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January 13, 2013
Happy New Year! I wish everyone the best of luck in the Year of the Snake.
We had something wonderful happen at BIG BOW English Lab in November. For the first time, we were able to have the Cambridge YLE test at our school. Recently, it has become trendy for children to take the Adult Eiken, but I don't really think that's such a good idea since the test is not developmentally appropriate for young children and also it is only recognized in Japan. (I've had quite a few high level returnee students complain they couldn't take Level 1 of the Eiken because their Japanese wasn't good enough!) The Cambridge YLE test is a difficult test, but made just for children and it is recognized all over the world.
I spent a small part of class time preparing for it all year. At first I was very worried since my students are used to American English and the test is given in British English, but that wasn't much of a problem in the end. The students had to take a reading/writing test, a listening test, and then have an interview with a highly trained Oral Examiner. I had a total of 20 students take the test (16 were BIG BOW students and 4 came from other schools owned by friends of mine in the Nagoya area) and I was so pleasantly surprised at what high scores they received! I'm really excited about giving the test again and hope this test becomes more popular in Japan.
September 18, 2012
Spring and summer were very interesting because I made presentations for a new group and on a subject I've never presented on before. In May, I made a presentation on cross-curricular lessons for the 1st Anniversary celebration of FETJ (Filipino English Teachers in Japan) Tokyo chapter. This was a very exciting event and the teachers were so energetic! I've never been to a teaching event before where there were dance performances in between the presentations!
In July, the 5th Annual Extensive Reading Seminar was held at Sugiyama University in Nagoya. All day I got to attend sessions that talked about how research proves that reading is one of the best ways to improve English skills. I completely agree that reading should be a big part of any YEFL program. In Japan, too often there is this strange idea that elementary school children should just learn speaking and listening and save reading and writing until junior high school. In my experience, children who can read tend to retain more of what they have learned. Furthermore, reading is especially important for returnee students because it is an enjoyable way they can retain and build on their English skills. BIG BOW English Lab has a very strong literacy program with hundreds of books in my library that my students can check out. I believe that this is one of the keys to my program's success.
In other news, I'm so pleased to report that the Cambridge YLE test will take place on November 4 at BIG BOW English Lab. It has taken a few years for us to make this a reality and I hope more schools will adopt this test for children. The YLE test is recently becoming the standard test used around the world to assess the English levels of children and I hope more teachers in Japan will see the value in it.
April 12, 2012
Last month, I took a four day trip to Seoul, South Korea with my family. We had a wonderful time eating BBQ and kimchii (we ate kimchii even for breakfast), shopping, visiting museums and watching an amazing show called, "NANTA". While we were sightseeing, we popped into Kyobo bookstore, the largest bookstore in Seoul. I've always been curious about English education for children in Korea and wanted to check out the ELT section of the bookstore. My husband and I were amazed at how huge it was! One thing that impressed me was there were a lot of materials to study for the SAT test (a bit like the "center shiken" in Japan) to attend university in the USA. There certainly seems to be a lot of interest in studying overseas, compared to Japan. The children's ELT section was also quite impressive - there were many titles from large publishing companies that are popular in many other Asian countries, along with a lot of "homegrown" materials published by companies in Seoul. It was a thrill to see the Teacher's Guides I wrote for "We Can!" on the shelves!
May is going to be a busy month! On May 19th, Gifu JALT will welcome Mari Nakamura and I'll be organizing a casual pre-presentation coffee gathering at a cafeteria near the venue. The next morning, May 20th, I'll be off to Tokyo to present at the FETJ Tokyo 1st anniversary. I've never presented for this organization before, so I'm really looking forward to sharing my ideas about cross-curricular lessons.
February 23, 2012
Have you ever heard of “Flat Stanley”? Flat Stanley is a children's story about a boy whose bulletin board fell on top of him and smushed him flat as a pancake. Rather than being upset about this, Flat Stanley used it to his advantage, slipping under closed doors and putting himself in envelopes so he could mail himself to exciting places around the world. Now the Flat Stanley story has turned into the Flat Stanley Project – a cultural exchange project where children mail a Flat Stanley cut out to someone far away. That person has to take pictures of interesting places around their town with Flat Stanley and then fill out an information sheet so the children can learn basic facts about this new place.
