Thursday, January 26, 2006

My son's new phrase, "What's that?"

My son can now say the phrase "What's that?". I was surprised when I first heard him because to my knowledge it is not a phrase I said much in front of him. Furthermore, he and I were apart for about 3 weeks while I was off in Thailand. We reunited on January 21 and I noticed that he was saying what's that on January 23. In the three weeks that we were apart, he heard very little English. Here is a recording I made on January 24 of my son asking "What's that?".
To hear more recordings of my son saying Japanese and English words, go to my voiceblog.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Reading Silently vs. Reading Along Revisted

A few months ago I asked students to listen to read the first part of a text and then read the second part of the text while listening to an audio recording of the text which was created by Ayu, Cube, Eri, and Gami. The post was titled Reading Silently vs. Reading Along. Three people did the exercise and all three wrote that the text was easier to understand when they could read silently to themselves. I tried a similar exercise at a teacher's workshop and the majority of the teachers said it was easier to follow along and read the text while someone else read it aloud because:

  1. The intonation of the speaker helped them understand the passage.
  2. If they saw words they did not recognize they could quite often recognize them after the speaker said the correct pronunciation.
  3. Having to follow along at the pace of the speaker forced them to ignore the words they did not understand and focus on the main idea. They did not get stuck on many words.

I used to be bothered that most schools do not give students the opportunity to read silently in English and in most classes students read the passage aloud and then analyzed it. Many classrooms still translate a text word for word and Torikai Kumiko mentions in her book TOEFL/TOEIC to Nihonjin no Eigoryoku (TOEFL TOEIC and the English ability of Japanese) that many Japanese students lack the Top-Down reading skills necessary to do well on the reading sections of TOEFL or TOEIC tests. I thought that reading aloud might be contributing to this problem but I changed my mind.

Through my experience at the teacher's workshop I realized that there are some benefits to reading aloud. For example, reason 3) is good for Top Down Reading Skills and Reason 1, or using intonation to help you understand a long utterance, is an important listening skill. However, I worry that if students are always dependent on someone else reading the text, they will not become independent silent readers.
Also, 3 of the contestants mentioned that they prefer to read at their own pace and there was a relatively large minority of teachers at the teacher's workshop who said they preferred to read at their own pace and could not follow the passage at someone else's pace. So, my opionion is that the reading class should have a balance of reading aloud and reading silently. There are benefits to both approaches.

Ayu, Cube,and Eri. What kind of reading activities did you do when you were a high school student and how did they help your reading skills?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Teaching English in Ayutthaya Thailand

Last week I came back from Thailand. My university has an exchange program with a secondary school (Grades 7 - 12) in Ayutthaya, Thailand. Two times a year some of our students will go to the school and teach English for a period of approximately 10 days. This time, I came along as an observer and watched Eri and Ayu do a fantastic job teaching their classes with the rest of their team.
I also had the opportunity to teach two classes and it was a lot of fun! The first class (pictured above) was a presentation in which I talked about Iwate and our freezing cold winters while showing pictures of the university on the projector. I was nervous because I thought that me speaking in a foreign language for an extended period of time would bore the Thai adolescents to death. I was surprised that most of the students listened attentively and some actually asked questions.
In the second class (pictured to the left) I taught pronunciation. The students were in their third year (9th grade US, chuugakkou 3 nensei Japan) and their energy and enthusiasm for practicing pronunciation was infectious.
In my experience teaching at Japanese Junior High Schools I had much more difficulty keeping the students' interests. The more the students lost interest, the more elaborate my lesson plans would become to win back their interest. These elaborate lesson plans had new activities and much more materials involved. This might have had a negative effect; overwhelming the students with the unfamiliar. In Ayutthaya, the themes of my classes were simple and the lesson plans were very basic. It was the chemistry between me and the students that made the class enjoyable. I should have worked on the chemistry more when I was teaching at a Japanese junior high school.
I have a lot more to write about my experience. I will do so later.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Good Luck Gami!

