Thursday, December 13, 2012

Impromptu Advising in "Class Conferences" and "Speech Contests"

The past few years I have been frequently asked to be a judge at a speech contest or an "advisor" for an "open class conference".  A speech contest is fairly self-explanatory. Judges will evaluate the contestants and before announcing the winners, one judge will speak for 5 to 10 minutes offering advice to the contestants about how they can improve their speeches. Occasionally, I am nominated to be this judge.

An open-class conference, on the other hand, might not be so clear to some of you. Schools in Japan will periodically conduct conferences for which they publish some kind of journal about their overall educational mission as well as the specific objectives and research agendas of each subject.  In the conference they conduct one open class per subject and this open class is then followed by a meeting between the class instructor and those who came to see this class. The meeting can last from 60 to 90 minutes. The instructors will present their overall objectives for their subject and then talk about their class specifically. This is followed by questions and opinions from the audience. Lastly, a university professor and/or a teacher supervisor from the Board of Education will speak for 10 to 20 minutes each offering their advice to the instructors.  They are fulfilling the role of an "advisor."Advisors' roles are usually to meet with the instructors a few weeks before the class to give them feedback on the lesson as well as speak at the conference. I am not a big fan of "the open class conference" because the advisors are treated as an authority and their opinions are never questioned (Of course, if people do not agree with the advisors, they can just ignore them). Nevertheless, if you work at a university or high school, at some point you might find yourself being asked to speak for 10 to 20 minutes in English or Japanese about English teaching or students' speeches. So, I thought I would write about my tricks of the trade.

First, my presentations are actually not impromptu. For open class conferences, I have seen the lesson plan and talked to the teachers beforehand so I already have an idea about the topics I can discuss: for example, teaching reading, writing, conducting group work, a specific grammar point, task based language teaching, etc. I also might think about the jokes I might tell or the analogies I might make before the conference starts. Before the conference, I will sometimes put information I have on these topics onto my IPad which I bring to the conference to use for recording field notes. With speech contests, usually I do not have this kind of luxury to predict what kind of topics I might discuss. 

Second, when I am watching the speeches or classes, I am not only concentrating on what I am observing, but in the back of my head, I am also thinking about possible talking points for my impromptu presentation. If I think of a talking point, I will immediately write it down. I try to write various talking points throughout the class or the speech. For example, the awful handwriting below shows the talking points that I wrote while watching an elementary school English class. I ended up discussing the HRT/JTE/ALT role, how to encourage more authentic communication in the class, and pronunciation tips. 

Third, after the class, I will try to speak to the other advisor to find out what he/she plans to discuss. The reason for me doing this is that one, I do not want to talk about the same thing and two, if my opinion is different, I want to consider how to present my perspective in a way that contrasts with that of the other advisor but does not put us in an awkward situation. In a speech contest, after the judges have decided the winners, I will ask the other judges what they want me to say in my feedback to the contestants. I will either add the other judge's advice to my talking points, make new talking points, or not include the judge's advice.

Fourth, in a speech contest, I speak soon after talking to the other judges. In an open class conference, I have more time to consider what I will say. I am usually adding smaller details to my main talking points while listening to the discussion in the meeting following the open class. If I hear a teacher speak his or her opinion and find it interesting, I might try to incorporate it into one of my talking points.

Lastly, when I speak, I sometimes tell the audience how many talking points I have. It makes it easier for the audience to take notes, of they so wish. I might say something like, "I want to talk about four conditions necessary to conduct group work smoothly" or "I want to discuss 4 areas of pronunciation that are difficult for Japanese students" etc. 

I should add that when I speak at elementary schools I usually do my presentation in Japanese and at junior high schools or speech contests I give my presentations in English. If I am to speak in Japanese, I find that I have to prepare more. When I speak in English, I find that I can make more rudimentary notes and get away with ad-libbing. When I first started doing this I was REALLY awful at it. I still do not consider myself that good, but I have found that I can, for the most part, give acceptable presentations. Maybe the most important thing is to smile, look like you are happy to be there, be in good spirits, and try your best to say something that will hopefully be useful to the people who have the unenviable task  of listening to you.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Taking Japanese Student Teachers to Thailand to Teach English

Building a lesson from scratch includes choosing the content, thinking about how to present the content to the students in a way that is comprehensible and interesting, conceiving of communicative activities related to the content for students, and determining which language points and vocabulary to highlight to the students. I believe that this is what the best English language teachers in Japan can do.  I have written about this many times, but at my university, we have a teaching internship in a few secondary schools in Thailand where our students try to do exactly this. We tell the student-teachers that they are not teaching English but rather teaching about the Japanese culture in English. This year, a colleague and I will accompany the student-teachers to Thailand for two weeks in January. We have been helping the students prepare since October and we have done up to meeting 5 so far:

Meeting 1: Write profiles to send to host families and schools. Overview of the participating schools.
Meeting 2: History of Thailand
Meeting 3: Culture and customs of Thailand
Meeting 4: Classroom English practice and students receive a description of the kind of lesson plan we want them to conduct.
Meeting 5: Student-teachers present proposals for lessons and receive feedback
Meeting 6: Student-teachers give demonstration classes. More meetings: Student-teachers make appointments to consult with the internship supervisors about their classes.

I wish that we could meet more, but considering all the other work both the student-teachers and my university teachers have, even the above schedule is very hard. In meeting 4, I introduce many different ideas for ways to present material and tasks that encourage the use of all four skills. However, student-teachers probably did not learn anything from this. I have found that student teachers grow when they try demonstration lessons, receive feedback, and fix their lesson. It is only by actually teaching that student-teachers develop the know-how to teach. As I said before, this program enables the student-teachers to do some thing that would be more difficult for them to do as teachers in  a school of Japan: design and develop their own teaching materials and activities to accomplish the English learning goals they have for the children. It is my hope that this experience will  inspire the program participants to develop their own materials when they become teachers.

In a few weeks, I will blog about the themes and lessons of the student teachers.