In November 2011, BIG BOW English Lab participated in this project with a student from an elementary school in Richmond, Virginia. I took pictures with Flat Stanley around Nagoya, Takayama, and Tokyo. My students also took class pictures with Flat Stanley. Some classes wrote about places they would recommend visiting in Nagoya and some classes even made mini-posters, talking about elementary school life in Japan. The students really enjoyed working hard on their posters and proudly presented them to the class.
I've used mini-posters as effective consolidation tasks for years. Mini-posters are just an A4 size sheet of paper where students take the opportunity to use what they've learned and make it their own. Mini-posters can be made very quickly if students don't have to draw pictures and instead have relevant clip art they can cut and glue on their posters. After posters are completed, they can come to the front of the class and present their poster. The best part is that students will often take their poster home and show it to their parents!
After this successful lesson, I decided that I wanted to include actually making posters in my upcoming teacher training presentations, to show let teachers see for themselves how effective and easy-to-make mini-posters can be. At the JALT National conference at the Olympic Center in Tokyo and on the We Can! Tour in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, teachers were given colored pencils, scissors, glue, a sheet of A4 paper, and clip art about the the environment. Using the language from the unit on the environment from We Can! Level 6, they had to make a poster in only 15 minutes! All the teachers were amazed at how quick, easy and fun these posters were to make. Then the teachers stood up and presented their posters to each other.
One thing I reminded the teachers is that just because you are teaching something, you can't assume the children are learning it and you certainly can't assume they will remember it in the future. These types of production tasks are very effective and meaningful ways to get children to think about use what they know.
|Flat Stanley enjoys Takayama ramen!||Flat Stanley enjoys sightseeing around Takayama||Teachers made a poster (in only 15 minutes!) about the environment and then presented it to their partner at the We Can! Forum in Tokyo. (Thanks to Irene Sugizaki for taking this photo!)|
October 1, 2011
It has been a really busy half year for me and BIG BOW English Lab!
In June, we took the students to the Nagoya City Museum to see an exhibit on the Olmec civilization. Since we started BIG BOW, we've always taken the students to an art exhibit. This year, we decided to try something new. In class, we learned about Mexico and the Olmec and Mayan civilizations. We even sampled some Mexican food as part of the lesson. Before we entered the museum, we had a parent vs. student quiz, so the children could show off how much they had learned. Then, I gave each student a worksheet and they went through the museum, looking for the answers. The students and their parents had a wonderful time! I wrote an article about this event for Barbara Sakamoto's blog, Teaching Village.
In July, I made a presentation at the FAB1 conference in Kobe. FAB1 focuses on brain compatible learning, a new field that I am very interested in. The more I learn about brain compatible learning, the more I realize how beneficial cross-curricular lessons are for language learning. I gave a presentation where I demonstrated a few lessons I teach at BIG BOW English Lab. The presentation went very well and I learned so much from the other presentations I attended. I hope to go again next year!
Open House, an event where the parents can come and watch (and sometimes participate in!) the lessons just finished. This year, I was especially proud of my junior high school class. For the past month, we have been studying about the history of space exploration. First we made a timeline. Then, each student chose three different years and made a "kami shibai" type paper, with the year on the front and information about what happened that year with space exploration on the back. During Open House, they organized themselves in a "human timeline" and gave a group presentation. Usually junior high school students in Japan have a reputation for being very quiet and not wanting to speak in front of others. However, these students showed a lot of enthusiasm and spoke clearly in front of their parents. Great job!
