the word: For example, bicycle = bike.
Usage: Know which words are commonly used together with the word you know: For example, "ride a bicycle", "a bicycle ride", "get off a bicycle" etc.. Know how the word is used grammatically: Bicycle as a noun it can be used as the subject of a sentence: My bicycle is pink. As a direct object: I crashed my bicycle. After a preposition: I go to work by bicycle. Lastly, one should know any social restrictions of use on the word: For example, usually people do not use such language as "wanna" and "gonna" in a job application.

There is so much information about a word we eventually will have to know to master it that a lot of teachers (including myself) sometimes lecture too much about the words they want their students to learn. So introducing ten words to students can take up to 20 minutes. Although teachers are just trying to be helpful, I think that this is too much information for students and frankly quite boring for them. We need to help students learn this information by themselves rather than try to spoonfeed them it. I wish I had mentioned this point to the English majors, many of whom are aspiring English teachers.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

In China September 15 - September 22

I have gone to China to go to Sheheiz University . I will be giving a lecture to students about how to study vocabulary. I am still recovering from my 20-day trip to the USA but I am happy to be here. Today I am in Beijing and tomorrow I will be going to Urumichi, Xinjiang. Here are some pictures:

Tiananmen Square


In the USA August 21 - September 11

I visited my family in Boston, Massachusetts and Berkeley, California. Here are a couple of pictures.

Sailing on the Charles River, Boston

Walking in the hills of Berkeley

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Two Japanese Movies: "Nana" and "Moyuru Toki"

私はこの映画を見るまで、日本のポップ音楽があまり好きじゃなかったが、漸く気に入った日本のポップを聞きました。この歌はロック歌手を演じる中島美嘉の「Glamarous Days」です。このビデオを下記に載せます。


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

About Using Blogs in English Teacher Training

From April to the ending of July, I used blogs together with my 英語科教育法 III class (English Teaching Methodologies 3). Our class blog as well as links to the learners' blogs can be viewed here or on this very page. In the last class I gave the students a questionnaire about their blogging experience. Below are the questions and the students answers. For questions 4, 5, and 6 students wrote out answers rather than circling an answer. I have put students answers for these questions into categories.

Question 1: How often did you write in your blog?
  • Every time and we had an assignment and when I wanted to - 7 students
  • Every time we had an assignment - 7 students
  • Sometimes - 3 students
  • Rarely - 2 students

Question 2: Overall, I would say my blogging experience was:

  • Very interesting - 12 students
  • Interesting - 5 students
  • Hard to judge - 2 students
  • Not so interesting - 0 students
  • Bad - 0 students

Question 3: I would like to continue to blog in the future:

  • Strongly Agree - 3 students
  • Agree - 9 students
  • Neither Agree nor Disagree - 6 students
  • Disagree - 1 student
  • Strongly Disagree - 0 students

Question 4: Please write what was good about your blogging experience

Answer Type 1: Being able to communicate with or learn from other people:

  • Expose my own ideas and communicate with other people who perhaps thousands miles away from my place
  • I can receive response from other people and there are many things what I notice first time. And I can read other people's ideas.
  • Good point was to have some comments from others and they were nice to think over my ideas.
  • I learned a lot because I was able to study English, various people read my blog, and I was very happy when people commented on my blog.
  • We can exchange our thoughts through it.
  • We can share own opinions and I learned a lot from them.
  • It is difficult to write English blog, but when I wrote itm some people were commented so I was very fun!
  • We ETM3 members can know other idea through reading blogs.
  • I could know the statement of another people.

Answer Type 2: English improved

  • I could write my own thinking in English every time. It is hard word, but I think my ability of English improve.
  • I think I could improve my writing skill. I enjoyed sharing opinions each other.
  • I could improve my English writing skills.
  • I had chance to considering story in English that I want to tell people.
  • Blogging improved my English level.

Answer Type 3: Other good points

  • I learned how to make a blog.
  • It was said that we could write what we wanted to write and I enjoyed being able to write freely.
  • I had good experience.
  • I can review the lesson.