Gami has gone to the USA to study for a year. Gami, when you have the time please write in your blog and tell us your news.
I am sure that you are going to have an excellent year. I am looking forward to seeing you next year and hearing your stories.

Finish the Textbook you Lazy Teacher!

A couple of days ago I finished grading the finals for a class I teach at a nursing school. The goal of the class was for the students to learn English they might have to use at a hospital with patients who speak English.
On the final test, students had a chance to write the good points and bad points of the class. A lot of the students wrote that the bad point was that we did not finish the textbook.
The textbook had 12 chapters and we finished 9. I wanted to finish all 12 but some students were overwhelmed and I did not want to leave too many behind.
Some of the students who wrote they wanted to finish the textbook did very well on the test. Thus, I thought their reaction was to be expected; I knew that slowing the pace of the class would be at the expense of the prodogies. The shocker was that quite a few students who got 40-50/100 (40 - 50%) on the final test wrote that they wished we had finished the textbook.
I wonder why.......

A Review of TOEFL, TOEIC and The English Ability of Japanese

While I was in the U.S, I asked Ayu, Cube, Eri and Gami to read the book TOEFL, TOEIC and the English ability of Japanese (The book is in Japanese and the real title is TOEFL・TOEIC to Nihonjin no Eigoryoku) by Torikai Kumiko. I think the book is important reading for college students for its messages that Ayu, Eri and Gami touched upon.
The main messages were:
1) TOEFL and TOEIC do not measure one's English ability. The former is for those who want to study at an American University, the latter is for Business communication. There are lots of different English tests concentrating on different purposes for using English. When choosing a test, think of your purpose.
2) Although it is said that Japanese students cannot speak because they have study too much grammar, they actually demonstrate less of a mastery of grammar on such tests as the TOEFL. This is evident in their comparatively lower reading and writing scores. Being a good reader and writer requires working knowledge of grammar and syntax (as well as other things of course).
My Reflection: I do not think the above means that we should teach more grammar, rather I think we need to teach grammar more effectively. How? Here are some ideas:
1) We need more English in the classroom. Students need exposure to what they have studied evey day. If they do not hear familair patterns again and again they will soon forget what they have studied.
2) Students need to read by themselves more. A lot of the time, reading in class consists only of choral reading.
3) Students need to write more. Most of the time writing consists of translation or short one sentence answers to questions.
4) Students need some opportunities to use the language spontaneously. When you learn tennis, practicing your forehand stroke is much different from actually hitting a forehand on the open court. Students need some experience on the open court.
For more reflections of the book, please see the blogs of Gami, Eri, and Ayu.
Cube, I am looking forward to reading your post. Now that I am back writing in my blog, its your turn to join us!


Oh my goodness, it has been ages since I have written in my Blog. Last month I had to go to the US to be a translator for two professors at my university who went there to study how to teach intelectual property law. I had to miss 10 days of work for this and fell hopelessly behind in everything. Well, no more excuses, I have to do better in updating my blog.
Over the New Years I went to Hokkaido and had a week of downtime. Iwate, although south of Hokkaido is actually much more unpleasant in the winter. Although Hokkaido is colder, the heating is VERY good. Every night I could eat ice cream and drink beer. I have been perpetually shivering since coming back to Iwate, though. The picture is of a parking lot at the university. Another disadvantage of living in Iwate is that the prefecture does not invest much in plowing the snow from the streets or the parking lot.
I got back to Iwate a couple of days ago taking the ferry from Tomakomai to Hachinohe, Aomori. I arrived in Hachinohe at 4AM and then drove to Morioka. I arrived in Morioka at 7:30 AM. Now, I am preparing to go to Thailand today! I will be going to a junior high school and will meet Eri and Ayu who are teaching there for 10 days.
It is 1AM, I better start getting ready.