February 15, 2011
Thanks to everyone who came to my WE CAN presentation last Friday. I gave a presentation on age appropriate activities for younger elementary school students in front of a wonderful, energetic audience! A lack of understanding about what is and what isn't appropriate for children at the different stages in their lives is a big problem in the field of English education in Japan. Just to give two examples: One one hand, I come across a lot of pre-school children who are forced to take the higher levels of an English proficiency test for adults and on the other, in public elementary schools across the country, the "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" chant is part of the fifth grade "Eigo Note" curriculum! That chant is perfect for first or second graders, but fifth graders feel quite silly doing it. (I should know because my son was in fifth grade last year and he told me all about it!)
So, what activities are appropriate for younger learners in the EFL class? First of all, children learn best when they move their bodies. Chants with hand motions, learning the names of shapes while making them with their fingers and games where they have to get up and do something are great examples. Also, try to use pair work for conversation practice because students feel more comfortable trying out new language in front of one classmate, instead of with the teacher in front of the rest of the class! Finally, try to use a child's sense of wonder and play to your advantage. In my presentation, since children love to hunt and seach for things, we played a game where we put shapes flashcards in one bag and color flashcards in another. A volunteer took one flashcard from each bag and then called out what was on each one. (For example, "a red rectangle") Then, everyone in the audience tried to find something that was that shape and color. (For example, a lady held up her red schedule book.) We also pretended we were cheerleaders when we did a chant because young children like to use props and pretend.
Teachers of children sometimes have a tough time explaining age appropriate activities to parents because often parents think a good English class is one where the children study English the way junior high school or adults do. For this reason, I encourage all teachers of children to read up on the basics of child development.
December 20, 2010
Thanks to everyone who came to my teaching presentations this fall! It was a very busy, yet enjoyable time.
Chubu ETJ EXPO (October 10, 2010) - This was a great event! A few years ago, I was very involved with Aichi ETJ, so I know how much effort goes into putting on an EXPO. As usual, this was a first class event with a lot of great presentations. I started off the day at Mike Stockwell's presentation on Extensive Writing (and have been using his ideas, with great success, in my older elementary returnee classes) and later gave a presentation on using different kinds of assessment and how they can really help make the parent-child-teacher relationship stronger and help the student reach his or her highest potential.
JALT Junior (November 20 - 21, 2010) - This was also held in Nagoya (for the first time in 15 years!), as part of the national JALT convention. Again this year, I was proud to be Program Director of JALT Junior. On November 20, we had our first ever JALT Junior plenary speaker, Marianne Nikolov, give a speech and then immediately afterward we had a very lively Q&A session. Dr. Nikolov is a teacher of young learners from Hungary, so we were very eager to hear her European perspective on YEFL.
November 21, I had 11 students from BIG BOW English Lab come to participate in a very unique workshop where I taught an actual lesson from We Can! as part of a workshop. Many of my fellow teachers thought this was like walking the tightrope without a net, but I had confidence in my students and the "class" went off without a hitch! I really hope to be able to teach a "live lesson" like that in a workshop in the near future.
Kansai ETJ EXPO (November 28, 2010) - Even though I have never lived in the Kansai area, I feel like I am at home at the Kansai EXPO every year, as I have been coming every year since 2007. It was great so see my Kansai buddies again, right after JALT Junior. Teachers are always eager to hear new and practical ideas that they can take into their classrooms on Monday, so I gave a presentation about how to use props such as puppets, household objects, flashcards and posters effectively. I was happy to have such an energetic audience.
As the year winds down, I now have time to pause and take a breath before the We Can! events of 2011. For the first time, there will be a We Can! tour, starting in February. Happy New Year and see you there!
October 9, 2010
Every year we take our BIG BOW students to an art exhibit. This year we took part in the Aichi Triennale art festival and went to the Aichi Arts Center. There are many interesting artists who have installations at the festival, but the artist spotlighted the most is Yayoi Kusama. I was delighted to see her artwork in person for the first time. Her polka dots are everywhere in Nagoya now, from an installation on the top of Oasis 21 in Sakae to covering the Prius taxis that shuttle tourists between the Choja Machi exhibit and the Aichi Arts Center.