Question 5: Please write what was good about your blogging experience:

Answer Type 1: Difficult to write in the blog regularly (Note we wrote in the our blogs almost once a week):

  • When I was busy, I can't write my blog and I don't access to internet from my home. So I can't write in when I wantr to.
  • I noticed that 3rd year students were very busy, so it is difficylt to write a blog every time.
  • I sometimes didn't do blogging assignments by the deadline.
  • It is difficult because I have no PC at my house.
  • Sometimes I wrote in late time.
  • It was hard to write my blog, for I have no computer which can use the internet. So the time is limited.
  • I can't write blog every day.

Answer Type 2: The topic was decided by the teacher too often:

  • I wanted write in the blog not for the sake of doing homework but to write about what I was interested in.
  • At the beginning, it was decided what we would have to write so it was difficult for me to write.

Answer Type 3: The Nature of Blogging

  • It is hard for me to write blog. Blog is so public, I felt shame.

Question 6: How do you think that JH can improve the use of blogs in the future?

Answer Type 1: More free writing

  • More free writing
  • I think it is very good thing. In blog, I can express my opinion and receive responces. The blog gives me many good things.
  • I think you should ask students to write about every things.
  • [My translation] If students were able to write freely in their blogs, I think there would be a lot more enthusiasim about blogging.

Answer Type 2: Class Management and Blogging

  • I think it would be better if blogs were brought up more in the classes.
  • Make the homework deadlines earlier.
  • [My translation] How about students meeting the deadlines?

Answer Type 3: Various suggestions:

  • Put a PC in [the English students' room] because sometimes we cannot use PC in [the computer room].
  • I think if students are more careful about the blog which are viewed by others it would be nice.

Answer Type 4: Do not change anything

  • Very good! It is the good opportunity to write my opinion in English.
  • It's difficult question. I think you don't have to improve the use of blogs for ETM3.
  • I should use blogs for ETM3 in the future.
  • It's good! Keep this style!

My Conclusion on my second blogging project:

What does this all mean? One, I should consider more free writing... There is much more that I could write but it is time for me to leave work and go home! The swings are beckoning my son and I. I have to start working on another project tomorrow, so I will not be able to finish writing this until next week. Stay tuned.

New Webpage on Vocabulary Notebooks

On August 4, I made a presentation at the All-Japan English Education Conference titled "An Investigation on How Vocabulary Notebooks can be used Effectively in EFL Contexts in Japan". The train from Morioka to Kochi city took almost 12 hours! First, I took the bullet train from Morioka to Tokyo but we were delayed 50 minutes because some dummy ran onto the train tracks. As a result of this, JR (Japan Railways) stopped all the bullet trains and searched the tracks for 50 minutes to make sure that there was no one else out there (I think). After I arrived in Tokyo station, I took the bullet train from Tokyo to Okayama and finally a normal train from Okayama to Kochi City. The highlight of the last train ride was crossing the 瀬戸大橋 or the Seto Bridge. (See the picture I downloaded from Wikipedia below:)

As I had been so busy with work at the university, I was not able to prepare for the presentation until the last second. I did not start practicing my presentation until I had arrived at Kochi and eaten dinner. The presentation at the conference actually did not go so badly but there were some thing that I wanted to say that I did not. I have made a webpage which outlines all the research I have done on vocabulary notebooks these past few months. Eventually, I will write two papers from this research:
1) A proposal on how to use vocabulary notebooks in class - grounded on theory and practice


2) What effects can the use of vocabulary notebooks have on the word learning strategies that students use?

I hope that the webpage I have put on the internet will be of service to teachers interested in vocabulary learning. The webpage can be accessed here.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Vocabulary Notebooks Revisited

This year I introduced vocabulary notebooks into two of my classes (A university freshman English class and a Nursing School English class). As I wrote before, the primary reason for doing so was to encourage students to learn the words they encountered in class and also learn how to use them. Last year, I had observed that many students' notebooks for the classes consisted of a pile of handouts I had given them throughout the semester and some scriblings. These students received 10 and 20 percents on tests and one of the primary reasons was that they had no idea how to review for a test. I realized that I should be trying to help these kids develop study habits so I introduced vocabulary notebooks.

