I am involved in English Teacher Education in Japan. I started this blog in 2005 and abandoned and returned to it a couple of times. Here, I write about things I have tried in class, my experience in teacher education in Japan and other places, and deep thoughts about the origin of the universe. This blog used to be anonymous but no longer. I try not to write anything that will get me fired.
Friday, October 20, 2006
My Worst Date Ever
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
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 "
become, complain, little, girl, boy, against, for, should, ask...for
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.
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
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.
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
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.