I first became acquainted with Yayoi Kusama's artwork in the late-1990s, when I saw a CNN news report about a retrospective show of her work. I was utterly enchanted by her polka dots that seemed to have a deeper meaning behind them.
When I heard her work was going to be shown as part of the Triennale, I decided to study more about her art and her life. I was shattered to discover her true story. Yayoi Kusama was born in Matsumoto in 1929 (yes, she is 81 years old!) to a wealthy family. It was mainly wealthy due to her mother, a shrewd businesswoman. She was also a violent, strict woman who beat young Yayoi on a daily basis, forced her to work long hours in the family business (even when she had to study for her tests at school) and was dead set against her daughter becoming an artist. Yayoi's mother would destroy the canvases of her paintings. When Yayoi decided to leave for New York to pursue her dream of becoming an artist, her mother gave her a million yen and told her to never set foot in their house again.
Is it any wonder that poor Yayoi had hallucinations from an early age? She says her artwork is a reflection of her hallucinations and that her signature polka dots symbolize disease. I found it interesting that her rooms full of pastel colored polka dots, ones my students described as "cute", were produced when she was at her most mentally ill.
Yayoi was a very prolific artist in New York, but it seems she worked herself into a state of exhaustion and returned to Japan in 1973. She checked herself into a mental hospital in 1975, where she has lived ever since. She says being able to produce art is the key to her being able to live a stable life. It comforts me that most of the work she produces now is with strong colors, especially red; I hope this means that she is feeling much better now.
I think there is a lesson for all parents in Yayoi Kusama's life story. Yayoi was destined to become an artist and no matter what her mother did, she couldn't stop her. However, wouldn't it have been better if her mother had recognized her child's talent and given her encouragement, instead of driving her mad? I think it is very important for us parents to look at our children closely and give them the support they need to fulfill their own destinies, instead of imposing our dreams or plans on them.
|The Prius Taxi at Choja Machi|
August 6, 2010
On August 2, I had a wonderful opportunity to introduce cross-curricular lessons to 25 high school teachers across Japan as part of a three day seminar at Nanzan University. While I usually teach cross-curricular lessons to children and junior high students, they are actually quite ideal for the high school level. Why? Most communicative activities for adults focus on talking about their lives but the lives of high school students are quite small, usually revolving around their school club. So, you end up having uninteresting conversations like this:
Teacher: So, what did you do yesterday?
High school student: I went to a club meeting.
Teacher: Oh, I see. What did you do on the weekend?
High school student: I went to a club meeting.
Teacher: And. . .did you do anything interesting on vacation?
High school student: I went to a club meeting everyday.
Furthermore, teenagers are often insecure and do not like to talk about themselves too much. Cross-curricular lessons open up their worlds and give these students something new and “safe” to talk about.
As anyone who has attended my presentations knows, I always involve my audience members. I was afraid that the high school teachers might expect that I would only lecture to them as they sat and listened. However, the teachers were very enthusiastic and full participated in all the English speaking activities. We had a great time making true and false quizzes, throwing newspaper balls around while making up a story, doing science experiments and much more! I hope they can also enjoy bringing the magic of cross-curricular lessons into their own classes.
July 10, 2010
When I was in elementary school, I wrote a letter to Amy Carter, the daughter of then-President Carter. I don't remember what I wrote in the letter I sent to her, but I do remember the thrill I got when she sent a postcard back to me. Even though it was just a form letter, I proudly took it to school for Show and Tell and put it in my scrapbook.
These days, people rarely have the chance to write a formal letter to anyone. I wanted to give my advanced students the chance, but I also wanted to make this letter writing activity "real". After reading an article in the newspaper about how President Obama personally reads ten letters a day out of the thousands people send to the White House, I decided to have my students write to him.
This is a generation that arrived when email began to overtake letters as the preferred form of written communication, yet the students took this task very seriously (even though Barack Obama is not their president)! I told them they had to write their address in the upper left hand corner, with the date underneath, and to write the President's address under that on the left hand side. Signing a letter with the closing, "Sincerely" was something new for most of them. Even addressing an envelope and knowing where to put the stamp was something they needed guidance with.