For one entry students can write the following information about a work:
1. the L1 meaning
2. A keyword or key picture.
3. the L2 word
4. Phonetic transcription
5. Part of speech
6. Derivations
7. Collocations
8. Sample sentences

To see an actual word entry from a student, please click here. In two weeks I will be presenting about this project at the zenkokueigokyouikugakkai or the Japan Society of English Education Conderence in Kouchi. There has actually been very little research done to investigate how students record words in their notebooks. At the conference I will be talking about the following:
1. Did the students use new word learning strategies develop through using the vocabulary notebooks?
2. Did students actually use the vocabulary notebooks, if so, how?
3. Through this experience, what tips can be given to teachers about the use of vocabulary notebooks?
4. What further issues of investigation have arisen from this study?

To prepare for this presentation, I will be periodically posting to this blog in the next two weeks. I hope I can finish by the time the conference roles around!

Tests that Encourage Students to Learn

As I have written before, I teach an English class at a nursing school (Please see the worst dialogue ever made for nurses for reference). This is my second year teaching the class. One of the problems I had last year was that about 10 of the 40 students consistently got 10 and 20 percents on tests and quizes. As a teacher there is nothing worse than having to mark a blank test page. I would always wonder why the student gave up on the class and what I could have done differently.
This year, although I have not stopped tests and quizes I have stopped marking them. Rather, I have the students mark them. After the students mark their tests and quizes I ask them to give them to me and I write comments on them. I have also told the students that I will not record their grades. The tests and quizes are designed to record how much they are improving and I want them to study hard so that they will improve.
The other day in the nursing school class we had a mid-term examination. The exam had 4 parts. I gave the students a time limit to complete each part and then we went over the answers together with the students correcting their own tests. Students then evaluated their own performance on the test and wrote about how they might be able to improve. A handful of students left one or two parts of the test blank. When we went over the answers, they did write in the answers and wrote in the comment section of their test that they did not study for the test and that they would study harder next time. Although not ideal, this is much better than receiving a blank test from a student.
I remember when I was studying Japanese. Whenever I was returned a graded test I would look at the score and never the teacher's corrections. The only time I would look at the comments/corrections of the teacher was if I had a good score. Because I usually studied hard for a test, and test scores were very influential on my course grade, a bad score was like a slap in the face. Now, I regret not looking at the tests because I had absolutely wonderful professors who wrote very helpful comments on the tests.
The point of a test should be to help the student determine how much of the class he/she had understood and to understand his/her progress. With grades, I believe, tests lose their value.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Danger of Focusing too much on Cultural Differences

This time of year is always very stressful for me. Although it is a busy time of year as I have a full courseload, research to present in August right after the semester ends, university committees to serve on, a 21 month son at home, and a trip to the US to plan after my presentation is finished, this is not a source of my stress. The source of my stress lies in the two weeks I devote in my "Meeting of Multicultural Educators" class at university to studying the "national values" of other countries. Professor Geert Hofstede, classifies national values into five dimensions: power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, masuculinty vs. femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and long term orientation vs. short term orientation. Approximately 76 countries/ regions have been ranked on the degree to which they show characteristics of each dimension. For example Uncertainty Avoidance is defines as reflecting "the extent to which a society attempts to cope with anxiety by minimizing uncertainty. Cultures that scored high in uncertainty avoidance prefer rules (e.g. about religion and food) and structured circumstances, and employees tend to remain longer with their present employer."(from Wikipedia (2006). Geert Hofstede.)
Many of my students, who are of course Japanese, seem to prefer structured situations to unstructured situations and hesitate to ask open-ended questions. Conversely, when I was a student in the USA it seems that a majority of the questions I was asked were open-ended. Furthermore, when a teacher asked a question to the class I would raise my hand and try to guess the answer even if I was only 50% certain that I knew the answer. In terms of uncertainty avoidance, Japan scores much higher that the US. Although Hofstede's theory is not without its critics and problems, I find it a fascinating way to look at the national cultures of various countries and also helpful. If a teacher knows that the students he will teach are more likely to handle open-ended questions differently than the students from his home country, he will not put his students in uncomfortable situations as frequently nor will he feel frustration when a student does not answer his question.
Nevertheless, when I study Hofstede's national values I start feeling melancholic; I am ready to jump on the boat and cross the Pacific to the U.S. Why? I think the reason is that I start to think too much of the differences between the U.S. and Japan and start feeling culture shock. My surroundings become unfamiliar and I develop the urge to be back in my familiar environment where peoples' behavior makes sense to me. After the two weeks with Hofstede end, I seem to get reaccustomed to Japan and stop thinking about the differences between it and my home country.

