Thursday, 28 June 2007

Good day, bad day

I have to admit I'm pretty exhausted today, and also apologise for not scribbling here lately. Been a bit busy (so what's new?). Without going into details, let's just say we have one less teacher at Luna today. Yuki has been magic on the telephone (as ever) madly rearranging schedules & smoothing feathers; Alex & Michelle have also been very good about offering to help.

I woke up this morning feeling like I'd only just gone to bed, and was not looking forward to 12 hours straight teaching. I had to cancel one of my own classes (the first time in about 6 years - I even got back from Hong Kong once in time to teach them!) and pick up three 'refugee' classes. I'm glad I did; I haven't taught Y/H/R for a couple of years and they've really grown up - big eight year olds now - and I have never taught S since he joined Luna last year with his brother. We had a classic laugh & also managed to learn this/that. Then I got the chance to teach Y, one on one. He was teaching me! He used to live in China & his English is fantastic, and he's only in elementary school.

Then I sprinted to a company class & caught with some old faces - and one of them I mean really crusty! Actually, Y is one of the best looking girls I know, as she was when I first taught her when I had hair. K managed to have his dinner and manage collocations & a dictionary rather well.

All of this on top of my regular four 90' classes earlier in the day. My first group were a bit quiet but did start a new pattern for the class - not sitting down until they've chatted about something minor & 'broken the ice' - anything (weather, pop song on the radio this morning, journey to work, last night's sport). My second bunch remembered most things you can lose/waste/miss (including hair), switched readers with each other (a very good program we've set up) & also set themselves up for 'telephone homework': literally have to call each other before next class & arrange/rearrange meetings. My afternoon students had forgotten rather too much of the last unit so we reviewed quite a bit; I'm looking forward to K bringing in some of his 400 photos from his trip to Cambodia. My last group made excuses (good ones) to avoid making presentations this week, and instead did really well with there is/are, some/any etc.

So, tomorrow it's going to be a similar pattern. And start looking for a replacement...and I hope catch up with my old mate Tim, who has apparently returned to these shores. Time for bed!

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Alwin Stadium

Matsumoto's football team goes by the handle 'Yamaga', and claims to have been established in 1965 (a very good year), though in my playing days with Matsumoto Mongrels we never came across them.

They are based at Alwin Stadium, built especially to host one of the 2002 World Cup teams - Paraguay. There was me hoping for 3 Lions & the Barmy Army! The place is in the middle of nowhere, impossible to get to without a car, and rather spiritless. If the local movers & shakers are serious, they'd lay on shuttle buses from Shiojiri/Murai/Hirooka/Matsumoto stations, and make sure school kids attend (mini football etc before the big game...). And if the local team is green, why are the seats orange (Nagano's colours)?

June 10th was crunch cup tie against regional rivals Nagano, who a fortnight before sneaked a late goal in a dreary encounter in the league. This match caught all officianodos off guard, with half-time coming on the stroke of...40 minutes! Mercifully so, as a matter of fact. The game was going nowhere, & continued to do so. Extra-time came, the crowd looking all the time at the gathering clouds & thinking about a dash for the car park. Penalties, never an England fans' favourite spectacle, were seconds away when a break against play saw Gans' no.11 side-foot a low nearpost shot under their largely untested 'keeper.

I later interviewed the hometeam's no.5, as I had the cheerleaders' leader before the game. I was hoping to be inspired, for my gentle readers. Alas, wasn't to be.

Monday, 11 June 2007


On Saturday (June 9th) I travelled all the way to Aomori & back, to examine some children. Jon Adams also made the trip, as we were due to OE KET as well as YLE. I was very glad for the company, as it was a looooong day of fast trains & platform-dashes. Think this doubled my shinkansen experience!

I left home before 5 to pick up Jon, then drove over to Ueda as dawn broke, to catch the first train to Omiya. From there, we whistled north through Sendai to Hachinohe at breakneck speed, before slowing down on the limited express to Misawa. Neither of us are still sure where we were exactly, because it was foggy. We could hear jets landing & taking off from the nearby US airbase, and we quickly learned that the first Trans-Pacific flight took off from here (the beach, as a matter of fact) to land near Seattle in the US. 1931 sound right?

We were met off the train by Sophie, who despite being French had the most lovely Middlesex accent! Speaking to Europeans - haven't done that for years! Next we were introduced to the staff at the school, and nobody was sure which language to use. They all realised my French was even worse than my Japanese, so everyone gallantly engaged us in English. Thank you beaucoups!

The children themselves were sweet, and in their way quite different to Japanese candidates that I'm used to examining. You kind of get used to the same answers for certain questions, so today was the unexpected ones (eg not "fish & miso" for breakfast). French accents, French words instead of English ones, French shrugs instead of Japanese head-tilting, fair hair & blue/grey/green eyes. All very different, and very rewarding.

And too soon back to the station & a zoom back across half of Japan. We wanted to get to know Sophie, and hear about her adventures in Greece. We wanted to know about Yann's multi-cultural background - Brazil, Gabon, Mauritius etc, and his martial arts. Really interesting people, but we couldn't hang around...and we'll not meet them again because the school is closing. We finally figured out why there was a French community there - the nuclear reprocessing plant is a French design.

A Grand Day Out, as Wallace & Gromitt would agree. Bon voyage mes amies!

Friday, 8 June 2007

"I like it"

"Can you teach the lesson today, Jim Sensei?"