The students worked hard on their letters. Some asked him about his dog and his family; one student wondered how a busy president would have time to take care of a dog. Some wrote about more serious subjects, like the Gulf oil leak or the new lay judge system in Japan. After I told them about the First Lady's campaign against child obesity, some wrote about how delicious school lunches made from fresh ingredients, plenty of recess time to play outside and walking to school helps keep Japanese children healthy.
I don't know if any of them will receive a response from the White House, but I'm sure it was a lesson they will always remember!
March 7, 2010
Celebrating Valentine's Day in Japan always feels so strange to me since it is completely different from the way it is celebrated in America. Japanese Valentine's Day feels more like "Sadie Hawkins' Day" to me. One American Valentine's Day tradition I always liked as a child was when we would make a Valentine's "mailbox" out of a shoebox or a large envelope, buy little Valentine's cards (Snoopy ones were popular when I was young.) and write one for each member of our class (so no one would feel left out). It was always fun opening up the cards from your classmates and laughing over the silly messages on the candy hearts.
This year, our BIG BOW students were able to celebrate Valentine's Day "American style", thanks to my good friend, Amy Bogart Buck. She has a daughter, Margaret, in the first grade and her class at The Out-Of-Door Academy in Sarasota decided to send valentines to one of our BIG BOW classes. We had a lot of fun opening the valentines, reading the silly messages on the candy hearts (I laughed when I saw some read, "Email me!" It is good to see they have kept up with the times!) and writing thank you notes.
December 21, 2009
I've been really busy since the JALT National Conference. First, I went to the ETJ Kansai EXPO to make a presentation on assessment (very similar to the one I gave last May in Hokkaido, but geared more toward school owners). Kansai EXPO is always a great event and the organizers go the extra mile for the attendees, from having a "cafe" to providing lunchtime entertainment. This year, the lunchtime entertainment was English rakugo. Rakugo is a type of traditional comedy storytelling where you kneel on a cushion and use only a fan as a prop. (Dave Barry, the American humorist, called it "sit down comedy".) Somehow, I was dragged on stage to demonstrate. I found myself kneeling on a cushion and following the rakugo master as we acted out a story about a man who wanted to eat ice cream at an udon shop. So funny!
The next weekend, I presented in my hometown of Nagoya at the local JALT chapter. I gave a presentation about cross-curricular lessons. At first, some of the audience members seemed very skeptical of these kinds of lessons in the EFL classrrom. However, I was pleased to hear their gasps of delight as we did the coffee filter experiment (see picture at right) to teach colors. We also did the lesson on Van Gogh for first graders, making a mummy, describing Australian animals and then using past tense verbs to talk about a fictional trip to Australia, and a lesson on comparatives using ice and hot water to demonstrate the properties of heat conduction. I really hope to give a presentation about cross-curricular lessons at the JALT National Conference next year in Nagoya!
November 30, 2009
I went to the JALT 2009 National Conference in
Shizuoka last week and
it seems all eyes are on the English programs in the public elementary
schools, since English will become compulsory in 2011. (Don't say
“compulsory subject” or else you will be quickly corrected by someone
in the know. Also, it is important to remember that schools are not
teaching English; they are teaching “Foreign Language Activities”(FLA)
, which doesn't really make any sense to me, but let's move on, shall
we?) At JALT Junior, the parallel conference for teachers of children,
everyone was talking about teacher training and using the Eigo Note,
the textbook created for teachers to use in the English, oops, sorry,
Foreign Language Activity classes.
After attending an presentations on training public elementary
school teachers (by Ann Mayeda and Steven Nishida, which can
be seen here) and co-moderating a panel of public elementary school
teachers and their teacher trainers/advisers, I cannot say I truly have
a complete grasp of the current situation. However, these are the
points that stuck with me:
1. I feel a lot of sympathy for public elementary school teachers.
Usually policies in schools across Japan are pretty standard, but as
far as FLA is concerned, the situation fluctuates wildly from school
to school and seems to change from year to year. I feel this puts
undue stress on already busy teachers.