Friday, June 23, 2006

To ALTs Coming to Japan

Yesterday, in my English Teaching Methodologies (ETM3) class a teacher from a junior high school in Morioka, Mr. M, came and talked to us about working at a junior high school. I would like to give you some important information based on Mr. M's talk and my own experience:
  1. Greetings (in Japanese they day aisatsu) in the morning as you come to school such as ohayoo gozaimasu or greeting a student in the hall way such as saying "konncihiwa" are very important. Mr. M said that students like teachers who greet them. When I was an ALT at a junior high school I was very surprised that everyday I came to school there would be 2 students and a teacher at the entrance saying "good morning" to everyone that came in.
  2. One of the main reasons why ALTs are asked to come to Japan is to make students better communicators. Mr. M said that communication is not only speaking; writing and reading are also forms of communication. When we write we are trying to communicate something to the reader and when read we are trying to understand what the writer is trying to say and then consider how that applies to our daily lives. So, it is important to remember that their reading and writing also play an important role in communication.

There is a lot more useful information I can give you, but I want to see what the learners from ETM3 say! You can also read their blogs, they are listed to the right. They will finish by Wednesday, June 28.

Monday, June 19, 2006

My Son Proves that Error Correction does not Work

My son has been getting the word "daddy" confused with "doggy". I tried to correct him but it did not work. To listen, click here.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The way I see the current state of teacher education

Background: What has made me re-examine teacher education?
Lately, I have been feeling a little down. Here is the reason why:
Last week I watched a television show in Japanese titled "If the world were 100 people". At the beginning, the program mentioned that if the world were 100 people, 50 people would suffer from malnutrition and 14 would not know how to read. Then the program documented the lives of two brothers, aged 9 and 6, from Ghana, who were working on a chocolate plantation, a 12 year-old HIV positive homeless boy in the Ukraine, and a 15 year-old single mother of two children in Argentina. These children were without a family, adequate shelter, and education. It was one of the most heartbreaking stories I had seen (on television, at least). The program reminded me how blessed I have been for receiving a good education and having a supportive family.

How I see the current state of teacher education
After watching this program, student apathy really started to bother me much more than before. The Japanese Teacher Education Curriculum requires that students take certain classes in certain subjects and undergo a 3-week teaching practicum to receive a teaching license in their field of interest. Students can get a teaching license to teach all subjects at an elementary school, or a license to teach specific subjects (for example, English, History, Math etc.) at a secondary school (there are no separate teaching licenses for junior and senior high schools).
Students take from 9 - 14 classes a semester. As you can imagine, because students take so many classes a semester and also have part-time jobs as well as club activities, the amount of work they can do outside of class is limited. It seems to me that students seem to be taking classes not because they are interested in the subject but because they need the credit for their license. So, students sit through 15 - 22 and a half hours of lectures per week (if they go to all their classes), and if they do the bare minimum to pass their classes, they can get their credits and their licenses. Classes are seen more as a burden a students has to undergo to get his/her license than learning opportunities.

Why this bothers me:
What concerns me the most is that aspiring English teachers these days are not showing any intellectual curiosity. Education for students seems to consist of sitting through classes they are not interested in and doing what is asked of them. How can you become a teacher if you are not curious about anything? How can you become a teacher if you think that learning is just doing what is asked of you? To me, learning is not a passive activity where you listen to someone speak for an hour and a half. To me, you learn through a combination of experience, interacting with your classmates, interacting with your teacher, listening to presentations from your teacher or classmates, reading, and analyzing all of the former through writing or speaking. I work very hard to stimulate learners' curiosity in the subjects I teach. I know that my classes could be a lot better; I am disorganized and a little inconsistent in my approach. Nevertheless, I try my best. I think back to the two boys in Ghana working from dawn to dusk on a chocolate plantation and who dream of having an education and I think that maybe I am not where I should be.