Music to my ears; in five years 'teaching' at Fuzoku JHS, I think this happened once. I really detest the "larynx on legs" that is the usual work experience for Assistant English Teachers (AETs). Is the JET programme a waste of time...? Anyway, today just by chance I had an old lesson plan I wanted to try with my High School class, and by the end we were all singing and dancing along to Sinatra's dulcet tones "How about you?"

If I can post a video of the end product, it'll be here somewhere. Still trying to figure out "how to" on this site.

Lesson plan? Simple enough. With a lethargic pre-thunderstorm Friday morning, thought we might dive into patching the song together.

  1. Lyrics in bits - a simple song for this level is ideal - with students in small groups to listen to the song a couple of times & arrange the words back in order. Mistakes OK, as that makes the checking phase more fun.
  2. A 'secretary' from each group runs to the board, rest of group dictates the first line. Switch secretaries & continue through the song. The further from the board the group is the better - blackboards at front and back of the classroom ideally suited. This gets noisy, and insist on correct spellings. A couple of wags were 'not helping' other groups, calling out incorrect hints!
  3. As a race, the students are well motivated & 100% involved. See them in action:
  4. Checking the checking = groups look for mistakes in another's posting as we listen to the song again, familiarising ourselves with the rhythm along the way - some have got it & are starting to join in - especially the repeated bits. Quick re-arrangement on the desks = lyrics good to go and mistakes crossed out on the boards.
  5. Important - all heads up & standing up, with lyrics plainly in view (if not entirely legible) on the board(s).
  6. Read through line by line at a good pace - no need to explain anything, see 7!
  7. Performance preview: I read the song through again, this time adding BIG gestures to the key words - one, two, even three per line, which students mimic. The 'daggier' the teacher, the more succesful participation!
  8. Without any more messing around, hit play & encourage 'singing' (at the very least muttering along at the right tempo) AND following the teacher through all the gestures. Should work a treat and if you finish just as the bell rings, you're a genius.
  9. Show off next class with a stunned expression on the other teacher's face!
Just thought I'd share that with you - I had a great laugh & I think 'my' crew did too.

I like it - how about you?!

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Mission Statement - this blog

Intended for use by students (& teachers) of Luna International, a very good language school in Matsumoto, Japan. Ask for help with homework, post diary entries, comment on your class (and your teacher!); basically anything you like! This is your space - keep the place tidy & share the toys; no kicking or pulling hair, name calling etc. Really looking forward to seeing your contributions :)
Have fun!!!

(This was originally part of the "header" message, but I found out how to move Luna's logo up there. Better? Worse? Let me know either way!) Jim

Monday, 4 June 2007

Dan's high school girlies

I was chatting with some of our high School girls last night (May 30th), after their class with Dan.

I’ve known these girls since they were about two and a half years old, and they’ve been learning at Luna for most of their lives. And how have they been doing? Well…

Haruka shyly admitted she is top of her English class at Fukashi – wow!
Sayaka shyly admitted she is top of her English class at Daiichi too! Double wow!!

Now how’s that for performance? Our girls are really good students, and they deserve a big pat on the back – hard work does pay off! And it can be fun in the process, as Dan has shown them over the last two years.

On Sunday (May 27th) I attended the first ever Conference on Career & Professional Development in Tokyo, sponsored by the Daily Yomiuri. I was there as a guest of Cambridge ESOL, and was part of an audience of over 130 teachers from all over the country listening to keynote speeches & attending workshops.

I try to I attend workshops regularly, and insist my teachers also go when they can – for example, there’s a bookshow & series of workshops held every autumn in Tokyo, run by the major publishers which Luna staff usually attend. This is important for the teachers, as they can see authors showing off how to use their materials properly, get new classroom ideas & generally improve themselves professionally. It’s also extremely important for Luna, as we are well known in the EFL community as a school which tries harder then most to develop its staff & improve our teaching methodology. We do not rest on our laurels!

So the conference on Sunday? Well, it was a gathering of mostly experienced educators – university professors & the like. We heard keynote addresses on:

· Trends in English Language Teaching (ELT) & I realised a couple of interesting points that will affect Luna – I’ve not really thought about demographics before, for example. Neither had I figured out that PC ownership in this country was relatively low (62% of uni students) whereas virtually 100% have cell phones & access the internet that way.

· Group Dynamics, when I realised a lot of teachers are actually rather strange! Singing “I love you forever…” – rest assured I didn’t join in. However, I did think about making sure my students are comfortable about singing & have a good reason to do so. Incidentally, the speaker was from Dokkyo in Saitama, where students recently took KET exams.

· A professor from a very famous university put everyone to sleep in his presentation; I remembered all the “making presentations” classes I’ve taught & how many ‘errors’ the presenter was making.

There were also a series of smaller workshops. I went to two. One was woeful – a self-declared ‘successful’ businessman talking about himself for an hour. The other was fantastic: how to use the internet & online resources. Probably the best/most useful presentation I’ve seen for a couple of years, and certainly going to benefit all of Luna’s students soon. How? Sorry folks, you’ll have to come to class & find out for yourselves!

Another reason these events are worth attending is the chance to meet fellow teachers/school owners, exchange ideas & experiences etc, and network with the kind of people I don’t get the chance to meet often enough – a chap from the Ministry of Education, my Cambridge ESOL colleagues & fellow examiners, publishers, authors, presenters, STEP-BULATS and so on.

A very long day trip to Tokyo, but all in all very worthwhile: come to Luna & find out how!