2. Eigo Note has really added a strange dimension to an already
confusing situation. Eigo Note is a medicore text that occasionally has
its good points, but often includes songs and coloring activities that
are developmentally inappropriate for upper elementary students. The official word is
that schools don't have to use it if they don't want to, but there is
pressure to use it because it may influence the junior high school
English textbooks the next time they are revised. Furthermore, some
pilot schools, which already had great programs for 3rd - 6th graders up and running,
have scrapped their entire programs now that Eigo Note has arrived.
Some of the schools are now apparently regretting this decision. As one of
the teachers on our panel put it “Eigo NO! と”
(UPDATE: Now there is a rumor that Eigo Note
is on the way out. What??? The level of
indecision astounds me.)
3.Ann Mayeda reported in her presentation that, compared with 2007,
many teachers now are more receptive toward teaching English in their
4.Steve Nishida said that often policy makers say they don't want to
teach reading and writing in the elementary schools because they want
all students to be at the same starting line when they begin to learn
English in junior high school. He argues that so many elementary
students are already learning how to read and write at after school
English lessons that students have not been at the same starting line
for years! (This is very true.)
5.Many foreign ALTs and Japanese homeroom teachers still seem to have
a problem with working together. Foreign ALTs feel like they don't get
enough respect and/or feel the Japanese homeroom teachers often hand the
whole lesson over to them. Many Japanese teachers don't really have
enough time to communicate effectively with the teacher (or feel
comfortable enough doing so) and don't have the time or desire to plan
or practice team teaching. When I put together the panel (which was in
Japanese with English support, as four of the five panel members were Japanese), my hope
was we could bring both sides together because I feel we really can
learn from one another IF we really listen to each other's
So, where do we go from here? I'm not exactly sure. I think English
will eventually become a compulsory subject in public elementary
schools. I also think we will see a lot of stressed-out teachers on the way.
November 10, 2009
Everyone involved in English education in Japan has their eye on public elementary schools. English will be taught to 5th and 6th graders in public elementary schools from 2011 and everyone is talking about how it will turn out. As this year's JALT Junior 2009 Program Chair, I decided to put together a panel of public elementary school teachers (or teachers who have advised schools) who ALREADY have successful elementary English programs in place at their public elementary school. The panel will be in Japanese with English support and promises to be very interesting, so I hope to see you there! (Click here for more information about JALT Junior, which is part of the JALT 2009 National Conference.)
Panel Title: The front lines of English in elementary schools
Panelists: Iba, Shu - Tokigane Elementary School
Mayeda, Ann - Osaka Shoin Women's University
Moriguchi, Rei - Heguri-Kita Elementary School
Otowa, Toshiko - Hamadera Showa Elementary School
Yoshimura, Hiroyo - Dairoku-Zuiko Elementary School/Makuhari International School
Time and Place: 4:00 PM - 5:40 PM (100 min) Koryu Hall
Summary: There has been a lot of talk about what will happen when
English becomes a compulsory subject in public elementary
schools in 2011. Instead of talking about what might happen,
this panel will focus on the elementary English programs that
are already in existence熔n the front lines, so to speak. Panel
members will share the successes and challenges they encounter
every day in the elementary English programs at their schools.
August 30, 2009
And once again, summer comes to an end. Did you have a nice one? I was very happy that this summer was not as hot as usual. However, I still managed to eat my usual amount of ice cream, despite the cooler weather. One thing I really love about summer is seeing the wild flowers and sunflowers in bloom. This year we went to Hira-cho, Ogaki-shi in Gifu prefecture and saw an amazing sight - 350,000 sunflowers in bloom! The bullet train was right next to the flower field, zooming to Osaka. I can only imagine the delight of the passengers who happened to be looking out the window at the moment the train passed by the flower field!