Concluding on a Positive Note:
Although I believe everything I wrote above, I also think that the students I teach at this university do a commendable job of doing everything they must to become teachers. I do not think I could handle 15 (or even 10) different classes as well as a part-time job, club activities and out-of-class study. Overall, I am lucky to work with the students I work with. However, sometimes I worry that students' busy schedules make them forget that they want to be teachers because they are interested in their subjects and want to show their students how interesting their subjects are.
In the English Teaching Methodologies Class I am teaching this semester, we are writing blogs. Recently, I realized that I might have been giving the students too many detailed blogging assignments and the blogs became more of something that students just had to "get out of the way" rather than an interesting means to express their thoughts about English education and their own education. This week, I asked students to write about anything they wanted to. Pinch Hitter , who majors in junior high school English education, wrote about his experience teaching English in a city called Kitakami. Happy Days, who majors in Elementary School education, wrote about her once in a lifetime chance as nursing home volunteer (a requirement to get your teacher's license) . Happy Days also has asked for some advice on how she should prepare to teach all subjects for her elementary school teaching practice. Maybe some students who have already done her elementary school teaching practice can give her some advice!
Reading these two blogs have given me some hope for teacher education. Despite the problems, we have many dedicated aspiring teachers who will some day make wonderful contributions to education in Japan.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Problem with "Open Classes" in Japan

An "Open Class" is my translation of the term kenkyuujugyou. An open class is where a school makes a class available for teachers from other schools to watch in an education conference that it holds. In my experience, there are usually 30 to 60 observers of an open class and after the open class there is some kind of mini-conference between the teacher of the class and the observers.

There is something that bothers me about the meetings that take place after an open class. In these meetings, the teachers (if there was more than one class per subject there will be multiple teachers) present about their class, they then open the floor for questions, and lastly an "advisor" who is either an official from the Board of Education or a university professor gives feedback. These kinds of post-class conferences usually last an hour and a half to two hours.

The other day I attended an English class at a junior high school. In the meeting afterwards there was a lot of questions I wanted to ask and parts of the class I wanted to discuss but could not because I was one of 40 people and I did not want to take away someone else's opportunity to ask a question. Also, there were questions I wanted to ask to clarify the questions some of the participants asked to the teachers of the open classes. There were even questions directed towards the open class teachers I wanted to answer. I also wanted to ask the advisor a question about his feedback but was unable to given the format of the meeting. I left the meeting with a lot of questions unanswered and also with no real idea about what the other teachers thought of the class and their opinions about how applicable the teaching methodology shown that day (Task Based Language Teaching) was to their respective teaching contexts.

If I was in charge of such an event, I would divide people in small groups and have the open class teachers circulate and talk with each group. I would also give each group a topic to pursue or come up with a list of questions they want to ask the open class teachers.

Someone said that "Japanese teachers would find it difficult to participate in small group discussions." I agree, but if I were to facilitate such an event I would try it anyway because I am stubborn about the necessity of small group discussion. Why? Because it is more difficult to speak out in front of 40 people then it is to speak out in a small group.

I would like to note that even taking into account what I wrote above, the meeting was interesting, the advice was informative, and the atmosphere was nice. I just believe that these kinds of meetings need to be devised in a way so that teachers can interact more with eachother.

Vocabulary Notebooks and a Tip for Learning the Order of Hiragana

In a recent post I wrote about my experimentation with vocabulary notebooks in two of my classes. Through the notebooks, I encourage learners to use mnemonic techniques (a technique to help you remember something) to help them remember difficult words, to write derivations of new words(for examlpe derivations of register are registration, preregister etc..) and write collocations or sentences for new words.
This week I collected 40 vocabulary notebooks but realized that I was kidding myself if I thought that I could actually go over each notebook in detail this week. However, I did learn through a quick perusal of the notebooks that the learners were not using mnemonic techniques and had a difficult time understanding the concept of derivations. I have decided to reintroduce the technique of mnemonics and give learners the opportunity to think of some keywords to remember words by working in pairs. I will also introduce some common prefixes and suffixes in class.
By the way, here is a mnemonic technique for remembering the order of the phonetic characters in the Japanese Hiragana alphabet. To remember the order, just memorize the English sentence below.
さ said
な Nancy
ら rap

Monday, May 29, 2006

Tips for doing Role Play

Doing role play is not easy because I find that it is very difficult for a lot of adolescent learners in Japan to adlib in English or play the role of someone else. A few weeks ago I tried to do a role play in an English class of 40 students I teach at the nursing school. The role play went well. I made pairs by matching students with high scores on a quiz I gave on vocabulary which was to be used in the role play with students who got low scores. Those students who scored in about the middle were matched with eachother. The thinking behind this was that the students who understood the chapter we were studying would help the students who were struggling.

