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.

Friday, April 21, 2006

How I Learned Japanese

The Beginning Period
I have been living in Japan for 8 years. Before I came to this country I took a 6 week long Japanese class and learned most of one of the Japanese alphabets, hiragana, as well as how to say simple sentences using polite verbs that ended in -masu or desu. The class was very difficult for me as the teacher used a lot of grammatical terms I had never heard before such as "verbals", "nominals" and "adjectival verbs". I did not know what the difference between a "verbal" and "verb" was and I had no idea what an "adjectival verb" (ex. omoshirokatta desu, tanoshikatta desu) was.
When I came to Japan I was shocked that nobody spoke much using the -desu, -masu forms of verbs. For the first six months all I could say was "Where is the bathroom" and "Dozo yoroshiku onegashimasu" (It is hard to translate but is said after you meet someone and means "Please be nice to me"). I started studying Japanese because I lived in a small town and had very few Japanese friends. I found a textbook that someone had left at my school a called "Japanese for everyone". The book had a lot of dialogues and grammatical expressions. I learned the grammatical expressions and when I heard them actually being spoken I would remember them. I also made my own vocabulary notebook and would enter about 20 random words in it every day. Sometimes, I would learn random difficicult words such as "yuujufudan" (indecisive) or "tenshinranman" (purely innocent) and try hard to use them in conversations to impress people. I aslo would enter the vocabulary in my computer, print out the sheets and tape them on the walls of my apartment and toilet area. As a language learner, I like output (speaking, writing) more than input. My first two years in Japan, I tried to learn as much as the language as I could by speaking and writing it. After two years, I had many Japanese friends and was sad to leave the country.
The Intermediate Period
I went back to the USA to attend graduate school. I signed up for a Japanese class and was placed in the third year class after an interview with the teacher. I will never forget being reprimended by another Japanese teacher for not using polite language. In my two years in Japan, I had learned informal Japanese but had not picked up formal Japanese. In the USA, I realized that if I wanted to return to Japan and find a good job, I would have to learn to speak formal Japanese. I realized that the polite "masu" and "desu" verbs I learner a few years back were actually important. In my Japanese class, I also finally realized what an adjectival verb was and how to use one. In the class, we also learned a lot of the Chinese characters used to write Japanese. To learn the chinese characters I would make many cards and study them as well as write them over and over again to prepare for quizes. I think that what really helped me learn to write them, though, is the writing assignments we had. In the class we had daily assignments where we had to write answers to questions about the readings we were doing in the class or videos we had to watch. Gradually, I relied less and less on the dictionary to look up Chinese characters when writing the assignemts.
The summer after I finished graduate school I went to a special "Japanese camp" at the Middlebury Summer Language School. There, I only spoke Japanese for 6 weeks and had about 5 hours of Japanese class a day and 4 hours of homework. I was placed in the highest level class (4 nensei) but my Japanese was the worst of anyone in the class. My teachers were frustrated with me and one told me after the first test that I was not 4 nensei level. While listening to the Japanese teachers, I noticed the difference between how the teachers spoke and how I spoke. Thanks to this experience, I realized for the first time how a good Japanese speaker talks and writes. This was very important for my development in the language.
The Advanced Period
After the Middlebury Summer Language School I received a scholarship to study at the Hokkaido University of Education as a research student. I took seminars with the Japanese students and was expected to do all the readings in Japanese. Sometimes I would also have to present the reading and speak for an hour! Somehow I did it but I feel sorry for my classmates who had to sit through it. Through this experience, I developed the ability to read difficult academic works in Japanese without relying on a dictionary. In other words, I developed good skimming skills in reading. After a year at the graduate school I realized that I could read novels (written in modern Japanese meaning post world war II) and newspapers. Comics, though, are still difficult for me to read. I also passed the first level of the Japanese Proficiency test my second year.
The Fossilized Period
I came to Iwate University a little over three years ago. I have been very busy at my new job and actually use a lot of English. Sometimes I write papers in Japanese or do academic presentations in Japanese. However, I do not read as much as I used to in Japanese because I do not have much time. This year I have only read two books in Japanese and they were about English Education (Book 1: How to teach debating skills and Book 2: Applying the input hypothesis to English education in Japan). My Japanese has not improved much in the past 3 years. In fact, it might have even regressed. I am probably what you would call a fossilized speaker. I really need to read more novels in Japanese and watch more movies in the langauge as well as keep a vocabulary notebook (I recently started one). This year, I hope I can improve. Language learning is really a life long endeavor.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Students of Teaching English in Japan - A New Blogging Project!

I have started a new project with my English Teaching Methodologies 3 (ETM3) class called "Students of Teaching English in Japan."
We will be doing both group and individual blogging work and have three types of blogs: A group discussion blog, individual llearner blogs, and a blog to post assignments, resources or announcements.
The first blog is called "Students of Teaching English in Japan". It is to serve as a group blog for ETM3 as well as my advisees and a portal to the individual blogs. Every week, I or another learner will summarize the hot topics appearing in the learners' individual blogs and link to them. Sometimes this blog will also host discussions with English teachers inside and outside Japan. The current topics on the group blog are Japanese Teacher Employement Tests and Comparing English Teaching in Thailand to English Teaching in Japan.
In the second type of blog or individual blog, learners will reflect on their own teaching, what they have learned in ETM3 and their own theories about teaching English. They are also free to write about anything they want. The goals for ETM 3 learners is to 1) Increase their understanding of English teaching and 2) Improve in English. This blog is my individual blog.
third type of blog will simply serve as a bulletin board for assignments, relevant anouncements and class resources.
I hope that you will come join us!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

A conversation with my son

Keywords: Baby language
I speak English to my son and my wife speaks Japanese but he seems to have learned some kind of other language as his first. Whatever he speaks, I love it.
Click hereto listen:
You can listen to more of my son on my voice blog

Friday, April 07, 2006

A Proposal for Research in Blogging

I am about to start a new blogging project with my English Teaching Methodologies III class. But I am not sure as to whether or not to have one class blogs that all students contribute to like M-Hetherington does or to have students create their own blogs like I did last year. I am also depating whether or not to use blogger or switch to James Farmer's Learner Blogs . Each option, group blogs or individual blogs, blogger or Learner Blogs, has is pluses and minuses (See Aaron Campbell's Comparative Review of Common Blogging Applications.
I am curios as to what other educators are doing. I think a survey of a number of teachers who use blogs in their class would be helpful to help practitioners like myself learn how other teachers employ blogging in their classes and also how other teachers have employed their blogging applications. Does such a survey exist? If not, would anyone be interested in doing one?