I'm getting ready for a busy fall: The annual BIG BOW BBQ party, Halloween party, We Can! presentations and JALT, Jr. Take a look at the new We Can! website. Also, don't miss JALT, Jr. this year. If you pre-register by October 26th, you can enjoy two days of JALT, Jr. for only 8,000 yen. Since I am Program Chair of JALT, Jr. this year, I'm putting together a panel of English teachers in the public elementary schools who will discuss the successes and challenges of English programs in their own schools.
June 25, 2009
Last month, I went up to Hokkaido to be one of the keynote speakers for JALT Hokkaido's Teaching Children Assessing Children Mini-conference. I had presented at a JALT Hokkaido event last year, but this time I made sure to get there early the day before so I would have plenty of time to sightsee. I went to the Sapporo beer factory and sampled some different beers after going to the museum. Then, I had a crazy experience trying to buy Hanabatake nama caramel at their store. As you may or may not know, Hanabatake nama caramel was created by a former celebrity-turned-Hokkaido farmer and is extremely popular now. The customers were in a frenzy, buying boxes and boxes of caramel to take home!
Later that evening, I met up with another one of the keynote speakers, Mari Nakamura, to have dinner. We decided to try Jingisu Kan (grilled mutton), a Hokkaido specialty. While we were ordering, I was putting my things in a large plastic bag (to prevent the oil from the meat getting on my jacket and bag) and the waitress asked us if we wanted just mutton or mutton and deer. As she asked us, I noticed a large, real deer hoof jutting out from the wall. I pointed to the deer hoof and asked, "Did you just say deer?" We had a good laugh over that. The deer meat was really tasty. We also enjoyed grilling Hokkaido's spring vegetables, especially the asparagus.
The next day was the mini-conference. I gave my keynote speech, "A Close Look at Assessment Methods Used in the Young Learner EFL Classroom." First, I talked about how assessing children can help the teachers, students and parents work together and meet everyone's needs. I also cautioned that using only one kind of assessment (i.e. only having a standardized test once a year) can backfire and create a false impression about the quality the program. Finally, I took a look at the advantages and disadvantages of many different kinds of assessment. Click here for photos.
This was my second time to make a presentation for JALT Hokkaido. I really enjoyed talking with everyone and sharing ideas. Everyone was so friendly and one of the participants sent me home with a big batch of asparagus, cut from the hatake that morning!
June 10, 2009
If you look up こんにゃく (konnyaku) in a Japanese/English dictionary, it will say, "Devil's Tongue", which always struck me as odd because there didn't seem to be anything all that devilish about the gray or white blobs of the stuff used as an ingredient in everything from desserts to nimono in Japan. I'd even seen the potato like roots konnyaku is made of and that did nothing to shed light on this mystery.
During Golden Week, I went to Nishizawa Keikoku, deep in the mountains of Yamanashi prefecture and stumbled across a gift shop that sold everything you could possibly want made of konnyaku. In the front of the shop was a full grown konnyaku plant with its flower in full bloom. I almost scared the owner half to death when I spied it and loudly exclaimed in English, "That's why they call it Devil's Tongue!" As you can see, the plant looks like it has a long, purplish tongue. I think it looks just like Gene Simmons of KISS. ------>
May 28, 2009
I have been teaching for 16 years now and I have never suffered from "teacher burnout". What's my secret? I have many friends in this field that constantly inspire me with their great ideas or projects. One of these friends is Tom Kenny, an associate professor of linguistics at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies (NUFS). Tom is also a former DJ and he produces a weekly podcast with his students about news and topics of interest to university students. In a country where students of English have little opportunity to practice what they have learned, I can only imagine how excited his students must feel to produce something "real", all in English. If you have any young adults in your school that want extra listening practice, I recommend they download this free podcast!
I also hope that podcasts such as these will inspire other teachers and students to try their hand at doing tasks in the classroom, rather than the old, comfortable language exercises. A few years ago, after a presentation by Chuck Sandy, another teacher who inspires me, I tried a "class CD" project with a junior high school class. Students talked about music they liked and brought in CDs. They chose their favorite song and wrote up an introduction, as if they were a DJ introducing the song on a radio program. I uploaded their CD tracks and made digital recordings of their introduction, which I put together as a class CD. The students were so pleased with the final product! Task-based language activities are starting to catch on Japan and I feel they really make English come alive for the students.