Today, I tried a role play again but this time I paired the students randomly. Role play did not go well and some groups were absoluetly lost. I realized that in a class with students with a range of abilities and degree of motivation in English that random pairings for a challenging task might not be a good idea. Let the learners teach each other, don't try to be a superhero.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Problem with Translating Programs

In a freshman English class that I teach, I asked the students to write a paragraph about a coincidence that happened to them. Over half of the students used a translating program to do the assignment and their writing was impossible to understand. I asked my English Teaching Methodologies 3 students in our Issues in EFL in Japan blog to explain why so many students felt that they had to use a translating program when they could have done a better job writing the short essay themselves. I received some very interesting comments. To read the post and the students' comments please click here.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Using Vocabulary Notebooks in English Class

This year, I have started using vocabulary notebooks for two English classes I teach outside of Iwate University. In this post I will talk about the vocabulary notebooks I use at the nursing school I teach at.

Last year in a class I taught at a nursing school, I gave vocabulary quizes every week that our class met. The main reason why I gave the quizes was because it was the way I had been taught Japanese and it was very successful in getting me to memorize many Japanese words. Although most of the words I learned were in my "receptive knowledge" and not my "productive knowledge", I slowly learned how to use the words after hearing them multiple times and trying to sue them myself. In the nursing school, I found that weekly quizes were effective for about 20 out of 40 learners in that they understood the words and could use them in writing. However, there were about 5 students who routinely got zeroes on the test and 15 students who would maybe get 1 or 2 of 5 words correct on a quiz and had very limited command of the nursing vocabulary we studied. I realized that some students in the class knew how to study words and others did not. So, this year I decided to introduce vocabulary notebooks to encourage students to develop strategies for learning words and to help them keep track of their own learning.

At the beginning of the year I asked students to purchase a binder and I created sheets with the kind of layout I wanted them to use to record their vocabulary (Click here to see what a blank sheet looks like). The idea for this layout came from an article I read by Schmitt & Schmitt (1995) in the ELT Journal and the Word Surfing Technique developed by Will McCulloch.
In the left column of the Front Page (Click here to see a sample), learners write the translation of the word they want to learn in Japanese. In the right column they write a key word or key picture which will help trigger their memory of the word.

On the corresponding section of the back page (Click here to see a sample) learners write the following in the left column:
1)The word they want to learn in English.
2) The pronunciation of the word in using the phonetic alphabet.
3) The part of speech of the word
4) Derivations of the word
In the right column learners can write a connecting word which is a word that is used often with the word they want to learn as well as a sentence containing the word.

Here are some ways we have used the vocabulary notebooks in class:
  • Students write dialogues referring to their vocabulary notebooks
  • Students create vocabulary quizes for each other using the sample sentences in their vocabulary notebooks.
  • Before we start a chapter in the textbook, I give students a list of words that I would like them to write into their vocabulary notebooks.
Right now, students are only writing words that I tell them to write in their vocabulary notebooks. Once we all get used to them, I will encourage students to write other English words they encounter into their notebooks and would like to learn. We will also probably start organizing the pages in our vocabulary notebooks in the near future.

Next week, I will collect the nursing students vocabulary notebooks and see how have they been used. I will teach this class once a week for 23 weeks this year, and we have already had 6 weeks of class. I want to encourage students to use the vocabulary notebooks but I do not want to overwhelm them to the point where they become discouraged. For this reason, I am moving very slowly with the vocabulary notebooks and not trying to suddenly force them completely on the students. I hope that by the end of the semester some of the students who seldom wrote down words before the class or were at a loss as to how to study vocabulary will think that making and mainitaing a vocabulary notebook was a good way to help them learn nursing English.