April 19, 2009
Again this year, I sent my son to America to stay with his grandparents in Florida for three weeks. He felt very "grown-up" to be able to make the journey halfway around the world by himself. He had a great time going to a Yankees vs. Pirates MLB Spring Training game, playing with other children at the local community center, catching a huge red grouper on a sea fishing trip, and going to Busch Gardens. However, I think the most incredible part of his trip had to be witnessing the launch of the space shuttle from his grandparents' back porch!
My students always have a hard time believing that when I was a child, I could stand in my front yard in Lakeland, Florida and see the space shuttle take off. Lakeland is in the middle of the state, but my son took this great picture of the space shuttle taking off from Anna Maria, Florida, which is even further away from Cape Kennedy. He was so excited to tell me all about it on the phone that night!
Speaking of excitement, my older elementary returnee class had a very exciting history lesson at the end of the school year. First, we learned some basic facts about famous people from history. Then, I prepared a lesson on more famous people in history that they wanted to learn more about. (One suggestion was President Obama, who I guess is not a historical figure yet, but certainly someone who is making history.) We played a game where I put a paper with the name of one of these famous people from history on their backs and they had to ask their classmates "yes" or "no" questions until they could figure out who it was.
Finally, they chose one of the people we studied about and made a mini-poster, which they later presented to the class. I was so amazed at how hard they worked on these posters and how much fun they had! Many people think that history is sometimes a boring subject, but I think history really "came alive" for the students during this lesson.
February 26, 2009
Entrance examination season is almost over. This year I had some good friends whose children were taking exams to enter university or private junior high school. The ordeal is very stressful for families, so it is no wonder that people become very superstitious! Students eat snacks such as Kit Kats because it sounds like "kitto katsu", or "You will definitely pass." I asked my high schools students if there are any bad luck snacks, but apparently none exist. Click here to read more about these superstitions.
I've always told my entrance exam taking students that they have to imagine they are Olympic athletes. Olympic athletes are very similar to exam taking students because it really comes down to how well you can perform on one particular day. Natural talent and preparation are important, but if you are tired, hungry or mentally exhausted, you will not be able to do your best. (This idea seems to go against the old idea of "Study 'till you drop.")
January 16, 2009
Happy New Year! I wish you the best of luck in the Year of the Cow!
The year 2008 certainly was one to remember. We saw the election of the first African-American president (and the first female president of JALT) and experienced a worldwide economic crisis that will take years to recover from. It was also a year when seemingly everyone became addicted to the social networking site, Facebook. Through Facebook, I have now been reconnected with people I haven't seen since childhood and it has been fun to see how everyone has changed.
It is interesting how differently we communicate these days. Long ago, you only spoke with people in your immediate area and if you wanted to communicate with someone who lived far away, you had to send a letter. When my parents lived in England in 1970, they had to wait up to 30 minutes for the operator to call them back and let them know that a line was free for them to call relatives in America. When I first came to Japan in 1992, I visited the post office at least twice a week to mail letters and had to wait until after 11:00 p.m. to call America so I could get a cheaper rate - about $1 a minute! These days, I can chat online almost for free with a friend from elementary school who lives halfway around the world.
This New Year, my son went to a hot spring with his aunt, so my husband and I decided to do something different on January 1st. We went to the outlet mall, Jazz Dream, at Nagashima Spa Land. The mall opened at 10:00 and we arrived at 10:30. I was so surprised to see that people were already leaving the mall. Why? Because they had arrived early to buy their "Lucky Bags" and then decided to leave once they had bought them! All the Lucky Bags were sold out at the popular stores by 11:00 a.m.!
People sometimes ask me if Lucky Bags are sold in America. They aren't and I don't think the idea would work well because Americans often return merchandise they received as Christmas presents. If some Americans got something in the Lucky Bag that they didn't like, they might try to return it!
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