Friday, May 12, 2006

My Son's Language Acquisition after 1 year and 8 months

In the past month and a half my son's vocabulary has increased at an absolutely explosive pace. He seems to be saying something new every day. My son says both English and Japanese words, but he has yet to say more than one word in one sentence unless it is a fixed phrase. I thought that I would list the words I think he knows and approximately which month he started saying them. The words in italics are Japanese. He will actually repeat a lot of what he hears but the below words are what he says on his own. You can listen to some of the words by clicking on them.

September/October 2005
Daddy (His first word!)

November/December 2005
achi (=there!)
baba (=granny)
bye bye
anpanman(= beanpaste man - a popular cartoon character)

January/February 2006
What's that?
atta (A Japanese verb he uses when he finds something he was looking for.)
denki (light)

March 2006
atsui (hot)
one, two, three
wan wan (= bark bark or doggy)
oishii (= delicious - he said this once in November but did not say it again until March)
deta (Can be translated as "It went out". My son says this after he poos.)

April 2006
ba-gu (= hamburger)
pee pee
poo poo
okataduke (=let's clean up)
how are you?
issai (=one-year old)
momo (The name of his Japanese grandparents' dog)
ojiji (Great grandfather)
obaba (Great grandmother)
paipai (breast)
mimi (ear)
douzo (It means "here you are" but my son uses it to say "give me this!"
pooh (Winnie the Pooh)
banana (he says "ba")

May, 2006
densha (train)
Raliegh (The name of the daughter of a friend)
sensei (teacher)
this way
possessive s his first grammar!
no no san (the mother of a friend)
mao kun (a friend)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Skills necessary for Teachers and Students for Effective Group Work

I just read Jack C. Richard's 1987 TESOL Quarterly Article titled "The dilemma of teacher education in TESOL". Citing Tikunoff (1985), he implies that for teachers to lead effective language learning task they must consider the following:
Order of tasks: In what sequence should tasks be introduced (to lead to one goal).
Pacing: How much time should learners spend on tasks?
Products (of the task): will it be the same for all students?
Learning strategies: What learning strategies will be recommended for particular tasks?
Participation: Will all learners be assigned the same task?
Materials: What materials will be available for completing the task.

Still citing Tikunoff, he writes that learners of limited proficiency in the second language need the following competencies to do a language learning task:
Participative Competence: The ability to respond appropriately to to class demands and to the procedural rules for accomplishing them. (I interpreted this as meaning the ability to follow directions.)
Interactional Competence: Interacting appropriately with peers and adults while accomplishing class tasks.
Academic Competence: The ability to acquire new skills, assimilate new information, and construct new concepts.

This made me reflect on the way I hold language learning tasks in the classroom. Pacing for me is the biggest challenge. Sometimes, a task will go much slower than I anticipated. I think a good teacher should challenge the learners to attain a challenging but attainable goal in a limited time. To do this a teacher has to conceive of an appropriate language learning task to match the skills and interests of the learners. The moral of this is that you should never do a language learning task exactly how it is written in a book because it was practiced with learners other than your own. A good teacher always adapts tasks to the students.

Call me an over-critical teacher, but I also think that sometimes language learning tasks have not gone well for me because learners have lacked Interactional Competence and Academic Competence. Namely, groups of 3 or more learners cannot cooperate to accomplish a task in the target language, and sometimes learners do not actively try to develop new skills such as skimming, scanning or learning convenient phrases for writing and reading. It is not that the learners are trying to rebel, they just look lost and uncomfortable.

My opinion: If you want to try things such as group learning in an apprehensive EFL class, start with very simple tasks that they can accomplish so they can build confidence. Also, hold langauge learning tasks where the goal is to learn to interact in the second language (one example of such a task is a fishbowl) or tasks that focus more on developing learning strategies rather than encouraging learners to use learning strategies they do not have.
Richards, J. (1987). The dilemma of teacher education in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly 21, pp.209-226
Tikunoff, W.J., (1985). Developing Student Functional Proficiency for LEP Students. Portland: Northwest Regional Education Labratory.